Category Archives: Kiribati Adaptation Program – Phase II

His Excellency President Anote Tong

Climate change a ‘whole nation approach’

During a recent visit to Australia, President Tong spoke with Nic Maclellan from Islands Business about global warming, climate migration, the Pacific Islands Forum and Kiribati’s role in regional fisheries negotiations. 

In 2010, Kiribati hosted an international conference in Tarawa to focus attention on climate impacts in the Pacific. Since then, do you think progress on a global climate treaty has stalled?

Our experience has not been entirely optimistic. After the Copenhagen meeting, there was a lot of disappointment. Much of our disappointment was based on our high expectations of what the outcomes might be. Like any major international treaty, it doesn’t happen overnight, or even after a couple of years or even ten years. I think we have major treaties in place which took decades to conclude. With the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, I don’t think we’ll conclude until we change our approach. It’s always been my contention that we’re dealing with too much detail in a document that’s highly controversial because the issues are very critical to different countries at different levels of development. My view has been to agree on a broad document and then deal with issues on a piecemeal basis. Unless we do that, our hopes for success are very dim. Quite frankly, I’m beginning to think that perhaps we should not put everything in those discussions. Perhaps, we should now begin to explore existing arrangements and simply add provisions into those agreements relating to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Does this mean that negotiations should move from the UNFCCC to another body like the Major Economies Forum or G20 where the members are the major emitters of greenhouse gasses? Will this leave the Alliance of Small Islands States out of the dialogue?

I think the key to all of this is our genuine desire to resolve this. If there is a genuine desire, then we will find a way. Compromise is always possible but there has got to be a genuine desire to compromise. Without this, whatever forum we adopt, it will not work. Whatever agreement the developed countries come to, AOSIS and the other developing countries will find fault with it.

It’s a matter of finding commonalities rather than arguing over controversial issues at this time. We need to build up confidence in the way we want to head, and if we do that, then perhaps the possibilities of reaching consensus might be there.

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The vandalised transformer in August, 2012, before the new parts arrived.

Tarawa water reserve back online

Press release, Tarawa, January 3, 2012

South Tarawa’s ground water supply has increased by approximately 20 per cent thanks to a joint operation between the Public Utilities Board (PUB) and the Kiribati Adaptation Program – Phase III (KAPIII).

The Buota Water Reserve was successfully re-opened recently after more than one year of inactivity due to a loss of power and vandalism to the site.

PUB Chief Executive Officer Kevin Rouatu said the connection was first severed when the Tanaea Bridge collapsed in June 2008.

“In September 2009, the United States Navy installed a new bridge across the Buota-Tanaea channel and the Kiribati Adaptation Program – Phase II re-laid new pipes for the water connection in 2010,” Mr Rouatu said.

During the time the water reserve was offline, Mr Rouatu said much of the pumping infrastructure was vandalised making it necessary to replace and rehabilitate all of the pumping chambers as well as relaying the pipes.

“The vandalism stopped the power to the site, which meant the six water pumps at the reserve could not be used to extract water,” he said.

“To restore the power, KAPIII funded a transformer and T-switch, which arrived by ship in late July.

“Now four of the six pumps are in working order and the Bouta site can supplement the water we get from the reserve at Bonriki.”

The water reserves at Bonriki and Buota are the only water reserves providing groundwater to South Tarawa, KAPIII Project Manager Kautuna Kaitara said.

“The Buota Water Reserve has the capacity to provide about 300 cubic metres of water per day, the equivalent to 1500 200l ‘te turam’,” Mr Kaitara said.

South Tarawa’s other water reserve at Bonriki provides 1600 cubic metres per day.

“As Buota is the second main source of ground water for the people of South Tarawa we want to work well with the people of Buota to ensure its’ ongoing success.

“Bonriki has been over-pumped and now we can reduce the extraction rate to prevent damage to the water lenses and equipment.

“If we lose the water reserves at Bonriki and Buota, we lose the only reasonably safe drinking water for the people of Betio and South Tarawa.

“So protection of these water reserves is critical for the liveability of Betio and South Tarawa and the health of all that live here.

“This includes minimising pollution, animals, agriculture and sand mining in the area to ensure the water remains healthy enough for human consumption.”

Australian High Commission First Secretary Lydia Bezeruk said Australia was proud to be co-financing KAPIII and supporting the repair of the Buota Water Reserve.

“It’s important that we understand that water is a precious commodity, in South Tarawa in particular,” Ms Bezeruk said.

“Most of the water reserves have been polluted and are beyond repair, which is why maintaining the effective functioning of reserves such as Buota and Bonriki is critical.”

Facts about KAPIII

The Kiribati Adaptation Program- Phase III (KAPIII) is a five-year project under the Office of the President and funded via the World Bank GEF LDCF Trust Fund with co financing from the governments of Australia and Japan, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery partnership, as well as in-kind from the Government of Kiribati.

The objective of KAPIII is to improve the resilience of Kiribati to the impacts of climate change on freshwater supply and coastal infrastructure.

Freshwater supply projects from 2012 to 2016 include working closely with the MPWU and PUB to manage assets and provide training to staff, the installation of four new rainwater harvesting works and two infiltration gallery works in North and South Tarawa, the detection and repair of leaks in the groundwater pipe system from Buota to Betio and the rehabilitation of the Buota Water Reserve.

This sea wall is all that protects these homes in the village of Abarao on the island of Tarawa. Photo: Finn Frandsen, Politiken


This sea wall is all that protects these homes in the village of Abarao on the island of Tarawa Copyright Finn Frandsen Politiken 2

This sea wall is all that protects these homes in the village of Abarao on the island of Tarawa. Photo: Finn Frandsen/Politiken

According to a World Bank report, Kiribati’s capital of Tarawa—where nearly half the population lives—will be 25-54 per cent inundated in the south and 55-80 per cent in the north by mid-century unless there is significant adaptation. Factor in what this means for poisoning of groundwater, destruction of limited arable land and spread of disease, and you have an unlivable national capital.

Kiribati’s response to climate change is focused on adaptation. Its adaptation program, backed in part by AusAID, is carrying out a scientific risk assessment for Tarawa. Kautuna Kaitara, national director of the Kiribati Adaptation Program, says the country’s airstrip will be slowly “eaten away” and water supply spoiled unless there is swift action.

In the meantime, locals are forced to take things into their own hands. Albert Ientau has lived on the water’s edge in Abarao village since 1982. He has continually had to rebuild his sea wall, and more. Mr Ientau is no fool—his re-built house is on makeshift stilts—but the water is lapping at is door before high tide, but as you can see here in this photo series, he often has to roll large boulders into the water in what appears a forlorn exercise to prevent it from returning.

Many villagers have little or no understanding of climate change, but say they know they are witnessing a shift: increasingly intrusive seas, as well as stronger and less predictable winds and more intense heat. “The average i-Kiribati [Kiribati inhabitant] certainly thinks it’s getting hotter,” says Emil Shutz, a former government minister who now runs tours for the country’s few recreational visitors. “Ten years ago they could fish all day, but not any more – it is just too hot.”

There are parts of Kiribati where you can’t see the water, most notably in the southern Tarawa hub of Betio, but the threat of climate change is consistently there. The first thing you see when you land are the sandbags that try, and fail, to stop spring tides from flooding the only airstrip. If you are forced to go to hospital, you may get your feet wet. It is regularly inundated.

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President Anote Tong helps plant mangroves in a KAPII initiative to protect our coastlines.

Kiribati Adaptation Program (KAP)

The Kiribati Adaptation Program (KAP) aims to reduce Kiribati’s vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and sea level rise by raising awareness of climate change, assessing and protecting available water resources and managing inundation.

President Anote Tong helps plant mangroves in a KAPII initiative to protect our coastlines.

President Anote Tong helps plant mangroves in a KAPII initiative to protect our coastlines.

KAP is a project of the Office of the President, Government of Kiribati and consists of three phases, running from 2003 to 2016:

Phase I: Preparation (2003-2005)
Phase II : Pilot implementation (2006-2011)
Phase III: Expansion (2012-2016)

Initiatives include improving water supply management; coastal management protection measures such as mangrove re-plantation and protection of public infrastructure; strengthening laws to reduce coastal erosion; and population settlement planning to reduce personal risks.

KAP is financed through grants via the World Bank from Government of Australia; the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Least Developed Country Fund (LDCF); Japan Policy and Human Resources Development (PHRD); Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR); and in-kind contribution from the Government of Kiribati.

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Tiaeke Tio and the KAPII drilling rig at Bikenibeu.

Drilling for water in Kiribati

Tiaeke Tio and the KAPII drilling rig at Bikenibeu.

Binataake Nawere stands bucketing water from his well in the strong afternoon sun at Betio in South Tarawa, Kiribati.

“We use well water for washing clothes and dishes,” says 60-year old Binataake as he fills a large container with groundwater. The residents of Betio and many of Kiribati’s residents often rely on well water to meet their needs. Fresh water is in short supply in Tarawa. The average house in Betio only receives tap-water for an hour and a half every 2 days.

The population of South Tarawa has grown from only 3,013 in 1931 to over 40,311 by 2005. Such rapid growth has led to a population density as high as 15,000 people per square kilometre on the narrow atoll islands. Tokyo, famous for overcrowding, has a population density almost three times lower.

A KAPII (Kiribati Adaptation Program – Pilot Implementation Phase II) working crew recently completed a two month long project to drill boreholes required to assess the thickness of the underground freshwater lens in Tarawa. The lens is made up of rain water that has infiltrated the soil of the atoll. This freshwater then actually floats on top of a layer of saltwater directly beneath each island.

“It is my first time to see how it works, it is really exciting,” says Tiaeke Tio, an i-Kiribati technician as he stands in front of the KAPII drilling rig. Measuring boreholes have been installed by the project at Tabiang, Tabuki and Nubeina in North Tarawa and at Bikenibeu, Bairiki and Betio in South Tarawa. These boreholes will build on the network already in place and enable ongoing assessments of the freshwater lens to be made.

The team has been led and trained by Colin Benjamin, an experienced driller from the UK. When Colin arrived in Tarawa he had some concerns about training a local team to drill. “I thought the local language and labour issues were going to be difficult and therefore training would be hard. But it was the opposite, the i-Kiribati were very good,” says Colin with a big smile on his face.

“We can now measure where the freshwater lens starts and finishes and how this changes over time. This changes as it is affected by the amount of water pumped out, rainfall, tide and climate change,” says Colin as they complete the last borehole in the grounds of the Betio Sport Complex.

This new information is necessary to plan for the sustainable use of water in Tarawa. If too much water is extracted at a location where the lens is not thick enough, saltwater is pumped up from below the freshwater lens causing contamination of the freshwater and making it unusable.

The 40,311 residents of South Tarawa are currently drawing on a groundwater supply that can only support half the population. Water scarcity is a critical issue and the risk of saltwater contamination of the freshwater lens is ever present, so discovering new water resources are critical.

Training an i-Kiribati team to operate the required equipment is vital for the sustainability of ground water monitoring in Tarawa. “As far as the local drilling crew is concerned, we have managed to put together a very efficient team that is learning a lot,” continues Colin. Tiaeke nods his head and responds, “We have been drilling down to 15 or 20 metres, getting all the parts together and getting the machine going. I am learning something new.”

“It is good to learn about looking after the water here,” says Tiaeke as he describes the importance of the KAPII team’s work to Kiribati. “It is where my ancestors lived, where I grew up, where my family is. I love the place and I love this country.”

Binataake knows well the importance of the freshwater lens. “When the government piped water supply is not operating and there is no rainwater, we only have the water from our well,” he says lifting another full bucket, something he hopes to be able to rely on, now and into the future.

The Government of Kiribati KAPII project is supported by the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility, AusAID and NZAID. The key goal is to reduce Kiribati’s vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and sea level rise.


President Anote Tong helps plant mangroves in a KAPII initiative to protect our coastlines.

Kiribati gets 37,000 new mangroves

Press Release, 2011

Over 37,000 mangrove seedlings have recently been planted on the islands of Aranuka, Butaritari, Maiana, Makin and in North and South Tarawa.

The seedlings were planted through an activity funded by KAPII (Kiribati Adaptation Program Phase II) under the supervision of the Government of Kiribati’s Environment and Conservation Division.

Turang Favae, Acting Biodiversity and Conservation Officer at the Environment and Conservation Division says, “First and foremost it contributes to the building of coastlines and protects our shores against coastal erosion.”

Mangroves, although considered a ‘soft’ option when compared to seawalls, can be one of the most effective forms of coastal protection that in addition provide a range of other benefits.

“We see mangroves as an important habitat for marine life that use the mangroves as their homes. In that sense mangrove ecosystems are important to the marine species that we depend on for our livelihoods,” says Mrs. Favae. “They also contribute to the natural carbon dioxide cycle, act as buffers to storm surges and sea sprays and help filter nutrient runoff from land as mangrove roots absorb these nutrients and reduce pollution impacts on the sea.”

Dr. Helene Jacot Des Combes, of the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development at the University of the South Pacific, Suva, sees mangroves as a coastal protection option that can go beyond government and into the hands of the people.

“It is a solution that is not as costly as others and it can be done by the community, there is no real maintenance required and it profits the community by providing extra food and fire wood,” says Dr. Jacot Des Combe.

Community involvement in the planting is indeed central to the planting programme implemented in Kiribati confirms Mrs. Favae. “The importance of engaging the community is to gain their full support in the management of the mangroves themselves. We encourage and practice mangrove planting with communities, youth groups and school students so they can see the importance of planting and gain a sense of ownership to look after and manage the mangroves.”

The Government of Kiribati has long recognised the importance of healthy coastal ecosystems and well managed coastal protection. Mangrove planting is seen to support these national aims that are outlined in both the 2008-2011 Kiribati Development Plan (KDP) and the 2006-2010 Kiribati National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan (NBSAP).

“To replant native plants contributes to the renewal of the ecosystem. When planting is successful it has impacts both on the protection of the coast and also for food security by providing more fish and crabs for the community,” says Dr. Jacot Des Combe.

In Kiribati mangroves are also culturally important as they are utilised as a source of building materials, dye and medicine. Yet one issue encountered has been barnacles that have caused the destruction of smaller seedlings, particularly in South Tarawa.

Mrs. Favae has long been concerned about this issue. “It appears there is not much we can do about the barnacles, as it has been suggested their presence is linked to sea water salinity levels.”

Regardless of the obstacles faced, the program has proved successful with the majority of seedlings planted now growing towards becoming healthy mature plants.

Perhaps most importantly public awareness of the importance of mangroves is growing in Kiribati. To lead by example, the President of Kiribati himself recently planted mangroves alongside local youths in South Tarawa.

Through her experience in the Outer Islands, Mrs. Favae knows that “community support is essential to the sustainability of mangroves.” The significance of this cannot be understated, as mangrove planting is a climate adaptation strategy that truly places the ability to act into the hands of the people of Kiribati.

An example of healthy coral.

Diving under the surface of Kiribati

The people of Kiribati rely on healthy coral reef systems to protect the shorelines of their atolls and provide a habitat for fish that are integral not only to the food security of their own nation, but also to exports that feed the world.

The isolated nature of the atolls of Kiribati means that diving to assess the health of coral involves significant risks. There are no s

An example of healthy coral.

An example of healthy coral.

pecialised medical facilities equipped to treat dive injuries such as decompression sickness, even standard emergency facilities may be several days travel away. Divers must do their best to check each other’s equipment and wellbeing at all times.

This does not deter staff from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development who are undertaking an ecosystem monitoring program to assess the health of corals in the Gilbert Islands group. Funding for these trips and new monitoring equipment has been provided by KAPII (Kiribati Adaptation Program – Pilot Implementation Phase II), a project that aims to reduce Kiribati’s vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and sea level rise through adaptation.

Aranteiti Tekiau, a research officer at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development, has recently returned from a trip to the outer islands of Tamana and Tabiteuea North. What he saw whilst diving is causing him great concern. “Unfortunately we found serious coral bleaching at Tamana. The people on the outer islands may not notice it or see what it is. But it definitely has an impact on their lives and getting what they need from the ocean.”

“If coral health is declining fish abundance will decline as well. This is our main source of food and where we get our protein from. In Kiribati it is especially important that our coral is healthy,” stresses Mr. Tekiau.

This reliance on fish cannot be overstated. Each i-Kiribati is estimated to eat somewhere between 72kg and 207kg of seafood every year. Kiribati also encompasses the largest exclusive economic zone in the Pacific with over 3.5 million square kilometers of ocean and fisheries that are estimated to be worth more than US$150 million annually to the international market.

Ribwanataake Awira, the secretary of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development, speaks from the big picture perspective. “The overall trend that we are experiencing right now is the change in climate. That is the real concern as we live very close to our environment here.”

Bleached coral - 300dpi photo - Dr Simon Donner

An example of bleached coral.

Mr. Awira fears that “an increase in temperature is one of the major factors that will affect the coral as we know it. Even if there is only an increase by 1 degree it will start to die off. That is what we are worried about now, especially in areas like Kiribati where we depend entirely on the growth and health of the reefs.”

One strategy the Government of Kiribati can consider is creating Marine Protected Areas where healthy coral reefs that have resisted bleaching are located. The creation of these areas may be able to increase the resilience of surrounding reefs. Through increased monitoring operations the identification of areas suitable for protection becomes possible. To do this effectively requires a great deal of equipment, something not always easily accessible in least developed countries.

The KAPII project has provided a range of items to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development including regulators, scanners, scuba tanks, software, weight belts, underwater digital cameras and slates for data collection.

Mr. Awira is grateful for the capability the new equipment brings to his ministry. “To do this type of visual assessment work we require scuba gear to continue monitoring the growth of corals. The official handing over of the equipment will enhance the capacity of our staff to maintain this level of monitoring. It will help a lot.”

There are many stories about the impressive diving ability of the i-Kiribati, with or without equipment. Mr. Tekiau has seen it himself. “It is not a lie. Kiribati people have their own way of diving without scuba gear. I have often seen people here free dive for much longer than five minutes!”

The ecosystem monitoring team has four more KAPII dives this year on Abaiang, Abemama, Butaritari islands and in the Tarawa lagoon, as well as ongoing monitoring projects beyond KAPII. We wish them the best of luck in their important work.