Category Archives: Effects

A former fresh water lagoon that is now inundated with sea water. Photo: Justin McManus, The Age

Risk of Dengue Fever to increase

Climate change exacerbates public health problems in Tarawa. The incidence of ciguatera poisoning, diarrhoeal disease, malnutrition, and vectorborne diseases, such as dengue fever, rise as a result of increased temperatures and changes in rainfall.

There have been several known outbreaks of Dengue Fever in Kiribati since the 1970s. South Tarawa is at a relatively high risk of dengue fever epidemics due to a combination of crowded urban areas, ideal climate conditions for the vector (average temperatures of 31 degrees Celsius and rainfall of 500 millimetres a month), the presence of an international airport, and the proliferation of discarded empty bottles and used tires.

A simple model suggests that the risk of dengue fever will increase in the future as a result of climate change, with the epidemic potential – an index measuring the efficiency of disease transmission – expected to increase 22─33 percent by 2050. Most of South Tarawa’s population would be exposed in the event of an epidemic. However, while future epidemics could expand faster, the number of cases would probably not increase from current levels. The increased prevalence of all dengue virus serotypes worldwide could also lead to a higher incidence of severe forms of dengue fever – in particular dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome, which can be fatal.

Read more about the potential health effects of climate change


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.


Sea inundadtion at high tide into a former fresh water lagoon. Photo: Justin McManus, The Age

Looking to the skies in Kiribati

Rainfall is essential to recharge the freshwater lens that lies beneath coral atolls in Kiribati. Without it, the i-Kiribati people would not be able to grow plants and crops vital to their livelihood.

Freshwater can be extremely scarce in the Republic of Kiribati, home to over 100,000 people scattered across 22 islands in the Central Pacific. Each year after a long dry season, significant rainfall is generally expected to arrive during November or December. Yet over the last few months only a tiny amount of rain has fallen. The islands are dry.

This is consistent with forecasts that predict La Niña conditions will result in below normal rainfall during the 2010-11 wet season across the Gilbert Islands of Kiribati.

“We are likely to see drought conditions for most of the Gilbert Group. In the last La Niña in 2007-08 there were drought conditions that went on for 15-16 months during that time,” Douglas Ramsay, Manager for the Pacific Rim at NIWA, the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research explains.

This rainfall is essential not only to fill rainwater tanks but also to recharge the freshwater lens that lies beneath these coral atolls. It is this water that is used for the majority of water supply via wells and infiltration galleries. The lens also allows for the growth of breadfruit, coconut palms, giant taro, pandanus and other plants species to support the livelihood of the i-Kiribati people.

In the densely populated capital of South Tarawa, it is estimated that the current demand for safe chlorinated groundwater piped to households is already 40% above the sustainable yield of the utilised lens. Without enough supply, households resort to using the polluted well. As a result, mortality rates for children due to waterborne diseases are in the order of 11 in every 1000 children, amongst the highest in the Pacific.

Under the KAPII (Kiribati Adaptation Program – Pilot Implementation Phase II), 14 outer islands in the Gilbert Group are receiving new rain gauges. KAPII is a project that aims to reduce Kiribati’s vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and sea level rise through adaptation. The islands of Abaiang, Abemama, Aranuka , Kuria, Maiana, Makin, Marakei, North Tarawa, Nikunau, Nonouti, Onotoa, Tabiteuea North, Tabiteuea South, and Tamana will have gauges installed and training provided for the water technician based on each island to record rainfall data in compliance with Kiribati Meteorological Service standards.

Before the installation of the new gauges, a great deal of data was not being collected, and the government lacked information for planning for drought and high intensity rainfall events.

Ueneta Toorua, Research Officer at the Kiribati Meteorological Service explains. “Our islands are small and widely scattered so rainfall varies between them. The general pattern is that the islands north of the equator have higher rainfall than those in the South.”

Besides this, it is also the generally hot and dry weather that has shaped customary practices on the islands.

“The temperature in Kiribati is very consistent throughout the year. This is important for drying copra and the production of dried fish. Our traditional ways are helped by having a consistent climate,” said Mr. Toorua.

As global temperatures increase due to climate change, it is anticipated that average rainfall volumes and the intensity of extreme rainfall events will increase in Kiribati. Yet this rainfall may vary greatly between the islands or fall away from the islands where it is needed most.

“Across the equatorial belt we are likely to see higher rainfall on average but that will be higher intensity, more extreme rainfall. Whether we see more intense droughts is still something that no one really knows. It will depend on how El Niños and La Niñas change with climate change,” Mr. Ramsay said.

Mr. Toorua and his colleagues at the Kiribati Meteorological Service have already seen evidence of this: “Looking at the long term trends there is an increase here in temperature and also in rainfall. On Tarawa we have more data and it has clearly shown that there is a gradual increase in both. However there may be variation in these trends between different islands.”

With the installation of rain gauges across the scattered atolls of the Gilbert Group, the hope is that the data collected will make it possible to answer some of these questions that are so fundamental to the future of Kiribati.

His Excellency President Anote Tong

Kiribati to chair COP16 side event

Cancun, Mexico, 2 December 2010—If there is one figure most dedicated to climate change issues in the pacific region, it would be none other than the President of Kiribati, His Excellency Anote Tong.

President Tong, 58, has emerged as both a global leader in Ocean Conservation and an outspoken speaker on the issue of global warming… all in the interest of ensuring the ultimate survival of the one hundred thousand people of his drowning nation, Kiribati.

He has attracted international attention by warning that his country may become uninhabitable by the 2050s and he has every reason to.

His nation, a country where you can literally throw a stone from one side of the island to the other is only two-meters above the sea. The rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion to the island’s fresh water system unquestionably explains President Tong’s dedication to this cause.

He has devised a ‘merit-based migration’ plan that will prepare his people not to become refugees but to relocate with dignity if the time comes and, has gifted the world with a marine park so massive in size to complement his vision for creating a Pacific Oceanscape.

“Earlier at the UN General Assembly I was bitter with disappointment at the international community for not listening. But then it became clear that if we made a contribution this large, it was also a statement on our part. So, this is a significant contribution to the world community in the hope they would also act.” President Tong said.

Ahead of the high-level segment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP16 meeting in Cancun next week, President Tong has responded to the invitation by UNFCCC Chief, Ms Christiana Figueres to Chair the UN-wide Side Event on Adaptation.

“Given the very active and continued role that President Tong has had on adaptation, he has earnestly considered the invitation to be of importance to Kiribati and given the vitally essential issues of adaptation in the country in relation to the adverse impacts of climate change, he (President Tong) has confirmed his keenness in chairing this important side event.” Secretary, Office of the President— Mr. Tangitang Kaureata told RMAT.

President Tong and his Secretary will be arriving in Cancun to attend the high-level segment of the COP16 climate talks just in time for this UN-wide side event on Adaptation which is scheduled for Wednesday, 8 December 2010.

Under the umbrella of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination which is headed by the UN Secretary General, the UNFCCC is entrusted to convene this side event on the afternoon of Wednesday, 8 December, 13:20—14:40 local time, in  Room Mamey, at the Cancun Messe.

As mentioned in the invitation letter to President Tong… “the side event intends to showcase some of the work being undertaken by members of the United Nations system to support adaptation in developing countries, with a view to demonstrating that the United Nations stands ready to provide the support required to implement enhanced adaptation actions within a new climate regime.”

The event has already attracted key speakers such as Ms. Helen Clark—Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Mr. Michael Jarraud—Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization, and Ms. Margareta Wahlström—Assistant Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Special Representative of the Secretary General for the implementation of the Hyogo, Framework for Action, among other Heads of UN Agencies due to confirm their participation.

For further information, please contact Rimon Rimon, Office of the President,
Tarawa Climate Change Conference

Kiribati to host world climate forum

Press Release – His Excellency the President of Kiribati Mr Anote Tong is pleased to host the next session of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, designated the Tarawa Climate Change Conference, which will be held in Tarawa, the capital of the atoll nation of Kiribati, from the 9th to the 11th November.  The conference will bring together selected representatives from the key negotiating groups within the UNFCCC process to attend a one day high level conference on climate change.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum was initiated by the Republic of the Maldives in 2009 to bring together countries that were particularly susceptible to the adverse impacts of climate change to discuss ways in which they could proactively prepare for and address these impacts.  This included an initiative to provide input to the wider climate change debate that was hoped would culminate in a conclusion that would be legally binding to all parties to the convention in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.

It is now widely acknowledged that the Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen was not able to produce the outcomes that were expected in regards to addressing the substantive issues of climate change at the global level. Primarily it fell short in producing an agreement that could be binding on the part of all Parties to the Convention. As such, global attention is now turning to Cancun at the end of the year to facilitate such an agreement; however, the reality to date suggests there is little evidence that this will be realized.

Nevertheless it is important to realize that there has been some progress in global negotiations since Copenhagen and it is now necessary to maintain any momentum that has been gained. It is to this end that the Climate Vulnerable Forum continues to highlight and consolidate those points that can be agreed upon in the next Conference of the Parties. Should these points not be able to be translated into action in the immediate term, they must continue to feature in the global negotiations process and lead the way forward towards a future agreement.

The ultimate purpose of the TCCC is to agree on these points of common interest between key negotiating groups and forge a path in which Parties to the UNFCCC can move towards action in addressing the impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable states.  This is in recognition of the fact that progress is required on the ground to address the impacts that are already felt and are expected to worsen with time. Consequently it is important that while discussions are ongoing on the main points of difference, these should not prevent what can be agreed and acted upon now.

For more information, contact: Mr Michael Foon, Tarawa Climate Change Secretariat, Office of Te Beretitenti (President),  P.O.Box 68, Tarawa Republic of Kiribati. Tel: +686 21183, fax:+686 21902 or email:


The atolls and islands of Kiribati are not more than a few meters above sea level. Photo: Finn Frandsen, Politiken

Seawalls to protect Kiribati shorelines

Tarawa, Kiribati, 10 August 2010: The lives of over 40,000 people in South Tarawa, Kiribati are linked by a single road.It  provides not only transport but a vital connection to supplies,  schools, hospitals and the airport. Upon arrival, it is impossible not  to notice the fragility of this crucial logistical link that is often  literally crumbling into the lagoon. In some areas the adjacent main  water supply pipeline has been uncovered and is also at risk due to  coastal erosion.

“Kiribati is vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise which we can see the effects of visually,” said Tebutonga Ereata, Director of Lands at the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agriculture Development (MELAD), highlighting the urgency of the situation. “There are places that have been eroded quite seriously. We are already vulnerable now.”

Four key locations in South Tarawa are being protected by new KAPII (Kiribati Adaptation Program – Pilot Implementation Phase II)  seawall constructions. The design for new walls at the Ambo-Taborio  causeway, Bairiki-Nanikaai causeway, Korobu Road and Bonriki Airport  runway have been prepared by utilizing a new set of guidelines  specifically developed for Kiribati by BECA International and funded by  KAPII. These ‘Shoreline Protection Guidelines’ are now available  for use in Kiribati to design and implement improved coastal protection  measures that include traditional sandbag walls and also consider new  seawall designs and ‘soft’ options.

“The new guidelines will be a really important document for the government and for this ministry,” said Moanataake Beiabure, Acting Director of the Ministry of Public Works and Utilities. “From  them we can base a method to carry out the proper surveys and then  adopt which kind of coastal protection is appropriate. It may not always  be a seawall, it can be soft protection such as beach replenishment or  mangrove planting.”

Mr. Ereata also agreed regarding the importance of this new document. “The  guidelines will assist decision makers and especially the Foreshore  Management Committee that makes recommendations to approve development  along the foreshore. They have been developed in such a way that will  make decisions easier and well informed. It is crucial that we use them  and train people how to use them.”

The development of the  guidelines involved the Foreshore Management Committee and four key  ministries who collaborated during workshops held by BECA International.

“They  (the guidelines) need to be further implemented into relevant  department activities so that they are really used as a day to day guide  in this aspect where coastlines are concerned. We need to really get  that out there,” said Mr. Ereata.

This type  of cross-sector approach is seen as vital for Climate Change Adaptation  (CCA) efforts where related issues often impact across every part of  society. Mr. Beiabure even felt that “the public can adopt these guidelines for their use, not just the government.”

In  June 2010 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated  that it would “almost inevitably” increase predictions for sea-level  rises due to climate change. With this dramatic news the importance of  the new ‘Shoreline Protection Guidelines’ to Kiribati are highlighted  even more than ever.

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

Related Information

For more information, contact: Government Of Kiribati, Office Of Te Beretitenti (President), P.O. Box 68, Bairiki, Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati. Telephone: (686) 21183 or Fax: (686) 21902.
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.

The I-Kiribati people live with the sea regularly threatening their homes, particularly during king tides and storms both occuring with increased frequency.  Photo: Finn Frandsen, Politiken

A call to the world

The tiny Central Pacific nation of Kiribati will be among those first affected by the twin effects of climate change and sea level rise. It’s people have been described as “the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.”

Please watch this eloquent and powerful presentation of what this small nation is facing, as its culture, lifestyle, and very sovereignty is under threat.

It is an appeal to the World and COP 15 from those most affected – the Government & people of Kiribati.