Kiribati is made up of 33 atolls and one lonely island (Banaba), and it stretches into both the eastern and western hemispheres, as well as the northern and southern hemispheres. It is the only nation that can be found in all four hemispheres. The island groupings are as follows:
Banaba is a remote island located between Nauru and the Gilbert Islands.
Gilbert Islands: A group of 16 atolls situated around 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) north of Fiji.
The Phoenix Islands are a group of eight atolls and coral islands situated about 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) southeast of the Gilberts.
Line Islands: A group of eight atolls and one reef situated about 3,300 kilometers (2,051 miles) east of the Gilberts.
Two tiny uninhabited Kiribati islands, Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea, vanished underwater in 1999, according to the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (formerly the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme). According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels will increase by approximately 50 cm (20 in) by 2100 as a result of global warming, and additional rises are unavoidable. As a result, it is probable that the nation’s arable land will be susceptible to increasing soil salination and will be completely inundated within a century.
Kiribati’s vulnerability to sea-level rise is worsened by the Pacific decadal oscillation, a climate switch phenomena that leads in shifts from La Nia to El Nio periods. This has an impact on the water level. For example, in 2000, there was a shift from El Nio times of downward pressure on sea levels to La Nia periods of upward pressure on sea levels, which produces more frequent and higher high tide levels. The Perigean spring tide (also known as a king tide) may cause saltwater to flood low-lying parts of Kiribati’s islands.
The atolls and reef islands have the ability to react to fluctuations in sea level. In 2010, Paul Kench of New Zealand’s University of Auckland and Arthur Webb of Fiji’s South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission published a research on the dynamic response of atolls and reef islands in the central Pacific. The research addressed Kiribati, and Webb and Kench discovered that the three largest urbanised islands in Kiribati—Betio, Bairiki, and Nanikai—increased by 30 percent (36 hectares), 16.3 percent (5.8 hectares), and 12.5 percent (0.8 hectares), respectively.
The Paul Kench and Arthur Webb research acknowledges that the islands are highly susceptible to sea level rise and concludes that: “This study did not assess the vertical growth of the island surface, nor does it indicate that the height of the islands has changed. Because land height has remained constant, the susceptibility of the majority of each island’s land area to submergence due to sea level rise has also remained constant, and these low-lying atolls remain instantly and highly susceptible to inundation or sea water flooding.”
Kiribati is described as having a low risk of cyclones in the 2011 Climate Change in the Pacific Report; nevertheless, in March 2015, Kiribati suffered floods and the loss of seawalls and coastal infrastructure as a consequence of Storm Pam, a Category 5 cyclone that ravaged Vanuatu. Kiribati is still vulnerable to cyclones, which may devastate the low-lying islands’ flora and soil.
Gradual sea-level rise also enables coral polyp activity to build atolls in tandem with sea-level increase. However, if sea level rises faster than coral development, or if polyp activity is harmed by ocean acidification, the durability of atolls and reef islands is less guaranteed.
The Kiribati Adaptation Program (KAP) is a $5.5 million project initiated by the Kiribati national government with the assistance of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and the Japanese government. Later, Australia joined the alliance, contributing US $1.5 million to the cause. The initiative will last six years and will support efforts to decrease Kiribati’s susceptibility to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise by increasing climate change awareness, evaluating and preserving accessible water resources, and controlling inundation. Representatives from each of the inhabited atolls recognized significant climate changes that had occurred over the previous 20–40 years and suggested coping strategies to cope with these changes under four categories of urgency of need at the outset of the Adaptation Program. The initiative is currently concentrating on the most vulnerable sectors in the country’s most densely inhabited regions. Improving water supply management in and around Tarawa; coastal management protection measures such as mangrove re-plantation and public infrastructure protection; strengthening legislation to prevent coastal erosion; and population settlement planning to decrease personal hazards are among the initiatives.
From April through October, the environment is pleasant, with prevailing northeastern breezes and steady temperatures around 30 °C (86 °F). Western gales produce rain and cyclones from November to March.
The amount of precipitation varies greatly between islands. The annual average rainfall in the Gilbert Islands, for example, is 3,000 mm (120 in) in the north and 500 mm (20 in) in the south. The majority of these islands are located in the dry belt of the equatorial oceanic climate zone and are subject to lengthy droughts.
In 2010, the population of Kiribati was 103,058 people. The Gilbert Islands are home to the overwhelming majority of people (>90%), with more than 33 percent residing in an area of approximately 16 km2 (6.2 sq mi) on South Tarawa. Until recently, the majority of Kiribati’s inhabitants resided in villages with numbers ranging from 50 to 3,000 on the outlying islands. The majority of homes are constructed using materials derived from coconut and pandanus plants. Because frequent droughts and poor soil make large-scale agriculture unreliable, the islanders have mainly relied on the sea for a living and sustenance. The majority of them are outrigger sailors and fisherman. Copra plants provide a secondary source of income. In recent years, a significant number of people have relocated to Tarawa, the island’s more metropolitan capital. South Tarawa’s population has risen to 50,182 as a result of increased urbanization.
Kiribati’s indigenous people are known as I-Kiribati. The I-Kiribati are Micronesians by ethnicity. Archaeological evidence suggests that Austronesians first inhabited the islands thousands of years ago. Fijians, Samoans, and Tongans colonized the islands in the 14th century, diversifying the ethnic spectrum and introducing Polynesian language characteristics. Intermarriage among all ancestral tribes, on the other hand, has resulted in a population that is very homogenous in look and customs.
Kiribati’s main religion is Christianity, which was brought by missionaries in the nineteenth century. The populace is mainly Roman Catholic (56 percent), but the Kiribati Uniting Church has a sizable following (34 percent ). Many additional Protestant faiths are represented, including evangelical congregations. Kiribati (2.2 percent) has the Bahá’ Faith faith as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the end of 2015, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) self-reported a membership of 17,472 (16.9 percent) with 26 congregations.
The Kiribati Uniting Church and the LDS Church both have significant physical presences in Kiribati, with both denominations having a considerable number of church structures, mostly in Batio and Bonriki.
Kiribati has a scarcity of natural resources. At the time of independence, commercially viable phosphate resources on Banaba had been depleted. Copra and seafood currently account for the majority of production and exports. Kiribati is regarded as one of the world’s least developed nations.
Kiribati receives a significant percentage of its revenue from overseas in one way or another. Fishing permits, development aid, worker remittances, and tourism are among examples. Kiribati must import almost all of its basic commodities and manufactured goods due to its low domestic manufacturing capacity; it relies on these external sources of revenue for funding.
Kiribati’s economy benefits from foreign development aid initiatives. The European Union (A$9 million), the United Nations Development Programme (A$3.7 million), UNICEF, and the World Health Organization (A$100,000) were the multilateral donors providing development assistance in 2009. In 2009, Australia (A$11 million), Japan (A$2 million), New Zealand (A$6.6 million), Taiwan (A$10.6 million), and other donors contributed A$16.2 million, including technical support funds from the Asian Development Bank.
Australia (A$15 million), Taiwan (A$11 million), New Zealand (A$6 million), the World Bank (A$4 million), and the Asian Development Bank were the main contributors in 2010/2011.
Kiribati created a sovereign wealth fund in 1956 to serve as a wealth repository for the country’s phosphate mining revenues. The Revenue Equalization Reserve Fund was worth $400 million in 2008. As a consequence of the global financial crisis and exposure to failing Icelandic banks, RERF assets fell from A$637 million (420 percent of GDP) in 2007 to A$570.5 million (350 percent of GDP) in 2009. Furthermore, the Kiribati government used drawdowns to cover fiscal deficits throughout this time period.
The IMF country report on Kiribati’s economy said in May 2011: “After two years of decline, the economy rebounded in the second half of 2010, and inflation pressures eased.” It is expected to increase by 1.75 percent this year. Despite a decrease in copra output due to weather, private sector activity seems to have perked up, particularly in retail. Tourist arrivals increased by 20% compared to 2009, although from a very low basis. Despite rising global food and fuel costs, inflation has fallen from 2008 crisis highs into negative territory, indicating a significant appreciation of the Australian dollar, the country’s currency, and a drop in the global price of rice. Credit growth in the entire economy slowed in 2009 as the economy stagnated. However, as the recovery gathered momentum, it began to pick up in the second half of 2010.”
ANZ, a prominent Australian bank, has a presence on Kiribati via a number of branches and ATM units.