As natural hazards continue to threaten the Pacific, Kiribati rises to the challenge
A low-lying atoll nation in the central Pacific Ocean, Kiribati has a population of just over 110,000 people. Below average rainfall since November 2016 has led to an ongoing drought across the country, with the southern island most severely affected.
The extended period of drought has depleted the supply of fresh water. This lack of fresh water has also been exacerbated by frequent storms, rising sea levels and coastal flooding, leaving wells and groundwater sources unusable. “Due to the frequency of these natural hazards and the changing weather patterns, we are becoming more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” said Michael Foon, a representative of the Office of the President of Kiribati.
Kiribati’s traditional dry season, or Aumaiaki, occurs between April and September, with the rainy season, or Aumeang, from October to March. However, due to changes in climate, the country has been experiencing extreme drought-like conditions even during the traditional rainy season.
The Government has been taking a proactive leadership role to strengthen its capacity to respond to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. In response to the current drought, messaging to the public focused on encouraging water conservation as well as installation of desalination plants and rehabilitation of solar-powered water systems on outer islands.
Water is life for a small atoll island nation, and the Government has urged regional and international actors to play a role in mitigating the impact of the drought across Pacific nations.
In June 2017, OCHA undertook a mission to Kiribati to support an information management training for Government officials. Following this training, the government undertook a joint, multi-sector assessment to determine the needs of the drought-affected communities.
While the Government continues to monitor the drought situation and provide support to affected people, communities themselves are also taking measures to build resilience and reduce vulnerability from the impacts of climate change and drought. “We are using the community hall as water catchment, while we hope for more rain to come. The installation of a water tank beside our community hall will assist in the collection of water when it rains,” said one community church leader.
Kiribati just took part in the COP 23 meeting chaired by Fiji in Bonn, Germany. In October 2017 the island nation also participated in the Pacific Resilience Week joint events in Fiji’s capital Suva, which included the Pacific Humanitarian Partnership Meeting, Pacific Roundtable for Climate Change and the Joint Pacific Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change, which were jointly implemented by SPC, SPREP, UNISDR and OCHA.
These events sought harmonization amongst Pacific nations around the Framework of Resilient Development in the Pacific (FRDP).