Natural Hazard Risk
The Republic of Kiribati consists of 32 low-lying coral islands in three main groups that are scattered over 3.5 million kilometers in the central Pacific Ocean. These narrow islands, most less than two kilometers wide and not more than six meters above sea level, concentrate the entire population and most infrastructure along the coast, directly exposed to climatic threats. Droughts and geo-hazards, including earthquakes and tsunamis, also present risks.
The country’s low atolls are subject to inundation from storm surge, sea level rise, and coastal erosion. Sea level rise and increasing storm surge are damaging buildings and infrastructure and causing salt water intrusion into the groundwater supply. The impact of salination on water quality and food production is leading to increased incidences of diseases and epidemics. By 2050, most of the land on the major islands is likely to become inundated.
Climate and natural disaster risks are increasing due to high population concentrations along the coast, accelerated coastal development, and environmental degradation.
The Government of Kiribati has been a global leader in drawing attention to the impacts of climate change on small island states and has made progress on disaster and climate resilience.
Institutionally, the Office of the President sets policy and coordinates the action of other ministries on climate change. The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development maintains technical knowledge on the environmental and social impacts of climate change, and provides essential technical inputs to support a whole-of-government approach to climate adaptation.
The institutional setup for national management of natural hazards and climate change, however, needs to be strengthened. Each agency’s mandate needs to be clarified to ensure better coordination and coherence.
The government is prioritizing the following areas to increase disaster and climate resilience:
- Water resources management; and,
- Long-term coastal zone management and protection.
Early support helped Kiribati and seven other Pacific Island Countries better identify climate and disaster risks. Developed as part of the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative (PCRAFI), a comprehensive risk profile for Kiribati provides a better understanding of the country’s exposure to natural hazards and climate change and informs investments.
Ongoing GFDRR projects are supporting Kiribati to improve its resilience to the impacts of natural disasters and climate change on freshwater supply and coastal infrastructure. Activities have helped protect shorelines in South Tarawa, replanted mangroves in outer islands as part of coastal erosion mitigation efforts, and supported capacity building in coastal infrastructure asset management.
Additionally, ongoing GFDRR activities are helping to enhance the government’s capacity to design and implement innovative climate adaptation measures for coastal resilience, freshwater supply, and urban resilience. This includes piloting improvements in urban water distribution networks under the World Bank-financed Third Kiribati Adaptation Program.
GFDRR also provides support to Kiribati through its Small Island States Resilience Initiative (SISRI). This initiative helps small island states build larger pipelines of climate resilience investments, provides as-requested assistance, and builds a community of practice.
GFDRR will continue to support the Government of Kiribati to:
- Implement climate adaptation measures to build coastal resilience and to manage freshwater resources; and,
- Improve capacity to manage the effects of climate change and natural hazards.