tuberculosis in KiribatiKiribati is one of the world’s smallest countries, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The 30 plus islands that together form Kiribati may be small and house a population of a little more than 100,000 people, but Kiribati is modernizing every day. The country only became fully independent in 1979 after a history of colonialism, and it joined the U.N. in 1999. Today, one of the biggest threats it faces is tuberculosis (TB). Of all the neighboring pacific island countries, Kiribati has the highest incidence of tuberculosis with a report of 349 incidents per 100,000 in 2018. While tuberculosis is endemic in Kiribati, the situation is far from hopeless. New scientific approaches to diagnosing and treating tuberculosis are making it possible to eradicate the disease in the future.

Tuberculosis and Overcrowding

Tuberculosis is directly related to overcrowding. While there are 33 total islands of Kiribati, only 20 of these islands are inhabited. Moreover, almost all of these islands are very sparsely inhabited, with around 64,000 inhabitants living on the main atoll, Tarawa. Though the nation does not boast a large overall population, the population density of the country is one of the highest in the world. Tarawa has a population density on par with major cities, like Tokyo and Hong Kong. This high population density means that most households in Kiribati are vastly overcrowded, creating a greater likelihood of spreading tuberculosis. Oftentimes, the housing lacks proper construction or proper ventilation, which also impacts the spread of TB. On average, households in Tarawa have between eight and nine people in them.

Tuberculosis and Diabetes

Tuberculosis and diabetes are often co-morbid illnesses causing major concern in Kiribati, which has one of the top 10 highest rates of diabetes in the world. In Kiribati, between one fourth and one-third of adults have diabetes, so the likelihood of having tuberculosis and diabetes is quite high. In fact, one-third of citizens with tuberculosis are also diagnosed with diabetes. This is so prevalent because diabetes can impact the treatment of tuberculosis. As a result, most of the citizens with both diabetes and TB have the infectious form of TB. This means that they pose a greater risk of spreading the illness to other members of the community.

New Methods for Catching and Eliminating TB

While tuberculosis is a serious concern to citizens of Kiribati, there are groundbreaking efforts to speedily diagnose and treat tuberculosis. Addressing TB is one of the country’s top priorities. In conjunction with organizations like the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Kiribati has managed to acquire modern diagnostic tools like portable X-ray machines. In recent years, another strategy that targets specific “hotspot” areas has proved incredibly useful in diagnosing TB in the early stages. This process focuses on areas known to have the greatest likelihood of TB by using patterns from past years to locate the most at-risk communities. After locating these communities, citizens of the area participate in screening for TB. In 2019, during a hotspot case study, healthcare workers screened 3,891 people for tuberculosis in less than two weeks. Over the course of the 11 days, they diagnosed seven new cases.

A More Positive Future

In the past few years, the general fear of tuberculosis in Kiribati has greatly diminished. With the new systems in place to screen, diagnose and treat TB, citizens have become more aware of how to prevent the spread of disease. The new systems also allow more citizens who may be living in poverty or isolated areas to access treatment. Healthcare workers go directly into the villages within each hotspot, allowing citizens to easily walk to clinics for screening. At these clinics, they receive prevention tips, pamphlets and a better understanding of how to care for themselves and those around them.

Despite overcrowding and comorbidity with diabetes, the future of tuberculosis in Kiribati is looking up. With only 323 cases in 2018 after 745 new cases in 2007, the numbers are slowly decreasing. With increased awareness and prevention tactics, along with modern technology and hotspot screening, it is hoped that this trend will continue.

– Lucia Kenig-Ziesler
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Kiribati

Kiribati is a small, low-lying island nation straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean. The nation is comprised of three archipelagoes, scattered in an area roughly the size of India. Often overlooked globally, the Kiribati people have faced a number of challenges especially since gaining independence in 1979. This struggle is illuminated by these nine facts about life expectancy in Kiribati.

9 Facts about Life Expectancy in Kiribati

  1. Kiribati ranks 174th in the world in terms of life expectancy, with the average life lasting only 66.9 years. The country ranks last in life expectancy out of the 20 nations located in the Oceania region of the Pacific.
  2. The lives of Kiribati women last approximately 5.2 years longer than their male counterparts, with female life expectancy standing at 69.5 years and the male life expectancy at 64.3 years.
  3. The entire nation’s population is the same as the population of about 4 percent of the borough of Brooklyn, with roughly 110,000 citizens. Even with such a small population, Kiribati faces serious issues relating to overcrowding. The Western Gilbert Islands (one of the three archipelagoes comprising Kiribati) boasts some of the highest population densities on earth, rivaling cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong. This overcrowding causes great amounts of pollution, worsening the quality and length of life for the Kiribati people.
  4. Due to underdeveloped sanitation and water filtration systems, only about 66 percent of those living in Kiribati have access to clean water. Waterborne diseases are at record levels throughout the country. Poor sanitation has led to an increase in cases of diarrhea, dysentery, conjunctivitis, rotavirus and fungal infections.
  5. Around 61.5 percent of Kiribati citizens smoke tobacco products on a regular basis. There are more smokers per capita in Kiribati than in any other country in the South Pacific. Due to this and other lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, there has been a drastic spike in lower limb amputations on the islands, doubling from 2011 to 2014.
  6. Suicide is on the rise. The number of self-harm related deaths increased by 14.4 percent from 2007 to 2017.  Climate change is suspected to play a large role in the growth of this troublesome statistic. With sea levels rising, the people of Kiribati deal with the daily fear that, even if only a small storm were to hit the island, the entire nation could be submerged into the Pacific. Such a foreboding possibility weighs heavily on the Kiribati people.
  7. Sexual violence is at a high in Kiribati, especially in regards to sexual violence between spouses. According to a 2010 study, approximately 68 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported experiencing physical or sexual abuse, or a combination of the two, from an intimate partner. Sexual violence towards children and adolescents is also expected to be prevalent, however, statistics are lacking in regards to children under 15.
  8. Kiribati is a young country, with a median age of 25. In most countries with relatively young median ages, women have a large number of children. This is not the case in Kiribati, where the average woman has 2.34 children. This can be viewed as a positive for the nation’s future, for when women have fewer children, the life expectancy typically experiences an increase.
  9. The Health Ministry Strategic Plan (HMSP) plans to raise both the quality and quantity of health care facilities in the country. The Ministry’s goal is to maintain a minimum of 40 trained health care professionals for every 10,000 people and to have at least 80 percent of medicines and commodities that have been deemed essential, available at all times.

– Austin Brown
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Kiribati
Kiribati is a small island country located between Hawaii and Australia. Thirty-three islands make up Kiribati, but people only inhabit 20 today. After receiving its independence in 1979, Kiribati began to focus on becoming a self-sufficient nation. However, with Kiribati’s growing population, heavy dependence on imports and reliance on income from overseas, the issue of hunger continues to grow. Here are the top nine facts about hunger in Kiribati.

Top 9 Facts About Hunger in Kiribati

  1. After an economic crisis in 2006 and according to Kiribati’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, nearly 22 percent of Kiribati’s population was living in poverty. Though most of Kiribati’s people may not be going hungry, the lack of sufficient nutrition can affect a child’s development and growth, and the children could face a variety of health issues in the future. Of the 22 percent, 5 percent were living in extreme poverty. Simultaneously, the report considered 44 percent of Kiribati’s population vulnerable.
  2. Children are not the only ones at risk of hunger, as adults also face this issue. Without sufficient nutrition, adults risk underperforming while carrying out laborious tasks. With many fisheries throughout Kiribati and a lack of variety in food, hunger threatens to disrupt Kiribati’s top export market.
  3. According to Dr. Aurelie Delisle, an environmental social scientist, the villages “are restricted to fish, rice and taro.” However, on some islands, the diet is changing. In place of the traditional fish, leafy greens and root diet, islanders are turning to imported packaged foods. According to William Verity, these areas now face “some of the world’s worst rates of obesity and diabetes.”
  4. In 2012, the U.N. defined Kiribati as a Least Developed Country (LDC). Though Kiribati has met two of the three thresholds of criteria to graduate from LDC, the U.N. does not expect Kiribati to officially graduate until December 2021. One of the goals the Committee for Development Policy (CPD) has for LDC is to ensure food security.
  5. Nearly 50 percent of Kiribati’s population live on the outer islands of the Gilbert Group. According to the World Bank, the rising prices of importing food greatly affect Kiribati’s Outer Islands. Many families “spend 50 percent of their budget on food” since the country imports most of its food. In 2011 to 2012, the World Bank and Kiribati’s government signed The Food Crisis Response Grant. The $2 million grant helped the residents improve the affordability and availability of food throughout the islands.
  6. In October 2017, Kiribati entered the third phase of the Kiribati Adaptation Program implemented by the World Bank. Kiribati put $0.87 million towards improving the resilience of the Islanders to protect against the impact of climate change on freshwater and buildings. One of the program’s primary goals was to provide islanders with safe drinking water.
  7. Families that lack access to imported goods rely heavily on agriculture. The most common crops are copra, coconuts, taro, breadfruit, banana, papaya and mango. Nearly 55 percent of Kiribati’s population depend on copra. Due to the change in climate, the heavy rainfall makes it difficult for copra and coconuts to grow.
  8. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is focusing its efforts on livestock and agriculture projects to enhance Kiribati’s food security. Due to rising sea levels, Kiribati has limited agriculture. Erosion and flooding threaten farmers livelihoods by destroying crops, roads and even villages. Despite this, the yields of coconuts and bananas are slowly improving with the agricultural techniques provided by the Timber and Forestry Training College of Papua New Guinea’s University of Technology. Nearly 600 farmers have received training in seed and nut selection, and nursery establishment and management.
  9. In September of 2014 to 2019, The Outer Island Food and Water Project (OIFWP) emerged. Focusing on the four outer islands of Abebama, Beru, North Tabiteuea and Nonouti, the OIFWP helps increase food availability through gardening and livestock, reduce the Islander’s dependence on imported foods, increase income for poor families and reduce sickness due to unclean water. Around 25 percent of Kiribati participated in the project. The project installed a total of 278 water systems throughout the islands. In 2018, the project had completed 60 percent of its goal by implementing new diets.

The fear of flooding is always on the Kiribati people’s minds. In an early phase of the Kiribati Adaption Project, participants installed systems that collect rainwater. According to the government water technician on the island of North Tarawa, there are around 50 water pumps. Ruteta, an islander who feared that children were becoming ill from the water, is “grateful because life is much simpler having rainwater.” This project ensures that Islanders have 24-hour access to fresh water.

These top nine facts about hunger in Kiribati demonstrate that hunger greatly impacts the Kiribati people’s wellbeing. Though Kiribati is a small developing country, hunger still remains. Through humanitarian efforts and grants, such as The Food Crisis Response Grant, Kiribati’s battle with hunger is one step closer to victory.

– Emily Beaver
Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture in Kiribati

Kiribati is a Pacific coral atoll nation located close to Australia. An atoll is a ring-like island formed by the rim or border of the mouth of a former volcano which is now submerged in water. Atolls are an ideal habitat for colorful coral reefs, but on the other hand, only a small set of crops can flourish here. Hence, the pressing need for sustainable agriculture in Kiribati must be acknowledged.

Kiribati is one of the most impoverished and least developed countries in the world. Here, families largely depend on subsistence agriculture for survival and nutrition. Common crops are coconuts, pandanus, pumpkins, taro, breadfruit, banana, papaya and mango. Most food items are imported from other parts of the world.

Like several other small island nations, Kiribati is critically vulnerable to climate change and global warming. According to the New Yorker, experts believe that at the current pace of rising water levels, “there would be no Kiribati after 30 years”. Kiribati president Anote Tong told the New Yorker in 2013 that “according to the projections, within this century, the water will be higher than the highest point in our lands”.

In 2014, Tong finalized the purchase of a 20-square-kilometer stretch of land on Vanua Levu, one of the larger Fiji islands, 2,000 kilometers away. The move was described by Tong as an “absolute necessity” should the nation be completely submerged.

Developing sustainable agriculture in Kiribati could increase productivity, ensure food and income security, enhance the quality of life and create inclusive and equitable economic growth for everyone. Thankfully, Kiribati has access to financial aid and agricultural expertise. Global organizations and developed nations are offering their powerhouse of knowledge to assist with sustainable economic growth in the country. It receives $36 million in foreign aid, largely from Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan.

An agreement signed by Tong and the International Fund for Agricultural Development promises $7 million to promote activities to increase the household production of fruits, vegetables, poultry, root crops and tree crops. The agreement also aims to improve diets through the consumption of a higher proportion of calories and nutrients from local food crops. It will also implement ways to harvest rainwater to increase household water supply.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has designed and implemented several programs for farmer training and soil improvement in the area to enhance the production of coconut and banana. It has slowly and steadily phased out the senile coconut trees that comprised 40 percent of the entire plantation and replaced them with a new rodent-resistant variety.

In addition, by leveraging a novel narrow pit planting system and tissue culture technology, farmers have successfully increased the production of bananas and other fruits and vegetables. In partnership with the Timber and Forestry Training College at Papua New Guinea’s University of Technology, hundreds of farmers have been trained in nursery establishment and management, use of equipment and tissue culture technology, among others.

Needless to say, the future of sustainable agriculture in Kiribati looks hopeful and bright, just like the bright yellow sun rising above the ocean waves on its national flag.

– Himja Sethi

Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Aid to Kiribati

Although Kiribati’s land mass covers 811 square kilometers, its 33 coral atolls are spread over an area the size of the United States and the vast majority rise no higher than three meters above sea level. Kiribati’s small land mass and high fertility rate mean its main centers are severely overcrowded.

Unemployment rates remain high in the island nation and only 15 percent of children attend secondary school. Only two-thirds of the population has access to an improved drinking water source, and less than 40 percent have access to adequate sanitation facilities. Tuberculosis, dengue fever, leprosy and typhoid are major health concerns for Kiribati.

The United Nations lists Kiribati as an “endangered country” because of the dangers it faces from rising sea levels, contaminated fresh water supplies and poor waste management. There is a need for humanitarian aid to Kiribati because of significant development challenges, such as:

  • Limited revenue
  • High cost of delivering basic services, such as education and healthcare, to remote islands
  • Few employment opportunities
  • Climate change

Kiribati’s economy relies on overseas aid, income from fishing licenses and remittances from merchant seamen. Most of Kiribati’s inhabitants are employed in fishing and subsistence farming, but poor soil fertility limits production. Fortunately, new programs are focusing on humanitarian aid to Kiribati.

Caritas Australia implemented The Disaster Response and Preparedness program, funded by AusAID,  in four Pacific Island countries. The three-year initiative expands Kiribati’s capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters. Caritas Australia partnered with the Diocese of Tarawa and Nauru to train local young people to work with communities and raise awareness about the impacts of climate change.

Saltwater contaminates drinking wells and high tides destroy land crops, threatening the food security of communities dependent on subsistence agriculture in Kiribati. The Disaster Response and Preparedness program pairs young people with elders to identify strategies to mitigate these effects.

This initiative has given young people the opportunity to become strong advocates for their small island at international climate change forums around the world. Humanitarian aid to Kiribati has been handed off to the next generation.

– Paula Gibson

Photo: Flickr

Infrastructure in Kiribati: One Road's Impact on Half the Population

Kiribati is home to 108,000 residents, yet 50,000 depend on the country’s one main road—the South Tarawa Road. Tarawa is the densely populated capital of Kiribati, and the South Tarawa Road is the only main road in South Tarawa.

More than half of Kiribati’s population relies on the South Tarawa Road to connect the western Betio seaport, the eastern international airport and Bonriki. The road has not been rehabilitated since the 1970s, making it a dangerous route for travelers.

Heavy rain and increased traffic have caused large potholes to form, and travel along the road becomes particularly slow, uncomfortable and dangerous after rain. Tarawa has seen an increase in upper respiratory illnesses due to the excessive dust that collects along the road during Kiribati’s dry season.

The government has recognized the need to improve infrastructure in Kiribati by establishing the Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project. The project involves the cooperation of Kiribati’s government, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Australian government.

The Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project consists of three components:

  1. Infrastructure Improvements
    Includes civil works activities to be done on the South Tarawa Road and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of paved roads.
  2. Road Sector Reform
    Includes maintenance of activities to strengthen the road sector and sustainable main road infrastructure in Kiribati.
  3. Project Support
    Includes establishment of a project management team, associated operating costs, a valuation specialist and project account audits.

The project has rehabilitated over 32 kilometers of the South Tarawa Road and upgraded six kilometers of secondary roads. Improved drainage, solar street lighting and road signage have been added to the road. Footpaths and pavement markings have also been installed to increase pedestrian safety.

Improved road infrastructure in Kiribati increases safety and reduces costs for drivers and pedestrians. Kiribati’s government aims to ensure that the road will last by supporting routine maintenance through local contractors. The local contractors will be trained to clean the drainage system, clear the roadway, fill potholes on unsealed roads, report potholes on sealed roads and maintain signage.

The Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project is the largest economic infrastructure investment in the country since World War II. Its projected completion date is June 30, 2018. The completion of the upgrades will go a long way towards improving the daily lives of Kiribati’s people.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr

Kiribati is dedicated to providing the best educational system for its children. Education in Kiribati was improved with the National Development Strategy, which was created to provide universal education to students in primary and secondary school. This means that students who attend primary school (grades 1-6) and Junior Secondary School (grades 7-9) will not have to pay, which takes an enormous financial burden off their parents.

This system is designed to take children out of the workforce, and so far it has been a large success. By 2005, there were 18,138 students enrolled in primary school. This number slowly declined to 16,710 by the year 2013, then quickly grew to 18,208 for the year 2014.

Not only does this program introduce children to education, but it also retains a very high percentage of students. Nearly 88 percent of those that participate in primary schooling move on to Junior Secondary School.

The issue that arises with education in Kiribati is when students move onto Senior Secondary School. The first obstacle that students must overcome if they wish to continue their education is passing the Junior Secondary Certificate Examination. As with most examinations, not everyone will pass, and this limits how many students can move on.

For those who have passed the exam and wish to move on, money is the next issue. As mentioned, while primary and Junior Secondary School are paid for by the government, Senior Secondary School is not. These school fees can be too much for a family to afford, even though the Kiribati government does provide some scholarships to students.

The third issue for incoming students is finding a school they can attend. Most Senior Secondary Schools are on the South Tarawa island. For students who are in other areas of Kiribati, like the Outer Islands, this means they must find a relative in the South Tarawa area or board at the school. This transportation and new residence can also cause a great financial burden on the family, which may be why only about one-third of students move onto the Senior level.

In the past several years, the government has taken steps to address the issues with education in Kiribati. In 2009, Kiribati and Australia agreed to a Partnership for Development, which concentrates on growing access to education, improving the education curriculums and developing workforce skills in students. Kiribati also launched its own Education Improvement Plan the following year, a ten-year plan which focuses on some of the same areas, but also on improving government policies and services. These programs show that Kiribati is committed to addressing the obstacles to education in the country and ensuring that all children can access it.

Scott Kesselring

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in KiribatiKiribati is a small island country in the central Pacific. The people of Kiribati have a positive outlook on life, despite the fact that many factors such as a lack of sanitation, overcrowding, high unemployment and environmental threats have led to 22 percent of the population living without basic needs.

The Ministry of Health in Kiribati provides free hospital services and public health and nursing services on the island and tries to focus on disease prevention and education. Yet, the persistence of urban poverty, climate change and poor water quality have led to a nearly constant influx of disease on the island.

Diarrheal Disease
Diarrheal outbreaks are common diseases in Kiribati for a few reasons. One of the most prevalent sources of diarrhea is dirty water. One in 20 infants dies before their first birthday in Kiribati from drinking unclean water. Some other causes of diarrheal disease are poor food handling and public defecation due to overcrowding.

Malnutrition
There are three different types of malnutrition: wasting (low weight for height), stunting (low height for age) and underweight (low weight for age). The most common type of malnutrition in Kiribati is stunting. Malnutrition not only reduces quality of life but also contributes greatly to infant mortality, weak immune systems and mortality in general.

Dengue Fever and Chikungunya Virus
Two other common diseases in Kiribati are dengue fever and chikungunya, both of which are viruses transmitted through the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. In 2015, it was reported that more than 12,000 people have been infected with mosquito-borne illnesses.

Ciguatera Poisoning
Ciguatera poisoning comes from consuming reef fish that have been contaminated by ciguatoxins, or marine biotoxins that cause food intoxication. The toxins can cause a wide range of neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular symptoms. According to research, the toxins mainly develop in shallow waters that contain seaweed, sediments and dead coral. Thus, it is possible that low sea levels and surface water temperatures are contributing to the poisoning.

Lifestyle Disease
Some of the most common diseases in Kiribati are those that stem from certain lifestyle habits or behaviors. Diseases of this kind include HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and diabetes. The prevalence of HIV and STIs are due to a lack of sexual education. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are most often associated with physical inactivity and poor eating habits. Tobacco use also contributes to respiratory disease and cancers.

Kiribati is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) on a national development plan for the 2016-2019 period that includes operational plans for the Ministry of Health and Medical Services. Immediate goals include reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases, improving maternal and child health, preventing the spread of communicable diseases and strengthening health service delivery.

Awareness and prevention of communicable disease will be key to implementing this plan. With the intervention of WHO, Kiribati has made strides in providing cost-effective, quality health services and preventing disease.

Madeline Boeding

Photo: Flickr

Kiribati Refugees
Climate change will drive migration on a massive scale in the coming years. Estimates of people fleeing natural disasters range from 25 million to 1 billion. The small island nation of Kiribati in the Pacific will be extinct by 2100. The government is trying to help the Kiribati refugees migrate with dignity, but their legal status is still in limbo.

    1. Most of the land of the Kiribati islands is less than two meters above sea level. It is therefore very vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change. Its residents may have to be the first climate change refugees.
    2. In 1999, two islands disappeared underwater. The nation is made up of 33 small islands, whose land is being swallowed by the ocean at a rate of almost 4 millimeters a year. According to the U.N., the entire nation will be submerged by 2100.
    3. Even before this drastic event occurs, changes in weather patterns are likely to produce Kiribati refugees. Droughts are becoming more severe, whilst rainfall is increasing, causing flooding. The oceans are acidifying, disturbing the delicate balance of coral reefs, whose marine ecosystems are the source of many people’s livelihoods.
    4. Freshwater supply is also problematic, as saltwater from high ocean tides is polluting wells and prolonged droughts are pushing water supplies to their limits. Many residents of South Tarawa, the island housing half of the country’s 100,000 people, are now completely reliant on rainwater.

  1. In 2003, the Kiribati government cooperated with the World Bank in the $17.7million Kiribati Adaptation Program. They built coastal sea walls, planted mangroves on the shores, developed water-management plans and invested in rainwater harvesting infrastructure, to postpone the effects of the rising ocean. The project has managed to protect one of 710 miles of Kiribati’s coastline.
  2. The former president, Anote Tong, started the “Migration with Dignity” program to ensure the Kiribati refugees will move to other states with dignity. The government has increased the level of qualifications available to citizens to those of Australia and New Zealand so that they are employable.
  3. The former president also bought 6,000 acres of land in Fiji, an island nation more than 1,000 miles away. This will act as a refuge for any Kiribati residents who will need to relocate.
  4. A Kiribati citizen applied for asylum in New Zealand in 2011. Four years later he was rejected and deported back to his sinking homeland.
  5. The 1951 Refugee Convention defines refugees as those “fleeing persecution at home.” As such, the Kiribati refugees are not protected by international law. “The truth is no one agency in the system because no one could have imagined this situation 60 years ago,” said José Riera, a senior advisor to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.
  6. The Paris Agreement signed this past April does little to help climate change refugees. It didn’t resolve the issue of their legal status or mandate their protection.

It is hopeful that with the help of the government and international aid, each refugee, resident and the overall island will be preserved.

Eliza Gkritsi

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Kiribati
There is no translation for the word ‘poverty’ in Kiribati, a small island in the Central Pacific. This is because many do not consider themselves or those around them poor. In Kiribati, there is a prevalent belief that you are not poor unless you cannot maintain a subsistence living by going out and fishing or foraging for basic needs from the land. To most of those who call the island home, poverty means having nothing at all.

Despite this positive outlook, many people throughout the country are struggling to obtain basic needs on a day-to-day basis. An estimated 22 percent of the entire Kiribati population was living beneath the “basic needs” poverty line in 2006, according to the Australian High Commission in Kiribati. The households below this line face the struggles that poverty in Kiribati entails on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. Many inhabitants live in unregulated housing without access to clean water, sanitation or other basic hygiene utilities.

The rise in poverty in Kiribati has to do with a few interlinked factors. The first is an increase in cash as a necessity, as opposed to living off of the land. Subsistence farming, once the norm, is threatened by environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources. Thus, this need for cash has increased as the population becomes more urbanized and the expense of living goes up. Means of earning cash are limited, however. These options are particularly limited for women and people with disabilities, and formal employment is sparse. The Australian High Commission in Kiribati reports that only 10 percent of the total population held jobs in 2010.

Low rates of employment are strongly linked to a lack of education. There is a cyclical low education rate in Kiribati, with undereducated parents unable to pay their children’s tuition fees. For those who do attend school, schools are understaffed and poorly organized for optimal learning. Without proper education — or, in many cases, any education — it is difficult for children to move out of poverty. Employment opportunities are thus largely limited to low-paying jobs.

Urban poverty, lack of sanitation and overcrowding have given health problems to many in Kiribati. Health and poverty are closely linked in Kiribati, even though healthcare is free. Though there is no out-of-pocket charge for health care, sickness incurs income or education opportunity losses. This can be hugely damaging to livelihoods.

Consequently, the people in Kiribati end up borrowing money from “loan sharks,” or unofficial loan providers. These providers often charge high-interest rates that lead to the Kiribati people remaining in or diving further into debt.

Although they may not have a word for poverty, this does not mean those in Kiribati do not require aid. Currently, the country is involved in the Australia-Kiribati Partnership for Development, which attempts to relieve some of the poverty in Kiribati. This foreign aid helps improve basic education, bolster workforce development and improve infrastructure. Further, non-government organizations (NGOs) and donors provide much of the relief for poverty in Kiribati. International NGOs stationed in the country include Live and Learn, Caritas and Red Cross and Rotary, while local NGOs include Te Tao Matoa, Kiribati Family Health Association and the School for Children with Special Needs.

One way to help those in Kiribati is by supporting bills like the Education for All Act, a low-cost bipartisan bill that would help ensure worldwide educational expansion for children in low-income countries. Improving education is the first step in improving living conditions in Kiribati, as it would give children opportunities for better futures.

Kayla Provencher

Photo: Flickr