Causes of Poverty in Kiribati

Kiribati is an island country, scattered over the vast Pacific Ocean. The people believe in a very simple way of life, peace and harmony. Their traditional dances are a visual delight and a unique expression of their culture.

The economy of Kiribati depends mostly on fishing, cutting copra (dried coconut kernels) and agriculture. In the more urban South Tarawa, land and fishing resources are almost completely depleted, and there is a serious lack of job opportunities.

One in four people live below the basic needs poverty line, and the number is higher in South Tarawa. Female-headed households are more vulnerable to poverty and one-third of children in Kiribati are from households living in poverty.

The unemployment rate in Kiribati was estimated at 30% in 2010. The causes of poverty in Kiribati include factors such as a lack of skilled workers, weak infrastructure and Kiribati’s remote location away from international markets. The causes of poverty in Kiribati can be summed up by these eight issues:

  1. Employment opportunities are rare; only four in ten adults are employed. This is causing per capita income to fall.
  2. Loss of traditional skills among the youth, who are not as ready as their predecessors to live in the hardships that plague rural life.
  3. Internal migration to South Tarawa is increasing, which has caused overcrowding, poor health and sanitation problems.
  4. Degradation of natural resources due to overutilization. This is resulting in climate change that is bound to destroy the fragile ecosystem on which the people depend for their subsistence.
  5. Gender inequality; women have a lower status and lack any decision-making powers. There is also a stigma against people with disabilities.
  6. High debts incurred from informal loan providers give rise to social abuse.
  7. Population growth is one of the most important causes of poverty in Kiribati, as family planning is shunned by the Catholic Church as well as Kiribati society in general.
  8. Kiribati depends on imports for most of its food supplies, which means they are especially vulnerable to price changes. Even a household that does not identify itself as living in poverty struggles with poor diet and inadequate nutrition.

The informal traditional care system characteristic to the Kiribati way of life is disintegrating and remittances from seamen are falling. However, the government has shown its commitment to fighting against the causes of poverty in Kiribati through specific programs aimed to promote equity:

  1. Primary and junior secondary education are free.
  2. Most health services are provided for free through health clinics.
  3. The Elderly Fund is a non-contributory pension scheme for people over 67 years by way of monthly payments.
  4. The Copra Fund Subsidy helps maintain the production level, discourages migration and guarantees a minimum purchase price from the government.
  5. The Kiribati Provident Fund for formal sector employees.
  6. The Import Levy Fund subsidizes the cost of transportation to maintain prices at the same level.
  7. A price control ordinance caps price on basic need commodities.
  8. Water and electricity are subsidized for households in South Tawara.

Poverty in Kiribati is more urban in nature due to the stress it has caused on limited resources of the mainland. Another important factor is that Kiribati is heavily dependent on foreign aid and assistance to cover its financial budget, which is hardly a sustainable solution in terms of development.

The poverty of opportunity is underlying all the causes of poverty in Kiribati. To overcome the current situation, all efforts have to be focused towards the creation of direct employment as well as making the population more employable. The government needs to make major investments in its infrastructure. Also, the growth of private sector industries is very important for Kiribati to become self-sufficient. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, these efforts along with a progressive social policy is Kiribati’s best chance to fight poverty.

Tripti Sinha

Photo: Flickr