Health in Kiribati

General information

Kiribati (pronounced ‘Kirabas’) spreads across the central Pacific, intersected by the equator and formerly the International Date Line, with most other Commonwealth Pacific island countries lying to its south. Its 33 islands are scattered across 5.2 million sq km of ocean. There are three groups of islands: 17 Gilbert Islands (including Banaba), eight Line Islands and eight Phoenix Islands.

The north/south extent is 2,050 km. Kiritimati (formerly Christmas Island) is the world’s biggest coral atoll (388 sq km). Kiritimati in the east is about 3,780 km from Banaba (formerly Ocean Island) in the west.

Climate

Varies from maritime equatorial (central islands) to tropical in the north and south. There is little temperature variation: from an average 29°C in the southern Gilberts to 27°C in the Line Islands, dropping by less than 1°C in the coolest months. Humidity is constant at 70-90 per cent. North-west trade winds blow between March and October. From November to April, there are occasional heavy rains, and strong to gale force winds, though Kiribati is outside the cyclone belt. Rainfall patterns vary considerably from year to year; drought is a constant danger.

In 1997, Kiritimati was devastated by El Niño, which, according to scientists studying the island, brought heavy rainfall, a half-metre rise in sea levels and extensive flooding. Some 40 per cent of the coral was killed and the 14 million bird population, reputed to be the world’s richest, deserted the island.

Environment

The most significant environmental issues are limited natural freshwater resources and heavy pollution of the south Tarawa lagoon, due to population growth around the lagoon and traditional practices such as lagoon latrines and open-pit dumping.

Population

101,000 (2012); the Phoenix Islands and central and southern Line Islands are mostly uninhabited; 44 per cent of people live in urban areas; population growth is 1.6 per cent p.a. 1990-2012; birth rate 23 per 1,000 people (41 in 1970); life expectancy 69 years (49 in 1970).

The government’s resettlement programme, which began in 1989, aimed to transfer almost 5,000 people from the densely populated western atolls to the Line and Phoenix Islands. Five of the Phoenix Islands were designated for residential development in 1995, especially for people from the overcrowded island of South Tarawa.
The people are mostly of Micronesian origin (98.8 per cent in 2000 census). There are also Polynesian and European-descended minorities.

Economy

Kiribati is classified as a lower-middle-income economy by the World Bank.

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