What you need to know
Kiribati officially the Republic of Kiribati, is an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean. The nation comprises 33 atolls and reef islands and one raised coral island, Banaba. They have a total land area of 800 square kilometres (310 sq mi) and are dispersed over 3.5 million square kilometres (1,351,000 square miles). Their spread straddles the equator and the 180th meridian, although the International Date Line is indented to bring the Line Islands in the same day as the Kiribati Islands. The International Date Line circumscribes Kiribati by swinging far to the east, almost reaching the 150°W meridian. Kiribati’s easternmost islands, the southern Line Islands, south of Hawaii, have the most advanced time on Earth, UTC+14 hours.
Kiribati became independent from the United Kingdom in 1979. The capital and now most populated area, South Tarawa, consists of a number of islets, connected by a series of causeways. These comprise about half the area of Tarawa Atoll. Kiribati is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the IMF and the World Bank, and became a full member of the United Nations in 1999.
Population: 407,000 (1990)
Area: 169.9 mi²
Kiribati was inhabited for 2000 years prior to European contact. Under British colonial rule, it was known as the Gilbert Islands and was administered along with the neighbouring group Ellice Islands (now the independent Polynesian nation of Tuvalu). Kiribati was granted self-rule by the UK in 1971 and complete independence in 1979. The US relinquished all claims to the sparsely inhabited Phoenix and Line Island groups in a 1979 treaty of friendship with Kiribati. The name “Kiribati” is pronounced “Kiri-bass”, and is derived from the Gilbertese pronunciation of the English word “Gilberts” (i.e. the Gilbert Islands). Gilbertese is the national language and belongs the Micronesian language family.
The Phoenix and Line Islands were generally held to be on the east side of the International Date Line and are in different time zones from the Gilbert Islands group, but on 1 January 1995, Kiribati proclaimed that all of its territory was on the same calendar day (skipping 31 December 1994 in those island groups), effectively extending the Date Line further eastward to accommodate this. This makes the Line Islands the farthest “ahead” of any territory on the planet.
In 1995 Kiribati suspended diplomatic relations with France to protest the latter’s decision to resume nuclear testing on Muraroa Atoll. In 1999 the government claimed that two atolls had been lost due to sea level rise and subsequently, in 2002, joined with Tuvalu and the Maldives to take legal action against the US for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol. The presence of gun emplacements and ship wrecks from WWII battles on South Tarawa makes shipwreck diving a common tourist activity.
The Turkmenistani Manat is the currency of Turkmenistan. The currency code for Manats is TMT. Everything bought in Turkmenistan will be paid for in manats, but travel agencies and hotels still usually require payment in US dollars, so it’s best to keep a supply of both currencies with you on the road. Cash advances on credit cards are only available in Ashgabat at banks and, if you’re lucky, at the few functioning ATMs taking international cards
The climate is pleasant from April to October, with predominant northeastern winds and stable temperatures close to 30 °C (86 °F). From November to March, western gales bring rain and occasional cyclones.
Precipitation varies significantly between islands. For example, the annual average is 3,000 mm (120 in) in the north and 500 mm (20 in) in the south of the Gilbert Islands. Most of these islands are in the dry belt of the equatorial oceanic climatic zone and experience prolonged droughts.
The people of Kiribati speak an Oceanic language called “Gilbertese”. Although English is also an official language, it is not used very often outside the island capital of Tarawa. It is more likely that English is mixed in its use with Gilbertese. Older generations of I-Kiribati tend to use more complicated versions of the language. Several words in Gilbertese have been adopted from European settlers, for instance, kamea is the Gilbertese word for dog, which has its origins in the I-Kiribati people hearing the European settlers saying “come here” to their dogs, and adopting that as kamea.
Kiribati is generally a safe place to travel. However, it may be risky to be outside after dark in Beito or along the beach in South Tarawa, especially for single females. However, virtually all problems are caused by drunk males, not career criminals. Normal common sense applies when moving around.
Some care should be taken on the roads as the traffic can include pigs, children, dogs and buses all fighting for road space.
The population of Kiribati has a life expectancy at birth of 60 years (57 for males, and 63 for females) and an infant mortality rate of 54 deaths per 1,000 live births. Tuberculosis has a small presence in the country, with 365 cases of 100,000 a year. Government expenditure on health was at US$268 per capita (PPP) in 2006. In 1990–2007, there were 23 physicians per 100,000 persons. Since the arrival of Cuban doctors, the infant mortality rate has decreased significantly.
Most health problems are related to consumption of semi-raw seafood, limited amount of food storage facilities, and bacterial contamination of fresh water supplies. In the early 2000s, between 1 and 7% of the population, depending on the island, were annually treated for food poisoning in a hospital. Modernization and cross-cultural exchange of the late 20th century brought new issues of unhealthy diet and lifestyle; heavy smoking, especially among the young population; and external infections, including HIV/AIDS.
Kiribati is the country with the third highest prevalence of smoking, with 54% of the population reported as smokers.
Fresh water remains a concern of Kiribati – during the dry season (Aumaiaki), water has been drilled for instead of using rain water tanks. In recent years, there has been a longer than usual Aumaikai season resulting in additional water having to be drilled from beneath the water table. This has introduced water-borne illnesses, compounding the health problems within Kiribati.
Kiribati has few natural resources. Commercially viable phosphate deposits on Banaba were exhausted at the time of independence. Copra and fish now represent the bulk of production and exports. Kiribati is considered one of the least developed countries in the world.
In one form or another, Kiribati gets a large portion of its income from abroad. Examples include fishing licenses, development assistance, worker remittances, and tourism. Given Kiribati’s limited domestic production ability, it must import nearly all of its essential foodstuffs and manufactured items; it depends on these external sources of income for financing.
The economy of Kiribati benefits from international development assistance programs. The multilateral donors providing development assistance in 2009 were the European Union (A$9 million), the United Nations Development Programme (A$3.7 million), UNICEF, and the World Health Organisation (A$100,000). The bilateral donors providing development assistance in 2009 were Australia (A$11 million), Japan (A$2 million), New Zealand (A$6.6 million), Taiwan (A$10.6 million), and other donors providing A$16.2 million, including technical assistance grants from the Asian Development Bank.
In May 2011, the IMF country report assessment of the economy of Kiribati is that: “After two years of contraction, the economy recovered in the second half of 2010 and inflation pressure dissipated. It is estimated to have grown by 1.75% for the year. Despite a weather-related drop in copra production, private sector activity appears to have picked up, especially in retail. Tourist arrivals rebounded by 20% compared to 2009, although from a very low base. Despite the rise in world food and fuel prices, inflation has bounced from 2008 crisis-highs into negative territory, reflecting the strong appreciation of the Australian dollar, which is used as the domestic currency, and a decline in the world price of rice. Credit growth in the overall economy declined in 2009 as economic activity stalled. But it started to pick up in the second half of 2010 as the recovery gained traction.”
Primary education is free and compulsory for the first six years, now being extended to nine years. Mission schools are slowly being absorbed into the government primary school system. Higher education is expanding; students may seek technical, teacher or marine training, or study in other countries. To date, most choosing to do the latter have gone to Fiji to attend University of South Pacific, and those wishing to complete medical training have been sent to Cuba.
University of South Pacific has a campus in Kiribati for distant/flexible learning, but also to provide preparatory studies towards obtaining certificates, diplomas and degrees at other campus sites.
Christianity is the major religion in Kiribati, having been introduced by missionaries in the 19th century. The population is predominantly Roman Catholic (56%), although a substantial portion of the population belongs to the Kiribati Uniting Church (34%). Many other Protestant denominations, including evangelical churches, are also represented. The Bahá’í Faith religion also exists in Kiribati (2.2%), along with Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) self-reports a membership of 17,472 (16.9%) with 26 congregations at the end of 2015.
The Kiribati Uniting Church and the LDS Church maintain large physical presences in Kiribati; both churches have a large number of church buildings, predominantly in Batio and Bonriki.
It is generally difficult moving around Kiribati. Time, planning and patience are needed. Shipping services are available between most of the islands in Kiribati. They transport passengers, cargo and vehicles. Allow room for the unexpected especially with domestic air services and inter-island shipping and ferry services. As well as this, the sea transport throughout the islands is tide dependant therefore vary regularly. There are no taxis in Kiribati. Most of the outer islands do not have motorised vehicles. The only way to get around these areas is on foot or bicycle and occasionally motorbikes.