Kiribati + 2 more

Drought assistance to Kiribati as drinking water supplies dry up

Threats to the drinking water supplies of Kiribati from a prolonged drought are being targeted with a joint assistance package from Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia.

Foreign Affairs Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta today announced that New Zealand and Australia are investing a further NZ$1.1 million between them in a new desalination plant to support Kiribati to maintain drinking water supplies.

This funding is in addition to $1.19 million in drought support initiatives already rolled out in Kiribati by New Zealand.

“Climate change and extreme weather events are the existential security threat in the Pacific,” Nanaia Mahuta said.

“The Kiribati government has declared a nationwide State of Disaster after below normal rainfall from the prolonged La Niña weather pattern increased the salinity of groundwater reserves.

“The new funding will enable the installation of a new desalination unit in Tarawa, as well as an electricity generator and ongoing technical and maintenance support. It will have the ability to convert sea water to fresh water, and produce an additional 200,000 litres per day. Our countries are now working together to procure and deliver the unit.

“This jointly-funded equipment builds on earlier support to improve water security for the people of Kiribati.

“Aotearoa New Zealand is working with the Kiribati Public Utilities Board on a NZ$990,000 project to repair an existing desalination plant, and replace damaged pipes to improve water distribution networks. New Zealand also funds the Chief Executive position for the Utilities Board, which runs the water supply.

“After the Kiribati State of Disaster was declared last month we made NZ$150,000 available to our High Commission in Tarawa for emergency on-the-ground responses. That was on top of earlier emergency funding of $50,000 in August 2021 for Banaba Atoll’s water shortages.

“The assistance aligns with the launch of Kiribati language week by the Minister for Pacific Peoples. This supports the estimated 3,225-strong Kiribati population in Aotearoa New Zealand to nurture and enhance the Kiribati language and culture, and to plan for the future.

“We remain in close contact with Government of Kiribati and stand ready to support their response with other expertise if required,” said Nanaia Mahuta.

Aotearoa New Zealand is also coordinating assistance with UNICEF, the United States, Japan, the Pacific Community organisation (SPC) and others to support Kiribati. UNICEF last week estimated the entire Kiribati population of 119,000 people is affected by drought, and severe water shortages in the southern islands are impacting 79 per cent of the total population.