Photos of Kiribati

Introduction

Background

The Gilbert Islands became a British protectorate in 1892 and a colony in 1915; they were captured by the Japanese in the Pacific War in 1941. The islands of Makin and Tarawa were the sites of major US amphibious victories over entrenched Japanese garrisons in 1943. The Gilbert Islands were granted self-rule by the UK in 1971 and complete independence in 1979 under the new name of Kiribati. The US relinquished all claims to the sparsely inhabited Phoenix and Line Island groups in a 1979 treaty of friendship with Kiribati. Kiribati joined the UN in 1999 and has been an active participant in international efforts to combat climate change.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Oceania, group of 32 coral atolls and one raised coral island in the Pacific Ocean, straddling the Equator; the capital Tarawa is about halfway between Hawaii and Australia

Geographic coordinates

1 25 N, 173 00 E

Area

total: 811 sq km

land: 811 sq km

water: 0 sq km

note: includes three island groups - Gilbert Islands, Line Islands, and Phoenix Islands - dispersed over about 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mi)

country comparison to the world: 186

Area - comparative

four times the size of Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

1,143 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Climate

tropical; marine, hot and humid, moderated by trade winds

Terrain

mostly low-lying coral atolls surrounded by extensive reefs

Elevation

mean elevation: 2 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

highest point: unnamed elevation on Banaba 81 m m

Natural resources

phosphate (production discontinued in 1979), coconuts (copra), fish

Land use

agricultural land: 42% (2011 est.)

arable land: 2.5% (2011 est.)

permanent crops: 39.5% (2011 est.)

permanent pasture: 0% (2011 est.)

forest: 15% (2011 est.)

other: 43% (2011 est.)

Irrigated land

0 sq km (2012)

Population distribution

consists of three achipelagos spread out over an area roughly the size of India; the eastern Line Islands and central Phoenix Islands are sparsely populated, but the western Gilbert Islands are some of the most densely settled places on earth, with the main island of South Tarawa boasting a population density similar to Tokyo or Hong Kong

Natural hazards

typhoons can occur any time, but usually November to March; occasional tornadoes; low level of some of the islands make them sensitive to changes in sea level

Environment - current issues

heavy pollution in lagoon of south Tarawa atoll due to overcrowding mixed with traditional practices such as lagoon latrines and open-pit dumping; ground water at risk; potential for water shortages, disease; coastal erosion

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Whaling

signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Geography - note

21 of the 33 islands are inhabited; Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati is one of the three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean - the others are Makatea in French Polynesia, and Nauru; Kiribati is the only country in the world to fall into all four hemispheres (northern, southern, eastern, and western)

People and Society

Nationality

noun: I-Kiribati (singular and plural)

adjective: I-Kiribati

Ethnic groups

I-Kiribati 96.2%, I-Kiribati/mixed 1.8%, Tuvaluan 0.2%, other 1.8% (2015 est.)

Languages

I-Kiribati, English (official)

Religions

Roman Catholic 57.3%, Kiribati Uniting Church 31.3%, Mormon 5.3%, Baha'i 2.1%, Seventh Day Adventist 1.9%, other 2.1% (2015 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 28.47% (male 16,223/female 15,604)

15-24 years: 20.24% (male 11,171/female 11,459)

25-54 years: 40.05% (male 21,530/female 23,249)

55-64 years: 6.65% (male 3,350/female 4,084)

65 years and over: 4.59% (male 2,004/female 3,122) (2020 est.)

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 67

youth dependency ratio: 60

elderly dependency ratio: 7

potential support ratio: 14.2 (2020 est.)

Median age

total: 25.7 years

male: 24.8 years

female: 26.6 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 158

Birth rate

20.27 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 74

Death rate

6.94 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 129

Net migration rate

-2.81 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 40

Population distribution

consists of three achipelagos spread out over an area roughly the size of India; the eastern Line Islands and central Phoenix Islands are sparsely populated, but the western Gilbert Islands are some of the most densely settled places on earth, with the main island of South Tarawa boasting a population density similar to Tokyo or Hong Kong

Urbanization

urban population: 55.6% of total population (2020)

rate of urbanization: 3.19% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)

Major urban areas - population

64,000 TARAWA (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.04 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 0.97 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 0.93 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 0.82 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.64 male(s)/female

total population: 0.94 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Mother's mean age at first birth

23.1 years (2009 est.)

note: median age at first birth among women 25-29

Maternal mortality rate

92 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 73

Infant mortality rate

total: 33.66 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 35.61 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 31.62 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 222

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 67.59 years

male: 65 years

female: 70.3 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 16

Drinking water source

improved: total: 71.6% of population

unimproved: total: 28.4% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

0.2 physicians/1,000 population (2013)

Hospital bed density

1.9 beds/1,000 population (2016)

Sanitation facility access

improved: total: 61.1% of population

unimproved: total: 38.9% of population (2017 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: high (2020)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea

vectorborne diseases: malaria

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 12 years

male: 11 years

female: 12 years (2008)

Unemployment, youth ages 15-24

total: 17.1%

male: 22.2%

female: 7.4% (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 76

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Republic of Kiribati

conventional short form: Kiribati

local long form: Republic of Kiribati

local short form: Kiribati

former: Gilbert Islands

etymology: the name is the local pronunciation of "Gilberts," the former designation of the islands; originally named after explorer Thomas GILBERT, who mapped many of the islands in 1788

note: pronounced keer-ree-bahss

Government type

presidential republic

Capital

name: Tarawa

geographic coordinates: 1 21 N, 173 02 E

time difference: UTC+12 (17 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

note: Kiribati has three time zones: the Gilbert Islands group at UTC+12, the Phoenix Islands at UTC+13, and the Line Islands at UTC+14

etymology: in Kiribati creation mythology, "tarawa" was what the spider Nareau named the land to distinguish it from "karawa" (the sky) and "marawa" (the ocean)

Administrative divisions

3 geographical units: Gilbert Islands, Line Islands, Phoenix Islands; note - there are no first-order administrative divisions, but there are 6 districts (Banaba, Central Gilberts, Line Islands, Northern Gilberts, Southern Gilberts, Tarawa) and 21 island councils - one for each of the inhabited islands (Abaiang, Abemama, Aranuka, Arorae, Banaba, Beru, Butaritari, Kanton, Kiritimati, Kuria, Maiana, Makin, Marakei, Nikunau, Nonouti, Onotoa, Tabiteuea, Tabuaeran, Tamana, Tarawa, Teraina)

Independence

12 July 1979 (from the UK)

National holiday

Independence Day, 12 July (1979)

Constitution

history: The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Order in Council 1915, The Gilbert Islands Order in Council 1975 (preindependence); latest promulgated 12 July 1979 (at independence)

amendments: proposed by the House of Assembly; passage requires two-thirds majority vote by the Assembly membership; passage of amendments affecting the constitutional section on amendment procedures and parts of the constitutional chapter on citizenship requires deferral of the proposal to the next Assembly meeting where approval is required by at least two-thirds majority vote of the Assembly membership and support of the nominated or elected Banaban member of the Assembly; amendments affecting the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms also requires approval by at least two-thirds majority in a referendum; amended 1995, 2013

Legal system

English common law supplemented by customary law

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt

Citizenship

citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must be a native-born citizen of Kiribati

dual citizenship recognized: no

residency requirement for naturalization: 7 years

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: President Taneti MAAMAU (since 11 March 2016); Vice President Kourabi NENEM (since 17 March 2016); note - the president is both chief of state and head of government

head of government: President Taneti MAAMAU (since 11 March 2016); Vice President Kourabi NENEM (since 17 March 2016)

cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president from among House of Assembly members

elections/appointments: president directly elected by simple majority popular vote following nomination of candidates from among House of Assembly members; term is 4 years (eligible for 2 additional terms); election last held on 22 June 2020 (next to be held in 2024); vice president appointed by the president

election results: Taneti MAAMAU reelected president; percent of vote - Taneti MAAMAU (TKB) 59.3%, Banuera BERINA (BKM) 40.7%.

Legislative branch

description: unicameral House of Assembly or Maneaba Ni Maungatabu (46 seats; 44 members directly elected in single- and multi-seat constituencies by absolute majority vote in two-rounds if needed; 1 member appointed by the Rabi Council of Leaders - representing Banaba Island, and 1 ex officio member - the attorney general; members serve 4-year terms)

elections: legislative elections originally scheduled to be held in two rounds on 7 and 15 April 2020 but rescheduled for 14 and 21 April (next to be held in 2024)

election results: percent of vote by party (second round) - NA; seats by party (second round) - NA

Judicial branch

highest courts: High Court (consists of a chief justice and other judges as prescribed by the president); note - the High Court has jurisdiction on constitutional issues

judge selection and term of office: chief justice appointed by the president on the advice of the cabinet in consultation with the Public Service Commission (PSC); other judges appointed by the president on the advice of the chief justice along with the PSC

subordinate courts: Court of Appeal; magistrates' courts

Political parties and leaders

Boutokaan Kiribati Moa Party (BKM) [Tessie LAMBOURNE]
Boutokaan Te Koaua Party or BTK or Pillars of Truth [Anote TONG]
Kamaeuraoan Te I-Kiribati Party or KTK [Tetaua TAITAI]
Maurin Kiribati Pati or MKP [Rimeta BENIAMINA]
Tobwaan Kiribati Party or TKP [Taneti MAAMAU]

note: there is no tradition of formally organized political parties in Kiribati; they more closely resemble factions or interest groups because they have no party headquarters, formal platforms, or party structures

International organization participation

ABEDA, ACP, ADB, AOSIS, C, FAO, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, IOC, ITU, ITUC (NGOs), OPCW, PIF, Sparteca, SPC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UPU, WHO, WIPO, WMO

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission:

Ambassador Teburoro TITO (since 24 January 2018)



chancery: 800 Second Avenue, Suite 400A, New York, NY 10017

telephone: [1](212)867-3310

FAX: [1](212)867-3320

note - the Kiribati Permanent Mission to the UN serves as the embassy

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: the US does not have an embassy in Kiribati; the US Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to Kiribati

Flag description

the upper half is red with a yellow frigatebird flying over a yellow rising sun, and the lower half is blue with three horizontal wavy white stripes to represent the Pacific ocean; the white stripes represent the three island groups - the Gilbert, Line, and Phoenix Islands; the 17 rays of the sun represent the 16 Gilbert Islands and Banaba (formerly Ocean Island); the frigatebird symbolizes authority and freedom

National symbol(s)

frigatebird; national colors: red, white, blue, yellow

National anthem

name: "Teirake kaini Kiribati" (Stand Up, Kiribati)

lyrics/music: Urium Tamuera IOTEBA

note: adopted 1979

Economy

Economic overview

A remote country of 33 scattered coral atolls, Kiribati has few natural resources and is one of the least developed Pacific Island countries. Commercially viable phosphate deposits were exhausted by the time of independence from the United Kingdom in 1979. Earnings from fishing licenses and seafarer remittances are important sources of income. Although the number of seafarers employed declined due to changes in global shipping demands, remittances are expected to improve with more overseas temporary and seasonal work opportunities for Kiribati nationals.

Economic development is constrained by a shortage of skilled workers, weak infrastructure, and remoteness from international markets. The public sector dominates economic activity, with ongoing capital projects in infrastructure including road rehabilitation, water and sanitation projects, and renovations to the international airport, spurring some growth. Public debt increased from 23% of GDP at the end of 2015 to 25.8% in 2016.

Kiribati is dependent on foreign aid, which was estimated to have contributed over 32.7% in 2016 to the government’s finances. The country’s sovereign fund, the Revenue Equalization Reserve Fund (RERF), which is held offshore, had an estimated balance of $855.5 million in late July 2016. The RERF seeks to avoid exchange rate risk by holding investments in more than 20 currencies, including the Australian dollar, US dollar, the Japanese yen, and the Euro. Drawdowns from the RERF helped finance the government’s annual budget.

GDP (official exchange rate)

$197 million (2017 est.)

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 23% (2016 est.)

industry: 7% (2016 est.)

services: 70% (2016 est.)

Agricultural products

coconuts, roots/tubers nes, bananas, vegetables, taro, tropical fruit, poultry, pork, nuts, eggs

Industries

fishing, handicrafts

Labor force

39,000 (2010 est.)

note: economically active, not including subsistence farmers

country comparison to the world: 197

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 15%

industry: 10%

services: 75% (2010)

Budget

revenues: 151.2 million (2017 est.)

expenditures: 277.5 million (2017 est.)

Public debt

26.3% of GDP (2017 est.)

22.9% of GDP (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 172

Current account balance

$18 million (2017 est.)

$35 million (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 61

Exports

$84.75 million (2013 est.)

$62.31 million (2012 est.)

country comparison to the world: 201

Exports - partners

Philippines 50.8%, Malaysia 17.2%, US 11.4%, Bangladesh 5.8%, Fiji 5.4% (2017)

Exports - commodities

fish, coconut products

Imports

$107.1 million (2016 est.)

$182.2 million (2013 est.)

country comparison to the world: 215

Imports - partners

Australia 29.3%, Fiji 17.3%, NZ 10.7%, China 5.8%, US 5.8%, Singapore 5.1%, Japan 4.6%, Thailand 4.1% (2017)

Imports - commodities

food, machinery and equipment, miscellaneous manufactured goods, fuel

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold

$0 (31 December 2017 est.)

$8.37 million (31 December 2010 est.)

country comparison to the world: 192

Debt - external

$40.9 million (2016 est.)

$32.3 million (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 196

Exchange rates

Australian dollars (AUD) per US dollar -

1.31 (2017 est.)

1.34 (2016 est.)

1.34 (2015 est.)

1.33 (2014 est.)

1.11 (2013 est.)

note: the Australian dollar circulates as legal tender

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 100% (2020)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 22

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: less than 1 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 221

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 51,401

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 46.48 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 205

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: generally good national and international service; wireline service available on Tarawa and Kiritimati (Christmas Island); connections to outer islands by HF/VHF radiotelephone; recently formed (mobile network operator) MNO is implementing the first phase of improvements with 3G and 4G upgrades on some islands; islands are connected to each other and the rest of the world via satellite; launch of Kacific-1 in December 2019 will improve telecommunication for Kiribati (2020)

domestic: fixed-line 1 per 100 and mobile-cellular 46 per 100 subscriptions (2019)

international: country code - 686; landing point for the Southern Cross NEXT submarine cable system from Australia, 7 Pacific Ocean island countries to the US; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean) (2019)

note: the COVID-19 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

Broadcast media

multi-channel TV packages provide access to Australian and US stations; 1 government-operated radio station broadcasts on AM, FM, and shortwave (2017)

Internet users

total: 15,946

percent of population: 14.58% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 212

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 884

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 1 less than 1 (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 198

Transportation

National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 2 (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 8

annual passenger traffic on registered air carriers: 66,567 (2018)

Airports - with paved runways

total: 4 (2017)

1,524 to 2,437 m: 4 (2017)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 15 (2013)

914 to 1,523 m: 10 (2013)

under 914 m: 5 (2013)

Waterways

5 km (small network of canals in Line Islands) (2012)

country comparison to the world: 107

Merchant marine

total: 87

by type: bulk carrier 2, general cargo 38, oil tanker 10, other 37 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 97

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Betio (Tarawa Atoll), Canton Island, English Harbor

Military and Security

Military and security forces

no regular military forces (establishment prevented by the constitution); Police Force (2011)

Military - note

Kiribati does not have military forces; defense assistance is provided by Australia and NZ

Transnational Issues