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.

Geography

Location: Oceania, group of 33 coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean, straddling the Equator; the capital Tarawa is about halfway between Hawaii and Australia; area: 811 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)

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 highest point: unnamed elevation on Banaba 81 m

Natural resources: phosphate (production discontinued in 1979), coconuts (copra), fish

Land use: agricultural land: 42%, arable land 2.5%; permanent crops 39.5%; permanent pasture 0%; forest: 15%

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 heavy migration mixed with traditional practices such as lagoon latrines and open-pit dumping; ground water at risk

Environment – international agreements: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Whaling

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

Name: I-Kiribati

Ethnic groups: I-Kiribati 89.5%, I-Kiribati/mixed 9.7%, Tuvaluan 0.1%, other 0.8% (2010 est.)

Languages: I-Kiribati, English (official)

Religions: Roman Catholic 55.8%, Kempsville Presbyterian Church 33.5%, Mormon 4.7%, Baha’i 2.3%, Seventh Day Adventist 2%, other 1.5%, none 0.2%, unspecified 0.05% (2010 est.)

Population: 105,711 (July 2015 est.)

Urbanization: urban population 44.3% of total population (2015), rate of urbanization: 1.78% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.); major urban areas – population: TARAWA (capital) 46,000 (2014)

Physicians density: 0.38 physicians/1,000 population (2010)

Hospital bed density: 1.3 beds/1,000 population (2011)

Drinking water source: improved 66.9% of population, unimproved 33.1% of population (2015 est.)

Sanitation facility access improved total: 39.7% of population, unimproved 60.3% of population (2015 est.)

Government

Country name: Republic of Kiribati

Government type: republic

Capital: Tarawa

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

Note: on 1 January 1995, Kiribati proclaimed that all of its territory was in the same time zone as its Gilbert Islands group (UTC +12) even though the Phoenix Islands and the Line Islands under its jurisdiction were on the other side of the International Date Line

Administrative divisions: 3 geographical units: Gilbert Islands, Line Islands, Phoenix Islands

Independence: 12 July 1979 (from the UK)

National holiday: Independence Day, 12 July (1979)

Constitution: The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Order in Council 1915, The Gilbert Islands Order in Council 1975 (preindependence); latest promulgated 12 July 1979 (at independence); amended several times, last in 2013 (2015)

Legal system: English common law supplemented by customary law

Executive branch: chief of state: President Anote TONG (since 10 July 2003); Vice President Teima ONORIO (since 2003); note – the president is both chief of state and head of government

Head of government: President Anote TONG (since 10 July 2003); Vice President Teima ONORIO (since 2003), Cabinet appointed by the president from among House of Assembly members

Legislative branch: 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, 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)

Judicial branch: 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 Te Koaua Party or BTK [Anote TONG], Kamaeuraoan Te I-Kiribati Party or KTK [Tetaua TAITAI], Maurin Kiribati Pati or MKP [Rimeta BENIAMINA]; 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

National anthem: “Teirake kaini Kiribati” (Stand Up, Kiribati)

Economy

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, however, remittances and the number of seafarers employed have declined since the global crisis. In 2013, fishing license revenues contributed close to half of government’s total revenue and total remittances from seafarers were equivalent to 6% of GDP. 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 the road rehabilitation, water and sanitation projects, and renovations to the international airport, spurring some growth. Kiribati is dependent on foreign aid, which was estimated to have contributed over 43% in 2013 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 $668 million in 2013, equivalent to 381% of GDP. The RERF seeks to avoid exchange rate risk by holding investments in more than 20 currencies, including the Australian dollar, United States dollar, the Japanese yen and the Euro. Drawdowns from the RERF helped finance the government’s annual budget

Agriculture – products: copra, breadfruit, fish

Industries: fishing, handicrafts

Inflation rate (consumer prices): 1.4% (2015 est.), 2.1% (2014 est.)

Exports – commodities: fish, coconut products

Imports – commodities: food, machinery and equipment, miscellaneous manufactured goods, fuel

Currency: Australian dollars (AUD)

Communications Telephone system: generally good quality national and international service, domestic wireline service available on Tarawa and Kiritimati (Christmas Island); connections to outer islands by HF/VHF radiotelephone; wireless service available in Tarawa since 1999; international: country code – 686; Kiribati is being linked to the Pacific Ocean Cooperative Telecommunications Network, which should improve telephone service; satellite earth station – 1 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean) (2010)

Broadcast media: 1 TV broadcast station that provides about 1 hour of local programming Monday-Friday; multi-channel TV packages provide access to Australian and US stations; 1 government-operated radio station broadcasts on AM, FM, and shortwave (2009)

Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 2, shortwave 1 (may be inactive) (2002)

Internet country code: .ki

Internet users: percent of population 11.7% (2014 est.)

Transportation Airports: 19 (2013), with paved runways 4, with unpaved runways 15

Roadways: 670 km (2011)

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

Ports and terminals: Betio (Tarawa Atoll), Canton Island, English Harbor

Military and Security: no regular military forces (establishment prevented by the constitution); Police Force (2011); note: Kiribati does not have military forces, defense assistance is provided by Australia and NZ