The Pacific island nation of Kiribati is in dire need of aid as drought pushes it closer to declaring a state of emergency and it struggles with rising seas and other effects of climate change which could cost “billions”, said President Taneti Maamau.

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The urgency of the problems facing low-lying Kiribati means it cannot wait for finance from international sources like the Green Climate Fund, which would take two years to arrive, he said.

The country is spending from its reserve funds as it searches for low-interest loans, he added.

“A day waiting is a day too many,” he told journalists at a UN conference on disasters in the Mexican resort of Cancun.

Maamau said his island nation had established a basis for taking disaster risk into account in its economic planning.

“But the underlying issue is the money – our public resources are not sufficient to address these climatic issues,” he said, appealing to other leaders at the meeting for help.

Comprised of 33 coral islands, Kiribati’s total land mass is only about 800 square km (309 square miles), and on average is just 2 metres (6.5 ft) above sea level. It has seen the ocean swallow chunks of its coastline, raising the prospect it may be the first nation to become a casualty of global warming. [/restrict]