SUVA (STUFF NZ) — Safe drinking water in the Pacific nation of Kiribati is in short supply, the United Nations has warned.
And supplies could reach critical levels within the next month under the drought faced by the country, said the UN’s top official in Kiribati Nick Chudeau.
Kiribati shocked the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Fiji this week when it withdrew its support of the regional body, citing concerns over the leadership.
But this could be the least of President Taneti Maamau and his government’s problems. Chudeau said the challenge for Kiribati is it relies entirely on rainwater harvesting from ancient wells.
Maamau declared a state of disaster last month with 120,000 i-Kiribati affected by the drought after rainfall levels hit lowest in the past six months.
Chudeau said children and their families were already vulnerable and most at risk of the drought conditions.
“We are working … to ensure that children and their families affected by the drought have access to safe drinking water by diversifying water supply sources through desalination, and water tracking, and increasing water storage capacity.”
Chudeau said the saltwater intrusion in a South Tarawa water reserve and threats to the drinking water supplies were irreversible.
New Zealand and Australia said Kiribati’s withdrawal from the forum would not affect their access to assistance from both countries, with an assistance package worth more than $2 million confirmed.
New Zealand is committed to providing long-term assistance for water security in South Tarawa including the repair of critical water infrastructure, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said on Wednesday. Mahuta and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern are attending the Leaders Forum in Fiji.
Mahuta said the New Zealand High Commission in Tarawa is working with the Kiribati Government to determine what additional support might be required.
Mahuta also announced that New Zealand and Australia are investing a further $1.1m for a desalination plant to support Kiribati maintain its drinking water supplies.
This funding is in addition to $1.19m in drought support initiatives already rolled out in Kiribati by New Zealand, Mahuta said.
“Climate change and extreme weather events are the existential security threat in the Pacific,” Mahuta said. “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.
New Zealand is also co-ordinating assistance with UNICEF, the United States, Japan, the Pacific Community organisation (SPC) and others to support Kiribati, Mahuta said.
UNICEF last week estimated the entire Kiribati population is affected by the drought, and severe water shortages in the southern islands are impacting 79percent of the total population.
“Aotearoa New Zealand is working with the Kiribati Public Utilities Board on a $990,000 project to repair an existing desalination plant, and replace damaged pipes to improve water distribution networks,” said Mahuta. “New Zealand also funds the Chief Executive position for the Utilities Board, which runs the water supply.
“After the State of Disaster was declared last month, we made $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 the Banaba Atoll’s water shortages.”
The assistance aligns with the launch of Kiribati Language Week in Aotearoa by the Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio.
“This supports the estimated 3225-strong i-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.”
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who is also at the Suva summit, said her government’s development assistance would continue unhindered despite Kiribati’s decision to withdraw from the Pacific Islands Forum.
“Our development assistance doesn’t come with those sorts of political strings attached,” Wong said. “We have announced an additional $2 million of assistance to Kiribati to assist with their crippling drought. And that’s on top of the $600,000, we announced a couple of weeks ago, so it’s very important that aid is unconditional like that.”
The United States said it’s providing $US500,000 in humanitarian assistance to respond to the drought across Kiribati……PACNEWS