Kiribati. With the support of Australia, the Kiribati authorities began work in early 2009 to find a sustainable way to utilize the country’s scarce freshwater resources. According to countryaah, Kiribati lacks surface water and drought is a major problem. The residents are dependent on rainwater and so-called aquifers (natural groundwater storage) that exist in the soil, but many of these are overused. The lack of drinking water in the country’s southern islands is starting to become disastrous, President Anote Tong told parliament in April. MPs from the islands in the south, who had asked the government for help, said some villagers were about to leave their homes when the drinking water had begun to be mixed with salt water. Others went far to fetch water. One reason for the acute water shortage was that it had not rained for a long time. The government helped the local authorities to find water, and in collaboration with the Australian experts, a long-term solution would also be found. Researchers from the National University of Australia started developing a water resource policy for Kiribati during the year.
In June, the authorities launched a national campaign to stop the spread of tuberculosis. In 2008, Kiribati had registered the most tuberculosis cases in the Pacific region, 176, and the spread of infection increased in 2009.
A political conflict arose in July on the island of Maiana. The island’s chief minister demanded that a new election be held and invited the members of the local parliament to resign. However, the mayor and some of the members refused and turned to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the chief council was not entitled to dissolve the democratically elected parliament. Nevertheless, the Council continued to demand that Parliament resign. Later, the mayor’s residence was burned down and a man died, which resulted in the members still resigning. In August, the Environment Minister resigned in protest against the government intervening too late in the conflict.
In September, governments in Kiribati and the United States signed an agreement to work together to manage two of the world’s largest marine protection areas, which are close to each other. It is about the Papahānaumokuākea Marine Park in Hawaii and the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati. Together, the two marine parks make up a quarter of the world’s marine protection areas.
In November, Kiribati, along with ten other Pacific Islander nations, demanded that the UN adopt a legally binding agreement at the Copenhagen climate summit in December. The group’s spokesman, Palau’s UN ambassador Stuart Beck, said before the UN General Assembly that only a binding climate agreement can save low-lying countries such as Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu. After the climate meeting, President Anote Tong expressed his great disappointment that it was not a binding UN document signed by all countries. Anote Tong asked if it makes any sense at all for international negotiations because “we seem to continue to think in nationalist terms without regard to the price that other countries may pay”.