As the sun creeps above the horizon, Kaure Itipo walks from his coastal village to the solar-powered water pump on the other side of Nabeina, a tiny islet in North Tarawa, Kiribati.
Kaure inspects the parts and finds nothing out of order, then opens the well to check the water level inside. Satisfied that the system is ready thanks to the series of checks he learned from his elders, Kaure switches on the pump.
“I’m very happy to have this daily responsibility,” Kaure says, proudly reflecting on his volunteer role looking after the new pump. “This is the lifeline for my family and my community.”
Kiribati must adapt to climate change
Part of the World Bank’s Kiribati Adaptation Program, which recently wrapped-up its third phase, the new solar water pump in Nabeina draws from an underground water source to a raised water tank, with gravity then transporting the clean water down to three taps scattered around the Nabeina community, ensuring residents have 24-hour access to fresh drinking water close to their homes.
Straddling the equator in the middle of the Central Pacific Ocean, Kiribati is made up of 33 coral atolls spread across 3.5 million km² (1.3 square miles) of ocean the size of India. Most of Kiribati’s islands are just a few hundred meters wide and have an average height of 1.8 meters (six feet) above sea level, making the country one of the most vulnerable in the world to the effects of climate change and sea level rise.
Climate change related king tides and surges caused by storms in the Pacific Ocean can wash over entire islands, causing flooding for days and contaminating drinking water supplies for weeks and even months. With the entire population and the majority of infrastructure located on the coast, damage and coastal erosion from high tides, storm surges and salt water are increasingly becoming major issues for communities.
Yet even by Kiribati’s tough standards, the location of Nabeina village makes these challenges particularly difficult. While still part of the main island group of Kiribati, North Tarawa is only accessible by boat and remains largely subsistence-based; with residents gathering most of their food and water from their surroundings and using groundwater from shallow wells – that are easily contaminated – for all their cooking, drinking and farming needs.