Facts & Figures
President: Anote Tong (2003)
Total area: 313 sq mi (811 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 104,488 (growth rate: 1.18%); birth rate: 21.85/1000; infant mortality rate: 35.47/1000; life expectancy: 65.47
Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Tarawa, 44,000
Monetary unit: Australian dollar
- Kiribati Main Page
- Kiribati Enacts Controversial Legislation
Kiribati, formerly the Gilbert Islands, consists of three widely separated main groups of southwest Pacific islands: the Gilberts on the equator, the Phoenix Islands to the east, and the Line Islands farther east. Ocean Island, producer of phosphates until it was mined out in 1981, is also included in the 2 million square miles of ocean. Most of the islands of Kiribati are low-lying coral atolls built on a submerged volcanic chain and encircled by reefs.
Kiribati was first settled by early Austronesian-speaking peoples long before the 1st century A.D. Fijians and Tongans arrived about the 14th century and subsequently merged with the older groups to form the traditional I-Kiribati Micronesian society and culture. The islands were first sighted by British and American ships in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the first British settlers arrived in 1837. A British protectorate since 1892, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands became a Crown colony in 1915–1916. Kiritimati (Christmas) Atoll became a part of the colony in 1919; the Phoenix Islands were added in 1937.
Tarawa and others of the Gilbert group were occupied by Japan during World War II. Tarawa was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. Marine Corps history when marines landed in Nov. 1943 to dislodge the Japanese defenders. The Gilbert Islands and Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu) were separated in 1975 and granted internal self-government by Britain. Kiribati became independent on July 12, 1979.
Kiribati Enacts Controversial Legislation
Kiribati's 1995 act of moving the international date line far to the east, so that it encompassed Kiribati's Line Islands group, courted controversy. The move, which fulfilled one of President Tito's campaign promises, was intended to enable Kiribati to become the first country to see the dawn on Jan. 1, 2000, and welcome the new millennium—an event of significance for tourism. In 1999, Kiribati gained UN membership.
In 2002, Kiribati passed a controversial law enabling it to shut down newspapers. The legislation followed the launching of Kiribati's first successful nongovernment-run newspaper. Anote Tong of the opposition party, Boutokaan Te Koaua, was elected president in 2003. He was reelected in 2007 and again in 2012.
Climate change and rising sea levels have threatened the very existence of Kiribati, which consists of 32 low-lying islands that are only about 10 feet above sea level and a mere 1.2 miles wide, leaving little room for residents to retreat from the eroding shoreline. A rise in temperatures, drought, and the attendant depletion of freshwater have put a strain on the economy and the well-being of residents.
As part of a plan for "migration with dignity," President Tong finalized the purchase of 6,000 acres on the Fiji island of Vanua Levu for more than $8 million during the summer of 2014.