Kiribati has an average elevation of less than two meters above sea level.

Boosting Climate Resilience through Adaptive Water Management in Kiribati

By Dr. Pierre Mukheibir, Louise Boronyak-Vasco


An i-Kiribati elder fetching water from the village well.

Improved decision-making around the diversification of water resources is a crucial step towards reducing vulnerability to climate change, especially for low-lying islands such as Kiribati’s 33 atolls. Therefore, in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, over 270 government officials, members of civil society organizations and atoll community leaders acquired skills to manage water supplies in the face of changing conditions. 


A village well in Kiribati.

They learned to identify locally relevant indicators of change, such as water contamination or shortages, to meet basic health and well-being needs of community members.

In Kiribati, hand-dug groundwater wells that supply most of the potable water to the population are becoming increasingly affected by saltwater intrusion resulting from frequent coastal inundation and accelerated coastal erosion caused by sea level rise and the increased frequency of storms and tropical cyclones. This makes the water unfit for drinking or bathing, increases the risk of epidemics, and reduces potential agricultural yields.


The DAMP handbook developed by the project guided the facilitators in the practice-based training workshops.

These are serious health concerns in a country that already has the highest child (under–five) mortality rate in the western Pacific region, nine times that of the United States. Illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia are the leading causes of death in Kiribati and are strongly related to poor hygiene from limited access to potable water and sanitation facilities.

From September 2015 to October 2017, the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) at the University of Technology Sydney, in partnership with local non-governmental organization Kiribati Climate Action Network (KiriCAN), implemented the Supporting Community Adaptation to Water Shortages in Kiribati project through a grant from USAID’s Pacific-American Climate Fund.


Mapping the new responses to the impacts and indicators. From “Dynamic Adaptive Management Pathways for Drinking Water Security in Kiribati” by Pierre Mukheibir, Louise Boronyak-Vasco and Pelenise Alofai in Climate Change Adaptation in Pacific Countries © Springer International Publishing AG 2017.

The project developed a suite of tools and processes which draw from traditional knowledge and other best practices, and serve to illustrate various water supply options as well as the conditions that indicate when a new water source should be utilized. These tools have been compiled into the Dynamic Adaptive Management Process (DAMP) handbook that was translated in the local language i-Kiribati and served to guide the training workshops conducted jointly by ISF and KiriCAN.


The outreach training focused on members of the Village Water Committees on the attolls.

The project included the training of facilitators from KiriCAN, the Ministry of Public Works (MPWU) and civil society organizations. The project also engaged relevant policymakers, such as senior staff from the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, as well as the local government council, water technicians, and desalination staff, in order to enhance their capacity to work with local communities to identify and plan climate adaptive responses for water issues.


The project trained facilitators from local climate change NGO KiriCAN.

Outreach trainings in adaptive water management were subsequently conducted in the capital Tarawa and ten outer islands, reaching 178 community members including members of the Village Water Committees.


Connecting the dots in the water technicians’ training.

At the conclusion of the project, ISF conducted an evaluation using several tools including an NGO evaluation survey, a review forum with trained facilitators, collation and analysis of evaluation forms, a post-workshop discussion, and semi-structured interviews with facilitators. Ninety eight percent (98%) of survey respondents (94 out of 96) said they learned to identify and select viable water supply options using a range of criteria.

In addition, the interviews and discussions showed that water management practices have improved even at the household level following the workshop, and that participants share their new knowledge and skills with families and communities. Overall, the evaluation showed that the capacity of individuals, organizations, and communities was significantly strengthened, enabling improved water management.

“We now have a handbook that is published in our own language,” said Pelenise Alofa, KiriCAN project manager, “the thoughts are simple and yet thought-provoking. We previously took things for granted, but the impact mapping helps us see the connections.” Alofa added that KiriCAN will continue training atoll communities beyond the life of the USAID project as they continue to receive requests for the water management training – a clear indication that this adaptive skill is needed in Kiribati’s atoll communities.

By regularly reviewing how their supply options are functioning under changing conditions, communities will be able to plan adaptive responses to any adverse changes in a timely manner. The challenge will then be to leverage sufficient capital to build the necessary infrastructure and to ensure the necessary technical skills are provided and retained on the islands where it will be needed to avoid water shortages into the future.

The handbook “Dynamic Adaptive Management Process” developed through USAID’s “Supporting Community Adaptation to Water Shortages in Kiribati” project is available in English through this link:…







Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Coastal, Resilience, Water and Sanitation

Dr. Pierre Mukheibir

Dr. Pierre Mukheibir is an Associate Professor with the Institute for Sustainable Futures-University of Technology Sydney. He is also the project director of the “Supporting Community Adaptation to Water Shortages in Kiribati” project supported by USAID’s Pacific-American Climate Fund.

Louise Boronyak-Vasco

Louise Boronyak-Vasco is a Researcher with the Institute for Sustainable Futures-University of Technology Sydney. She is also the project manager of the “Supporting Community Adaptation to Water Shortages in Kiribati” project supported by USAID’s Pacific-American Climate Fund.

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