One of the most remote Pacific Island nations on earth, Kiribati is made up of a series of atolls, or coral islands, located midway between Fiji and Hawaii close to the Equator.

With most of the islands only one to two meters (three to six feet) above sea level, Kiribati is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of rising sea levels, drought, tides and flooding.

The nation’s capital, South Tarawa, is a series of islets with a total land area smaller than 15 km2. High population density, poor hygiene practices, and inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure and services have contributed to a high prevalence of waterborne disease and degradation of the natural environment.

ocean outfalls installed to discharge wastewater
communities participated in hygiene and sanitation education programs

Beginning in 2012, SMEC worked closely with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Sustainable Energy (MISE) on the South Tarawa Sanitation Improvement Project. The program is designed to improve public health and reduce chronic water-borne diseases and fatalities, particularly infant mortality, through better access to safe and sustainable water and sanitation services. The project is funded by both the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

This is a project that has really made a difference, potentially saved lives and significantly improved the health and overall living conditions for much of the population of South Tarawa.

For the seven-year duration of the project, SMEC maintained a permanent team on the island, working to rehabilitate and upgrade the islands’ sewer network infrastructure, three ocean outfalls and other specific sanitation infrastructure. The team worked hard to overcome numerous challenges including extremely harsh and saline conditions, ocean outfalls to a depth of 30m, limited local capacity, limited utilities and supply of goods, and extremely remote and challenging living conditions.

Betio Town in South Tarawa is one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world with very poor living and public health conditions. In addition to project managing infrastructure upgrades, SMEC also delivered community engagement and capacity development activities to improve sanitation services. This included developing the Government’s capacity to maintain and operate the installed infrastructure over the long-term and promoting better sanitation awareness and practices in the community.

Completed in late 2019, the project has contributed to the significant improvement of public health and safety through delivering new and rehabilitated sewerage infrastructure, addressing the pollution of fresh groundwater reserves, and providing support and training for organisational capacity and ongoing asset management. Post-program evaluation has shown major improvements in health data, with a clear correlation drawn between the improved sanitation infrastructure and sanitation behaviors, and a reduction in chronic water-borne illness and diseases among the South Tarawa communities, particularly in the low-income urban settlements of Betio, Bairiki and Bikenibeu.


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