250px-Kiribati_on_the_globeMost people in the world have no idea what a ‘Kiribati’ is.

The Gilbert and Ellice Islands gained independence in the 1970s, Gilbert Islands became Kiribati (a corruption of Gilbert in the native language) and the Ellice Islands became Tuvalu.

Kiribati is recognised as being the first country in the world to disappear in the event of rising sea levels as the highest land point is two metre (6.6′) asl.

But they have another problem.

Kiribati: Tiny island’s struggle with overpopulation

Kiribati’s main island – South Tarawa – has a population density similar to Tokyo or Hong Kong

The Pacific island chain of Kiribati is one of the most densely settled places on Earth. The BBC’s Julian Siddle investigates how the island is dealing with its overpopulation problem.

Kiribati is perhaps best known as one of the countries most likely to disappear due to climate change.

Most people who live on Kiribati’s main island – South Tarawa – rely on the surrounding seas for their livelihoods.

The ocean is also the greatest threat to their future survival: No land on this island sits more than 2m (6ft 6in)above sea level, so rising seas could prove devastating.

But that’s not the only challenge facing this Pacific nation.

Stretching over 3.5 million sq km (1.35 sq mi) of the ocean, Kiribati consists of several islands spread across a territory of similar size to India, but most of the population is concentrated on South Tarawa.

This tiny crescent of land is home to around 50,000 people – it’s overcrowded, with a population density similar to Tokyo or Hong Kong.

“We’ve a relatively stable climate at them moment, but a shift in weather patterns, that pushes us into the hurricane belt, that could wipe us out,” Kiribati’s President Anote Tong told the BBC World Service programme Discovery.

He has long campaigned on the international stage to fund the development of Kiribati to help it resist climate change – and to resettle the population elsewhere, should rising seas engulf the islands.

However, while the effects of climate change may seem distant, the impact of so many people concentrated in such a small space is immediate.

The key issues are those facing many developing nations – providing enough food, water and adequate sanitation.

The island can look like a tropical paradise…

…but in other areas, the illusion is broken when the tide goes out

While it does rain here with predicable regularity, tanks needed to collect rain water are in short supply.

Much of the population relies on underground aquifers, a series of natural horizontal channels which fill up with rainwater.

These are located under the widest section of the island at Bonriki, around the airport.

Two related scientific projects are currently looking at ways to ensure this precious water store is protected.

Local people report that drinking water now tastes increasingly salty. Herve’s project, the Bonriki inundation vulnerability assessment, is trying to assess the risk of flooding: if a king tide (an especially high one) overtops the island, sending waves crashing from one side to another, this could fill the underground system with undrinkable sea water.

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