Climate Resilient Water Supply for South Tarawa

8 Mar 2024 by The Water Diplomat

The Green Climate Fund, in partnership with the government of Kiribati, the Asian Development Fund, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility, is enabling the implementation of the South Tarawa Water Supply Project, involving the construction of two desalination plants and a solar PV system to augment Kiribati’s water supplies.

Kiribati is a remote country which is highly dispersed geographically, with its population being spread over 21 different islands. This in itself creates water supply challenges, but in addition the small island state faces significant water supply challenges due to its vulnerability to climate change. Kiribati has no natural lakes or other surface water sources, and the water supply – often in the form of wells - is almost entirely dependent on shallow groundwater.

The quantity and quality of this groundwater are currently seriously threatened by climate change-induced inundations, prolonged drought and the infiltration of salt water from the ocean and leachate from waste. Should such events occur simultaneously or in quick succession, they may reduce the yield of groundwater sources to zero for periods of up to five years. Against this background, the development of alternative sources of water supply is important and urgent to ensure water security in the country and boost resilience against the effects of climate change.  

The Kiribati Public Utilities Board (PUB) is responsible for the provision of water to the people of south Tarawa. Through a system of above ground reservoirs water tanks and water tank towers, PUP serves some 60,000 people on South Tarawa. However, the supplies are limited: PUP has some 1,600 m³/day which is not enough to supply the whole population.

 Through the South Tarawa Water Supply Project, an additional water source will be added to the country’s water supply infrastructure.  The project aims to reduce the climate vulnerability of the entire population of South Tarawa through increased water security by providing them with a reliable, safe, and climate-resilient water supply. This will be done through the construction of two reverse osmosis sea water desalination plants with a combined capacity of 6,000 m3 / day, supported by a solar power plant which will provide electricity from a renewable energy source for the benefit of the desalination plants. A water and climate change visitors center is incorporated in one of the desalination plants building. This innovative addition aims to raise awareness and educate visitors about the impacts of climate change, our water resources and the vital role of desalination plants in addressing water scarcity. In addition, the existing water supply system will be upgraded and expanded to reduce leakages and expand the overall proportion of the population covered by a water service.