(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)
|Introduction||The Gilbert Islands were granted self-rule by the UK in 1971 and complete independence in 1979 under the new name of Kiribati. The US relinquished all claims to the sparsely inhabited Phoenix and Line Island groups in a 1979 treaty of friendship with Kiribati.|
The area now called Kiribati has been inhabited by Micronesians speaking the same Oceanic language since sometime between 3000 BC and 1300 AD. The area was not isolated; invaders from Tonga and Fiji later introduced Polynesian and Melanesian cultural aspects, respectively. Intermarriage tended to blur cultural differences and resulted in a significant degree of cultural homogenisation.
The islands were first sighted by British and American ships in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The main island chain was named the Gilbert Islands in 1820 by a Russian admiral, Adam von Krusenstern, and French captain Louis Duperrey, after a British captain named Thomas Gilbert, who crossed the archipelago in 1788.
From the early 19th century, Western whalers, merchant vessels and slave traders visited the islands, introducing diseases and firearms.
The first British settlers arrived in 1837. In 1892 the Gilbert Islands consented to become a British protectorate together with the nearby Ellice Islands. Together they became the crown colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1916. Kiritimati (Christmas Island) became part of the colony in 1919 and the Phoenix Islands were added in 1937.
Tarawa Atoll 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 US Marine Corps history. Marines landed in November 1943; the Battle of Tarawa was fought at Kiribati’s former capital Betio on Tarawa Atoll.
Some of the islands of Kiribati, especially in the remote Line Islands, were formerly used by the United States and Great Britain for nuclear testing. According to “Kiribati: A People’s History”, the testing sites for many of the new hydrogen bombs in the 1960s were in what is now Kiribati.
Independence to present day
The Gilbert and Ellice Islands gained self-rule in 1971, and were separated in 1975 and granted internal self-government by Britain. In 1978 the Ellice Islands became the independent nation of Tuvalu. The Gilbert Islands became independent as Kiribati on July 12, 1979. Although the indigenous Gilbertese language name for the Gilbert Islands proper is “Tungaru”, the new state chose the name “Kiribati”, the Gilbertese rendition of “Gilberts”, as an equivalent of the former colony to acknowledge the inclusion of Banaba, the Line Islands, and the Phoenix Islands, which were never considered part of the Gilberts chain. In the Treaty of Tarawa, signed shortly after independence and ratified in 1983, the United States relinquished all claims to the sparsely inhabited Phoenix Islands and those of the Line Islands that are part of Kiribati territory.
Overcrowding has been a problem. In 1988 it was announced that 4,700 residents of the main island group would be resettled onto less-populated islands. Teburoro Tito was elected president in 1994. Kiribati’s 1995 act of moving the international date line far to the east to encompass Kiribati’s Line Islands group, so that it would no longer be divided by the date line, courted controversy. The move, which fulfilled one of President Tito’s campaign promises, was intended to allow businesses all across the expansive nation to keep the same business week. This also enabled Kiribati to become the first country to see the dawn of the third millennium, an event of significance for tourism. Tito was reelected in 1998. Kiribati gained UN membership in 1999.
In 2002 Kiribati passed a controversial law enabling the government to shut down newspapers. The legislation followed the launching of Kiribati’s first successful nongovernment-run newspaper. President Tito was reelected in 2003, but was removed from office in March 2003 by a no-confidence vote and replaced by a Council of State. Anote Tong of the opposition party Boutokaan Te Koaua was elected to succeed Tito in July 2003. He was re-elected in 2007.
|Geography||Location: Oceania, group of 33 coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean, straddling the Equator; the capital Tarawa is about half way between Hawaii and Australia; note – on 1 January 1995, Kiribati proclaimed that all of its territory lies in the same time zone as its Gilbert Islands group (UTC +12) even though the Phoenix Islands and the Line Islands under its jurisdiction lie on the other side of the International Date Line
Geographic coordinates: 1 25 N, 173 00 E
Map references: Oceania
Area: total: 811 sq km
land: 811 sq km
water: 0 sq km
note: includes three island groups – Gilbert Islands, Line Islands, Phoenix Islands
Area – comparative: four times the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 1,143 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
Climate: tropical; marine, hot and humid, moderated by trade winds
Terrain: mostly low-lying coral atolls surrounded by extensive reefs
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed location on Banaba 81 m
Natural resources: phosphate (production discontinued in 1979)
Land use: arable land: 2.74%
permanent crops: 47.95%
other: 49.31% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Natural hazards: typhoons can occur any time, but usually November to March; occasional tornadoes; low level of some of the islands make them sensitive to changes in sea level
Environment – current issues: heavy pollution in lagoon of south Tarawa atoll due to heavy migration mixed with traditional practices such as lagoon latrines and open-pit dumping; ground water at risk
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: 21 of the 33 islands are inhabited; Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati is one of the three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean – the others are Makatea in French Polynesia, and Nauru
|People||Population: 110,356 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 37.9% (male 21,180/female 20,604)
15-64 years: 58.7% (male 31,993/female 32,797)
65 years and over: 3.4% (male 1,606/female 2,176) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 20.6 years
male: 20.1 years
female: 21.1 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.235% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 30.31 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 7.97 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: NA (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.74 male(s)/female
total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 44.69 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 49.61 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 39.53 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 62.85 years
male: 59.79 years
female: 66.06 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 4.08 children born/woman