A young woman smiles as she holds a baby girl in her arms.
Photo: © UNICEF Pacific/2018/Kataotao

The United Nations in Kiribati

Kiribati is one of the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) that fall under the leadership of the Pacific Multi-Country Office (MCO)

Kiribati is comprised of 32 low-lying atolls and the raised phosphate island of Banaba, totalling 811 sq. km of land over 3.5 million sq. km of ocean. Kiribati has three groups of islands: Gilbert, Phoenix and Line; with a population of 117,606 people (World Bank, 2019). Kiribati’s capital Tarawa is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, home to around half of Kiribati’s total population.

Kiribati is one of the least developed countries in the region with widespread inequality and hardship, and incidences of extreme poverty. High population growth and increasing urbanisation have placed additional pressures on water, sanitation and housing. Kiribati has the lowest access to clean water and sanitation in the Pacific. Kiribati’s small economy is highly exposed to external shocks and debt stress; with a strong reliance on development assistance, fishing licence revenues and overseas remittances. Kiribati is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels.

Kiribati has a mixed record on promoting gender equality, despite ratifying The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In traditional Kiribati culture, women are subordinate to men and stark gender inequalities persist in almost all aspects of life. Women’s political participation is limited, with four women national Members of Parliament. More than two in three women report experience of gender-based violence.

UN presence in Kiribati

The UN has been present in Kiribati since 1984, with nine agencies implementing programs: FAO, IFAD, ILO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNOPS, UN Women and WHO.

Development goals and objectives 

The United Nations Pacific Strategy (UNPS) 2018-2022 is a five year strategic framework that outlines the collective response of the UN system to the development priorities in 14 Pacific Island countries and territories, including Kiribati, and supports governments and peoples in the Pacific to advance a localised response to the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UNPS complements the Kiribati National Development Plan 2016-2019, “Towards a better educated, healthier, more prosperous nation with a higher quality of life”; particularly in the areas of the environment, governance, economic growth and poverty reduction, and health.

COVID-19 pandemic

Kiribati remains one of only 10 countries globally with no confirmed cases of COVID-19. A National State of Public Health Emergency was first declared by the Kiribati government on 25 March 2020; and a partial lockdown was effective between 30 March to 20 April 2020, with all non-essential businesses, schools and public transport closed. The country is currently operating at a ‘level 2’ alert. Schools reopened on 20 April 2020 and there are currently no restrictions on church services or large community gatherings. International commercial flights were suspended and borders were closed until 31 December 2020. Over 200 Kiribati citizens were stranded overseas and were awaiting repatriation. Refurbishments are currently underway to convert the Otintaai Hotel in Tarawa and the old General Hospital in Bikenibeu into quarantine and isolation facilities for incoming passengers.

The UN’s system-wide and multi-sectoral approach provides a coordinated and comprehensive response that complements the Kiribati government’s COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan through three targeted components.

  1. Health response: stop virus transmission and care for affected people Guided by the regional Joint Incident Management Team; the UN, led by WHO, is supporting Kiribati to prepare for COVID-19 identification, mitigation and containment including: technical assistance to government partners, procurement of medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE), capacity building of healthcare staff, and risk communications and community engagement. WHO and UNICEF have procured two GeneXpert testing machines, 58 testing kits and 34,500 pieces of personal protective equipment including protective goggles, masks and gowns. Further supplies are being procured through the global COVID-19 Supply Chain System established by the UN Secretary-General’s Supply Chain Task Force. WHO supported the establishment of a National Emergency Operations Centre and deployed five technical officers to support COVID-19 surveillance, case management, and infection and prevention control. UN agencies have also supported the development, printing and dissemination of information, education and communication materials about COVID-19 transmission prevention in Kiribati.
  2. Humanitarian response: address immediate multi-sectoral needs Under the Pacific Humanitarian Response Plan the UN is supporting Kiribati to respond to urgent humanitarian needs of those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Priority needs in Kiribati include education, food security and livelihoods, safe water and sanitation, and protecting women and girls at increased risk of gender-based violence. UN Women provided capacity building support to SafeNet representatives within the Ministry of Women, Youth, Sport and Social Affairs on COVID-19 and gender-based violence. UNICEF trained 29 medical assistants on COVID-19 and child protection, increased access to safe water and sanitation for 2,120 people through the distribution of soap in schools, and provided essential nutritional supplements to 15,000 children and 660 pregnant and lactating women. FAO strengthened food security and livelihoods for 25 people working in tuna fisheries by providing training on fish aggregation devices.
  3. Socio-economic response: address immediate social and economic impact The UN reprogrammed US$2.3 million (20%) of programs and activities from a total of US$11.6 million from the 2020 UN Kiribati Joint Country Action Plan to increase support for the response to COVID-19, in consultation with the Kiribati government. A planned socio-economic impact assessment will identify vulnerabilities in Kiribati across five pillars of the UN Framework for the Immediate Socio-Economic Response to COVID-19 to guide response plans for the next 12-18 months; including health, social protection and basic services, economic recovery, macroeconomic response and multilateral collaboration. A regional report will be completed for Kiribati by September 2020. FAO and UNICEF received US$300,000 from the UN Secretary General’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to support food security and nutrition.

To learn more visit:

To visit the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) Multi-Country Office website, visit:

UN Kiribati Country Team

Resident Coordinator Office
UN Entities in Kiribati

UN Key Documents

UNDAF/United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (CP)

01 January 2018
31 December 2022
01 January 2023