The 33 atolls that make up Kiribati – the former Gilbert Islands – occupy a vast area in the equatorial Pacific – nearly 4,000 km from east to west and more than 2,000 km from north to south.
Kiribati – pronounced Kiribas – won independence from the United Kingdom in 1979. Home to the South Pacific’s largest marine reserve, many of the atolls are inhabited; most of them are very low-lying and at risk from rising sea levels as a result of global warming.
With the Fijian government’s permission, Kiribati has bought land in Fiji for food security and as a possible refuge.
Kiribati’s economy is weak and is largely dependent on exports of copra and coconuts. Fishing licences, foreign aid and remittances from workers abroad also contribute, as does a trust fund set up with revenues from phosphate mines on the island of Banaba, whose depletion in 1980 hit Kiribati hard.
- Capital: Tarawa Atoll
- Population 103,000 (UN, 2011)
- Area 810 sq km (313 sq miles)
- Major language English, Gilbertese
- Major religion Christianity
- Life expectancy 59 years (men), 63 years (women) (UN)
- Currency Australian dollar