|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
Almost 50% of Kiribati's population of 103,466 lives in South Tarawa, the country's political and economic center. South Tarawa's main urban areas of Bairiki, Betio and Bikenibeu have a combined population of 24,171. Rapid urbanization has resulted in an annual average population growth rate of 4.4% since 2005. The average population density in South Tarawa is 3,193 /km2, and it is as high as 8,990/km2 in the most densely settled urban areas. Population pressures combined with uncontrolled urban settlement have resulted in overcrowding that has put stress on critical public infrastructure and the natural environment.
The public sewerage system operated by the Public Utilities Board (PUB) services around one quarter of South Tarawa's population. To conserve limited freshwater supplies, a saltwater reticulation system supplies seawater for toilet flushing. The traditional practice of defecating in the open is widespread and is reportedly engaged in by almost half of South Tarawa's population. Leakage of effluent from both pit latrines and poorly constructed and maintained septic tanks contributes to contamination of groundwater.
The health impacts of poor sanitation infrastructure in South Tarawa are evident. Inadequate residential sanitation infrastructure is a key contributor to contamination of freshwater and near-shore areas of the lagoon. Inadequate handwashing and consumption of untreated water and contaminated shellfish have resulted in widespread gastrointestinal disease. Typhoid outbreaks occurred in South Tarawa in 2009 and 2010. The infant mortality rate in Kiribati of 46 per 1,000 live births is among the highest in the Pacific. This can be attributed in part to infantile diarrhea, which is directly linked to inadequate sanitation and poor public hygiene.
Weak capacity to manage existing sanitation assets and operations among PUB and Ministry of Public Works and Utilities (MPWU) staff has contributed to chronic under performance of the sewerage system. Sewerage services are provided free of charge to customers. Operations and maintenance (O&M) activities are funded through government transfers, while periodic capital investments in system rehabilitation and upgrading have been externally financed by development partners. The current situation has resulted in low sustainability. In the absence of adequate resources, no preventive or routine maintenance is carried out, and instead, maintenance is deferred until the system fails. This situation imposes high costs on both the government and the local population in terms of lost productivity, health expenditures, and degradation of freshwater resources and coastal areas.
The problem of inadequate sanitation infrastructure is compounded by limited public awareness of the links between sanitation, hygiene, and health. This has resulted in low demand and willingness to pay for improved sanitation facilities. Households do not perceive the full benefits associated with improved sewerage services, nor the large negative externalities linked to behavior such as beach defecation and not washing one's hands. A widespread and sustained public awareness and education campaign specifically targeting groups such as women and children is required to bring about improved hygiene behavior and to create demand for improved sanitation.
The proposed project is consistent with the Kiribati Development Plan 2012-2015, which commits to improving health outcomes, strengthening governance in the provision of public services, and investing in social and economic infrastructure. The Project is also included in the Kiribati Country Partnership Strategy 2010-2014 which aims to reduce poverty and promote economic opportunity by improving the delivery of sustainable infrastructure services. The proposed Project supports the country's National Sanitation Policy; National Water Resources Policy; and the Government of Kiribati's Water Supply, Sanitation, and Solid Waste Management Program for South Tarawa that was developed in 2010 with assistance from the Pacific Infrastructure Advisory Centre. This program is intended to support a whole-of-sector approach and promote effective coordination of development partner-supported activities in the sector.