Washington, DC, March 1, 2011 - The World Bank Board today approved the first Country Assistance Strategy for Kiribati. The strategy, which was developed in consultation with government, donors and civil society, puts climate change at the centre of the three-year plan.

With 33 atoll islands, spread across an area the size of India, Kiribati is one of the most remote and geographically dispersed countries in the world. Its' inhabited atolls lie only a few meters above sea level, making the country highly vulnerable to impacts from climate change and natural disasters. Already the effects of rising sea-levels and associated soil salination are starting to threaten limited fresh water supplies.

Reflecting Kiribati's vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters, the core of the World Bank Group's Country Assistance Strategy will be to support the Kiribati government on climate change adaptation measures. This will include supporting the government to manage groundwater reserves, managing coastal areas, improving rainwater collection, and developing new sources of water.

"Despite its small population - the challenges loom large for Kiribati" said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Country Director, the Pacific. "The country and its people are at the coal-face of climate change and other natural disasters. This is a very real existential threat. This Country Assistance Strategy shows the World Bank's commitment to work with the government in the critical area of climate change adaptation."

In addition to climate change adaptation, the strategy will also focus on generating opportunities from regional and global integration; investing in climate-friendly infrastructure developments and enhancing telecommunications.

Underscoring the commitment to scale up support for Kiribati, the World Bank board also approved the Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project today. The project will restore the only road connecting the communities in South Tarawa, the nation's capital, which have received no major maintenance for over 20 years. Approximately 44 percent of Kiribati's population of 110,000 lives in the capital. The project will also focus on supporting necessary sector reforms and institutional strengthening to ensure sustainable financing and the maintenance of the Kiribati road network. Plans will also be put in place for managing the impact of natural disasters on this critical road infrastructure.

"Building safe, sustainable and effective roads is an important precursor to development for Kiribati. The restored roads in South Tarawa will provide a conduit to critical services and connect more people, businesses and the government to the things they need most," said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Country Director for the Pacific. "Equally important is the incorporation of institutional measures to ensure sustainability in the face of severe environmental impacts, like those confronting Kiribati. I am pleased we will be supporting the Government of Kiribati in both areas through this project"

The project will be financed by a US$ 20 million grant from the World Bank - the first such World Bank grant to Kiribati - and will be undertaken in conjunction with the Asian Development Bank, Australia and New Zealand. It will be implemented by the Ministry of Public Works and Utilities.