Water Week

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Pacific island nation of Kiribati facing acute drinking water shortages: Groundwater contamination on Kiribati’s 35 coral atolls, finds UNESCO study

Posted by waterweek on 4 October 2007

The small Pacific island nation of Kiribati was facing acute drinking water shortages and water pollution problems among the most critical in the world, reported The Canberra Times, (23/08/2007, p.14) quoting Australian National University water quality expert Professor Ian White. Findings based on 11-year study: Professor White played a leading role in an 11-year United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) study of groundwater contamination on Kiribati’s 35 coral atolls, assessing natural and human impacts on water quality.

Low storage potential: The research team found limited land areas and permeable coral soils reduced surface run-off and decreased potential for surface storage of water. A thin veneer of groundwater floating over sea water was the main source of reliable fresh water for people on many atolls.

Vulnerable to droughts: The study’s findings were in the latest edition of the Soil Science Society of America journal. “We found the quantity and salinity of atoll groundwater on Kiribati is extremely vulnerable to frequent droughts which can last as long as four years,” Professor White said.

Droughts more severe than Australia: “Rainfall is determined by El Nino and La Nina events, which means Kiribati has frequent droughts about every five to six years often more severe than the droughts we experience in Australia. During these droughts, domestic wells are often too salty to drink and local communities rely on ground­water or coconuts for drinking water”.

The Canberra Times, 23/8/2007, p. 14

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