Kiribati country profile - Overview
- 23 June 2015
- From the section Asia
The 33 atolls that make up Kiribati - the former Gilbert Islands - occupy a vast area in the Pacific. They stretch nearly 4,000 km from east to west, more than 2,000 km from north to south, and straddle the Equator.
The country won independence from the United Kingdom in 1979. Many of the atolls are inhabited; most of them are very low-lying and at risk from rising sea levels.
Kiribati - pronounced Kiribas - used to lie either side of the International Date Line, but the government unilaterally moved the line eastwards in 1995 to ensure the day was the same in the whole country.
This was a shrewd move as Kiribati marketed itself as the first inhabited place on Earth to greet the new millennium on 1 January 2000. The world's media descended on Caroline Island, renamed Millennium Island, to record the event.
Kiribati's economy is weak and is affected by rises and falls in the world demand for coconut.
Fishing licences, foreign aid and money sent home by workers abroad also play their part, as does a trust fund set up with revenues from phosphate mining on the island of Banaba. The mines were depleted by 1980, precipitating the evacuation of much of the population.
Kiribati is home to the South Pacific's largest marine reserve.
It is also one of the low-lying Pacific island states seen as highly vulnerable to rising sea levels and global warming, and frequently lends its voice to calls for action on climate change.
With the permission of Fiji's government, the country has bought land in Fiji to ensure food security and as a possible refuge.