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The Republic of Kiribati consists of a total of 33 atolls (coral islands) located in the central Pacific south and north of the equator. The land area covers only 811 km², the water area over 3.5 million square kilometres. The islands can be divided into three groups except for the island of Banaba (Ocean Island): west of the 180th longitude (date line) lie the 16 Gilbert Islands (in the national language Tungaru) with the main island Tarawa. To the east are the eight uninhabited Phoenix Islands and the eight (of a total of eleven) Line Islands.

The island of Banaba (Ocean Island) lies west of the 170th longitude and is an exception among the islands of the Republic of Kiribati, as it reaches a height of up to 81 metres. All other islands protrude about three meters from the water and are typical shallow coral islands with the ring shapes typical for atolls. Between the outer coral ring and the islands are mostly lagoons, the coasts are characterized by long white sandy beaches. The islands are usually only between 200 and 300 m wide, but can be considerably longer. Due to the porous surface, the precipitation seeps away, so that there are hardly any surface waters.

The capital of the republic, Bairiki, is located on the island of Tarawa, which belongs to the Gilbert Islands.

Political System

According to the 1979 constitution, Kiribati is a presidential republic. The head of state is the president elected by the people for a four-year term (Anote Tong, since July 2003), who is also head of the government and foreign minister. He appoints his cabinet from among the members of parliament.

The legislature is the one-chamber parliament (Maneaba Ni Maungatabu) with 46 seats. 44 deputies are directly elected by the people for a term of four years, one seat is ex officio.

Kiribati is divided into three administrative units (Gilbert Islands, Line Islands, Phoenix Islands) and six districts. For each of the 21 inhabited islands there is an Island Council as the local administrative authority.

Economy

The island state of Kiribati has hardly any resources. Since the end of phosphate mining on the island of Banaba at the end of the 1970s, copra and fishery products have been the country’s most important exports. Kiribati is highly dependent on foreign financial aid. Only every fifth inhabitant is in official employment.

Most Kiribati are employed in agriculture and fishing. Coconut palms, sweet potatoes, jams and bananas are cultivated predominantly in subsistence farming. Fishing is very important, but in recent years catches of tuna in particular have fallen dramatically. Agriculture accounts for a quarter of Kiribati’s GDP.

More than two thirds of GDP is generated in the service sector. Industry, which consists mainly of small food processing enterprises and crafts, generates only 8%. Industrial growth is severely restricted by the lack of trained workers.

The tourism sector is becoming increasingly important (around one fifth of GDP). In 1998 the international airport Bonriki on the island of Tawara and Cassidy on the island of Kiritimati (Christmas Island) were expanded, and since then larger aircraft have been able to land there.

Kiribati’s most important imports are food, machinery, vehicles and fuels from Australia, Fiji, Japan and New Zealand. The main exports are copra, fishery products and coconuts to Japan, Australia, the USA and Fiji. The total road network on the islands is about 680 km. Kiribati currencies are the Kiribati dollar and the Australian dollar.