NZ to help Kiribati deal with housing, health problems Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Source: ONE News

New Zealand is promising to come to the aid of Kiribati as it grapples with dire overcrowding and serious health issues.

The main island of Tarawa is already at crisis point and the population is expected to double in the next decade.

At first glimpse Tarawa appears picture perfect, but the reality is 55,000 people crammed into 13 square kilometres and living in slum-like conditions.

"Humanitarian conditions there are by far the worst in the region - the sort of thing you wouldn't expect to see in our part of the world. And I don't think any New Zealander should feel good about that," says Foreign Minister Murray McCully, visiting Kiribati.

Kiribati has the Pacific's highest child mortality rate. Diseases like TB spreads quickly in the country because of a lack of clean water and a sewage system.

ONE News Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver says the problem is lack of money, resources and shrinking land.

Dreaver reported from one area which she said used to be land.

"But the sea has completely eaten it away, leaving behind a mangrove swamp and a few stranded houses," she said.

People from the outer islands have flocked to Tarawa in the hope of finding work. But unemployment is around 80 percent.

"Until we can create alternative opportunities for people in the outer islands this is going to continue to happen," says Anote Tong, Kiribati President. "And it's pushing utilities, it's stretching everything."

New Zealand is intensifying aid efforts in Kiribati, supporting a marine training centre so graduates can get work with international shipping companies.

New Zealand also just signed up to help ease the slums by building housing.

"This country has significant challenges. The New Zealand Government is determined to provide some partnership," Mr McCully says.

Aid agencies are also climbing on board, most working in the deteriorating health arena.

One group goes from village to village, educating parents roadside to immunise their children.

Barbara Dreaver says it's about protecting the young and giving them a future to look forward to.