Building skills for resilience in Kiribati: training water technicians to better support outer island communities  

Due to the changing climate, water is a scarce resource for many communities in the Pacific Islands, including Kiribati. Investing in specialised skills and knowledge to help protect water resources and infrastructure is critical to have greater resilience.

To enhance local capacity to maintain essential water supply services and infrastructure and better support communities in external islands, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Sustainable Energy (MISE) hosted 17 outer island water technicians across Kiribati at a weeklong workshop in Ambo from 15 to 19 May 2023.

Supported by the Pacific Community (SPC) through the Managing Water Scarcity through Strengthened Water Resources Management (Water Scarcity) project, the workshop was a refresher on using specialised equipment and an opportunity to share knowledge and network with each other and relevant stakeholders.

Welcoming the technicians to the workshop, MISE Acting Deputy Secretary Agnes Nikoraa Naare highlighted their important role in the Ministry's mission to provide quality water services across Kiribati and how they are indispensable in this severe drought.

"The Ministry recognises the importance of this workshop in ensuring that the technicians acquire and maintain the expertise necessary to carry out their specific roles on their home islands and more broadly to realise the Ministry's overarching goals of climate change "resilient infrastructure and essential services that enhance adaptation capacity and build resilience within all Kiribati communities."

The workshop provided participants with hands-on training on the use of equipment such as electric conductivity meter EM34 and electrical installation of a solar pump system, information sharing on the national condition of services, proper protocols, and visits to the Bonriki Water Reserves, Beteriin Solar distillation, and the Betio Desalination Plant.

Tabono Tebwaitongo, the first woman to work as a water technician, which is a male-dominated field in Kiribati, thanked the Ministry for facilitating the workshop. "This training will help us to sharpen our skills and gain new insights into our roles, particularly with monitoring and maintaining the sustainability of freshwater and water-related initiatives on the islands."

The water technicians were excited to return to their respective islands with their upgraded skills and knowledge to conduct water salinity tests and evaluate the underground freshwater lens in different areas on their islands. The results will be used to determine the type of assistance and water infrastructure each island will need.

New Zealand's Deputy High Commissioner to Kiribati, Marni Gilbert, emphasised that the roles of water technicians are crucial to the people of Kiribati in terms of increasing the accessibility of freshwater to communities on the outer islands and ensuring the quality of water on which the community depends.

SPC is proud to work with the Ministry to upskill local technicians through such capacity-building activities to protect and maintain their water resources and infrastructure, which also support other objectives under the project, including access to and storage of drinking water, elevated awareness to manage current and future water security risks, and strengthened ability to prepare and respond to drought events.

The Water Scarcity Project in Kiribati, funded by the New Zealand Government and implemented in Kiribati by SPC and MISE. The project supports eight participating countries, including Kiribati, to respond to ongoing water scarcity issues experienced by remote island communities.

This article is adapted from the Kiribati Ministry of Infrastructure & Sustainable Energy press release.