How the Church is helping address one of the biggest issues in Kiribati

The Church and Kiribati government recently partnered to help some of the outer islands

When meeting with government officials of Kiribati in September 2022, Elder Peter F. Meurs, the Church’s Pacific Area president, asked, “What is the biggest issue facing your country?”

Their response: clean drinking water.

Kiribati, a nation of about 30 atolls — or small islands — in the central Pacific Ocean, has experienced severe drought that has impacted the amount of collected rainfall. At the same time, rising seas have raised salinity in well water to unhealthy levels. 

Following that meeting, Elder Meurs, a General Authority Seventy who formerly worked as an engineer, connected with an engineer who had installed solar-powered desalination systems in other island nations, reported the Church’s Pacific Newsroom. Representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints then presented that system to Kiribati government officials as a possible solution to their growing problem.

10 members of the Kiribati desalination project team meet around a long conference table.
Members of the Kiribati desalination project team meet in July 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Kiribati officials agreed that the desalination plants would benefit the outer islands. An agreement was reached in which the Church would provide funding for new desalination facilities in 10 of the most adversely affected islands and islets.

Ruth M. Cross, a Church welfare and self-reliance manager in Kiribati, noted the project was developed in record time, “which is a testament to the urgency of this need and a shared vision to respond swiftly to the water security challenges faced by people in the outer islands.”

Clean water access will be a great blessing for many communities. “It not only improves livelihoods but helps save lives in Kiribati,” Cross said.

The first phase of the project will be on the islands of Aranuka, Beru, Onotoa, Abemama and Arorae. The equipment is designed to provide 25-50 liters per person per day, which is the World Health Organization recommendation.

Elder Jeff Brock and Sister Judy Brock, Church humanitarian missionaries, are helping manage the equipment’s installation throughout the islands.

The beach of an atoll or island in Kiribati, in the central Pacific Ocean.
A view of one of the islands in Kiribati, in the central Pacific Ocean. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Installation planning is underway with the Suez Group, an organization creating new models, technologies and solutions for managing water resources. The first phase of the project covering five initial islands is expected to be completed over the next six months.

Said Elder Meurs of the project: “I am always surprised and delighted that whenever we identify a challenge or an opportunity to bless people, the solution is always available. Jesus Christ is always way ahead of us. We are simply trying to keep up.”

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