The 33 atolls that make up Kiribati, occupy a vast area in the Pacific. Kiribati straddles the equator and stretches nearly 4,000 km from east to west, and more than 2,000 km from north to south. Most of the islands are less than 2 km wide, and no higher than 6 m above sea level.

Kiribati faces a moderate degree of risk to natural disasters. Most of the population lives a subsistence lifestyle as Kiribati has few natural resources and is one of the least developed Pacific Island countries. Even minor emergencies can overwhelm national capacity and significantly affect communities and the economy. Strong winds are common, especially during the storm season from November to April. Rainfall is varied between the islands and from year to year, and long droughts of up to 16 months are relatively common.

Kiribati is also located in an area of high seismic activity and undersea earthquakes can generate destructive tsunamis. Due to the low level of some of the islands, Kiribati is highly vulnerable to the effects of tidal surges and sea level rises. To date, no major rapid onset natural disaster has occurred, however climate-change related events are of increasing concern.

The most recent disaster to impact Kiribati was a flood in late 2008, which affected 85 people. In 1999, a drought affected 84,000 people.

The UN maintains a joint presence in Kiribati with UNICEF, UNDP, and UNFPA working together on a number of development and disaster risk reduction programmes with UNICEF taking the lead.