The Pacific small island nation of Kiribati has water resource problems amongst the most challenging in the world: rapidly growing population; urbanisation; high infant death rates due to water bornediseases; limited freshwater supplies; restricted resources and capacity; vulnerability to climate change and variability; seawater intrusion; unclear management and regulatory roles; and limited information on the quantity and quality of water resources. This paper describes the research and the processes involved in the development of the country’s first National Water Resources Policy and Implementation Plan. It is argued here that simple translocations of developed-world policy frameworks and “toolkits” to small island nations are unlikely to succeed as they ignore the local biophysical, socio-cultural, governance and resource context. Instead, analysis of past ministerial declarations, government decisions and community consultations as well as the water resource priorities provides a basis for developing policy. Many of the pressing national problems can be addressed through seven key policy objectives: improve understanding and monitoring of water resources and their use; increase access to safe and reliable water supplies and appropriate sanitation; achieve financially, socially and environmentally sustainable water resource management; increase community participation in water management and conservation; improve governance in water and sanitation sectors; provide training opportunities for and mentoring of staff in the sector; and decrease unaccounted for water losses and improve cost recovery.