Pacific Island that demanded climate action faces severe water shortage

October 15, 2011

The Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu, in the Pacific Ocean, is facing a severe shortage of fresh water.

Australia Network News said on October 10 that a state of emergency had been declared and Tuvalu's disaster co-ordinator Sumeo Silu said there was only about three days of water left. Tuvalu is in the midst of a crippling drought and had no rain for months.

ANN said Australia and New Zealand would deploy a large desalination plant to the island, home to about 10,000 people.

An October 12 post by Redina Auina at the Guardian's “Poverty Matters Blog” said: “Experts say the past 12 months have been the second driest since records began in Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, 78 years ago.”

The post noted: “No one is claiming climate change is solely to blame, but the line between normal climatic variation and what might be extremes resulting from accelerated climate change has undoubtedly become blurred.

“This is particularly true of the hydrological cycle, which is sensitive to even subtle variations in the global climate, often results in either too much water or, as in our case, too little.

“That makes life on the Polynesian island very difficult. Water rationing is severe. Each household of six to nine people is allowed just 40 litres a day, which means basic water needs are only just being met. All preschools have been closed since Monday, and senior schools are only remaining open for examinations.

“One mother told me: 'We have little water left in our tank and I find that the two buckets could barely cover our urgent need for water for the day'.

“There's also the very real risk of disease spreading rapidly due to the lack of water for sanitation purposes.”

At the United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen in December 2009, Tuvalu made a passionate plea for drastic climate action. It demanded that world governments adopt a target of drastic cuts to ensure world temperatures do not rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Instead, the summit, which failed to adopt an agreement for drastic cuts, set a goal of no more than 2°C of warming.

In response, Tuvalu's Prime Minister, Apisai Ielemia, said: "To go over that [1.5°C] limit, it will be a graveyard for all the living things in Tuvalu."

Auina said: “The only real long-term solution is to make genuine and rapid cuts in emissions until the world reaches what scientists say is the safe limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ... For New Zealand, Australia and other big emitters, that will take more than just emergency relief.

“As a spokesperson from the Tuvalu Island Community Youth, who wished to remain anonymous, put it: 'I hope this is not showbiz, but them [Australia, New Zealand and the United States] realising that they have serious actions to take on their own side of the fence because this is climate reality.'”

However, not only have rich nations such as Australia refused to agree to the drastic cuts in emissions demanded by small nations such as Tuvalu, the Economist said on October 6: “Australia has turned down Tuvalu's request for an emergency migration programme that would resettle the islanders.”

It seems the Australian government's supply in compassion is about the same as Tuvalu's in fresh water.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.