Water, water everywhere – but this island has barely a drop to drink

A critical shortage of water has forced the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu to declare a state of emergency.

A former British protectorate which used to be part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Tuvalu is one of the most isolated communities in the world. the main island Funafuti covers just 10sq miles (26sq km) and has no natural water supplies apart from rain. An unusually dry spell has left the islanders almost out of supplies.

As the local authorities admitted yesterday that they were down to two days' water in some parts of the country, a New Zealand air force transport aircraft flew in with fresh supplies and desalination units. The New Zealand Red Cross is also contributing aid.

Tuvalu is roughly halfway between Australia and Hawaii and only 16ft (5 metres) above sea level at its highest point. Last week the Red Cross issued a report blaming the La Niña weather pattern.

But the problem is not an isolated one: in recent years, the islands have suffered rising sea levels that have eroded much of the coastline and added to the salination of the soil. Last month Prime Minister Willy Telavi warned the UN that global warming threatened his country's very existence.

When it does rain, the population of about 11,000 collect the water from their roofs and store it in above-ground tanks. When storage systems run low, they tap emergency supplies from government and community cisterns.

With even these at risk of drying up, Tuvaluans are facing the very real prospect of a threat to their nation's survival. With no natural streams, rivers or underground water, subsistence farming traditions have also been threatened.

The arrival of international aid is unlikely to provide a long-term solution.

The island has had to be resourceful to survive its problems, which are not only environmental. Recently a trust fund set up by Britain and several other nations has suffered badly in the global financial crisis.

One way of raising funds to make up that shortfall was the sale of the country's unique internet domain name suffix, .tv. But even this has failed to be the moneyspinner the government had hoped.

Although a Californian company offered an advance payment of $50 million – more than half of Tuvalu's annual gross domestic product at the time – early promises of lucrative annual payments for the right to lease the initials tv have proved wildly optimistic.

These days Tuvalu gets most of its export income from copra – from which cocoanut oil is extracted – the sale of tuna fishing licences and postage stamps, which are highly prized by philatelists.

But the government admits that its annual outgoings far exceed its income. With poor soil and little in the way of crops, Tuvalu has to rely on expensive imported processed food to feed its people. If the rains do not come soon, it might have to start paying for fresh water supplies, too.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there