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
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk