Action as Water Runs Out in Tuvalu

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Sub-Regional Office for the Pacific

Geneva, 10 October - Amidst growing concerns about drought crises in some of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Pacific, the Government of Tuvalu today began a three-week nationwide needs assessment of water, agriculture and health facilities.

The most affected areas are the capital city of Funafuti, as well as Nukulaelae and Nanumaga. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community is providing support and assisting in developing appropriate responses, while the Australian Government is covering the fuel costs for the assessment of up to eight of the country’s outer islands.

Other Pacific countries affected by the severe drought include Tokelau, Kiribati and the Cook Islands.

“The critical low levels of fresh water in Tuvalu and Tokelau are just further wake up calls about the vulnerability of SIDS to the threats posed by increasing demands on natural resources and development practices that are not sufficiently in tune with these emerging risks,” stated UNISDR’s Head of Policy, John Harding.

“Small island States such as Tuvalu and Tokelau have access to a finite amount of water, mainly from groundwater and rainfall.” added Harding. “Managing these resources in the face of increased and diverse demand is a challenge that authorities now face on a daily basis.”

Relief Web reports that shortages of critical rainfall now threaten both islands with depletion of all fresh water resources. Tuvalu and Tokelau have declared a state of emergency and are receiving emergency assistance from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, UNICEF, as well as the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Aid includes fresh water, water tanks, portable desalination units as well as personnel to operate the additional units and fix existing ones.

“The strong correlation between the drought and La Niña could be a blessing in disguise. Phenomena such as La Niña are increasingly predictable and climatologists can inform decision makers weeks and even months in advance. This can allow for measures such as increased storage or even stockpiling of emergency supplies well in advance of a crisis phase’, states Harding.

UNISDR identifies solar powered desalination units and improved rain catchment and water storage as longer-term mitigation against future droughts.

Harding calls for comprehensive risk reduction measures to be put in place now and not later to protect vulnerable populations living in delicate eco-systems. “It really is time to assist Tuvalu and Tokelau to increase storage capacities and manage their resources sustainably, including more effective warnings for drier spells. With climate change predictions pointing to more acute La Niñas in the futures, plans must also include assistance for communities that will be displaced if existing freshwater is not sufficient.”

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