Military planes from Australia and New Zealand are rushing fresh water and desalination equipment to the island country of Tuvalu, which has declared a state of emergency after months of drought. Water rationing has been imposed on the island’s 11,000 inhabitants, and schools and hospitals have been affected.
The drought is caused by the La Nina weather pattern, but conditions are exacerbated by the effects of climate change. The tiny island nation’s groundwater has been contaminated by rising sea levels, rendering the population completely dependent on rainfall. As global warming conditions continue to cause sea levels to rise, the entire country is expected to disappear under the waves within the next 50 years.
The two desalination plants on the main island are producing barely enough to meet half of the residents’ needs. It has not rained in six months in Tuvalu, and fruits and vegetables growing on the islands are also affected. Tuvalu disaster coordinator Sumeo Sulu told Austalia’s The Age: “It’s mostly climate change. Normally this is our rainy season but there’s no rain. Even our root crops have died from the salt.”
The drought has also hit the even tinier territory of Tokelau, which ran out of fresh water last week and is dependent on bottled water delivered by the U.S. Coast Guard from Samoa. Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga are also suffering from drought conditions, with the likelihood of rain still a month or two away.
Tuvalu’s challenges come as hopes are wavering for positive action at the next round of international climate talks, scheduled to begin in November in Durban, South Africa. Progress also has been stalled on numerous fronts in the U.S. A recent article by the League of Women Voters of California’s Program Director for Climate Change points out various measures pending in the U.S. House of Representatives that, in the name of budget reductions, would prevent funding that might allow us to better adapt to climate change, including:
- NOAA shall not be allowed to fund a Climate Service
- Army Corps of Engineers shall not be funded to prepare for climate change;
- USDA shall not be funded to help farmers to adapt to climate change;
- Homeland Security shall not be funded to operate its Climate Change Adaptation Task Force.
Photo: A School on Tuvalu by marlins, Creative Commons license, via Flickr