Two Polynesian islands in the South Pacific are running so low on water its residents expect to run out of drinking water within one to two weeks. Tokelau and Tuvalu are typical tropical islands of paradise but now they face an environmental crisis.
Tuvalu is located is the middle of the vast Pacific midway between Australia and Hawaii. It has a tiny population of around 10,000 spread over nine islands, a mixture of reefs and atolls. It is estimated at the current consumption of one of its largest atolls, Funafuti, drinking water will have totally dried up within two weeks. More than 5,000 people inhabit the island which forms part of the fourth smallest nation in the world.
On Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand with a population of 1,500, water here could run dry in just seven days from now. Both islands have declared states of emergency after six months of little or no rainfall.
The Red Cross based in New Zealand flew emergency supplies to Tuvalu on Monday on a military aircraft along with two aid workers and two foreign ministry representatives. Red Cross Operation Manager, Andrew McKie, said: "We have mobilized 2,000 collapsible water containers, hand sanitizers, tarpaulins to be used to capture rain (and) two emergency desalination units."
The High Commission in New Zealand has described the situation as "pretty dire". Families, some as many as 10-strong are getting by on rationing of 40 litres per day and wash themselves in the sea. Fresh water is used only for cooking and drinking.
Funafuti atoll of Tuvalu.
Tuvalu is actually the home of the ".tv" domain and it's one of the smallest countries in the world.
Tokelau rejected independence from New Zealand for the second time in 15 months in 2007. Atoll environments are tough places to live in and its inhabitants relies on the environment for all of its fresh water. The drought is also affecting the larger islands of Samoa and New Zealand Radio International says food shortages from failing crops could become a grave concern unless the drought ends soon.
Traditional foods eaten on the reef islands and atolls are bananas, breadfruit, coconut, crab, turtle and fish. The favoured dish of Pulaka is the primary crop grown throughout the South Pacific and its roots feed from fresh water pits but rising sea levels are now threatening the pulaka crop as sea water contaminates the roots. The rising sea levels are just another environmental catastrophe affecting the islands, only one that is slower moving than the six-month drought but ultimately even more destructive.
In Tuvalu, an area of just ten square miles, roads are regularly becoming flooded particularly when the February "king tides" wash in. Many coconut trees on the shore now lie permanently submerged. The government in Tuvalu and environmental experts are already accepting the worst for the island's future. At some point in the next 50 years - Tuvalu and its four reef islands and five true atolls will be totally submerged and its 11,800 residents will need to be evacuated.
Although Tuvalu may well become the first country to be wiped off the map by global warming - sadly it may not be the last.