TUVALU HAS BEEN independent since 1978, joining the United Nations in 2000. The resident population has been estimated to be about 10,000 people in 2007, living on nine small, low-lying atoll islands. The total land area is only 9.4 sq. mi. (24.4 sq. km.); when the Exclusive Economic Zone is included, the total national area of Tuvalu is 289,576 sq. mi. (750,000 sq. km.). Tuvalu does not have substantial natural resources—the coral atoll soil is of poor quality, alkaline, shallow, and with low water-holding quality. Added to these environmental challenges are a lack of rainfall, lack of natural resources, the occurrence of cyclones, and the threat of sea-level rise. About 44 percent of the population lives on urban Funafuti, and the internal migration rate is expanding. The overcrowded urban situation has meant that having a sufficient freshwater supply is difficult.
As a small and fragmented Pacific Island nation, Tuvalu is increasingly vulnerable to cyclones, flooding, and sea-level rise, accompanied by environmental threats, such as land loss and coastal erosion, soil salinization, and intrusion of saltwater into the atolls' freshwater lenses and groundwater. Two incidences of flooding have been noted as being particularly severe for the urban island of Funafuti—one in 1977 and another one in 1993. Other climatic effects include coral bleaching in reef systems. Tuvalu's vulnerability, however, is also because of its impoverished economic situation, with large employment rates in the public sector, aid dependency, and a lack of natural resources for export; fragmentation and isolation of the islands; and a lack of capacity to support its population, which makes sea-level rise a problematic development issue. Current estimations of average sea-level rise in the South Pacific are 0.7 mm. per year. However, in relation to sea-level rise, the land of Funafuti island is sinking, which problem is accelerated by tectonic movement. As a consequence, and including indications of tide-gauge data, the sea-level rise in the Funafuti area has been estimated by scientists to be 2 + 1 mm. per year.
Tuvalu entered international negotiations on climate change in 2002, when Koloa Talake, the prime minister at the time, suggested pursuing legal actions against greenhouse gas emissions leading to global warming and the consequences of sea-level rise for Tuval, on the international level. The National Summit on Sustainable Development in Tuvalu in 2004 emphasized the need to promote awareness and strategies for adaptations on the national level. Migration as a final solution will be difficult for Tuvaluans and is also culturally contested. Existing migration schemes for Tuvalu are small.
Different from many other Pacific nations, Tuvalu, similarly to Kiribati, does not have the privilege of free access to the Pacific Rim countries. Current access allows 75 Tuvaluans to migrate each year to Australia and New Zealand. The strong relationship of Tuvaluans to their land, however, makes migration a last resort. Recent publications have suggested that Tuvalu and Tuvaluans are being publicly victimized when they are represented as potential places of disaster and as environmental refugees, respectively.
SEE ALSO: Climate Change, Effects; Floods.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. Michael A. Toman and Brent Sohngen, Climate Change (Ashgate Publishing, 2004); Official Website of the Government of Tuvalu, http://map.tuvalu.tv (cited May 2007).
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