Disaster Risk Reduction in Tuvalu: Status Report


1. Introduction

Tuvalu is a small island state located in the Central Pacific, in Polynesia, consisting of nine islands. Six islands are low-lying atolls made up of motu (islets) with mostly infertile soil, and three islands are reef islands. None of the islands are five meters above sea level. While the islands are scattered across 500,000 km2 of the Pacific Ocean, in total they cover only 26 km2 of land area. Over half of the total population, 11,792 people as of 2020, is located at the capital island Funafuti, on the Fongafale motu.

There are limited natural resources, fertile soil, and fresh water, which limits economic potential and constrains agricultural production. Therefore, Tuvalu relies mostly on its ocean resources. Fisheries sector is the main contributor to the economy by training seafarers through The Tuvalu Marine Training Institute and by issuing fishing licensing from Distant Water Fishing Nations. There are limited opportunities for employment, and unemployment is hight at 8.49% as of 2016 [World Bank, 2022].

The government plays a dominant role for employment, with the public sector making up 70% of all employment and accounting for 20% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Figure 1 shows the rest of Tuvalu’s GDP breakdown between 2004 and 2009. Community and social services, Finance and real estate, and Agriculture each make up 15% of GDP, while Fishing makes up 7%. The tourism sector currently plays a small role in the economy and is mainly focused in Funafuti on the islet of Fongafale. Tuvalu is expected to invest more money into the sector as it is seen as a conventional source of income in the future. [Gay, 2010]

Tuvalu, like other Pacific countries, has two distinct seasons: a wet and a dry season. Strong seasonal cycles are driven by the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) which is strongest during the wet season. Tuvalu is vulnerable to disasters and climate change impacts including tropical cyclones, droughts, sea level rise, and flooding. Rainfall during the wet season can average around 3,000 mm and can exceed 4,000 mm per annum with frequent thunderstorms during the El Niño years. Tropical cyclones tend to affect Tuvalu between November and April. In the 42-year period between the 1969 and 2010 seasons, 35 tropical cyclones developed in or crossed onto the Tuvalu Exclusive Economic Zone, an average of eight cyclones per decade [PACCSAP, 2013; EMDAT-2022.]

Tuvalu has various unique species of plants, animals and marine environments. There are over 300 species of plants (65 species are native and the rest, mostly made up of ornamentals and shrubs, have been introduced). While there are no recorded native land mammals, there are various indigenous birds, lizards, insects, and land crabs that have been confirmed to be endemic. Habitat modification, such as through extensive planting of coconuts and other food plants, is the main reason indigenous plants are rare.

In 2020 Tuvalu released its National Strategy for Sustainable Development 2021-2030. It has five strategic priority areas:

  1. Enabling environment

  2. Economic development

  3. Social development

  4. Island and culture development

  5. Infrastructure development.