Forgotten Paradise Under Water: Low-lying island atoll country Tuvalu is coming under threat from climate change

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1,200 meters of the protective seawall was destroyed on Vaitupu Island by Cyclone Pam © UNDP/Silke von Brockhausen

Cyclone Pam - most recent example of larger climate threats to Tuvalu

The Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu is located in the Pacific Ocean, midway between Hawaii and Australia. Because of the low elevation, the beautiful islands that make up this nation are vulnerable to the effects of tropical cyclones, and by the threat of current and future sea level rise. The highest elevation is 4.6 metres above sea level on Niulakita, which gives Tuvalu the second-lowest maximum elevation of any country, after the Maldives. The same goes for Tuvalu’s capital island Funafuti: a narrow, overpopulated atoll island, that is between 20 and 400 meter wide and has its highest point at only 4 meters above sea-level.

"We need the world to help us save the people and islands of Tuvalu"

While all islands have received humanitarian assistance to cover basic needs for food, water, shelter and health care, Tuvalu will require much support from the international community over years to come to recover and prepare for future disasters. “It is evident that Tuvalu is already suffering from the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. The destructions and damages everywhere on these islands speak for themselves – a lot of land and vegetation were lost,” Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said during a three-day assessment mission to some of the most affected islands. “We need the world to help us save the people and the islands of Tuvalu.”

A UNDP and UNICEF team joined the Prime Minister on board of the Manu Fulao, visiting three of the outer islands, including the most Cyclone-affected Nui Island.

Build back better

During her visit of the country‘s capital Funafuti last week, Humanitarian Coordinator and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Representative Osnat Lubrani commended the Government for leading the humanitarian response and assured continued support from the international community. “While the country is moving towards recovery and reconstruction, the United Nations and other partners will stand by your side to help you build back better and cope with future climate change related disasters“, Ms. Lubrani stated.

Islands were flooded with broken trees, sand and large boulders, destroying homes and livestock and even washing bodies out of graves on Nui Island, when Cyclone Pam struck Tuvalu over four weeks ago.

Tuvalu relies heavily on its subsistence agriculture and fisheries. Cyclone Pam exacerbated the already existing long-term food and water shortages on the island nation exacerbated tremendously. Half the population is now dependent on food assistance and in need of alternative sources of income.

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