With limited or no rainfall over the last six months, water rationing has reached critical levels in Tuvalu and Tokalau, with the two countries now declaring states of emergencies.
In coordination with local authorities Tuvalu Red Cross requested assistance through the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent. As a result of this request New Zealand Red Cross mobilised 2,000 collapsible water containers, hand sanitizer, tarpaulins to be used to capture rain, two emergency desalination units and sent two New Zealand Red Cross aid workers trained in desalination and emergency assessments. Due the remote location of Tuvalu and the limited availability of commercial flights. The New Zealand Government provided an RNZAF C130 Hercules to transport Red Cross supplies, staff and other officials and equipment to Tuvalu to assist.
Both the desalination plants were dispatched immediately to Nukulaelae, a small atoll to the south of the capital Funafuti. Greg Johns a New Zealand Red Cross aidworker has remained on the atoll since their arrival on Wednesday 5th October. Since then a total of 17000 litres has been produced which is the only source of fresh water availalble for the population of 312. Dean Manderson from Auckland remains in the capital Funafuti where he is assisting local authorities and the Tuvalu Red Cross with planning for longer term activities.
New Zealand Red Cross identified a need for small emergency desalinators five years ago to suit the needs of small isolated Pacific communities. Previous deployments have been to NTT in Tonga and Vanuatu.
New Zealand Red Cross portable desalination unit is designed for speed and can deploy as rapidly as a person can get on a plane, because it travels as personal baggage.
The desalination plant packs into two suitcases weighing 31.9 Kg each, one containing the pumps and filter, the other the reverse osmosis membrane. It can be accompanied by a 1KVA generator so that all it requires is a source of petrol and a supply of water.
Because of its small size it does not have a large output, but it will create one litre of drinking water per minute from seawater, which is enough to supply 450 people with three litres per day.
If there is a source of fresh but undrinkable water, the unit can operate without the reverse osmosis membrane. In this case it can provide three litres of water per day for 2,000 people, but some chemical treatment is required.