The small and utterly remote island of Nukufetau is severely affected by costal erosion and water scarcity. Many of the islanders can’t afford expensive rainwater tanks and are forced to drink polluted ground water.
On Nukufetau, one of Tuvalu’s nine islands, the 567 inhabitants live subsistently of the soil and the sea. Their daily diet consists of fishes from the lagoon, traditional root vegetables like taro and pulaka, coconuts and breadfruits. The little money that the islanders need, they get from relatives working on Funafuti or abroad as seafarers.
The most shocking sight that meets you when entering Nukufetau, is the massively eroded coast at the end of the main islet. Several coconut trees had fallen down recently and the sea had eaten its way into and around the trees that were still standing.
• Costal protection is the most serious need of Nukufetau, says Masi Apisai (30), responsible of the Tuvaluan National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) on Nukufetau.
• If you live here long enough you can see that part of the island is disappearing. If we don’t act and build up our coastal protection, we will have a very small Nukufetau in 50 years time, Masi continues.
Masi Apisai, tells us that he used to be able to throw stones from the main islet to the next one when he was younger.
• Now I defiantly can’t any longer. The change is huge, Masi says.
He mainly works on three issues within the seven profiles of the NAPA (LINK to the Tuvalu and cc): Food security, costal erosion and freshwater supplies.
Seawalls and mangroves
The two main strategies for handling the erosion are to plant trees around the whole island and to build seawalls.
• We are planting all kinds of trees, like mangroves, pandanus, the fetau and futu (local names). Then we are using the soft technology seawalls – like sand bags instead of cement – things that just absorbe the strength of the waves, says Masi.
Urgent need for freshwater
The freshwater supply on Nukufetau is a major issue and concern for the newly appointed NAPA officer.
- We are not storing enough water for each family. During droughts, everyone runs out of water, says Masi.
In Nukufetau, a lot of people don’t have rainwater tanks at all and relies on the ground water.
• It costs around 1000 AUD (1 AUD = 1 USD) to get a rainwater tank and many people can’t afford that, explains Nai Feoto, the Sanitation Aid officer at the island clinic.
He tells us that, compared to the other islands of Tuvalu, a lot of people on Nukufetau get sick because of bacteria and pollution in the water.
• The wells are often close to the septic tanks and many of them are leaking, says Nai Feoto.
• Une citerne coûte environ 1000 dollars australiens (1 dollar australien = 1 dollar US) et de nombreuses personnes ne peuvent se le permettre, explique Nai Feoto, le responsable sanitaire à la clinique de l’île.
Causing health problems
The head of the clinic, Aoele Vauealiaki, explains us that the most common diseases on Nukufetau are related to lack of water or bad quality of water.
• The most serious health problems here on Nukufetau are skin diseases as fungal infections, ringworms and scabies and diarrhoeas and vomiting, she says.
Aoele, who has been stationed on Niulakita before she came to Nukufetau, says that there were fewer cases of these diseases there. Now the clinic is trying to make people more aware of the importance of secure and clean water, how to wash their clothes properly and also of general personal hygiene.