By: Florent B. and Lan Marie
Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the fresh water supplies of the small island state Tuvalu is threatned by leaking septic tanks, saltwater intrusion and changing rainfall patterns.
Pisi Seleganiu, coordinator of the Integrated Water Resource Management (IRWM), is in the main maneapa (common house) in capital Funafuti. He is arranging the World Water Day in collaboration with all stakeholders working on water related issues on Tuvalu. School children from elementary school to the students at the University of the South Pacific are attending to learn more about water and water management. The national radio is even arranging a three-day live quiz for the youth. The prize is 150 dollars.
Water is one of the biggest challenges Tuvalu is facing today. That is why we are arranging this event. So that people can learn about the issues and how to better manage the water, Seleganiu says.
For centuries, the Tuvaluans have principally relied on groundwater resources to cover their daily freshwater-needs, using rainwater catchments only as a supplementary source. However after the independence, in 1978, the population in the capital tripled within six years, as Tuvaluan families returned from migrant labour in Nauru and Kiribati and moved to capital Funafuti from the outer islands in search for work in the new administration. Due to this fast urbanization and to the lack of adequate building material, 95 percent of the septic tanks on Tuvalu are insufficiently constructed. These septic tanks are now leaking wastewater into the extremely shallow ground water lenses of the islands.
Furthermore, the capital is struggling with the downside of modernity: broken freezers, computers, air-conditions, old batteries and other dangerous wastes are filling up formal and informal waste-dumps, leaving high concentrations of lethal heavy metals such as lead and copper in the ground water. On the top of that, some islands of Tuvalu now struggle with salt-water intrusion. This intrusion contaminates the groundwater making it definitively unusable.
We highly recommend that people use well water for secondary use only, like washing, flushing the toilet and so on. No one should drink the ground water anymore, says Dr. Nese Ituaso-Conway at the hospital and responsible of testing the water quality on Funafuti.
As the ground water is no longer fit for human consumption, Tuvalu is left completely reliant on rainwater fall, catchment and storage to cover its freshwater need. To meet the situation, the Government of Tuvalu developed a new policy on water supply and storage in 1986. The goal was to provide 50 litres per day for each person on all the islands, through a mixture of private cement tanks and public cisterns. Despite the construction of tanks on Tuvalu, thanks to the help of international donors, the Government never got to meet its targets. Moreover, many of the cement tanks leak and are not well maintained.