Sunday, 30th April 2017

Water on Tuvalu: A challenge between adaptation and development 2/2

Posted on 30. Mar, 2011 by Florent Baarsch in Adaptation to climate change, Consequences of Climate Change on Tuvalu

One of the few plastic water tanks on Nukufetau. Tanks like this one are distributed to all outer islands this year with a project funded by the EU.

By Florent B. and Lan Marie

Read the first part of this article here.

Since 2007, Tuvalu has cooperated with the Australian Aid Agency (AusAID) and on the European Union programme: Tuvalu Water and Waste Sanitation. The main aim of these multi-million-euro programmes is to provide private water tanks to all the households on Funafuti, and on the eight outer islands. On Funafuti, the first phase of the water tanks project has already been implemented. Now most of the households have their private tank of 5000 litres. When they need more, they can buy subsidised water from the desalinization plant or the public catchments. However, on the outer islands people are still not able to store enough water for their drinking and cooking.

- We are not storing enough water for each family, in the case of a drought, everybody runs out of water, says Masi Apisai, responsible for the implementation of the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) on the island Nukufetau.

The island clinic reports that the inhabitants sometimes, though very seldom, still drink the well water, even though testing show that the water is polluted.

A lot of the septic tanks are leaking and some are too close to the ground water lens, says Nai Feoto, Sanitation Aid officer on Nukufetau and responsible for testing the water on the island

Further on, he explains that the water tanks are not always clean and that people are getting sick of the water from the tanks also. According to the staff nurse, Aoelele Vauealiki, the most common diseases on Nukufetau are related to bad hygiene (due to the lack of water) and water quality.

Mostly people come here with skin infections like fungus and ringworms and scabies and we have a lot of cases of diarrhoea and vomiting, says Vauealiki.

Back on Funafuti, Dr. Ituaso-Conway explains that these diseases are common on all the islands.

It is mostly because some people don’t boil their drinking water and because of bad hygiene. In the case of water shortage many don’t bath regularly and then they can develop skin infections, Dr. Ituaso-Conway says.

During the dry season and droughts, the tanks often run out.  In the abnormal drought from October 2010 to December 2010 (the wet season), the majority of the tanks ran out of water.  In order to avoid a major water crisis on Funafuti, the two tankers had to go back and forth, day and night, from Monday to Sunday to meet the every day need of the families on Funafuti. Though people can buy subsidised water from the desalinisation plant or the public cisterns, the AUD$2,7 for 100 litres can be too much to bear for a fragile household economy without incomes.

Many Tuvaluans cannot afford to buy additional water tanks to cover their needs. One water tank costs more than AUD$1000. On top of that comes the essential roof and gutter-work. A good monthly salary is AUD$500 and this often has to cover the food for large families. People on the outer islands generally have much less access to paid work and they also have to pay for the shipping from Funafuti.

The second phase of the European Union Programme will start by June 2011. By the end of this year, the households of the eight outer islands of Tuvalu should have received their tanks. In total, Brussels funded more than 1300 private tanks for the outer islands.

However, with climate change progressively modifying the rain patterns of the Pacific islands it is always difficult to know how many tanks the Tuvaluans will need to cover and meet all their needs. Indeed, the situation is expected to worsen over the next decades, as the latest IPCC report (2007) warns:

“By mid-century, climate change is expected to reduce water resources in many small islands, e.g. in the Caribbean and Pacific, to the point where they become insufficient to meet demand during low-rainfall periods.”

A good adaptation strategy will in consequence have to take this changing rainfall pattern into consideration in order to ensure that the needs of the Tuvaluans are met. However the solutions are not only in the catchment of water.

If drought preparedness was simply about collecting more water – building reservoirs or desalination plants without considering the implications of wastewater - it would be too expensive. A much cheaper and sustainable solution is to manage water better, says Catherine Moulogo at the water department.
She explains that there are several things people can do to limit their water consumption.
It is common here in dry periods for people to limit water use when washing by not using showers as they are very wasteful and using buckets instead, using well water for washing clothes or installing (waterless) compost toilets. It is important to find affordable, sustainable solutions to water management and not look to technology which is not easily maintained in this isolated country, she says.

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