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Rusty cars, machinery, plastic litters landscape

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, July 9, 2010) – The threat to Tuvalu posed by sea level rise has been well documented in recent years but the tiny Pacific island nation may be faced with a more serious environmental threat from within.

Man-made waste could jeopardise the way of life for the countrys 12,000 people far sooner than any impact from climate change.

Johnny Blades reports that waste is an issue which is already beyond Tuvalu’s own means of control.

Nowhere in Tuvalu is the festering problem of waste management more evident than on the main island Funafuti.

On this atoll with a land mass of 2.5 square kilometres, there seems to be no place to hide rubbish.

Discarded waste is strewn everywhere: plastic, metal, old appliances, rusted out cars, fridges.

At the northern end of the main part of Funafuti is a designated tip: some two hundred by twenty metres of huge uncontained mounds of trash.

And extending through the middle of Funafuti is a huge rotting swamp.

It’s a pit filled with rubbish effectively created during world war II when American troops dug up soil for the 1.4 kilometre runway on the island.

Tuvalu’s Director of the Environment, Mataio Tekinene says the so-called "borrow pits" are a growing problem.

"These borrow pits cause headaches to environmental works because they’re creating health problems. So Waste management are trying to make a plan wnerewe can use these borrow pits as landfills. But currently we have this landfill... but this landfill is not well managed."

A reporter with Radio Tuvalu, Semi Malaki, says recycling of aluminium and scrap metals recently ground to a halt due to a lack of funding.

"So there’s been discussion with the government to get people to come in and conduct a feasibility study to get rubbish sent over to some place to be recycled. The issue of rubbish and local families has been a really big issue because there’s no other place where we can dump the rubbish - just the end of the island."

Mataio Tekinene says lack of funding seems to lie at the root of Tuvalu’s waste problem.

"We cannot properly go about it, in terms of funding. That’s why we always lack with our activities. Once we have funds then that activity will be smoothly going. Once we have problems with funds, then the programme will also go slow and stop for a while.. then start again."

The government is well aware of the ease with which the large rubbish mounds at the tip of the main part of Funafuti can spill over into the lagoon.

But it seems at a loss to know how to prevent it.

In addition an increasing amount of effluent from pigs is finding its way into the lagoon.

The local people live off the lagoon’s marine life but over the past decade certain species have migrated away.

Managing the waste is the responsibility of the Home Affairs department whose Minister Willy Telavi says they are arranging outside help to exert some damage control on the waste management crisis.

"We are working with Taiwan and the EU, getting equipment, assisting us, so we can address this problem. As you see, we have very limited lands where we can isolate this dump site from the settlement. And that’s the only area we locate for our rubbish in the capital. That’s a concern for us too."

In recent years, Tuvalu’s leaders have warned the world that their country will could be inundated by rising sea levels within decades if industrialised countries dont reduce their carbon emissions.

But unless its contained and removed, the rubbish dumped by locals could

win the race to submerge Tuvalus fragile atolls.

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