DROUGHT PROMPTS 2-WEEK STATE OF EMERGENCY IN TUVALU

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More than half of population only has three days of reserve water left

By Timoci Vula SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Oct. 5, 2011) – The government of Tuvalu has declared a two-week state of emergency as the island nation experiences a severe water shortage.

Tuvaluan permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Tapugao Falefou confirmed yesterday that the state of emergency announced by the Governor General last Wednesday was attributed to shortage of fresh water on the island.

He said there had been no rain for weeks with fears raised of declining fresh water level that may force the government to send unemployed people in the capital, Funafuti to return to their islands.

"The worst part of the island that are affected are Funafuti where more than 5,000 people (more than 50 percent of Tuvalu's population) live and an island in the south Nukulaelae where more than 300 people live," Falefou said from Tuvalu yesterday.

"Those on Nukulaelae have only two to three days of reserve water storage left and that will pose serious problems on that island if it runs out," he said. "Other islands are recording rain but not much."

In Funafuti, families are now being subjected to heavy water rationing with only two buckets supplied to each family a day from water tanks located at strategic areas.

Residents on the island told [Fiji Times] that they had to bathe and wash clothes in the sea, and preserve every drop of fresh water for drinking and cooking.

Falefou said their government had sent diplomatic notes to the High Commission in Suva to be disseminated to their government counterparts, including Fiji, and international donor agencies for assistance.

[PIR editor's note: New Zealand sent two emergency desalination plants, water containers and essential personnel to Tuvalu earlier this week to combat the ongoing drought. Between the three atolls in the country of Tuvalu, government officials say there is about one week's supply of drinking water remaining, as of this week. The seriousness of the drought emergency has prompted aid from the United States Coast Guard, who will be assisting New Zealand in moving supplies and a third desalination plant onboard a Coast Guard vessel to Tuvalu.]

"We need assistance for mobile desalination plants to be sent to outer islands and also some water," he said. He added it was possible to extend the state of emergency for another two weeks if the situation deteriorated.

"The people here are concerned with the status of our water supply and if the situation worsens, we can only hope that the international community can quickly respond to our needs to alleviate the problem that we are facing here," Falefou said.

Senior officials of the Fiji government are meeting with the diplomatic corps to discuss the situation.

Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Saipora Mataikabara confirmed the meeting, saying at the same time government officials were gathering information from the troubled island nation.

On Monday, a New Zealand Air Force plane flew to Tuvalu carrying water supplies and two desalination units, one of which, Falefou said, would be transported to Nukulaelae today.

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