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The Ultimate Oceania Travel Guide
Tuvalu

The nations that may cease to exist

Tuvaluans are in danger of not only losing their land but their identities too, as the nation braces for the time when the small archipelago of nine atolls become uninhabitable due to rising water levels.

Tuvalu’s prime minister Kausea Natano, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, said two atolls in Tuvalu were on the verge of being swallowed by rising sea levels as a result of the global climate crisis that has already done irreversible harm, and will likely leave the nation uninhabitable in the coming decades.

Mr Natano said if Pacific nations are unable to convince biggest emitting nations to take action then this was the reality that faced them.

Island nations made up of atolls are seeing higher tides, and it is becoming more common for islands to become submerged at times of unusually high tides.

It is not only Tuvalu that is affected by this, but Kiribati, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Tuvalu prime minister Kausea Natano with Marshall Islands president David Kabua launching the Rising Nations Initiative. Picture Government of Tuvalu.
Tuvalu prime minister Kausea Natano with Marshall Islands president David Kabua launching the Rising Nations Initiative. Picture: Government of Tuvalu

Mr Natano said the grim reality the future holds is that there will come a time when Tuvaluans will be forced to leave their homes and settle in other countries.

He questioned what would happen then and whether Tuvaluans could carry that identity with them when they go and live in other nations.

The Pacific is not new to such an event. It was in the 1950s when people from Ocean Island, an island in Kiribati were forced to settle in Rabi, an island in Fiji because their island had been ravaged by phosphate mining.

Mr Natano said he feared that when Tuvaluans move away from their homeland to take refuge in other nations, their identity and culture will slowly be lost.

The group of smaller island states have proposed the Rising Nations initiative to help deal with such issues.

“That is exactly the idea behind the Rising Nations Initiative — to convince members of the UN to recognise our nation, even if we are submerged underwater, because that is our identity,” Mr Natano said.

Tuvalu prime minister Kausea Natano at the Pacific Conference of Leaders in Hawaii. Picture Government of Tuvalu
Tuvalu prime minister Kausea Natano at the Pacific Conference of Leaders in Hawaii. Picture: Government of Tuvalu

Vague promises and messages of sympathy from the international community have done little for Pacific atoll countries. The plan aims to reaffirm the international community’s commitment to Tuvalu and other island nations’ sovereignty.

It would also create a repository for the islands’ cultural heritage and designate them as UNESCO World Heritage sites, as well as increase financial support for adaptation measures.

Tuvalu’s islands barely break the surface of the ocean, reaching 15 feet at the highest point. This leaves the islands prone to exceptionally high “King Tides” that wash away root crops, including former island staples taro and cassava, and salt the earth.

“In Tuvalu we live as a community,” said Mr Natano.

“Even the people who leave don’t want to go, they just look at their children and grandchildren and know they have to look for a future for them.”

Mr Natano said that deep down inside he hopes that the world will hear the plight of a tiny island nation and take real steps to make the change that is needed to bring down global temperatures.

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