Published on Wednesday, February 16, 2000 by Agence France-Presse
Global Sea Level Rise To Inundate South Pacific Island This Weekend
AUCKLAND - Global warming and the associated sea-level rise will threaten residents of Tuvalu this weekend, with tides forecast to be higher than most of the islands they live on, a climate expert confirmed Wednesday.
Homes, offices and the airport could expect to be flooded, Hilia Vavae of the Tuvalu Meteorological Office told AFP by telephone.
Tuvalus main island and capital, Funafuti, will Saturday and Sunday afternoon receive spring tides of 3.2 metres (11 feet). No point of land in Tuvalu is more than 4.5 metres (15 feet) above mean sea level.
"The low lying areas of Funafuti will be flooded," Vavae said.
She said spring tides have been steadily getting higher, causing serious problems, and this month they will be their highest ever.
On overcrowed Funafuti, home to most of the 11,000 population, the groundwater has already become undrinkable thanks to sea-water intrusion, and often century-old pits used for growing the root crop taro are being flooded by sea-water.
"It is very hard here," she said.
Making matters even tougher is that much of Tuvalu is experiencing a heavy drought.
Weather forecasts for the weekend were not yet available, but the impact of the tide could be made even more dramatic if accompanied by winds or heavy seas.
Tuvalu has been outspoken in world forums on global warming, claiming its very existence is on the line.
Spring tides occur when the Moon aligns with the Sun at times of full or new moons, producing maximum tidal ranges.
The highest spring tides are at the equinoxes when the Sun is over the Equator.
Vavae said she expected Funafutis "lowlands", including much of the airfield, to be under water for up to six hours Saturday and Sunday. Some office buildings and homes are expected to be flooded too.
The spring ties are due at 5.03 p.m. Saturday (0503 GMT) and 5.44 p.m. (0544 GMT) Sunday.
People were calm and used to the spring tides although as they were getting higher the problems were getting more severe.
"They do not like the way the main road is blocked by the tides," Vavae said.
Tuvalu ("eight together"), formerly the Ellice Islands, is a group of nine Polynesian atolls, lying south of the equator. Funafuti is 1,046 kilometres (650 miles) north of Fiji. The country has only 26 square kilometressquare miles), although the atolls extend in a chain 595 kilometresmiles) long.
Around 40 percent of Funafuti is already uninhabitable because of pits and an airstrip dug out of the coral by American forces during World War II.
Previous Prime Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu spent many years warning the world his nation was in strife and in 1992 told a summit in Tahiti that Tuvalu, already suffering from isolation, was "the world's first victim of climate change."
"Our islands are experiencing frequent natural disasters like cyclones, tidal waves and droughts which are causing severe damage," he said.
During the El Nino weather phenomenon, Tuvalu become more exposed to cyclones and there was evidence land was slipping into the sea permanently.
"We do see the physical impact in Tuvalu, that is why we think of it as something more than a theory," he said.
"Our islands will disappear, we will have to find another home. But surely that is our last resort, we don't want to be displaced from our home, our motherland."
Copyright © 2000 AFP