Water-strapped Tuvalu. Photo credit: mrlns via Flickr/CC BY
Climate change largely to blame
It's a particularly bad time to live in a low-lying island nation. With global warming continuing unmitigated, rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms aren't just dangerous. They're existential threats. Island nations like Tuvalu and Maldives have become famous in recent years for their impassioned pleas for action on climate change. And the mental image these nations' plights are capable of conjuring -- entire countries disappearing beneath the sea like Atlantis -- make those pleas exceptionally persuasive.
But the truth is that climate change could render these nations inhospitable long before they're swallowed by the waves -- rising sea levels might overrun their groundwater stores with saline, and run them out of fresh water first. This is exactly what's happening right now in Tuvalu. Essentially, the entire island nation has run out of fresh water. Tuvalu is currently relying on donated desalination equipment and "hydration packets" from New Zealand and Australia, according to Time magazine.
Reporter Bryan Walsh has more:
Earlier this month, officials in the South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu had to confront a pretty dire problem: they were running out of water. Due to a severe and lasting drought, water reserves in this country of 11,000 people had dwindled to just a few days' worth. Climate change plays a role here: as sea levels rose, Tuvalu's groundwater became increasingly saline and undrinkable, leaving the island dependent on rainwater.Walsh points out that climate change is drying out other non-island regions, too, like Texas and Australia. As such, Tuvalu's crisis can be seen as something of a microcosm for the water woes likely to wrack the globe in coming years. With 9 billion people thirsty people expected to share the globe by the end of the century, it's time to start thinking harder about how we manage water -- and how we keep threatened regions from running out of it altogether.
But now a La Niña-influenced drought has severely curtailed rainfall, leaving Tuvalu dry as a bone ... the archipelago's water woes are just beginning -- and it's far from the only part of the world facing a big dry. Other island nations like the Maldives and Kiribati will see their groundwater spoil as sea levels rise.