Tuvalu to World: Help!

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The tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu is urging the rest of the world to do more to combat global warming, before the island-state sinks beneath the ocean's lapping waves.

Home to some 10,000 people, the group of atolls and reefs is barely two meters above sea level. A 1989 U.N. report predicted that, at the current rate the ocean is rising, Tuvalu could vanish in the next 30 to 50 years. "We keep thinking that the time will never come. The alternative is to turn ourselves into fish and live under water," Tuvalu Deputy Prime Tavau Teii told Reuters."All countries must make an effort to reduce their emissions before it is too late for countries like Tuvalu," he said, calling the country one of the most vulnerable in the world to man-made climate change.

The list of threats the country faces is extensive. Coral reefs that are being damaged by warming ocean temperatures are in turn diminishing fish stocks, the nation's chief source of protein. And as the coral reefs die, they also take away with them the barrier that protects further erosion of Tuvalu's coastline by the rising spring tides.

Saltwater from the sea is increasingly displacing underground fresh-water supplies, creating problems for farmers already facing limited water because of drought.

Then there are cyclones spun into action from a warmer ocean, Teii said, adding that a neighboring island-state had been buffeted by waves three years ago that crashed over its 30-meter cliffs.

"We'll try and maintain our own way of living on the island as long as we can. If the time comes we should leave the islands, there is no other choice but to leave," he said. He said his government had received indications from New Zealand that it was prepared to take in refugees from the islands; 2,000 of its population already live there.

Australia, the other major economy in the region, however, had only given vague commitments. "Australia was very reluctant to make a commitment even though they have been approached in a diplomatic way," Teii said. ::Reuters