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What In The World
What in the World? RTÉ One, Thursday, 11.05pm

Programme 6


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Located in the South Pacific, eight degrees below the equator and almost on the international dateline Tuvalu is the fourth smallest nation on the planet. Rumours of Tuvalu's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Al Gore in his award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth stated that all the people of these islands of Tuvalu have had to evacuate to New Zealand. This is not the case, at least not yet. The islands are still standing even if only twenty inches above sea-level and the people of Tuvalu are full determined to secure the future of their homes against the very real threat of global warming.

With a total area of 26 square kilometres and a population of just under 10,000 people, Tuvalu consists of six atolls, coral reefs perched on now dormant underwater volcanoes and three islands. Of these, Funafuti, laconically stretched just above sea level has a population of just under 5,000 and is the biggest island in the archipelago. It is 11 kilometres in length, 300 metres at its widest and five metres at its narrowest. At its highest, it is a mere three metres above sea level leaving it extremely vulnerable to the rising tide. 

Every two to seven years, the the El Nino current brings warmer than usual sea water to the Eastern Pacific along the coast of Peru. El Nino causes major changes in weather patterns not just in Peru but also along the Pacific Ocean affecting small island states like Tuvalu. 

While El Nino's impact is cyclical the slow but steady rise of the sea level as a result of the melting of polar ice caps in Antarctica is a constant. Furthermore, as the temperature of Pacific Ocean increases due to global warming, its waters expand causing a rise in sea level. Both of these factors contribute to the submergence of low-lying states like Tuvalu.

Most commentators reckon that the country will disappear under the rising tide in the next 100 years. Others suggest a much shorter timeframe. The question is what will become of its citizens? Should they begin the achingly traumatic task of evacuation and if so to where and in what circumstances? Many refuse even to countenance such a move. While the people cling on in the hope that someone somewhere will throw them a lifeline, the future looks bleak. Environmentalists across the world are garnering whatever support they can but others governed by strict fiscal rectitude argue for an orderly evacuation. The cost would, they believe, be a lot less than trying to stop the irreversible rise of the sea.