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Tuvalu: A nation whose time is running out

Illustration by Thumy Phan @thusisterstudio

When I think of my time growing up in Tuvalu, one word comes to mind: paradise. From the idyllic beaches to the beautiful blue lagoons – and the even more delightful community – my home was a vivid ideal in my youth. Life was easy and happy when I was young  because we had few worries about the seriousness and dangers of climate change. Sadly, this is no longer the case and the effects of this crisis – especially rising sea levels – have led to a multitude of tragic changes that have thrust my people into a future of uncertainty and humanitarian concern. It is becoming increasingly challenging for our islands to provide for us and, if we as a global community do not make drastic changes soon, Tuvalu will sink.

Illustration by Thumy Phan @thusisterstudio

[image description: The colossal waves of salt water that daily batter our communities are considered by the people as voracious monsters that eat the land. Our identity, culture and sense of belonging are slowly vanishing in an ocean full of international indifference.]

I’ve seen with my own eyes the effects that rising sea levels have had on our islands. Growing up, we were able to get  drinking water from the rain and wells. However, when the ocean rises, its saline waters damage the land. This has polluted our fresh groundwater, forcing us to rely on imports. It has also had a significant impact on agriculture and our access to land,making it much harder for us to grow any food on our islands. Additionally, since households must rely on rainwater – which is collected in tanks – if there is no rain for 2-3 months, then people start running out of water. To prevail against this, we have had to change our water use habits, prioritising the children when it comes to drinking water and reusing the water we bathe in to flush our toilets.

This rationing of water becomes even more of an issue with the increasing commonality of extreme weather events in the nation. In May and June of this year, there was a two-month-long drought, which only just ended with rain returning in late July. These extreme events are being seen across all of our islands and affect more than just our resources and infrastructure. Remembering Cyclon Tino, flooding and soil erosion were unleashed to such an extreme level that many of our ancestral graveyards were resurfaced and washed out into the lagoons and open ocean. Problems like these are not only causing extreme trauma to our communities but are also causing increasing emigration of the younger generation in Tuvalu. Nowadays, more and more of our youth are staying overseas as they are uncertain about their future and the future of the islands themselves. Additionally, as this continues, more Tuvaluans are becoming climate refugees due to the catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis.

My people are warriors; we’ve been hit by a multitude of disasters and many of our fellow citizens have consequently passed away. Yet, giving up is not an option for us. However, this is a crisis that cannot be solved by Tuvalu alone as climate change is caused by and affects all of us. The sinking of Tuvalu is a real-life example that climate change is here and has been for over decades. Thus, if nothing is done collectively, my country will cease to exist, and our islands will be swallowed by the sea. This would not only be a loss of the islands themselves but also be a great blow to our culture and identity. Our islands are incredibly important to us, and our connection to them is part of what makes us unique as Tuvaluans. Our native language, our customs, our colourful gallant, our history will all be erased. 

Tuvalu is my home. If I am anywhere else in the world, I feel foreign; but when I am in Tuvalu, I am at home. Be that as it may, I want my children in the future to feel the same way. We belong here and yet we are forced to emigrate to all corners of the globe, and so  our identity will be forever lost. Preventing our islands from being lost is not just important to Tuvalu, but also to the rest of the world. If we let climate change continue to the point that our islands are lost, it will certainly be too late for many nations in a similar predicament to ours. If we save Tuvalu we save the world, and if we let it sink we all sink together. 

We are drowning and there will not be any of us left. This is a call to action; start small and grow big. Save Tuvalu, save the world.

Tuvalu’s Demands:

  1. Political actors such as Global North nations, multinational corporations, state leaders, and fossil fuel industries must commit to taking real climate action by implementing sustainable policies and assuring their subsequent enforcement under the rule of law. If unable to do so, they must be held accountable for their actions.
  2. Intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations must develop operations under the ideals of international cooperation and interdependence. Likewise, they must be capable of putting pressure on nations unable to comply with treaties, mutual agreements, or statutes established.
  3. The collective society must be aware of the lack of equity of representation presented in the basis of the climate movement, and provide intersectional platforms for marginalized groups and communities (such as Tuvalu and nearby Pacific Nations) to express their demands.
  4. Individuals involved within the climate movement must unify under the ideals of responsibility to protect, to show solidarity/advocacy with those in the frontlines. Likewise, we must realize that we are all victims of systems of oppression immersed in our societies, which will not prevail against our collective actions to abolish them.
Illustration by Thumy Phan @thusisterstudio


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