Skip to main content

The sinking Pacific – climate change and international aid in Tuvalu



Sarah Hemstock (University of the South Pacific) came to visit the Cabot Institute on 20 March 2013 and presented the case study “Impacts of international aid on climate change adaptation in Tuvalu”.  Here I sum up the main points raised by Sarah during her lecture.  Please note all figures mentioned below are from Sarah's talk.
Tuvalu

Climate change
Tuvalu is a microcosm for what is going on with climate change globally.  There are issues with waste management, sea level rise, politics, energy, food production and others.

Tuvalu grows taro, a staple carbohydrate which is sensitive to saltwater.  Due to rising sea levels, Tuvalu is affected by high tides called king tides.  These tides can contaminate agricultural land with saltwater and thus the staple crop will not grow.

Flood defences have been built by aid agencies to try to stop sea level rise.  Unfortunately they do not work as seawater bubbles up through the island at king tide, flooding the airport and villages.  There is now no fresh water and villages are completely dependent on collecting rainwater. 

International aid and the economy
Sarah began to explain why Tuvalu needs to move away from aid to become more self empowering.   She started to list the facts.  Globally, $140bn has been given to international aid between 1970 and 2010, it certainly is a lucrative business.  There are four agencies who accept international aid in the Pacific.  Three of these agencies have mandates for climate change, fisheries, GIS and mapping etc which prevents any market driven approach to getting aid.  Another problem with these agencies is their size.  For example, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC)  has grown from 300 employees at its inception to 3000 today.  Large numbers of employees can see international aid going towards feeding these agencies rather than having a smaller administrative group and diverting the main bulk of funds to helping save the islands of the Pacific.  It could be argued that these large companies provide jobs for people in the Pacific, but in reality, these jobs are not very likely to go to people from the small island states such as Tuvalu (for which the aid is supposed to be for), which are isolated and poor.

Tuvalu has a weak economy. There is a lack of exports but a lot of imports to people who are not native to the island and want a little something from home.  83 % of Tuvalu’s energy comes from oil and a shocking 50% of Tuvalu’s annual GDP comes from aid.  People in Tuvalu are subsisting on less than $2 a day.  However, because Tuvalu receives a substantial amount of ‘aid’ they are recognised as a middle income country, but this aid does not filter down to the people and in fact Tuvalu should be considered as a low income country.

Tuvalu spends $6m on policy development, although these policies rarely do anything and could be considered a waste of money which could be better used in the community.  The amount of diesel used for electricity consumption has increased.  However, petrol usage has decreased, mainly due to people going back to using traditional canoes as they are cheaper to run. 

A desperate situation – a sinking community
Between 2004 and 2007, fossil fuel use increased by 21%.  Sarah felt that this was because funders ignore policy.  For example, a Japanese company gave Tuvalu three diesel energy generators.  Tuvalu asked for generators that could run on coconut oil in line with environmental policy but due to cost, the donators could not provide these.  Tuvalu couldn't afford to run the diesel generators so Japan donates $2m of oil every year to run them making Tuvalu totally dependent on donations for its energy supply.

There is no market, no money and no tourist industry in Tuvalu so there is no way of generating money.  It is an isolated island and boats to Fiji run every 5-6 weeks.  When weather is bad, food, oil and supplies are not delivered.

Sarah explained how there is no joined up thinking with international aid and no long term plans after the aid has disappeared.  An example of this is where water tanks were given to each home in Tuvalu and they were also made in Tuvalu.  The problem with the design was that it has a sealed top which meant it could not be stacked.  This meant it would have taken 25 years to get everyone a tank, as only six tanks would fit on each ship.  The good news was that they managed to get a barge to ship them out, but it is this lack of foresight which hampers the success of aid activities.

Sarah also mentioned how 35% of aid goes straight back to the company who gave the money to pay for ‘technical assistance’ and admin fees.  There are other fees which come out of international aid. In fact if aid was taken away from Tuvalu, it wouldn't affect the people much as the aid hardly reaches them anyway. 

Interestingly, the people of Tuvalu are extremely mentally resilient to the threat of climate change.  When asked if they would move off the island if climate change flooded their islands, they were determined to stay on the island no matter what.  When the question was framed in an economic sense, for example would they move off the island for work, they were more open to the idea of moving off the island.  This is a difficult ethical argument.  What right do we have to move the islanders to safety, to move them to a different country, culture and language when they do not want to go?

Climate change may be physically sinking the small low-lying islands of the Pacific, but it is the international aid agencies which are arguably sinking them beyond recovery.  A drastic change is needed in the management and distribution of international aid in order to save these dying islands from the rest of the world’s actions.

  
This blog was written by Amanda Woodman-Hardy (@Enviro_Mand), Cabot Institute
Amanda Woodman-Hardy, Cabot Institute


Popular posts from this blog

Are you a journalist looking for climate experts? We've got you covered

We've got lots of media trained climate change experts. If you need an expert for an interview, here is a list of Caboteers you can approach. All media enquiries should be made via  Victoria Tagg , our dedicated Media and PR Manager at the University of Bristol. Email victoria.tagg@bristol.ac.uk or call +44 (0)117 428 2489. Climate change / climate emergency / climate science / climate-induced disasters Dr Eunice Lo - expert in changes in extreme weather events such as heatwaves and cold spells , and how these changes translate to negative health outcomes including illnesses and deaths. Follow on Twitter @EuniceLoClimate . Professor Daniela Schmidt - expert in the causes and effects of climate change on marine systems . Dani is also a Lead Author on the IPCC reports. Dani will be at COP26. Dr Katerina Michalides - expert in drylands, drought and desertification and helping East African rural communities to adapt to droughts and future climate change. Follow on Twitter @_k

Urban gardens are crucial food sources for pollinators - here’s what to plant for every season

A bumblebee visits a blooming honeysuckle plant. Sidorova Mariya | Shutterstock Pollinators are struggling to survive in the countryside, where flower-rich meadows, hedges and fields have been replaced by green monocultures , the result of modern industrialised farming. Yet an unlikely refuge could come in the form of city gardens. Research has shown how the havens that urban gardeners create provide plentiful nectar , the energy-rich sugar solution that pollinators harvest from flowers to keep themselves flying. In a city, flying insects like bees, butterflies and hoverflies, can flit from one garden to the next and by doing so ensure they find food whenever they need it. These urban gardens produce some 85% of the nectar found in a city. Countryside nectar supplies, by contrast, have declined by one-third in Britain since the 1930s. Our new research has found that this urban food supply for pollinators is also more diverse and continuous

#CabotNext10 Spotlight on City Futures

In conversation with Dr Katharina Burger, theme lead at the Cabot Institute for the Environment. Dr Katharina Burger Why did you choose to become a theme leader at Cabot Institute ? I applied to become a Theme Leader at Cabot, a voluntary role, to bring together scientists from different faculties to help us jointly develop proposals to address some of the major challenges facing our urban environments. My educational background is in Civil Engineering at Bristol and I am now in the School of Management, I felt that this combination would allow me to build links and communicate across different ways of thinking about socio-technical challenges and systems. In your opinion, what is one of the biggest global challenges associated with your theme? (Feel free to name others if there is more than one) The biggest challenge is to evolve environmentally sustainable, resilient, socially inclusive, safe and violence-free and economically productive cities. The following areas are part of this c