Tuvalu, the fourth smallest nation in the world, is made up of nine tiny islands in the South Pacific; five are coral atolls, the other four are independent islands. Located between Hawaii and Australia, the country is populated by Polynesian people who settled the islands 2,000 years ago. With fewer than 12,000 inhabitants, Tuvalu's population is less than any independent nation's, excluding Vatican City.
Most inhabitants speak Tuvaluan, but due to many years as a British colony, English is also an official language in Tuvalu. In 1978, the nation gained independence from the UK.
Tuvalu has no streams or rivers and therefore, almost no potable water. The land isn't suitable for most agriculture, and there are no known mineral resources. In addition to these challenges, the low-lying islands have been feeling the effects of global warming. At present, the highest point in Tuvalu is 15 feet above sea level, and on average, the land rises only six feet above the sea.
Furthermore, the beachfront has diminished by ten feet over the past decade as sand has been used for building materials. On Funafuti, the capital, many artificial lagoons have formed as a result of land extraction by American forces who built a runway during World War II.
A small island off of Funafuti has already disappeared beneath the sea and in some areas, islanders must grow crops in tins because the soil has become too salty.
Some Tuvaluans have begun to evacuate to New Zealand or to Niue, an island that is part of New Zealand but because of its distance from the mainland is self-governing. Niue is not threatened by rising tides but has been suffering from decreasing population as inhabitants steadily move to New Zealand.
Climate change is only one part of the problem. The clearance of forest undergrowth for use as fuel, degradation of coral reefs by crown-of-thorns starfish, and rapid population growth - now double that of 1980 - have also accelerated environmental damage.
The future of Tuvalu may be dependent on whether or not the world's nations can slow global warming. Some local politicians and scientists predict that in 50 years Tuvalu will not exist. The residents of the six Carteret atolls, also in the Pacific, just became the first people officially evacuated as a result of climate change. Tuvaluans are still holding out hope that they won't be the next.
Sources: BBC News, CIA Factbook, The Guardian, Wikipedia
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