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Tuvalu PM blames global warming as Funafuti sinks

February 21, 2004

FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu (AFP) Feb 19, 2004
As the sea threatened to submerge Tuvalu on Thursday, the Pacific nation's prime minister blamed global warming for his nation's plight but vowed his people would never give up their homeland.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with AFP as freak tides flooded much of the atoll nation, Prime Minister Saufatu Sopo'aga said Tuvalu would always exist even if most of its land sank beneath the ocean.

"As long as Tuvalu is above sea water there will be people staying here. We will not move," he said.

And Sopo'aga added that even if the nation of 11,500 people situated some 3,400 kilometres (2,100 miles) northeast of Australia was completely consumed by the sea, under marine law Tuvalu would still exist under the waves.

"Our sovereignty will not be threatened ... Our claim would be maintained on this spot," he said.

The "king tides" began to hit the low-lying nation at sunset on Thursday flooding homes, offices and even part of the airport. Larger tides are expected on Friday and Saturday.

Tuvalu is just 26 square kilometres (10 square miles) of land scattered over nine atolls, none of which rises more than 4.5 metres (15 feet) above sea level.

Sopo'aga said he did not want to see the island nation abandoned, but accepted that people may wish to leave for New Zealand or other Pacific nations such as Niue and Fiji.

The prime minister said he had no doubt the high tides hitting Tuvalu were caused by man-made global warming even though scientists are divided on the issue.

"The evidence is there, and our nation is suffering because of it, what else can we say?" Sopo'aga said.

"We do not need further scientific research into this global phenomena on sea-level rising; it is already there. We are talking about the extraordinary high tides now. It is now becoming common to Tuvalu."

The prime minister called on the international community for help.

"We cannot turn back the tide ourselves, single-handed. We hope the industrialised countries would be able to help us, make a contribution to become partners with Tuvalu."

The "king tides" have occurred occasionally in the past, but Sopo'aga said now they were occurring every two years and causing major damage to special growing areas for root crops and bananas.

"Once the sea water gets into the roots of the trees it kills them," he said.

However the prime minister pointed out that his people were remarkably relaxed and cheerful despite their troubles.

"Some of them are concerned having learned of this rising sea level, while the majority of the people in Tuvalu want to enjoy the life of Tuvalu.

"They are very strong Christians and they believe God created this world, including Tuvalu ... and the people of Tuvalu, they believe that God would not desert them, that God would look after them."

Tuvalu has long warned it is at risk from a rise in sea levels caused by global warming. During negotiations on the Kyoto Convention on global warming a decade ago, then prime minister Bikenibeu Paeniu warned "the world's first victims of climate change" would be the 11,500 Tuvaluans.

But science is divided with a recent study showing sea levels are not rising. The theory is that the land is subsiding because of improper land use and population pressure.


Copyright 2004 Agence France Presse

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