La Nina can cause devastation around the world, but what is it?
|An uncertain future lies ahead for children of the South Pacific [GALLO/GETTY]|
The world is getting smaller. Improvements in communication and transport mean everywhere is accessible within a day. Well, almost everywhere. In the South Pacific there are island communities which are still remote by any standards.
The tiny island communities of Tokelau and Tuvalu are good examples. These atolls are more than 3000 km from New Zealand and 7000 km from Los Angeles. Their nearest ‘sizeable’ neighbour is Samoa, a mere 400 km away.
So for these isolated island neighbours to make international news, there must be quite a story. Certainly the headlines screaming that these communities had run out of water because of the weather look alarming. We all know that without water, life is unsustainable and that must throw into doubt the very survival of these peoples.
Fortunately, as the islands are administered by New Zealand, supplies of bottled water and desalination equipment were rapidly forthcoming. The Red Cross, too, came to the islands’ aid.
The situation in the islands had been foreseen. The long-term rainfall across the region is around 200 to 400mm per month. This year, there has been virtually no rain for the last six months. As the islands rely solely on rainwater for their needs, it is hardly surprising that the current situation has arisen.
The blame for the crisis is being laid at the door of La Nina. This phase of the Southern Oscillation does indeed result in prolonged dry weather in this region and climatologists fear that such events will become more frequent as global warming accelerates.
Yet other factors are at work here, too. The population of these islands has increased. Take Tuvalu, for example. After independence, the population tripled within just six years. In turn, those extra bodies resulted in an increase in waste which polluted the groundwater.
Today, the islands rely solely on captured rainwater for drinking, whereas in years gone by, rainwater was only a supplementary source. Ideally, the islanders would build more reservoirs and water tanks. But such capital projects are beyond the financial means of the islands.
There is no doubt that climate change will make water an increasingly scarce resource in many parts of the world. Perhaps some of the major population centres will look to the tiny South Pacific island communities to see if they can overcome their present predicament.