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Tuvalu, a “Sinking” Island Country

Tuvalu is an island country located in the southern central Pacific Ocean, and its country name means “Group of Eight Islands” in the local language. It has a land area of 26 square kilometers (about twice the size of Los Angeles Airport), a population of about 10,000, and its nationals belong to Polynesian. English is the official language of the country and Tuvaluan is the common language. The currency of Tuvalu is Tuvalu coin and US dollar, and its capital is Funafuti. Funafuti was a colonial center in the past (Tuvalu was a British colony, including the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati), which achieved independence in 1978), and after 1978, became Tuvalu’s political and transportation center. Tuvalu was not well-known until it was predicted to be the first country to be submerged by rising sea levels due to global warming, and since then more people have got to know it.

Tuvalu consists of 9 ring-shaped coral islands, 8 of which are inhabited, with a vertical height of no more than 5 meters above sea level. The north and south ends of Tuvalu are 560 kilometers apart, extending from northwest to southeast in a sea area of about 1.3 million square kilometers, with an exclusive economic zone of 900,000 square kilometers. The coastline is about 24 kilometers long, and the territorial sea area is about 750,000 square kilometers. Tuvalu has a tropical maritime climate with a temperature that can be up to 40°C and down to 22°C. The annual average temperature is generally between 26°C and 32°C. Although few tourists have visited Tuvalu, those who have been there will definitely be left with the impression that at first glance, it is a typical tropical island scene: police officers in blue shirts and shorts walking barefoot on the streets, children frolicking in the reef-enclosed lake, and fishermen netting fresh tuna. Tuvalu residents’ afternoons are often spent smoking, tasting sour coconut water and taking naps. The island is picturesque, like a paradise.

Tuvalu is a relatively closed country with almost no modern industry. It is dominated by natural economy, and its main industries are planting and fishing. Its economic income mainly depends on the collection of fishing fees from foreign vessels, the sale of commemorative stamps, foreign exchange from migrant workers, and international aid. Currently, Tuvalu’s national revenue comes mainly from the Tuvalu Trust Fund (TTF, a state-owned investment fund comprised of money generated by the Tuvalu government), remittances, the sale of fishing licenses and Internet telecommunications agreements. Poverty has increased in Tuvalu over the past decade, especially in urban areas. Tuvalu is one of the least developed countries in the world, but it has met the graduation threshold of the category development indicators and high income, and meets the minimum standards of developing countries. In Tuvalu, about three-quarters of the workforce work in the informal economy, mainly subsistence farming and fishing. Most of Tuvalu’s islands are built on coral and are not suitable for producing crops other than household needs. The underemployment of the country as a whole has led to the underemployment of Tuvalu’s young people. Because of Tuvalu’s low-lying terrain, the country is at serious risk from natural disasters, including storm surges, cyclones and tsunamis. Seawater infiltration has increased soil salinity, limiting the range of plants that can be grown on the island. Rising water temperatures and ocean acidification have affected coral ecosystems that serve as fish nurseries, making it harder for Tuvaluans to catch fish.

On November 7, 2021, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tuvalu stood in the sea and made a speech, calling on countries in the world to work hard to combat global climate change. If global warming continues on the current trend, a beautiful country will be submerged in sea water forever. Tuvalu is in urgent need of more help from the world. The UN has been present in Tuvalu since 2000, with 18 agencies implementing programs. There is no doubt that UN has paid much attention to the current state of development in Tuvalu, which is absolutely beneficial and of significant meaning.

By Tao Cheng

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