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Tuvalu/Pacific: Impending Drought - Final Report, DREF n° MDRTV002

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GLIDE n° DR-2021-000120-TUV


Description of the disaster

Tuvalu is highly reliant on rainfall as the primary source of fresh water. There are no rivers on the islands, and groundwater is extremely limited. Rainwater is harvested and stored in household tanks, island community and church tanks, cisterns, and a large government cistern. Funafuti's water harvesting system is inherently sensitive to dry spells because it depends entirely on rainfall, and is affected by the timing, frequency, and intensity of rainfall. Groundwater resources, where available, are brackish and exposed to saltwater intrusion from flooding, rising sea levels, and human and animal waste contamination.

When TRCS shared the July 2021 National Early Action Rainfall (EAR) Watch, the suggested climate outlook forecasted normal rainfall for three months. However, Nanumea, Funafuti, and Niulakita were at drought levels in June, while Nui received a drought warning. The table below captures the drought levels and warning for Nanumea, Funafuti, Niulakita and Nui from January to June 2021.

The regional RCRC EARWatch indicated that Tuvalu was in 'Dry Warning' in June-Aug 2021, as rainfall for the previous three months was at the lowest 25 per cent of the historical record. The likelihood of proceeding to seriously or severely dry conditions in the coming months was increased, and suggested preparedness and early actions were advisable given past and future seasonal data1 . Tuvalu relies almost solely on rainwater for consumption, indicating that continued monitoring and data collection would be of high value, as the situation can deteriorate rapidly.

Government reserves data was only available until May, and flagging tanks were at only 38 per cent of their capacity. Despite this, the government did not declare a state of emergency as the nature of drought in Tuvalu was complex and changing. TRCS is an active member of the Drought Committee (DC) in Tuvalu and worked closely with the DC to monitor the situation, following the EARWatch information that led to planning EWEA in early July 2021.

There was then an episode of rainfall in mid-July, which ended the government's water distribution activities in Funafuti. However, as Tuvalu is so dependent on rainfall, it is documented that long-term impacts can still take effect despite this kind of short-term water relief, especially when the outlook is as forecast. This is especially the case if household-level water tank information is not known.

This potential cycle is known to continue for months, so understanding the water security situation was the first part of the early action planned.