Tuvalu's piles of rubbish still a threat, as EU visits
Tuvalu's piles of rubbish still a threat, as EU visits to hand over waste equipment.
Tuvalu is moving on with its mission to clean up Funafuti atoll with help from the European Union and New Zealand.
For years the tiny nation has said it can't overcome its rubbish problem alone, and some say it's a threat worse than rising sea levels.
Alex Perrottet was in Tuvalu to check on the country's progress dealing with a growing pile of junk.
The voices of a growing population on Funafuti atoll.. the group is sitting next to a new basketball court, on the edge of a stinking pit of water with pig pens hemmed in on the other side. The "borrow pits" as they are called, are a stark reminder of the lack of land on this atoll. The deputy prime minister Vete Sakaio says finally something will be done about them.
VETE SAKAIO: During World War Two, there wasn't any airstrip in Funafuti so when the shippies of America came here, to land an aircraft you need an airport, so they dug out the pits, and they dug out from the lands and they created these pits and now these pits have been left for many many years, unused.
With only 26 square kilometres above water on Funafuti, and a 5000-strong population, the pits have become massive receptacles and with no other landfill options, there's a huge dumpsite at the northern end of the atoll, fenced off to stop the rubbish being blown back into town and into the ocean. But an officer in the department of agriculture, Iosia Siose, says there have been improvements in the management of the waste system.
IOSIA SIOSE: Yeah there's been a collecting system of rubbish - you have dry leaves being collected and shredded for compost, plastic and other rubbish have been sent to the dumpsite. Rubbish bins are distributed to certain areas and from there people can use the rubbish bins.
There are also signs near bins, encouraging people to use them for all the plastic wrapping, that comes with imported food. The European Union says its waste model could become a model for other Pacific atolls, but the results are still hard to see. The EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs handed over excavation machines and containers, all worth about $1.4 million US dollars, and stressed the need for the government to look after it.
ANDRIS PIEBALGS: There is at least a start is being done. Efforts must now focus on building on these results and making base operations sustainable. And that will depend to a large extent on the effective maintenance of equipment. And for that it is important that the government is fully involved and look for some funding necessary.
New Zealand is helping to fill the pits with sand dredged from the lagoon, and the government has already begun converting them to recreational areas. Mr Sakaio says some squatters will have to be moved on, and there could be some tense wrangling with compensation.
VETE SAKAIO: We need to negotiate, negotiate as far as we could. If we cannot go any further because they insist of higher cost, to the government, then we will throw the bullet of acquiring land, but we don't want to go to that extent, but for now we will negotiate with them for the benefit of everybody and it has to be a win-win situation project.
Andris Piebalgs says he hopes that when people visit in seven years that they won't recognise Funafuti. Under the EDF 11 bilateral envelope, which is just under $10 million US dollars, he's hoping the Solid Waste Agency and awareness programmes can turn around the state of affairs.
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