Originally published in the fDi intelligence on March 24, 2022.
Threatened by rising seas due to climate change, and isolated by the coronavirus pandemic, the small South Pacific nation of Tuvalu looks inside for solutions
Until Foreign Minister Simon Kofe addressed the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow while standing in knee-deep seawater, many people had never heard of Tuvalu. Even fewer had seen, first-hand, the impact of climate change on low-lying Small Island Developing States like Tuvalu.
Located midway between Hawaii and Australia, the tiny island archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean is the fourth-smallest nation in the world with a population of 12,000. Global warming and melting ice caps have led to rising sea levels, creating widespread negative impacts.
The islands that makeup Tuvalu are small and narrow. At its widest point the capital, Funafuti, is only 600 meters across and the land is only about two meters above sea level. Rising water levels have affected fishing and farming, the two main economic activities. And when the coronavirus pandemic broke out, closing borders and freezing trade and tourism, it left Tuvalu caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
“Our borders are completely shut,” says Ms. Tilou Kofe, CEO of Tuvalu National Private Sector Organization. “We had to go hard and fast because we knew we didn’t have the healthcare infrastructure to be able to cope with a pandemic. Right from the beginning, the pandemic has seriously impacted a large group of Tuvaluans. Many rely on tourist dollars to make their weekly income.”
Tuvalu’s public health response to the pandemic of battening down the hatches, worked; by March 2022 the country was yet to register a confirmed COVID-19 case according to the World Health Organization. But for a small island nation dependent on links and trade to the outside world, this sparked economic challenges overnight.
Isolated, Tuvalu turned to improving its internal trade. In October 2020 the Department of Business, with support from the Enhanced Integrated Framework, (EIF) launched the Tau Maketi (your market) initiative to help vulnerable small businesses play a more active role in Tuvalu’s domestic market and make up for diminished foreign demand.