Australian Scientists working to save water supplies for Kirabiti islanders

From: The West

2nd March 2009, 13:15 WST

A
group of Australian scientists is helping to save a tiny central
Pacific island nation from a dangerous byproduct of rising sea
levels.   

Kiribati is slowly being swamped by salt water,
shrinking the land mass and threatening the islanders’ precious supply
of fresh water stored in underground reservoirs.   

A team of
experts from the Australian National University in Canberra has devised
a plan to help the small nation of 100,000 secure its water supply
against seawater and other contamination.   

“They’re living
in a precarious situation in terms of their water resources,” said
project leader and environmental expert Professor Ian White.   

“They
don’t know how much they’ve got, and what they do have is in danger of
mixing with salt water as the sea level intrudes and making people very
sick.   

“In that sense, it was vital to come up with a plan to help protect it and therefore the population who rely on it.”   

Kiribati is made up of 33 atolls, almost all of which sit just six metres or less above sea level.   

The
nation, which has strong ties to Australia and uses the Australian
dollar, is considered one of the most vulnerable to climate change in
the world, along with Tuvalu and the Maldives.   

It was one
of the first countries selected by the Global Environment Facility to
trial new strategies to adapt to climate change, but a recent survey
showed water supply was the biggest and most pressing concern.   

Prof
White said investigations revealed the underground water supply was in
danger of being tainted with salt water or becoming polluted as
reservoir areas became more built up.  

This was particularly
true in urban areas with a density of 12,000 people per square
kilometre, significantly more than in Sydney’s Kings Cross.   

“They
have very limited land areas and they’re all living over the fresh
water reserves and because these atolls are very porous, things get in
the water very quickly,” Prof White said.   

“As a result,
the health issues they face are among the worst in the world in terms
of infant mortality to water-borne diseases.”   

The new
water policy, developed in partnership with Fiji and France, aims to
conserve water through sustainable use and efficient management.   

Climate
change experts have warned that countries like Kiribati have just 50 to
100 years before they lose large areas of land to the sea and salt
water renders other land useless for living and farming.   

AAP

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