Australia and NZ ferry RO units to Tuvalu

Australia and New Zealand are leading an urgent response to the drought currently afflicting the South Pacific islands of Tuvalu and Tokelau by transporting reverse-osmosis (RO) units to provide a water supply.

Supplies are also being provided from the onboard desalination unit of a US Coastguard vessel, while Fiji too is shipping an RO unit to the stricken islands.

As part of Australia’s assistance, an Australian Defence Force (ADF) C17 Globemaster, with ADF and AusAID personnel, has flown a 50 m³/d seawater desalination unit to New Zealand.

“The unit will be flown from New Zealand to Samoa on 10 October 2011,” announced Australia’s parliamentary secretary for Pacific island affairs, Richard Marles, the same day. “From there, the New Zealand Defence Force will transfer the unit to Tuvalu’s main island of Funafuti.”

The Australian-provided Tuvalu patrol boat, Te Mataili, has also delivered a portable desalination plant, provided by the International Federation of the Red Cross, to the island of Nukulaelae.

A New Zealand Defence Force Hercules carrying water containers flew to Pago Pago, American Samoa, on 7 October, where it was due to meet up with a US Coastguard vessel. The ship, which has an on-board desalination plant to fill the containers, would then travel to Tokelau’s three main islands, which apparently ran out of water last week.

Foreign minister Murray McCully said the water tanks would provide about 136 m³ of water, which would be sufficient in the short term.

A solar-powered desalination unit from Fiji is on its way to Tuvalu by sea. The unit acquired by UNICEF produces 6 m³/d of drinking water and will arrive in Funafuti on 21 October.