This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Is It Toodle Loo to Tuvalu?

Global climate change may have found a victim in the tiny South Pacific islands that comprise the country of Tuvalu, home for the moment to about 11,000 people. According to The Economist the island has essentially run out of fresh water through a combination of less rain and higher sea levels.

Tuvalu has declared a state of emergency after a fresh water shortage forced it to shutter its schools and hospitals and begin water rationing across the country. Observers blame the shortage on the changing weather patterns and rising sea levels associated with climate change—and warn they could be a sign of things to come for the whole region.
Freshwater supplies had already been running dangerously low for the 11,000 people who live on Tuvalu. The drought caused by nearly a year of sparse rainfall has been made worse rising sea levels, which have contaminated the low-lying country’s underground aquifers with salt water.In fact there is probably no country is closer to the firing line in the war against global climate change than Tuvalu—which is not to say that it stands much chance of firing back. As an archipelago whose highest elevation is a meagre 4.5 metres, Tuvalu feels it when the sea level climbs by an average of 5.77mm annually. The whole country, a cluster of white sandy beaches as far as can be from the rest of the planet, is expected to disappear entirely within the next 50 years. That fate portends ominously not just for Tuvalu, but also for every other low-lying coastal area, from the Maldives to Manhattan.
The population of Tuvalu, largely of Polynesian origin, is generally poor, with an income of scarcely more than $400 per year per person, according to data from the Population Reference Bureau. Consistent with a low-income population, it has a high birth rate (3.7 children per woman) and a life expectancy of only 64, which is several years below the world average. The island would already be severely over-populated were it not for the fact that out-migration has been keeping a damper on population increase. Those migrants seem to show up especially in New Zealand and Australia and remittances home probably keep the relatively limited Tuvalu economy going. However, The Economist reports that Australia is not yet open to the idea of accepting all migrants from the islands.

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