The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
UUSC’s Response to Tuvalu COVID Outbreak
February 24, 2023
Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, Tuvalu saw its first outbreak. Until November 2022, the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu did not have a single case of community COVID transmission, meaning that until recently, all cases in the country were contracted during international travel. Though the country boasts a high vaccination rate (over 97% of Tuvaluans are vaccinated), community transmission still presented a significant threat to the population of just over 11,000 people, especially as it coincided with a declared state of emergency due to an extreme drought. Within just a few days, cases exploded to over 1,000, primarily within the capital island of Funafuti.
In response, UUSC provided additional emergency support funds to its partner Kioa Island Community Organization (KICO) to address the COVID crisis and a severe drought. Response specifically included the procurement and distribution of medical supplies and communication equipment like walkie-talkies. The major goal of KICO’s intervention efforts were to work with other local civil society organizations (CSOs) to reduce the spread of the virus and help to treat those who have already contracted it while also preventing the spread to Tuvalu’s outer islands. However, despite prevention efforts, COVID still reached Tuvalu’s most populated outer island—Vaitupu—where the only public high school is located. Due to the coordinated actions of KICO, other local civil society organizations (CSOs), and local and foreign government response efforts, today Tuvalu remains without a single COVID-related death.
UUSC and KICO have been partners since 2021 when the organizations came together to tackle the issue of Tuvalu’s climate change-induced loss and damage impacts; Tuvalu’s islands are on the brink of sinking due to sea level rise. The drought seen in November is another reminder of the extreme climate change effects on small island nations like Tuvalu and others in the Pacific. Not only did the drought result from a particularly persistent La Niña event, but as rainwater reserves decreased, the Tuvalu government also deemed groundwater sources unsafe for consumption. As of December 2022, the state of emergency has been lifted on all islands except one, though the entire country continues to experience a drought.
UUSC will continue to support partners in the Pacific and beyond who are contending with humanitarian crises including those caused by the effects of climate change. For example, UUSC will continue supporting KICO’s efforts to develop and teach successful agroforestry programming for Kioans who have been displaced due to climate change induced loss and damage.
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