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Tuvalu church leader expresses pain of betrayal at Copenhagen

For Rev Tofiga Falani, president of the Christian Church of Tuvalu, the worry of his Pacific nation has been the risk of rising sea levels.

Climate change in the tiny island nation, most of which lies only a few metres above sea level, has been a severe worry. However, now he has to explain how Tuvalu is facing a drought.

Just a few weeks without rainfall constitutes a serious situation for this nation of nine little atolls that rise from the floor of the ocean some 1600 kilometres north of Fiji, and which measure a combined total of 26 square kilometres, with a population of about 12,000 people.

Tuvalu is the world’s fourth smallest country, bigger only than the Vatican City (0.44 square kilometres), Monaco (1.95 square kilometres) and Nauru (21 square kilometres).

But given that the islands are usually doused with afternoon tropical thunderstorms that refill tanks, wells and ponds that provide drinking water for the entire population, a few weeks without rain is a crisis.

And it is a climate change issue, though concern for lack of rain soon gives way to fears of too much sea water rising up from the depths.

For Mr Falani and the people of Tuvalu it fits a package: his people are the victims of climate change forces they did not create and which they cannot change. And the United Nations climate conference in December was a harsh and disheartening experience.

"Be it lack of rain or a rising tides, we are vulnerable," Mr Falani told Ecumenical News International from the Tuvaluan capital, Funafuti.

"We are on the front line of this struggle for our very survival and the world has disappointed us through the lack of action at Copenhagen. We are so, so very disappointed."

Tuvalu is one of the most endangered nations on the planet, due to rising sea waters: the highest point is 4.5 meters above sea level, but most of the islands are no more than a meter above the ocean.

King tides already swamp the atolls and the ground waters are subject to rising salt levels – hence the concern about the lack of rain. Fulani’s church, the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu, covers about 95 percent of the population. When he speaks he does so aware of the feelings of the nation.

As a member of the World Council of Churches’ delegation to Copenhagen, he said he had a privileged position to observe both ends of the debate: from the perspective of the vulnerable people of Tuvalu to that of one making representations at the highest level.

"We feel betrayed by Copenhagen … We hoped the world would hear us…but they did not even listen to us. When we spoke, they were polite. They asked us to speak, but even as we did, we found out other people were doing things and writing documents against us."

He said, "This was like thirty pieces of silver to us, a betrayal, just like Jesus was betrayed in the Gospels," adding, "the big nations, the ones with the big voices, China, India, America and, sometimes even Australia. We wonder why it was held at all – as our hopes were so very high."

But he is not bitter, or without hope.

He is aware of the games of international politics – but chooses to look forward: "We are still shouting at the top of our voices for the world to hear us and deal with this issue of climate change … We pray that other voices will join us and we will have our home and they will have theirs’."

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