Friday, January 20, 2012

International Prayer: Tuvalu

During World War II Japan’s plan to control the Pacific ran into a major obstacle in the form of a little nation of islands called Tuvalu. Japan moved quickly through south-east Asia, claiming the Solomon Islands and the former Gilbert Islands by 1941. From there they had hoped to move to Tuvalu but their plans were put on hold during the battle of Midway where Japan had planned to stage an ambush on U. S. forces. Code breakers working in the states warned the navy of the exact day and time of the attack, turning thing s in favor of the states. While Japan regrouped following this defeat, the United States secretly established an important strategic presence in Tuvalu.

Located in the South Pacific about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, Tuvalu was formally known as the Ellice Islands. Unlike what we usually think of when we speak of land, Tuvalu’s islands are examples of atolls made of coral reef and shaped like a ring with a lagoon in the middle. There are nine atolls making up Tuvalu’s 26 square kilometers (10 sq mi). The fourth smallest country in the world, Tuvalu has a population of just over 10,500.

A former British colony the Ellice Islands voted for independence in 1974. Realizing the people were in fact two very different cultures, they voted to split upon their independence. The Gilbert Islands would become Kiribati. The other part of the Ellice Islands would become Tuvalu, gaining their full independence in 1978. The people of Tuvalu, 98% of whom are Christians, are Polynesian whose ancestors came from Tonga and Samoa, settling the islands around 3000 years ago. There is also a small minority whose ancestors were Micronesians who came over from Kiribati.

Most Tuvaluans do not earn traditional wages, working instead as farmers and in other jobs designed to provide items needed to sustain the population. The highest wages are earned by those employed in the nation’s fishing industry. Because so few of the people earn a wage, Tuvalu does not have a strong tax base. Their government has had to look for other sources of income such as the sale of stamps and coins. The government also receives support from a trust fund which was set up during Tuvalu’s independence with help from other nations such as Australia. The fund is an investment fund with proceeds supplementing Tuvalu’s fishing industry. Tuvalu has also made money by selling license to its ‘.tv’ internet country code. However this endeavor has not been as lucrative as expected.

Unfortunately the islands that make up Tuvalu are sinking…or perhaps they are not. An online search leads to all sorts of opinions on the topic. Some say the islands are sinking due to global warming. Others say this is a scam, an opportunity to make Tuvalu a cause while the islands rake in tourists dollars. Still others say Tuvalu is sinking but not due to global warming, blaming the people for ecological missteps which allegedly have lead to erosion. Then there are those who say the islands are adjusting by replenishing the coral that makes up the atolls. Sinking or not Tuvalu has a problem where sea water is causing living conditions to deteriorate.

With no rivers Tuvalu depends on rain water for fresh drinking water. A recent drought combined with salt water moving into the few areas of existing fresh water has left the people with a shortage of clean drinking water. Neighboring countries have tried to help, offering things like desalination plants for making fresh water. Pray for the people of Tuvalu as they deal with their water problems.

The people of Tuvalu have limited career options and poor access to a good education. The government is trying to make their schools more accessible for their youth in order to give more opportunities. Pray for these initiatives. Their main source of income is fishing, a very volatile industry. Pray for stability in Tuvalu’s fishing industry and for the safety of the men who leave their islands chasing the next catch. Pray also for better housing as some extended families live together in overcrowded homes.

Pray for the church as it deals with the problems of this Christian island nation and for the spiritual growth of the people.

Continue always in prayer with thanksgiving and check back next week as we continue to pray for our neighbors here on earth.

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