Atolls of the Pacific are also significantly impacted during times of drought. The Marshalls, for example, have had cycles of droughts followed by saltwater intrusion. Without water, schools close and life grinds to a halt.
“With climate change, saltwater has come into the river system. Our fresh water has been inundated with seawater. We are now digging water wells. Some of the houses now also have installed rainwater tanks. Our freshwater is no longer fresh. It’s a problem,” says Susuan Pukuop, who practices atoll farming in Manus, Papua New Guinea (PNG).
On the Marshall Islands, some people are looking to restore cement tanks used by the Japanese during the Second World War. On Yap, communities have replanted young trees, covering the taro plants with leaves and weeds to help them stay cool, and moving plants to shady areas. In times of drought in PNG, people are said to rely on relationships with their clan for help.
Yet sometimes a relatively small grant can make a big difference. On the Island of Chuuk, a $5,000 grant allowed people to clean up a stream, reinforce the edges with concrete to protect taro patches, and then add more concrete and plant pineapple trees to reduce erosion. Planting palm-like pandanus trees near the shorelines and wells also helps retain water and the soil. Small actions can be immensely powerful and add up to help stave off the effects of climate change, at least in the short-term.