Young students in the island nation of Tuvalu can now go to school without constant fear that the next tropical cyclone will destroy their classrooms – all thanks to a partnership between their government and Australia.
Through the $4.1 million Funafuti Classroom Construction Project, funded primarily by the Australian government, a two-storey, 12-classroom block has been added to Nauti Primary School, the largest school in Australia. education in Tuvalu’s capital, where 45% of the country’s total primary school students are enrolled.
The new school building, conceptualized in 2016 and completed in August 2020, was built to be more resilient to climate change and disasters, in line with construction standards in Australia and New Zealand.
These characteristics are particularly important for Tuvalu, where the highest point is less than five meters above sea level. Tuvalu is one of the most vulnerable countries in the Pacific region, its population is threatened by the coastal erosion, sea level rise, wind driven waves and high tides. The devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015 and Tropical Cyclone Tino in 2020 destroyed homes and crops and caused severe flooding in the island state.
Sumeo Silu, director of the Department of Disaster Management, said Tuvalu had requested development assistance from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to help address two main concerns: the lack of classrooms for the 800 students at Nauti and the need for an appropriate evacuation center for families living in the area.
Prior to the construction of the new classroom, Nauti students had to deal with water leaks from the roof and poor ventilation, which prevented them from concentrating on their studies.
The new Nauti Primary School classroom building block has a reinforced concrete frame and blockwork infill, an exposed wood truss roof frame and a color steel roof that can withstand earthquakes. land and at the wind speed of a category 5 cyclone.
These materials also make the facilities more resistant to soil erosion, an ongoing problem at the site as Nauti Primary School is located near a lagoon.
To help the school community cope with the long periods of drought, rainwater harvesting tanks have been installed, allowing the school community to have access to clean drinking water. Separate sanitary facilities for women and men have also been built in the school.
All of these features provide a much safer learning environment at Nauti Primary School. In the event of calamity, families seeking refuge at the school would also be better protected from the elements of nature.
The classroom building also includes a resource center that caters to students with disabilities, making Nauti Primary School a more inclusive learning institution.
“So for the first time in Tuvalu, in this new classroom, we have a resource center for students with disabilities. Now they are able to accommodate these students with disabilities in these new classrooms. They have their own classrooms so they can continue their studies. So I think they are very positive, this project, there are very good impacts for the people of Tuvalu,” Silu said.
“Moral responsibility to help neighbors”
Completion of the project however took four years as most of the materials had to be shipped from overseas as Tuvalu had no resources on their islands.
The coronavirus pandemic has also delayed the completion of the Nauti Primary School classroom building as tight border controls and travel restrictions have hampered operations.
But despite these setbacks, the Tuvalu and Australia Funafuti Classroom Construction Project at Nauti Primary School is considered a success.
For Silu from Tuvalu, this partnership highlights how crucial international partnerships are in tackling the crippling effects of climate change. He cited the Tuvaluan concept of fale-pili or the moral responsibility to protect one’s neighbours.
“In Tuvalu, we strongly promote the ethical and moral principles reflected in our Tuvaluan culture. These values will influence other nations”, Silu siad. “And I hope [concepts in] The culture of Tuvalu such as olaga fakafenua which is a communal living system, kaitasi or shared responsibilities and the concept of fale-pili – we use it [for] be a good neighbor – will motivate others [and] understand shared responsibilities for dealing with international issues such as climate change, rising seas and global warming.
Besides Tuvalu, Australia helps other Pacific islands. At the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum, Australia pledged to spend $500 million over five years (2020-2025) to build climate change and disaster resilience in the Pacific. This builds on Australia’s success in exceeding its 2016 commitment to spend $300 million over four years, from 2016 to 2020.