New Zealand is likely to take in some of the inhabitants of a tiny Pacific island nation whose homes are being swallowed by rising sea levels - unlike Australia which has shut them out.

The Tuvaluan Government last year appealed to Australia and New Zealand authorities to provide permanent homes for at least 3000 people, and possibly its wholepopulation, within the next ten years.

The South Pacific state, a collection of nine tropical islands housing 10,500 people, is crumbling into the ocean because of rising sea levels caused by global warming.

The Australian Government said yesterday that the islanders would not be entitled to any special immigration treatment, despite forecasts of rising seas engulfing the nation within the next 50 years.

But a spokesman for Helen Clark said she was "very sensitive" to Tuvalu's problems, which related to living standards and population pressures, as well as the effects of climate change.

Last year, Tuvalu's late Prime Minister Ionatana Ionatana met Helen Clark on three occasions.

It is understood places are likely to be offered to at least some Tuvaluans who want to come to New Zealand.

The island nation has a total land area of only 26 sq km, which is spread across nine coral atolls standing no more than 4.6m above sea level.

Scientists expect Tuvalu to be one of the first nations in the world to vanish as ice caps melt and waters rise.

The Tuvaluan Government is considering buying land in neighbouring nations.

But plans to buy 5670ha of land in Fiji were shelved after the coup.

About 5000 people from the island nation are already living in New Zealand.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

United Nations Environment Program

World Meteorological Organisation

Framework Convention on Climate Change

Executive summary: Climate change impacts on NZ

IPCC Summary: Climate Change 2001

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