A New Zealand team has been sent to help in Tuvalu as the Pacific Island nation declared a state of emergency over a lack of drinking water.

Tuvalu, which has a population of less than 11,000, declared the state of emergency last week following water shortages in the capital, Funafuti, and a number of outer islands.

A New Zealand Defence Force Hercules arrived in the country yesterday afternoon to deliver Red Cross workers and supplies, including two desalination units, as well as water containers.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said Wellington-based High Commissioner Gareth Smith and another Foreign Affairs Ministry staff member had also travelled to Tuvalu and would stay to see what other help was needed.

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"New Zealand will be working with partners and other donors to consider the best medium- to long-term response options," he said.

Being the lowest-lying populated island in the world, Tuvalu's population of 11,000 is beset with environmental problems.

Rising sea levels have threatened livelihoods and homes, while increased saline contamination threatens water supplies and crops.

Last month Pacific Islands Forum leaders called for the urgent provision of international funds to help small countries at risk from climate change, saying the issue was the "single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific".

The leaders said there was a "critical and urgent need" for finance to help countries affected by rising sea levels to cope with the problem. especially nations such as Kiribati, Tokelau and Tuvalu where people have already been displaced.

They referred to a multibillion-dollar United Nations fund set up two years ago to help small countries adapt to climate change - but also said there was a need for more advice and systems for accessing and managing that funding by individual countries and region-wide.


Paradise Lost

The world's lowest-lying populated atoll, with 11,000 people.

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Rising sea levels threaten homes and livelihoods.

Drinking water disappears as saline contaminates supplies and ruins crops.

Estimates suggest the atoll will all but disappear by 2100