A U.S. Coast Guard cutter stationed in Honolulu is helping bring 36,000 gallons of drinking water to a small island-nation in the South Pacific suffering from severe drought conditions.
Tokelau, made up of three atolls, had about seven days of fresh drinking water left, the Coast Guard said Wednesday.
Cutter Walnut was on American Samoa to meet up with a New Zealand Defence Force aircraft bringing large containers and a seven-person team. The containers were being loaded with fresh drinking water, which the cutter would travel 358 miles over 30 hours to deliver the water to Tokelau.
"This is a very real humanitarian need here," said U.S. Ambassador David Huebner, of the joint effort with the Government of New Zealand. "We are talking about approximately 1,500 people who could be out of fresh water within a week, so we really needed to act very quickly."
Tokelau has no useable airfield, making an air mission impossible, but the Cutter Walnut was in the region on patrol, Coast Guard Lt. Gene Maestas said. The U.S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand contacted Joint Rescue Coordination Center Honolulu Sunday to discuss transporting a New Zealand assessment team and drinking water to Tokelau.
The island groups of Tuvalu and Tokelau have declared emergencies, relying on bottled water and seeking more desalination machines. Parts of Samoa are starting to ration water.
Supplies are precariously low after a severe lack of rain in a region where underground reserves have been fouled by saltwater from rising seas that scientists have linked to climate change.
Tokelau residents ran out of fresh water altogether last week and relying on a seven-day supply for bottled water sent from Samoa.