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Island nation seeks to import residents

A cyclone earlier this month has led hundreds of people to flee the tiny South Pacific island nation of Niue and its prime minister was quoted Friday as saying he's asked a neighboring nation to send over residents.
A resident of Niue flips through a photo album she recovered at the destroyed home of her cousin, who was killed by Cyclone Heta on Jan. 5.Kenny Roger / Pool via Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The cyclone-ravaged tiny nation of Niue may import citizens from a neighboring South Pacific nation to help it survive, its premier said Friday.

Fewer than 1,700 people remain on the island, and some fear the number may fall to 500 if families unable to rebuild after Cyclone Heta are forced to leave.

Heta pounded the island north of New Zealand on Jan. 5, killing one woman, leveling houses, government buildings and the island’s only hospital. Wind and waves laid waste to crops and ocean dive spots on which the fragile economy depended.

Premier Young Vivian was quoted in New Zealand’s Christchurch Press newspaper on Friday as saying he plans to encourage immigration from the nearby Pacific state of Tuvalu to boost Niue’s population.

More than 10,000 people live on Tuvalu’s nine low-lying atolls, which cover only about 10 square miles. Overcrowding and population pressure are major problems on some atolls, especially the main island of Funafuti.

Vivian said he was in talks with Tuvalu’s government even before Heta struck, and it had supported his proposal. Tuvaluans first moved to Niue three to five years ago to boost its dwindling numbers.

“They’re good people, they’re religious, law-abiding people. They love the sea and they need to ease the crowding there,” Vivian was quoted as saying.

Australia asked to help
Vivian said he has asked the Australian government to help with air fares and other resettlement costs.

“I’ve asked Australia to consider it because we’ll help Tuvalu and Tuvalu helps us,” Vivian said.

About 100 Tuvaluans moved across the Pacific to Niue between three and five years ago, settling in the southeastern village of Vaiea.

Locals said many moved on to New Zealand after a few years. About 20,000 Niueans live permanently in New Zealand, which also pumps about $5 million in aid into Niue each year.

“This sort of movement around the Pacific has happened for decades and is not particularly new,” New Zealand foreign ministry spokesman Jonathan Schwas told The Associated Press. “We’re talking very small numbers of people.”

Climate change worries Tuvalu
Tuvalu, which is only 17 feet above sea level at its highest point, is regarded as one of the island groups most vulnerable to rising seas blamed on climate change.

“The sea and winds are going to get stronger,” Vivian warned. “If Niue is the indication of the things to come, then Lord help the low atolls.”

On Niue Friday, fresh water, some electricity supplies and local phone systems had been restored, as cleanup crews grappled with widespread asbestos contamination from wrecked buildings.

Cargo planes and ships continued to deliver aid and equipment from neighboring states, including Australia, New Zealand, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia.