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Mrs. Nia lives in a household of 12, typical of the extended families in this nation of 10,000. Under a government rationing system enforced after months of drought, the family is allowed to collect just two buckets of fresh water each day, less than one gallon per person.

Like most others on the island, Mrs. Nia lines up at a collection point each morning between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. to collect her water. She supplements the government ration with the last of the family’s rainwater in a catchment tank, but that, too, has almost run dry.

“Sometimes people come in and buy a bottle of water for bathing,” she said.

At the Nauti Primary School, Ms. Tovia points to a breadfruit tree just outside her open-air classroom. There are bare branches at the top, falling leaves and no fruit. Usually at this time of year, she said, it is full of the edible fruit upon which islanders rely.

She is also worried about the 22 students in her sixth-grade class.

Starting a few weeks ago, Ms. Tovia said, she noticed that two or three would be absent each day.

“They said, ‘We have no water for washing our uniforms,’ ” she said.

Since then, the government has allowed students to attend schools in regular clothes.

Mr. Laafai, the Tuvalu home affairs official, is candid in acknowledging that government officials were slow to react to a crisis months in the making.

“I guess people were just here not paying much attention,” he said. “But we did get an occasional splash of rain, and that made people complacent and sit back.”

Mr. Laafai said coconut and fruit trees are dying in addition to the breadfruit.

“Our government has been promoting all these climatic issues in the global arena,” he said. “In the long term, we will still be here, I think, and we will try to cope. We’ll manage somehow, even if it’s difficult and expensive.”

Tuvalu’s economy relies mainly on the sale of offshore fishing licenses, income from a trust fund established by donor countries, and the leasing of its fortuitous Internet domain name, “.TV”.

The New Zealand defense force has helped repair Tuvalu’s main desalination unit, which sucks 500 gallons of saltwater from the lagoon each hour and turns it into fresh water. New Zealand has also brought over a large desalination unit to increase capacity.

Nobody sees this as a long-term solution. Mr. Fry, for one, worries about cost.

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