The New Zealand Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, says a New Zealand and Australian airlift operation is starting from today to assist drought-stricken Tuvalu.
A series of New Zealand Hercules' flights and an Australian Air force C17 flight will be made over coming days to deliver a large New Zealand Army desalination unit to Funafuti in Tuvalu.
Mr McCully says the Air Force earlier this week provided smaller desalination units, but more capacity is needed to relieve the acute water shortage and to replenish stocks.
The first flight leaves Whenuapai this afternoon to deliver an advanced party of five personnel and a forklift.
On Monday, it is expected the C17 will transport a large desalination plant, which is at Linton Army Camp, to Samoa.
A Hercules will then shuttle the unit to Funafuti over several flights.
The Minister says at present the two operating desalination plants at Funafuti are producing a combined volume of 43,000 litres a day, but the more than 5,000 residents there need nearly 80,000 litres a day.
He says the large Army desalination equipment will help ease the critical shortage and should provide a sufficient buffer if the dry period continues as expected.