Severe Drought Affects the Northern Atolls of the Republic of the Marshall Islands
A persistent drought in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has reached a severe level, affecting 8,000 to 10,000 people of the northern atolls. There has been little rainfall in the northern Marshall Islands this year, and well water is turning brackish, making it unsafe to drink or use for crop irrigation. With no alternative source of fresh water, the Marshallese Government has declared the drought a national disaster. In addition to the drinking water shortage, island communities are facing the threat of communicable disease as well as food shortage, as many subsistence food gardens have suffered from the drought.
Clint Simpson of the National Weather Service Office in Guam told Radio New Zealand that a high pressure system is lingering over the Central Pacific, causing the dry weather conditions. Typically, dry spells are offset by Trade Wind showers, but not this time. Forecasters warn that the drought is likely to get much worse in the weeks to come, as no rain is forecast for the near future. In fact, the drought may last through July, or possibly longer.
The Marshall Islands’ Foreign Minister, Phillip Muller, reports that the government conducted an assessment of the impacts on communities and says that the situation is “quite dire.” The United States government is making their own assessment, and if the need is found to exceed one million dollars, the US President will allow for additional aid to the country. The US has already delivered solar-powered reverse osmosis equipment that can supply a small amount of water (about 300 gallons daily), but it will not be enough for island populations. The Australian government has also provided US$100,000 in emergency desalinization units. The United Nations recently sent an emergency grant and an assessment team to the RMI. Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, “The lack of clean drinking water is of acute humanitarian concern, and children are particularly vulnerable.”
While the water shortage is worsening for families in the northern islands, atolls south of the capital of Majuro have received enough rain to be spared dangerous water shortages. The large municipal reservoir at the Majuro Airport held 20 million gallons as of mid-April, which is a little over half of capacity.
The latest issue of the Pacific ENSO Applications Climate (PEAC) Center’s quarterly newsletter, released in early May, reports that rainfall should slowly build back to normal across the RMI, starting with Majuro in May, Kwajalein by June, and into the drought-stricken northern islands by July. Download the full newsletter, with climate conditions and outlooks for each Pacific Island group, here.
Australia To Assist RMI Amidst Severe Drought Conditions. Radio Australia. 6 May 2013. Available from http://pidp.eastwestcenter.org/pireport/2013/May/05-07-10.htm.
The Marshalls Islands has declared a state of disaster in the island nation’s North due to the prolonged drought. Radio Australia. 10 May 2013. Available from http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/pacific/radio/program/pacific-beat/marshall-islands-declares-national-drought-disaster/1129120.
Marshall Islands drought to get much worse – forecaster. Radio New Zealand, International. 7 May 2013. Available from http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=75859.
UN disaster assessment team arrives in drought-affected Marshall Islands. UN News Centre. 10 May 2013. Available from http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44871&Cr=drought&Cr1=#.UY2cM0rihYU.
The Pacific ENSO Applications Climate Center. Pacific ENSO Update, 2nd Quarter, 2013 Vol. 19, No. 2., issued May 2, 2013. Available from http://www.prh.noaa.gov/peac/peu/2013_2nd/PEU_v19_n2.pdf.
Cover photo: Namorik Atoll, in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Courtesy of Darren Nakata.