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Federated States of Micronesia

Federated States of Micronesia

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) extends 1,700 miles (2,736 km) from east to west, forming the Eastern and Western Caroline Islands [3]. The four states in the nation include: Pohnpei (with the FSM’s capital city in Palikir), Kosrae, Chuuk, and Yap.  With the wide variation in location and geology, the islands have a wide range of climates and experience different impacts across the country. Despite plentiful rainfall (Pohnpei is one of the wettest places on Earth), drought conditions do occur periodically throughout FSM, especially when the El Niño condition moves into the Western Pacific.  At these times in the past, groundwater supplies have dwindled to an emergency state, with a major drought disaster declaration in 1998 and emergency declarations in 2007 [2].  The states of Pohnpei and Chuuk declared drought emergencies on several islands in these states due to food and water shortages from climate variability [6, 7].  In addition, the FSM faces wildfires, extreme tides, sea level variation, and erosion. Tropical typhoons (June to December) constitute an annual threat, particularly to the low-lying atolls [1, 3]. Fisheries, a primary economic sector in the FSM, have high correlations of fish catch with sea surface temperatures (SST) and ENSO events.  As pelagic fish leave the region with rising SSTs, the FSM could experience severe economic setbacks. With the current stresses on the environment, infrastructure, and economy in the FSM, more frequent extreme events and climate change could pose severe problems for the resilience of the island communities.  To address these issues, several non-profit organizations working with the government have begun to identify marine protected areas and conservation areas to protect resources for food security.  In addition, some of the low-lying atolls have made arrangements to secure tracts of land on higher islands for possible relocation.


The FSM is made up of four island states in the North Pacific Ocean, including Pohnpei State, Chuuk State, Yap State, and Kosrae State, totaling 607 small islands (65 inhabited) extending 1,700 miles (2,900 km) across the archipelago of the Caroline Islands, from Kosrae in the east to Yap in the west [3]. The many islands are diverse and contain various geographical features, from high mountainous islands, such as Pohnpei, to low-lying atoll islands with scarce land resources, such as Ulithi Atoll. Each of the four states centers around one or more high island, and all but Kosrae include numerous atolls [3]. The total land area is only 271 sq miles (702 sq km), but the nation also covers some 1 million sq miles (2.6 million sq km) of the Pacific Ocean [3]. Chuuk State has a total land area of 49 sq miles (127 sq km) and includes seven major volcanic island groups within the Chuuk Lagoon and 24 outer-island atolls – approximately 290 islands total.  Chuuk is the most populous of the FSM states [10]. Pohnpei State is a large state made up of one large volcanic island and six inhabited atolls, with most of its 133 sq miles (346 sq km) in Pohnpei Island, the largest island in FSM [3]. Most of Pohnpei State’s islands and atolls are in the north-central, southwest, and western parts of the state. Palikir on Pohnpei is the national capital of the FSM and site of the Community College of Micronesia. Yap State is made up of four large volcanic islands [10], 7 small islands and 134 atolls (of which 19 are inhabited), with a total land area of 46 sq miles (118 sq km) [3]. More than a quarter of all Yap’s residents live on the outer islands, and two-thirds of the population lives on Yap Island [10]. Kosrae State, the most easterly state in the country, is essentially one high volcanic island of 42 sq miles (110 sq km) [3]. Because of the heavy rainfalls, it has many rivers and waterfalls [10]. Kosrae is the only FSM state without outer islands.

El Nino Sign in Pohnpei. This public awareness campaign sign located on the main public roadway in Kolonia, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia warned about the impending El Niño drought and resulted in water resources conservation, water treatment, and decreased disease incidence. (Source: NOAA National Weather Service Pacific Region, 1998)



Kosrae’s climate is tropical oceanic. Located only 5° north of the equator, Kosrae experiences periods of heavy rainfall associated with the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). In 2007, the average annual temperature was 81°F (27.2 °C) [5]. Rainfall is relatively high, slightly over 200 inches (5,080 mm) in 2007 [5]. The precipitation is normally higher in the highlands. The state has experienced three severe droughts in recent times, in 1982-83, 1992-93 and 1997-98. All three were a result of El Niño.  Kosrae is located to the south and east of the typhoon track and very rarely experiences a direct strike from a typhoon. However, Pacific typhoons often go through the development stage in the area, causing severe local winds.  During the rainy season of November through March frequent severe rainstorms are sometimes accompanied by damaging winds, which can damage transmission and distribution facilities [9].


From about November to June, the climate of Chuuk is influenced chiefly by northeasterly tradewinds with average monthly speeds of 8-12 mph (13-19 km/h). By about April, however, the trades begin to weaken, and by July give way to the lighter and more variable winds of the doldrums. Between July and November, the island is frequently under the influence of the ITCZ. Temperature in Chuuk is remarkably uniform; with the highs generally in the middle 80s, and lows in the middle 70s [5]. The northern atolls receive about 80 inches of rainfall a year while the annual rainfall in Southern atolls is normally higher, about 160 inches (4,060 mm) [5]. Although the major typhoon tracks of the western Pacific lie to the north and west of Chuuk, several of the storms have passed close enough to the island to cause widespread damage. Tropical storms generally occur between the months of July and November [9]. Severe typhoons with winds in excess of 100 mph (161 km/h) can strike portions of Chuuk, including Supertyphoon Nina in November 1987 [7] and Typhoon Chata’an in July 2002.  Chata’an brought heavy rainfall causing extensive flooding, mudslides, and landslides that resulted in deaths and required more than $10.6 million in federal assistance [2].  According to the 2007 PEAC staff visit with the Chuuk Weather Service Office (WSO), sea level rise, drought, and inundation are the biggest threats to Chuuk.  Most infrastructure is located close to the coastline, as the interior of the islands are mountainous [4].


Pohnpei’s close proximity to the equator, right in the middle of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), substantially reduces seasonal weather change [9].  Average annual temperature since 1970 has been around 81° F (27 °C) [5]. The island’s highest point, at 2,540 feet (798 m), is the summit of Mount Nahnalaud, thought to be one of the wettest spots in the world, with an average annual rainfall exceeding 400 inches (10,160 mm) [8]. Runoff from the rains feed numerous streams and rivers that originate in the interior highlands.  Typically, Pohnpei’s interior is almost completely cloud covered, and the island’s residents can expect most days to be partly cloudy, with periods of sunshine, then overcast and rainy [9]. Pohnpei is generally south and east of the typhoon belt, but periodically experiences short, severe tropical storms [9].  The northern part of Pohnpei is where tropical disturbances often form, though most develop into typhoons north and west of the state. The southernmost atoll in the state is Kapingamarangi, located 2° north of the equator, and subject to droughts, particularly during La Niña events [8].


Kosrae, Island of Sleeping Lady. (Source: Yimnang Golbuu)

The ITCZ lies near Yap during the northern summer, particularly as it moves northward in July and southward again in October. At such times, showers and light, variable winds predominate, interspersed with heavier showers or thunderstorms, occasionally accompanied by strong and shifting winds. In 2007 the average annual temperature was 80.5 °F (26.9 °C), and annual rainfall was 138 inches (3493 mm) [5]. Since the twenty-first century began, Yap has experienced two major typhoon disaster declarations, Typhoon Lupit in 2003 and Typhoon Sudal in 2004 [2].


The total estimated population of all four states in the FSM is 106,487 (July 2012) [1]. According to the 2000 national census, populations for the individual states are: Chuuk 53,595; Pohnpei 34,486; Kosrae 7,686; and Yap, 11,241 [3]. The main ethnic groups are Chuukese 48.8%, Pohnpeian 24.2%, Kosraean 6.2%, Yapese 5.2%, Yap outer islands 4.5%, Asian 1.8%, Polynesian 1.5%, other 6.4%, and unknown 1.4% (2000 census) [1]. The FSM is a highly Christian country, with Roman Catholic 50% of the population, Protestant 47% (Congregational 40.1%, Baptist 0.9%, Seventh-Day Adventist 0.7%), and other 3% [1]. Because of the wide variety of languages spoken throughout the country, English is the official language. There are eight major indigenous languages of the Malayo-Polynesian linguistic family spoken in the FSM: Yapese, Ulithian, Woleaian, Chuukese, Pohnpeian, Kosraean, Nukuoro, and Kapingamarangi [3].

History and Government

Kepirohi Waterfall in Pohnpei. (Source: Cheryl Anderson)

The first settlers of the islands now known as the Federated States of Micronesia arrived more than 4,000 years ago, gradually spreading from east to west across the archipelago [11, 12]. A decentralized chieftain-based system eventually evolved into a more centralized economic and religious empire based principally in Yap and Pohnpei [12]. Nan Madol, one of the few well-preserved large archaeological sites in Micronesia, was the seat of power in Pohnpei from AD 500 until 1500 [11]. Each of the four States exhibits its own distinct culture and tradition, but there are also common cultural and economic bonds that are centuries old. Cultural similarities are evidenced in the importance of the traditional extended family and clan systems. Land is especially important, both because of its short supply and traditional importance.  Most property is held as family trusts and land use rights are passed down from generation to generation within the extended family system. Many of these islands still have matrilineal land tenure systems and recognized traditional leaders in addition to the government system [3]. European explorers reached the Carolines in the 16th century, and Spain claimed the islands as part of its colonial empire. After the Spanish-American War, Spain sold the Caroline Islands to Germany in 1899. They then passed into Japanese control through the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 [11, 12]. During World War II, a large portion of the Japanese fleet was based in Chuuk Lagoon, and one of the most important naval battles in the war also took place there [11]. Following the war, the islands became part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), administered by the U.S. IN 1979, the TTPI districts of Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap ratified a new constitution to become the Federated States of Micronesia. The neighboring districts of the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Northern Mariana Islands chose not to participate and instead have their own individual relationships with the U.S. The FSM became independent and signed a formal Compact of Free Association with the U.S. in 1986, and an amended Compact came into force in 2004, which will continue until 2023 [11, 12].

Natural Resources and Economy

The main elements of the FSM economy, although it varies from state to state, are subsistence farming, including local fishing; lease of fishing rights to FSM waters; servicing of the fishing fleets; government employment; and tourism [9]. Tourism seems to have potential for near-term income generation, because of the natural and marine beauty of the islands. However, limitations in air transportation, land- use issues, and competition with other island destinations closer to tourist markets represent challenges that must be overcome in order to develop larger-scale tourism investment [3]. The FSM considers the ocean to be the country’s most important resource, earning in recent years $18-24 million annually in licensing fees paid by foreign vessels for tuna fishing in the FSM’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The approximate market value per year of tuna harvested within the nation is about $200 million. However, there is virtually no national participation in its exploitation, and major developmental activity and the investment of significant funds are needed [3]. Agriculture is the most important primary activity in the nation because of its contribution to employment, wage income, export earnings, and subsistence production. Subsistence farming is a mainstay of life in the FSM.  Almost 50% of the labor force is employed in agriculture on a full-time or seasonal basis, and agriculture provides 60% of the food consumed. Agriculture (including fishing) represents 42% of the GDP of the FSM.  Products that are raised for resale and when markets can be secured are coconuts, copra, cassava, sweet potatoes, peppers, and tropical fruits.  Pohnpei is especially noted for its raising and exporting of Pohnpei black pepper [9], which is the only fully commercial agriculture in the FSM [3]. Financial assistance from the U.S. is still the primary source of national revenue [11]. Under the original terms of the Compact of Free Association, the U.S. provided $1.3 billion in grant aid during the period 1986-2001; the level of aid has been subsequently reduced. The Amended Compact of Free Association with the U.S. guarantees the FSM millions of dollars in annual aid through 2023, and establishes a Trust Fund into which the US and the FSM make annual contributions in order to provide annual payouts to the FSM in perpetuity after 2023 [1].

Related Links
For the monthly climate summary, latest seasonal sea level and rainfall forecasts, and rainfall variations during ENSO, visit the following websites of Pacific ENSO Applications Climate Center (PEAC):
[1] Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/fm.html, accessed September 12, 2012.
[2] Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federated States of Micronesia Disaster History, http://www.mmrs.fema.gov/news/disasters_state.fema?id=64, accessed June 19, 2008.
[3] Government of Federated States of Micronesia Website, http://www.fsmgov.org/info/index.html, accessed September 12, 2012.
[4] Jones, Sarah and Rashed Chowdhury. 2007. Travel Summary: U.S-Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI) (August 7-18, 2007).
[5] National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
[6] Office of the Governor, State of Pohnpei, Emergency Declaration 01-08, 18 April 2008.
[7] Office of the Governor, State of Chuuk, Emergency Declaration, 7 April 2008.
[8] Shea, E., G. Dolcemascolo, C.L. Anderson, A. Barnston, C.P. Guard, M.P. Hamnett, S.T. Kubota, N. Lewis J. Loschnigg, & G. Meehl. 2001. Preparing for a Changing Climate: The Consequences of Climate Variability and Change for Pacific Islands. Honolulu: East-West Center, http://www.eastwestcenter.org/publications/preparing-changing-climate-potential-consequences-climate-variability-and-change-execut, accessed September 12, 2012.
[9] U.S. Department of Interior. 2006. United States of American Insular Areas Energy Assessment Report 2006. Suva, Fiji: Pacific Power Association. www.doi.gov/oia/reports/upload/U-S-Insular-Area-Energy-Assessment-Report-2006.pdf, accessed September 12, 2012.
[10] Pacific ENSO Applications Climate Center, http://www.prh.noaa.gov/peac/yap.php for Yap,
http://www.prh.noaa.gov/peac/chuuk.php for Chuuk, http://www.prh.noaa.gov/peac/pohnpei.php for Pohnpei, http://www.prh.noaa.gov/peac/kosrae.php for Kosrae, accessed September 12, 2012.
[11] Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federated_States_of_Micronesia, accessed September 12, 2012.
[12] US Department of State, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1839.htm, accessed September 12, 2012.
Federated States of Micronesia

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