Marshall Islands

Indigenous people of the Marshall Islands are in urgent need of drinking water

News and Press Release
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Göttingen, 11. Juni 2013

More than 6,300 indigenous people of the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific are threatened by a drought that has now lasted several months already. "The indigenous people are endangered because there is not enough water on the small islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean," reported the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) in Göttingen on Tuesday. 11,000 more people are dependent on food aid. The islands in the north of the Republic of the Marshall Islands – where the United States carried out nuclear tests in the 1940s – are especially affected by the plight.

On April 19, 2013, the Government of the Marshall Islands had imposed a state of emergency on several hundred islands in the north of the country due to the drought. On June 7, the state of emergency was extended by another month, because the rain expected for the end of March had not come – not even until this day. The drinking water supplies are depleted. The republic consists of 1,200 islands and is inhabited by about 53,000 Micronesians. Many of the islands are only small atolls – so the state territory covers only 181 square kilometers.

On many islands there is a lack of functioning water treatment plants, so that the native inhabitants were forced to cut down their water consumption further and further during recent weeks. Several aid agencies and the United Nations brought additional water treatment facilities to the islands by plane. However – since the indigenous population is scattered over several hundred islands – it is difficult to secure their supplies of fresh drinking water. Thus, the government of the island state sent an urgent call for international assistance.

Many of the islands have had no rain for more than a year, so there have been many crop failures – banana, taro and breadfruit trees did not ripen or aren't bearing any fruit. The situation is especially bad on the islands of Eniwetak and Utirik, where the United States exposed the indigenous population to nuclear tests to investigate the medical consequences of radioactive contamination in the 1940s.

In the last few decades, the indigenous population of the Micronesian Marshall Islands has suffered from the military use of their territory a lot. After many islands were contaminated with radioactivity, other small islands were used for the testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles during the 1980s.

Ulrich Delius is available for further questions: +49 (0)551 49906 27.

Translated by Robert Kurth