Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands: Drought Response - Emergency Plan of Action (EPoA), DREF Operation n° MDRMH002

Attachments

A. Situation analysis

Description of the disaster

Located just north of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, the Republic of the Marshall Island comprises 1,200 islands, islets, and atolls with a land area of 180 square kilometres. Like most countries in the region, RMI faces increasing challenges from climate change and natural hazard-related disasters.

The US Drought Monitoring Report received through the RMI National Weather Service Office (WSO) dated 24 December 2021 indicated extreme drought for the Northern Marshall Islands. Weather Service Office Majuro and Weather Forecast Office Guam will continue to monitor conditions across the Northern Marshalls. According to the Drought Information Statement (DIS) issued on 6 January, some Northern islands have reported limited to no rain in the first week of January. Mostly dry conditions have persisted across the Northern Marshall Islands. D1 (Moderate drought) was introduced for Wotje atoll based on insight from WSO Majuro and the USDM USAPI team. Atolls near and North of Wotje are likely facing similar drought outlooks. Weather Service Office Majuro and Weather Forecast Office Guam will continue to monitor conditions across the northern Marshalls. A drought statement Issued on 25 February 2022 found here.

Due to the continued dry conditions in the northern islands west of the Republic, the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) has activated the National Emergency Operations Committee (NEOC) in Majuro on 1 February 2022. The NEOC's purpose is to discuss further steps in response to the ongoing abnormally dry situation, which primarily affects RMI's northern and western islands.

The NEOC initially developed the Immediate Drought Response Plan in response to the critical conditions reported from 14 neighbouring islands/communities, including Aur, Ailuk, Jaluit, Lae, Lib, Likiep, Maloelap, Mejit, Wotho, Wotje, Mejjato/Ebadon, Utrok, Ujae, Namdrik, Jabot, Ailinglaplap and Namu. Therefore, the RMI Government has now released for general circulation the: "Immediate and Early Drought Response Plan for the Republic of the Marshall Islands".

Led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the WASH Cluster organized a meeting to initiate partner coordination. The first meeting was held in January to provide technical input to the Drought Response Plan. The second meeting was held on 16 February to review the plan with partners after the parliament endorsed the Drought Response Plan.

Summary Of Drought Impact

  • D3 Extreme drought in Wotje and RMI atolls

  • D1 Moderate drought in Kwajalein/Ailinglaplap (RMI)

  • D3 Extreme drought in the Northern Marshall Islands near and north of Majuro

    • This includes, but is not limited to, Wotje, Ailuk, Mejit, Wotho, Utirik, Maloelap, Ebadon, Namu, Jabot, Aur.

Many catchments are very low or empty, and some wells are salty, but well water levels are still decent. Catchment water is being used for drinking on many islands, with some using coconuts for hydration. Plants are yellow to brown with absent leaves, and some fruits are dropping prematurely. Some islands have reverse osmosis units, but many are inoperable. Many islands have two to four weeks of water left if no rain falls. Rains are predicted to return around midto-late March based on all guidance, including long-range model output, and there are expectations for waning La Nina conditions in the next few months.

It is anticipated that even if rain starts to fall now, for the most drought-affected atolls/islands, the current impact of the drought condition will continue for several months. It will take months for water sources to replenish, water quality to improve, and lost crops to be replanted and harvested. Worthy of note, although RMI can have a large amount of rainfall annually, storage capacity is limited; thus, groundwater supplies are small2 . It has been estimated that due to evaporation, only 50 per cent of the rain falling on Majuro contributes to recharging the freshwater lens beneath the island thus, droughts are a severe concern of RMI3 . Droughts are especially damaging in the atolls lacking sufficient rainwater harvesting/storage capacity to withstand dry periods, as with most of the outer atolls of the dry north.

Remote islands of Kwajalein atoll: Water resources are stressed on the most remote islands of Kwajalein atoll.

Wotje and nearby atolls: Mainly dry trade-wind weather is expected over several weeks. Model consensus is for around 0.50" of rain through late February, leading to worsening drought conditions. There are conflicting signals about how long the drought will last in the northern Marshall Islands. Climatologists predict rain (more than 4"/month) is likely by April, but confidence is admittedly low as to when rains will return. Based on all guidance, it seems likely that rain will return around mid to late March.

Kwajalein and nearby atolls: Models indicate 0.50" to 1.00" of rain through late February, and this is likely to lead to worsening drought, particularly the remote islets of Kwajalein atoll. Rains are predicted to return around mid-March based on long-range model output and the expectation for waning La Nina conditions in the next few months.

Forecast

Based on the DIS issued by National Weather Services Tiyan, Guam, La Nina continues based on large-scale oceanic and atmospheric conditions. A series of westerly wind bursts in December 2021 induced a downwelling oceanic Kelvin wave. This downwelling Kelvin wave is expected to set the stage for weakening La Nina signals over the next several months.

An El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) neutral pattern may be set up by late spring. Overall expectations are for the current drought condition to worsen across the northern Marshall Islands the next month or so before showers begin in mid to late March. This largely follows climatology and seasonal climate model guidance.

Recent rainfall (inches) for select islands across the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Chuuk State; per cent of average rainfall based on 1991-2020 rainfall data is found here.