The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) islocated in in the central Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and the Philippines and is comprised of 29 coral atolls and 5 low-lying islands. Majuro Atoll is the capital city and has the largest settlement of people, estimated at 30,000. The country has a population of 73,000 (2016 est.)1 scattered over 24 populated atolls.
Majuro, the capital of RMI hosts 52% [2011 census: 27,797] of the country’s population. With Kwajelein as the second most populated atoll [2011 census: 11,408] these two populated islands account for 74% of the population of RMI. If we add three more islands: Jaluit, Arno and Ailinglaplap, altogether, these five populated island account for 84% of the RMI population. There is a significant decrease in the population growth rate due to outmigration and the dropping fertility rate.2 It is important to understand this demographic distribution as it has strong implication on how MIRCS strategizes to reach the whole country with its services and community engagement.
Vulnerabilities and Hazards
RMI is a relatively isolated nation, with most of its small land area being separated by vast stretches of ocean. The nation’s limited available resources also contribute to making RMI vulnerable to climate change. Census updates reveal nearly 99 percent of RMI population lives in low-lying coastal areas of the atoll island which make them extremely susceptible to natural disasters and rendering a majority of the country’s economy, population, infrastructure and livelihoods vulnerable.3 Due to the majority of the atoll islands averaging elevations which reach a mere 2m (6.5 feet) above sea level RMI is vulnerable to multiple natural disasters.4
Background to the Marshall Islands Red Cross Society
Shortly after suffering through a severe, prolonged drought that began in 2011 and culminated with President Dr. Hilda C. Heine declaring a national disaster in April 2013, the Marshall Islands Red Cross Society (MIRCS) was born. The MIRCS, with support provided by the IFRC, was formed in 2013 through the valiant efforts of the National Volunteer Group as they recruited volunteers to assist with the much needed drought response.
During 2014, the MIRCS staff members, with support from the IFRC, set up a small office in the capital city of Majuro Atoll, recruited volunteers, and established a program to support Armed Services personnel and their families in times of family crisis. An initial group of 12 volunteers was trained in emergency response techniques. This dedicated group of volunteers successfully carried out a number of small-scale responses to incidents such as household fires and what has now become an annual tragic inundation from king-tides. In December 2014, the MIRCS recruited a Program Manager, and with assistance from two IFRC delegates, commenced formulating programs for first aid training and disaster management in the RMI.
An Interim Committee was formed and a Terms of Reference was adopted in January of 2015. This important document set out a governance and management structure that enabled the National Society to commence programs and services for the general public and at the same time to continue the process of formal establishment, which included work on a draft Constitution. During this time, with technical support from the IFRC and the ICRC, a legal based workshop was convened to focus on the enormous, community-wide challenges facing countries in the North Pacific.