The Republic of the Marshall Islands: Disaster Management Reference Handbook 2016

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) comprises 29 atolls and five low-lying islands, including the atolls Bikini, Ebetem Kwajalein, Ebeye Enewetak, Majuro, Rongelap, and Utirik.
Twenty-two of the atolls and four islands are inhabited. RMI is located in the North Pacific Ocean approximately half the distance between Hawaii and Australia. RMI accounts for approximately 181 square kilometers (69.8 miles). The estimated population, according to the World Bank is approximately 53,158. An estimated 70 percent of the population lives in the capital, Majuro Atoll. RMI consist of low lying atoll islands with the highest recorded point on the atoll, Likiep at 10m (32.8 feet) above sea level.

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, rendering a majority of the country’s economy, population, infrastructure and livelihoods vulnerable. People living in these islands are vulnerable to slow- and rapid-onset disasters related to climate change, including rising sea levels, and shifting rainfall and storm patterns.

Under the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) between the U.S. Government and the Government of RMI, USAID provides supplementary assistance to disaster management and reconstruction efforts for these independent nations. RMI is characterized as a Small Island Developing State (by the U.N.) and has an economy that is heavily dependent on the local government as well as resources provided by the U.S. military to help sustain its economic growth. Although a vulnerable economy, RMI has seen some growth in commercial and small-scale fisheries, aquaculture, agriculture, traditional handmade goods, and tourism. The Government of the RMI has made disaster risk management (DRM) a priority. The National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) in Majuro has the lead role in planning and coordinating disaster risk management initiatives, with disaster management policy and decision making being facilitated by the NDC under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary.

The Government of RMI is committed to strengthening DRM capacity across the country as part of its ongoing efforts to build the safety and resilience of its communities. The National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Management 2008-2018 (DRM NAP) was developed in 2007 to address the existing gaps with regard to the management of disaster risks in RMI. It is an important and integral supportive element towards the achievement of RMI’s sustainable national development imperatives.

RMI faces numerous development challenges with geographical, social and economic factors contributing to high levels of vulnerability, and climate change is expected to exacerbate existing challenges. Current progress in disaster risk reduction (DRR) varies. Most progress has been made in addressing water issues and education and awareness on DRR. Progress has been weakest in relation to creating an enabling environment for improved DRM; mainstream DRM in planning, decision making, budgetary processes at the national and local levels; and implementing and enforcing building codes and zoning. Currently DRR is not specified in national budgeting expenditures and RMI faces the challenge of limited technical and financial resources across ministries. The integration of DRR and disaster management (DM) into sustainable development policies, planning and programming needs further strengthening. The level of awareness amongst all national and local level stakeholders and decision makers that DRR and DRM are key development issues also needs to be improved. Little progress has been made in developing local plans for emergency response. Although Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) are working with outer island communities, there is a lack of a coordinated approach to disaster preparedness and response.