Republic of the Marshall Islands/Pacific: Drought Emergency appeal n° MDRMH001

This Emergency Appeal seeks CHF 803,347 in cash, in-kind, or services to support the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) to assist 3,409 beneficiaries across six atolls/islands of the 15 affected for a period of six months. A Final Report will be made available by March 2014 (three months after the end of the operation).

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is coordinating with the RMI Government and other key international actors to support the drought response and early recovery operation. A National Volunteer Group (NVG) is currently working to establish a Red Cross National Society in RMI. The NVG, with the agreement of the RMI Government, requested support from the IFRC to provide assistance for the drought response. This Emergency Appeal focuses on delivering relief and early recovery water and sanitation assistance.

The situation

Located in the North Pacific Ocean, about half-way between Hawaii and Australia, the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) is made up of two archipelagic island chains with the population of 69,747 (2013 est.) spread out over 34 low-lying coral atolls, comprising 1,156 individual islands and islets. RMI, like most of the countries in the region, increasingly faces challenges from climate change and natural disasters.

Due to an extended dry period, the RMI government declared a state of emergency in the northern areas of the RMI on 19 April 2013, which was followed by a declaration of a state of disaster on 8 May for 13 atolls/ islands. The disaster assessments undertaken have identified that the communities in these northern atolls/ islands are being severely affected by the drought and face potential health, environmental, social and economic hardship, due to the persistent dry weather. The most pressing humanitarian needs are access to safe water and the growing need for food due to dried-up vegetation. Villages have had to ration water to preserve supplies, and the number of affected atolls/islands has since increased from 13 to 15. The drought is now reported to be affecting some 6,400 people across 15 atolls/islands north of Majuro.

Weather forecasts are being provided in 10-day blocks, as accuracy is difficult to obtain past that period. Severe drought conditions persist in the northern atolls of RMI. Some light rainfall has been received in recent weeks in Aur and Maloelap. Forecasts indicate that Majuro and southern atolls will receive sufficient rainfall in the coming weeks, and drought conditions are not expected in these areas. The likelihood is for northern RMI to stay in dry conditions for at least another month and probably two, however, seasonal rainfall has started in June as the monsoon establishes over continental Asia and the northwest Pacific. On 14 June, Marshall Islands experienced heavy showers, but no actual reports have been shared thus far. It is anticipated that even if rain starts to fall now for the 15 drought-affected atolls/islands, the impacts of the drought will continue for several months. It will take months for water sources to be replenished, salinity levels to decrease in natural aquifers, water quality to improve as well as crops to be planted and harvested.

The RMI government initiated the National Disaster Committee (NDC) which then led to the activation of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in the capital, Majuro. The EOC is the critical platform for coordination with key government entity representatives and cluster leads based in Majuro. With the support of the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team, the RMI has established four clusters to manage sector specific interventions in water and sanitation, health, food security and logistics. An UNDAC team was leading the support to the RMI Government in developing the Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) as well as the individual cluster plans.

The RMI government through the actions of the NDC has been deploying a number of vessels carrying food, water, medical supplies and sanitation hygiene items to the affected communities. The staple food crops such as breadfruit, swamp taro, pandanus, and bananas have been devastated. Food has been provided through the distribution of rice, flour, sugar, baking powder, canned fish, milk powder, biscuit, vegetable oil, canned fruit and mixed vegetables. Vegetable seeds and seedlings of local crops will be provided as part of the recovery process across the most drought-affected atolls/islands.

To date, there has been bottled water distributed to the 12 most affected atolls/islands, although more is needed. Concurrently, Reverse Osmosis (RO) units—used for water desalination—are being deployed. Of the 25 RO units in country (20 from USAID, four from AusAid and one from NZRC) 17 have been deployed, while four are prioritized for deployment and four are being repaired. The latter may be placed on a ship to serve as a water distribution hub delivering to the atolls/islands.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are developing a Livelihoods Recovery and Drought Resilience project. The project is intended to include delivery of drought resistant staple crops, short cycle crop seedlings for short term food provision, support for the regeneration of pandanus trees for handicrafts and coconut trees for copra production, technical assistance for improved water and soil conservation, youth training and fishing supplies and equipment.

The drought prompted the Ministry of Health to deploy medical and pharmaceutical supplies immediately to all affected atolls/islands. RMI completed deployments of health teams through the Ministry of Health to undertake health assessments in all drought-affected atolls. At the same time they have been providing a range of health messages and preventative health practice, and distributing hygiene kits, water purification tablets, jerry cans and delivering direct health treatment. Although health concerns were initially listed as one of the key issues resulting from the drought disaster, there has been no indication of severe disease outbreaks.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently announced that federal disaster assistance has been made available to the Government of RMI under the Compact of Free Association between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of RMI.