Aid agencies help quell drought in Marshall Islands

Children in Majuro, Marshall Islands. Photo by: Stefan Lins / CC BY

Relief is slowly starting to reach the Marshall Islands, where thousands of thirsty islands need potable water as a severe drought continues to dry up freshwater resources in the remote Pacific state.

Ships carrying relief material — including water containers and hygiene kits — from the U.S. Agency for International Development started delivering aid to some of the most vulnerable communities in the northernmost part of the archipelago.

Previously, the Australian government announced a $100,000 donation for the purchase of desalination units for drought-stricken areas, where salinity levels of underground water sources have reached dangerous levels due to the extremely dry weather.

Over 3,200 islanders stand to benefit from both emergency responses.

The International Organization for Migration has assessed that some families are living on a gallon (3.8 liters) of water per day, barely half of the international standard for emergency water requirements.

At this level, drinking water needs to be rationed and islanders cannot afford to set aside water for bathing or other purposes, and to make matters worse, food security has also become an issue as farms and trees are drying up.

Development partners needed

IOM’s chief of mission for the country, Ashley Carl, told Devex they were brought in originally for disaster assistance due to the lack of development partners on the ground.

“There are few actors on the ground currently,” said Carl, but this is not necessarily a bad thing, as the the country is quite small. Too many emergency response actors, he explained, would have crowded the humanitarian space.

Instead he urged donors to channel contributions through the government or other entities, as standalone relief efforts are very expensive.

“Providing humanitarian assistance to outer island communities is very expensive due to the high cost of transportation over vast distances,” noted Carl.

Unusually low rainfall prompted the Marshall Islands government to declare a state of emergency in the northern part of the country, where residents may not see yet a respite in the coming weeks as meteorologists predict that the first rains will not arrive until the end of the month at the earliest.

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About the author

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    Johanna Morden

    Johanna Morden is a community development worker by training and a global development journalist by profession. As a Devex staff writer based in Manila, she covers the Asian Development Bank as well as Asia-Pacific's aid community at large. Johanna has written for a variety of international publications, covering social issues, disasters, government, ICT, business and the law.

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