Living Conditions in the Marshall Islands

In the Central Pacific, a series of 29 atolls and five islands compose the independent republic of the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands used to be under United States trusteeship but now exists as a freely associated state with the U.S. As of 2018, the Islands had a population of 75,684 people. Additionally, life expectancy ranges from around 71 years for men and 76 years for women. Despite these promising life expectancy rates, there is room for improving current living conditions in the Marshall Islands. Below are the top ten facts about living conditions in the Marshall Islands.

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in the Marshall Islands

  1. Most of the nation’s economy comes from the United States’ lease payments for the utilization of Kwajalein Atoll as a U.S. military base. Between 1986 and 2001, approximately $1 billion in aid to the Marshall Islands was from the U.S. This was under the Compact of Free Association. The Compact has since been renegotiated, extending from 2004 to 2024; a 20-year period in which the Islands will receive an estimated $1.5 billion from direct U.S. assistance.
  2. The Marshall Islands are relatively safe, as the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory classifies the republic at a Level 1 security threat. This means that tourists can exercise normal precautions when visiting. Although generally secure, theft of personal items from cars, hotels and homes are common.
  3. Both major cities of the Marshall Islands, Majuro and Ebeye have the equipment to handle routine medical issues. However, there are few to no hospitals elsewhere on the Islands. Serious accidents and injuries most likely require medical evacuation to the United States.
  4. There is a limit on the supply of natural freshwater in the Marshall Islands. The main source of freshwater is rain, and the capital city’s 36.5 million gallon reservoir cannot meet the growing demand. Desalination plants are likely going to become a new necessity and priority for the republic.
  5. As of 2014, almost one-third of the population of the Marshall Islands has relocated to the United States—particularly to Hawaii and the island of Guam. The most reason likely is a severe lack of economic and employment opportunities on the Islands. Access to equitable education and health care also represent a key reason many Marshallese people are leaving their homeland.
  6. Infrastructure in the Marshall Islands needs some improvement which the U.S. acknowledges. As a result, the U.S. provided $6.5 million worth of infrastructure grants to the small republic in 2017 to repair schools, hospitals, docks, recreational facilities and water distribution systems.
  7. As of 2012, more than 30,000 Marshallese citizens were living without electricity. Approximately 59 percent of the population has access to electricity, mostly found in urban areas. Electricity production has been increasing, as, in 2016, the Islands’ electricity output was 650 million kWh.
  8. Since 2009, Marshallese people have been able to access internet service through a super-speed international underwater fiber optic cable. Although this provides a relatively fast internet connection, no sufficient backup is available if there is damage to the cable. When the cable went out for repairs in 2017, the nation used a backup satellite with frustrating results. The satellite did not provide the speed or the breadth the republic was used to.
  9. Primary education (the first eight years of school) in the Marshall Islands is mandatory. Most students complete this compulsory education around the age of 14. Though foreign nations fund many of the schools, some have begun to fall into neglect and are in need of repairs.
  10. Due to the location of the Marshall Islands, living conditions in the Marshall Islands is mainly in seclusion. Most speak their own native language (although English is a popular second language), and citizenship is not a birthright. In fact, naturalization takes five years. With only around 5,000 tourists a year, the Marshall Islands is one of the world’s least-visited countries.

Although the interventions and aid of the United States are prominent in the islands, there is still work to be done that will hopefully improve living conditions in the Marshall Islands.

– Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in the Marshall Islands
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a small island country located in the Western Pacific, known primarily as a tourism destination. Despite its travel appeal, the Marshall Islands deserves to be recognized for another aspect: girls’ education.

In most developing countries throughout the world, a common theme exists of girls being underrepresented in schools and having lower levels of education when compared with males. In the Marshall Islands, this is not the case.

Gender Parity in Education

According to a 2014 study by the Ministry of Education, gender parity is present at nearly all levels of the Marshall Islands educational system. Regarding primary and junior high enrollment, the study comments on the ‘absence of a gender gap’ by stating that there is equal enrollment between boys and girls. This trend is continued through secondary education systems, where women are even overrepresented, comprising 51.5 percent of those in high school despite only making up 48.3 percent of the total base population. Regarding the final rung of the educational ladder, college education, the study found that college enrollment is essentially gender neutral in the Marshall Islands. 

These enrollment numbers are significant in appraising gender parity between males and females in the Marshall Islands. But how is the education affecting men and women? Could there be a discrepancy between the scores of men and women on standardized tests?

The answer is found in results from the Marshall Islands Standards Assessment Test (MISAT) during the 2012-2013 school year, which shows that girls outperformed their male counterparts in nearly all segments of testing. This indicates another success for girls’ education in the Marshall Islands. Women are not simply being enrolled and ignored, but are actively learning and receiving equal attention when compared with their male classmates.

Potential Problems

Despite these positives, there are worries that gender parity in schools is not translating into complete gender equality. One such worry is manifested in the tendency for most high school girls to choose electives with a traditionally domestic application, such as sewing or cooking. This leads to women being underrepresented in the more “marketable” subject areas, such as mechanics and computer-related courses.

Such an imbalance can create problems for gender equality down the road, as women may fall into traditional gender roles in which they have fewer means and less independence. The study by the Ministry of Education asserts that these sort of differences are not due to a discriminatory educational system, but are simply the result of broad traditional social values. 

Whatever further approach the Ministry of Education takes, it is clear that they have been successful in reaching educational gender parity between girls and boys in the Marshall Islands. This not only applies in the academic setting but also in the greater environment of the country, evidenced by increasing general literacy rates. The same study by the Ministry of Education indicates that for those who are 10 years of age or older, the literacy rate was 97.9 percent for males and 98.0 percent for females. 

Looking to the Future

The progress made in girls’ education in the Marshall Islands deserves acknowledgment. Educational parity between girls and boys is no small feat, especially in a developing country. Furthermore, all signs point to a promising future for The Marshall Islands after the election of Hilda Heine, the first female leader of any Pacific island nation.

There is still work to be done. How the Marshall Islands moves through the more advanced steps of changing gender inequality and social attitudes remains to be seen, but much optimism can be drawn from what the country has already achieved.

– Taylor Pace
Photo: Flickr

Credit access in the Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands are not a dominant country in the international sphere. Home to only 70,000 people and largely separated as tiny islands that string across the Pacific, the Marshall Islands, and with them their people and businesses, are disconnected from much of the world. Although they lack economic significance in most regards, the Marshall Islands are valuable assets that should be protected and considered when discussing credit access and other business-related activities.

Credit Access Relating to Natural Disasters

Credit access in the Marshall Islands, while small when compared to more developed countries, is an important aspect when considering the looming threat of climate change and the impacts it may have on business development and activity. According to many reports regarding the financial aspects of the Marshall Islands, related relief related to natural disasters is a large component of the credit conversation in the country.

One of the main issues with credit access in the Marshall Islands, whether relating to natural disasters or not, is the limited amount of individuals who are able to oversee and initiate credit activity. As the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative reports, “authority lies with a few key individuals who are also responsible for many other portfolios of work.” Already constrained by their regular duties, these authority figures are further stretched when natural disasters take place and require immediate attention. The impact of climate change is growing in this area of the world with rising sea levels, acidification of crops and infrastructural damage, and credit access in the Marshall Islands seems to be entering a time of greater complexity, with few people able to navigate the system.

U.S. Foreign Aid

The Marshall Islands are currently receiving significant levels of aid from the United States. Since 1986, the U.S. has committed roughly $46 million per year to the Marshall Islands, focusing on boosting economic standing within the country. While international aid is a positive aspect as a whole, the fact that a significant portion of the economy and its associated activity rely on outside help is a point of concern, especially because the U.S.-Marshall Island aid agreement is ending in 2023. Foreign aid fluctuations or, in the extreme case, suspension of all aid, could result in disaster for the Marshall Islands and their people.

The Marshallese face not only the prospect of being unable to create and establish new business ventures with a lack of adequate credit, but the possibility that credit already in place could be severely undercut. Credit access in the Marshall Islands is already limited, and international aid is essentially the only aspect keeping the nation afloat.

Difficulties With Microcredit

Microcredit activity is another financial aspect being considered in the Marshall Islands; however, complexities with this activity are also concerning. As the Enterprise Research Institute (ERI) explains, microcredit activity requires “substantial expertise” and diligent follow up, which often prove costly. The ERI finds another issue with microcredit initiatives in the fact that, “usury laws impose a ceiling on lending charges at an effective nominal interest rate of 24 percent per year. This amount is below the minimum sustainable level of successful microcredit institutions in other countries.”

Individual Credit Access

When taking a closer look at individual access to credit, the situation is not much better. While legal rights are widely acknowledged throughout the country, the depth of credit information is severely lacking; the Marshall Islands scored a 0 out of 8 in the category for depth in credit information index. Not only is credit access misunderstood throughout the country, but basic information regarding this area of concern is either limited or held from view. Additionally, the Marshall Islands placed 90 out of 190 countries in the category of “getting credit.” While not at the bottom of the list, there is still substantial room for improvement.

While the Marshall Islands are home to a small population and an economy that predominantly relies on agricultural activity, access to credit remains an important aspect within their economy, especially when considering the looming impacts of climate change on economic activity. Not only is Marshallese credit access reliant on foreign aid from countries like the United States, but it is becoming increasingly tied to the topic of disaster relief. Credit information is limited nationwide, microcredit activity is seemingly non-applicable and authority figures who can properly handle the allotment of credit are already few and far between. As of now, credit access in the Marshall Islands resembles the physical layout of the country: underdeveloped, propped up by international aid and under the constant threat of natural disasters.

– Ryan Montbleau
Photo: Flickr

humanitarian aid to the marshall islands

Like most of the islands in the Pacific, the Marshall Islands have a history of natural disasters and their susceptibility is increasing due to climate change. These have ranged from floods and cyclones to tsunamis and earthquakes, and all of them have caused destruction in the nation. The United States has been fairly diligent about sending humanitarian aid to the Marshall Islands for relief from a number of natural disasters and for the prevention of future destruction.

The Marshall Islands were a U.S. territory until 1986 when it gained independence. However, the nation is under a Compact of Free Association, which ensures that the United States provides economic assistance and other benefits to the Marshall Islands. Some of this funding does provide for disaster response programs, but humanitarian aid to the country is not limited to this.

Humanitarian aid to the Marshall Islands from the U.S. has been fairly consistent over time, and a number of government agencies run programs and provide assistance to the nation. There have been many programs funded by U.S. agencies that have been quite successful. In 2013, the United States sent $5.1 million in drought assistance to the Marshall Islands after President Obama declared the drought a disaster, opening the way for emergency funding. This is an example of the U.S. providing disaster relief to the nation, but it also does a fair amount in the way of disaster prevention and response.

The United States funded the Climate Adaptation, Disaster Risk Reduction and Education program in the Marshall Islands. This program educated 500 children and 5,000 community members on effective disaster response and evacuation. The U.S. also provided humanitarian aid to the Marshall Islands for the development of the Pre-Propositioning Emergency Relief Commodities project. This project facilitated the placement of emergency relief supplies in a number of locations throughout the country. Both these projects helped to improve response times and disaster preparedness in the Marshall Islands.

As climate change worsens, so does the amount of aid the Marshall Islands and the other Pacific islands will need. Disaster response needs to be continually improved, and even then, no one can predict every catastrophe. The United States has done a lot to provide humanitarian aid to the Marshall Islands and this trend will likely continue, as it has many benefits for the U.S.

– Liyanga de Silva

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Infrastructure in the Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands are at risk of sinking, flooding and other natural disasters. The nation must develop better infrastructure to combat the approaching threats and has planned a number of projects for improving infrastructure in the Marshall Islands.

In 2014, a major project was completed on the island of Majuro, which is the nation’s most populated island. The Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC), which focuses on building resilience to climate change in Pacific communities, directed the project.

The project focused on providing water security to the islands’ inhabitants and renovating the island’s biggest reservoir. The capacity of the reservoir was increased by five million gallons. Improvements to the reservoir system were much needed as it had not been significantly updated to match population increases since its creation in the 1970s.

The country’s National Strategic Plan 2015-2017 outlined a number of other projects dealing with the improvement of infrastructure in the Marshall Islands. The infrastructure development sector comprised of five strategic areas:

    1. Energy
    2. Information Communications Technology
    3. Solid and Hazardous Waste Management
    4. Transportation
    5. Water and Sanitation

Transportation is a major concern for the government and citizens of Marshall Islands, as only one airline services the nation. Air and water transportation are also important for its tourist economy.

The plan’s call for a revision of the National Energy Plan promotes sustainable, clean, reliable and affordable energy for the residents of the islands. Having access to green electricity and energy is important for dealing with natural disasters. The National Strategic Plan outlines many more reforms to infrastructure in the Marshall Islands and other areas of governance, many of which are currently being carried out.

Infrastructure in the Marshall Islands is a priority. Disaster preparedness is important for the citizens of the nation, and improving infrastructures like energy production and transportation are crucial. The government has outlined comprehensive plans for reforming outdated systems and hopefully, it will continue to be diligent in the future.

– Liyanga de Silva

Photo: Flickr

Curbing Diabetes in the Marshall Islands

In 2017, diabetes in the Marshall Islands had the highest prevalence worldwide, with nearly one-third of Marshallese adults suffering from the disease. The Marshall Islands is a country consisting of two archipelago island chains in the western Pacific with a population of about 75,000 people, two-thirds of whom live on the atolls of Majuro and Ebeye.

The majority of people with diabetes in the Marshall Islands, as with most other countries, have type two, which results from the body’s inefficient use of insulin. Common causes of type two diabetes include obesity and a lack of physical activity. According to a 2016 estimate, 53 percent of adults in the Marshall Islands are obese, the fourth highest percentage of in the world. Type two diabetes has reached epidemic levels in the Marshall Islands, and its increase is primarily attributed to poor dietary habits and low levels of physical activity.

Majuro has become increasingly dependent on imported food due to overpopulation. Domestic production supplies only 10 to 20 percent of all food calories consumed since local foods tend to be more expensive than imported foods and the quantity is insufficient to sustain the whole population. Of the food imported, fruits, vegetables and other healthy perishables are the most expensive.

The Marshallese diet is comprised primarily of imported, processed foods that are high in sugar. For example, typical breakfast foods include pancakes, fried doughnuts, ramen, coffeebread, rice and spam. Lunch and dinner usually feature white rice and fresh or canned meat.

Perhaps the greatest change to dietary practices required is a change in attitude. When it comes to food purchase and consumption, the Marshallese tend to value quantity and price over quality. However, results from a recent child development study confirming the link between poor nutrition and growth stunting in the Marshall Islands led the government to consider this issue in setting priorities for development programs and interventions. The study identified poor nutrition as the cause of growth stunting in 35 percent of children surveyed.

In the National Strategic Plan 2015 – 2017, the government addressed the need for both increased access to nutritious foods and the implementation of nutrition education programs in Marshallese schools. Also, in November of 2017, President of the Marshall Islands Hilda Heine met with the World Bank to discuss a long-term early childhood health project to improve childhood health status.

“We received a very enthusiastic response from the World Bank,” President Heine said.

Still, several challenges lie ahead for effective health reform in the Marshall Islands. But the current steps being taken to achieve better health outcomes have the potential to prevent and reduce the prevalence of diabetes in the Marshall Islands.

– Gabrielle Doran

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in the Marshall Islands Improves Health
A World Summit report by the United Nations (U.N.) found agricultural imports into the Marshall Islands have grown rapidly over the past few decades, outpacing the sluggish growth of exports from the country. This spike in imports has not only posed a problem for the Marshallese and sustainable agriculture in the Marshall Islands, but also for the current climate crisis facing the global community.

Change in Diet

The Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations (FAO) speculates that imports are causing the abandonment of the traditional diets once common on the island (i.e., seafood, leafy greens and coconuts), in favor of a greater reliance on costly processed grains and meat from abroad.

This poorer quality food has led to a noticeable uptick in obesity, with a National Institute of Health-funded study showing 62.5 percent of the country as either overweight or obese. The new diet has also eroded the national sovereignty of the islands, with the agricultural economy growing ever more dependent on the United States and other foreign assistance.

Environmental Impact of Imports

Importing processed food in favor of sustainable agriculture in the Marshall Islands has a heavy environmental cost as well. According to a study conducted by the University of California, Santa Barbra, the carbon expelled in the process of preserving, refrigerating, and shipping processed foods negatively impacts CO2 levels.

The Marshall Islands thus have good reason to invest in mitigating both obesity, as it impacts their economy and quality of life, and climate change, as the smaller islands will be hit the hardest by the rising ocean levels and more extreme weather patterns.

Climate change is also speculated to cripple the once prosperous coconut and seafood industries that are valuable to the Marshall Islands’ economy and diet. One of the primary plans to mitigate these effects has been a greater investment in local sustainable agriculture.

International Aid

Fortunately, the FAO, the World Health Organization (WHO), and leaders throughout the Pacific Islands have committed to improving sustainable and local agriculture to fight climate change and spur economic independence and growth. This plan was outlined by Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the FAO, at a high-profile meeting with Pacific Island leaders last November.

“You are suffering from things that you didn’t cause,” da Silva explained, “from things you are not responsible for – the impact of climate change.This is what FAO offers – support so that you can face climate change.”

According to da Silva, obesity also posed a major threat. “It is an epidemic that we need to address. Together with partners such as the WHO, we promote the uptake of healthy, fresh food – fruits, vegetable and fish instead of processed food.”

Those at the meeting went on to reaffirm a commitment to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a lofty goal that will require much planning and development.

The United Nations

For the U.N., attaining this goal means working to develop sustainable agriculture in the Marshall Islands that incentivizes local redevelopment of the coconut industry, and working with local officials to establish Farmers Markets in cities to promote the distribution of seafood and leafy greens.

It also means utilizing social movements focused on changing diets to decrease reliance on processed foods high in addictive sugar and sodium. The World Summit Report by the U.N. also emphasizes the development of the Marshall Islands’ more rural areas.

“While the Capital has developed at a relatively fast speed, the developments in the Outer Islands have lagged behind,” the report noted, especially the kinds of improvements in infrastructure that would allow rural residents to produce local food and transport it throughout the Islands.

In addition, the U.N. argues that ensuring agricultural development on the rural islands is best achieved by improving the fiscal position and economic management of the central government and to encourage private-sector investment through new policies.

Though the impact may appear small, promoting sustainable local agriculture not only staves off the growing worldwide obesity epidemic by creating healthier diets, but it is also key to capping global temperatures. For these reasons, local agriculture is vital to the continued wellbeing of the Marshall Islands, and all Pacific communities.

At the meeting in Rome, Pacific Island leaders made the necessity clear, issuing a group statement that asked for all nations to “exceed previous commitments and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius pre-industrial levels, to reduce the adverse impacts on food security and nutrition, coastal habitats and the livelihoods of those depending on oceans.”

– Shane Summers

Photo: Flickr

The Marshall Islands are located in the northwest of the Pacific Ocean, with a land area of just 181 square kilometers and a population of just over 74,000. While some organizations have promoted women’s empowerment in the Marshall Islands since its independence in 1986, the progress of legal rights for girls and women has not been significant.

For the past 30 years, the Marshall Islands has had few female senators. In the country’s 2015 elections, three women won seats, taking up 9 percent of the total 33 members in parliament. In January 2016, Hilda Heine won the presidential election to become the first female president of the Marshall Islands.

Though the nation did ratify the U.N.’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2006, the Marshall Islands has no current legislation on any issues related to domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual harassment or sex tourism. Furthermore, there is no minimum sentence for sexual violence.

Due to the insufficiency of the law, violence against women in this nation is not unusual. A report by Women United Together Marshall Islands has shown that 51 percent of women experience domestic violence, while more than half of the population generally agrees that it is normal to commit violence against women in marital relationships, according to U.N. Women.

On the other hand, as a crucial metric on women’s empowerment in the Marshall Islands, gender parity and equality in education has some good news. Literacy rates among male and female youth are above 98 percent at present. A 2015 national review on education in the Marshall Islands reported that girls perform better than boys on all tests except for science in grade three.

However, the gender pay gap and inequality in employment still call for more attention to women’s empowerment in the Marshall Islands. Statistics have shown that the male and female unemployment rates are, respectively, 28 percent and 37 percent. Annual wages of women are $3000 less than those of men in the same occupations. Potential discrimination in job markets frequently restrict women from earning credits or managing businesses, which affects their economic independence.

Another concern is related to women’s health and environmental issues. Due to a shortage of fruits and vegetables, more than half of women in the Marshall Islands have obesity or risk factors for related diseases. Teenage marriage, adolescent pregnancy and mortality for children under five in this nation still remain high compared to the global average, despite significant decreases in the past few decades.

Founded in 1987, a nonprofit organization named Women Union Together Marshall Islands serves as the leading voice for eradicating violence against women in the nation. Several other U.N. organizations have also dedicated efforts to promoting gender equality in the Marshall Islands.

Significant progress on women’s empowerment in Marshall Island has been achieved. Political leaders play a strong role in promoting gender equality and ending violence against women. However, further efforts to improve the status of women are still challenging and necessary.

– Xin Gao

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights Issues in the Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands, like every country, has human rights issues that plague the nation. According to a 2015 Human Rights Report, the country’s human rights issues include the conditions of its prisons, domestic violence and corruption within the government. Along with these, the Marshall Islands struggles with the protection of worker’s rights, child abuse and trafficking.

The conditions in the Marshall Islands prison facility in Majuro were not up to code in 2015. In the older wing of the prison, the area was much darker and cleanliness was low compared to the newer wing. There were no fights or deaths, however, and no inmates complained of mistreatment.

The Marshall Islands government has yet to find a way to deal with the effects of 67 nuclear weapons tests that were conducted by the United States from 1947 to 1958. 14,000 Marshallese had to relocate and have struggled to keep their health in check long-term because of this. The survivors of this testing have since spoken up and the Nuclear Claims Tribunal awarded them $2 billion. This amount was not paid out in full, however, due to lack of funds.

In 2012, the U.N. discovered that more than 60 years later, a long-term solution has yet to be found for the people displaced by the testing. Calin Geogescu, a United Nations Special Reporter, believes that solutions need to be specific to the needs of each individual atoll affected.

Refugee status is still not accessible for the Marshallese. As the effects of climate change cause sea levels to rise higher each year, there is a good chance that their homeland will be gone soon. The Marshall Islands’ laws do not have a system in place to protect its citizens who seek asylum or refugee status. If the islands and atolls fall completely victim to climate change, the Marshallese will have nowhere else to go because their refugee status does not exist.

Sex trafficking and domestic violence are also major issues in the Marshall Islands. The U.N. Population Fund study found that “seven out of 10 women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.” The victims of domestic violence are often discouraged from seeking justice because of cultural restraints. “91 percent of women who experienced domestic violence at the hands of their partner or spouse did not report it due to fear of repercussion or belief that the abuse was justified.”

The NGO Women United Together in the Marshall Islands and a 2011 Domestic Violence Protection and Prevention Act are both attempts at preventing this injustice. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been focused on keeping the children of the Marshall Islands away from violence and trafficking as well. They primarily give their attention to “the right of children to survival; to develop to their fullest potential; to protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation; and to participate in family, cultural and social life.”

These are just a few of the many human rights issues in the Marshall Islands. Improvements are sporadically occurring, but consistency is where these solutions are lacking. A continued focus on what the Marshall Islands has already implemented will help resolve these human rights issues.

Mackenzie Fielder

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in the Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands are a series of islands and atolls located in the Pacific Ocean where poverty is common. Unfortunately, the poverty rate in the Marshall Islands has been increasing in recent years. According to the country’s 2011 census, one-third of the population fell below the basic-needs income level.

In 2015, an economic review of the Marshall Island by the United States’ government found that there was “high unemployment, financial hardship, hunger and poor nutrition.” These issues have only increased the poverty rate in the Marshall Islands.

In the country’s two major cities, Majuro and Ebeye, almost 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. These two islands alone account for more than half of the people living under the basic-needs level in the Marshall Islands.

This problem only increases in the rural islands, with nearly 60 percent of rural Marshallese living on less than $13.60 per person each week. There are some small farms that produce exports such as coconuts and breadfruit, but the atolls have few natural resources and the entire republic relies on imports.

Since nearly three-quarters of the Marshall Island population lives in Majuro and Ebeye, the high unemployment rate there is also a major concern. From 2000 to 2006 the unemployment rate increased almost five percent, going from 30.9 percent to 36 percent. Last year, 60 percent of young adults living in the two urban areas were unemployed.

The Marshall Islands have been receiving aid from the United States under the Compact of Free Association since 1986. The islands received a total of $1 billion through 2001, and then extended the Compact’s agreement for another 20 years until 2024, during which the country will receive $1.5 billion in aid.

The Marshallese won’t be out of luck when the Compact of Free Association ends. A trust fund has been in the works that the Marshall Islands will rely upon after 2024. This trust fund, however, will not be enough alone to improve the poverty rate in the Marshall Islands.

Mackenzie Fielder

Photo: Flickr