Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands lie in the Central Pacific near halfway between U.S. Hawaii and the Philippines. The islands consist of 29 sprawling coral atoll-based and volcanic islands. With a population of only 60,000 people, the islands barely amount to a mere American town. Despite its military presence, the U.S. does not ‘own’ the islands.

The Marshall Islands are tactically important but small and very much underdeveloped, supporting happy, simple lives for many of its occupants. However, today, poor and unhealthy shanty towns are sadly commonplace. The rate of poverty in the Marshall Islands in 2019 was 7.2%

A plan to develop or rejuvenate the Islands, and particularly heath care, rests on the shoulders of the U.S. The man-made calamity of nuclear radiation in the Marshall Islands is a stark warning to all humankind, of the dangers of nuclear mass destruction in the Pacific proving ground experiment.

Nuclear Damage

During the second world war, the U.S. wrestled the islands away from the Japanese Empire. This was no relief for the inhabitants as “between 1946 and 1958 the U.S. nuclear testing program drenched the Marshall Islands with firepower equaling the energy yield of seven thousand Hiroshima bombs.”

The United States detonated a total of 67 nuclear bombs, some up to seven times more powerful than Little Boy, in the Marshall Islands. Nerje Joseph witnessed the Castle Bravo explosion from the neighboring atoll of Rongelap, an experience that will forever haunt her. Joseph evacuated the island as her hair began to fall out. Almost all those that dwelled on Rongelap that fateful day now have cancer. The locals of Bikini attempted to resettle the atoll in 1969, and nine years later, they evacuated again because the radiation was still too high.

Long Term Damage

In 2010, the National Cancer Institute “suggested that up to 55% of all cancers in the northern atolls are a result of nuclear fallout.” Thyroid cancers are particularly common. Sea life in the Marshall Islands became poisoned, resulting in the need to import processed food, which has in turn led to spiraling diabetes cases.

At the present time, the U.S. has denied calls for compensation on any series level. The United States previously attempted to clean the area up by housing contaminated soil and debris in a concrete tomb known as the Tomb. However, to this day, the contents are leaking out. The Tomb includes domed-in content of 100,000 cubic yards of nuclear waste, some of which comes from as far as the U.S. Nevada testing site. Unfortunately, Washington is now washing its hands clean of the maintenance expense, quite unfairly stating that since the dome is on Marshallese lands, the Marshall Islands, which only has a population of a single American town, ought to pay for it. The Tomb is continuing to leak and become ever more unstable, putting the poor standards of health on the islands at further risk. 

The US Commitment

Fortunately for the Marshallese, the U.S. commits to protecting these islands, Bucholz Army Airfield is the military base there. This base actually has missile testing rights potentially until 2086. Regardless, this base at the very least keeps the island safe from external aggressors. As China grows in power, it for one has set its sights on the islands of the pacific. This has more benefits for the Marshallese than one might think.

The U.S. has acted independently to aid the Marshallese in preparation for extreme weather resilience. The Pacific Partnership 2019 was a U.S. commitment to help the Marshall Islands’ readiness for extreme weather disasters, via seminars and preparation. Additionally, this program includes the installation of rainwater-catching infrastructures, such as the one set up at the Long Island elementary school. This reduces the devastating impact of extreme weather, such as drought. The installation presents clear steps to ensure the viability of the military base, yet benefit the locals greatly, for the islands are ever in danger from extreme weather events. Protection against such events is protection against the poverty they inevitably cause.

US Aid to Help in the Aftermath of Nuclear Radiation in the Marshall Islands

Since 2004, the U.S. has gifted $800 million to the islands, equivalent to 70% of the island’s GDP in that same period. The highest employer on the Islands is the Marshallese Government, followed by the mighty U.S army base. In addition to the local government’s budget, the U.S. has allowed for the setting up of two hospitals and 60 medical clinics. Additionally, the U.S. directly pays for the healthcare of the four atolls that the nuclear radiation has most severely affected.

However, for advanced care arising from nuclear radiation, such as late cancer treatment, islanders have to travel to the Philippines as the facilities are lacking in the Marshall Islands. Healthcare improvements are a great opportunity for moral correction, one that is desperately necessary, even outside the realms of radiation poisoning. For example, despite a reduction of 20% in the past 40 years, the child mortality rate is still high at 30.7 per 1,000

The country’s GDP has more than doubled in the past 20 years. About 0.9% of the Islanders live in absolute poverty as of 2019 or about the same level as Spain, a developed European nation. Development, reducing health poverty and righting wrongs are very much achievable and it feels with the right push, hope for the Marshallese could be just around the corner. The difficulties that arose from nuclear radiation in the Marshall Islands can become a thing of the past and the Marshallese can work on developing their sublime islands without this plague if those proven wrongs are put right.

– William Fletcher
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in the Marshall IslandsThe Government of the Marshall Islands has acquired additional funding for furthering its goal of shifting to renewable energy in the Marshall Islands. The Republic of the Marshall Islands plans to lead the way to a low-carbon energy future and encourages other countries to adopt similar objectives. Creating a renewable energy system will make it easier for the most impoverished in the nation to rise above the poverty line.

Increased Foreign Aid

In December 2021, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of the Marshall Islands (RMI) signed agreements for a $7 million grant to aid in the development of renewable energy in the Marshall Islands. The grant comes after an initial $12.7 million was approved in 2018 as a part of the Energy Security Project.

The funding will support the Marshalls Energy Company (MEC) efforts to strengthen the country’s energy network and ready it for the shift to renewables. ADB Principal Energy Specialist Len George stated that “The additional financing…will allow the Government of the Marshall Islands and the MEC to strengthen efforts to implement an agreed multiyear action plan to support MEC’s performance.”

The goals of the Energy Security Project include:

  • Reduce the safety and environmental risks that come with the handling and storage of refined petroleum products.
  • Ensure the safe, reliable and continuous operation of the existing fuel tank farm.
  • Continue to supply fuel to power generation facilities across the country.
  • Transform diesel-based power systems into sustainable renewable energy generation sources.
  • Improve energy security and disaster reduction for the general population.
  • Train MEC customers on distribution code and connection requirements.
  • Modernize the country’s energy generation sources.

MEC’s Fuel Storage Tanks

The primary goal of the Energy Security Project is to revitalize the entire Marshalls Energy Company tank farm. The farmhouses have eight fuel storage tanks that hold 750,000 gallons each. At the time of the initial agreement in 2018, the farm was using only three of the tanks for fuel. An assessment of the farm concluded that at least seven of the eight tanks underwent enough deterioration to require repairs and one may even require replacing.

The MEC can successfully avoid leaks or catastrophic tank failure by using the increased grant funding to renovate the tank farm. Completing the goals of the project will be key to avoiding economic and environmental failure for the people of the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands Electricity Roadmap

The Republic of the Marshall Islands introduced a roadmap in 2018 outlining a pathway to a low-carbon energy future. It was one of the first countries to submit a long-term decarbonization plan to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change under the Paris Agreement.

Minister-in-Assistance to the President and Environment Minister, Honorable Dave Paul, stated that in order for the country to meet its goals, it needs to have more than half of the country’s electricity coming from renewable sources by 2025. The Government of the Marshall Islands encourages ambitious action from all countries to adopt similar goals of sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making the switch to renewable energy.

Renewable Energy to Fight Poverty

About 30% of residents in the two urban areas of the Marshall Islands live below the basic needs poverty line with double that percentage living in poverty in all of the outer rural areas. The Energy Security Project will help lessen the amount of poverty in the country by bringing in more renewable energy.

Access to clean, affordable energy is a prerequisite to ending poverty. Building and maintaining renewable energy in the Marshall Islands will help create jobs and improve the health of the population. Renewable energy systems will allow for more affordable and safer access to electricity. This will lead to the development of more institutions, such as health centers and schools that will further help the most impoverished of the population thrive.

Melissa Hood
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in the Marshall IslandsThe Marshall Islands is a country in Oceania. Known for its beautiful beaches, the country attracts many tourists in search of World War II ships that are in its waters. Tourists also visit the country for its abundant wildlife and coral reefs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), though healthcare in the Marshall Islands is relatively organized, there are discrepancies and other indications of healthcare problems. These include high mortality rates, which WHO has indicated requires evaluation. Amid the ever-growing COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare is absolutely crucial in making sure that mortality remains low and quality of life is high.

5 Facts About Healthcare in the Marshall Islands

  1. The physician density in the Marshall Islands per 1,000 people is 0.456. This number refers to the number of doctors relative to the size and population of the nation. For reference, the physician density in the United States was 2.57 as of 2014. Other countries in Oceania, like Fiji or Samoa, have physician densities of 0.84 and 0.34, respectively, according to their most recent data.
  2. Only two hospitals exist within the country. In addition to these two hospitals in urban areas of the country, there are approximately 60 health centers and clinics spread out around the Marshall Islands. This number may seem surprising, but the small population of 58,791 merits the limited number of hospitals. Providing primary and secondary care, these hospitals rely on larger centers in the Philippines or Hawaii for more tertiary care. Other clinics and health centers are equipped with primary care physicians and other health assistants.
  3. The Marshall Islands saw a 0.5% increase per year from 2010 to 2019 in providing adequate, effective and necessary healthcare. According to a study by Universal Health Coverage (UHC) collaborators, the effective coverage index in 2010 was 42.1% whereas there was an increase of 1.9% in 2019. These percentages are in reference to effective healthcare coverage in 204 territories and countries across the globe. This means that healthcare in the Marshall Islands overall increased in its effectiveness within the decade.
  4. The morbidity and mortality rates for the Marshall Islands for communicable and non-communicable diseases are relatively high. WHO has mentioned that non-communicable diseases have a high prevalence in the country for two reasons. First, the amount of imported and instant food products that people consume there is high. Second, people in the Marshall Islands overall lack exercise and utilize smoking products at a high level.
  5. The mortality rate for children under the age of 5 years old is 31.8 per 1,000 births in the Marshall Islands. This number, known as a country’s “under-five” mortality rate, is indicative of a nearly three-decade-long improvement in under-five mortality rates in the Marshall Islands. The country has seen a steady decline in the rate since 2004. Between 1990 and 2019, the rate decreased by 17.5%. The under-five mortality rate is slightly higher for boys than for girls.

Healthcare Potential

Some of these five facts may paint a harsh picture of healthcare in the Marshall Islands. However, there is still great potential for improvement in the future. The effectiveness of care, for starters, is a great opportunity for the country to excel in its healthcare coverage. With the intervention of organizations such as WHO and an ever-improving healthcare system overall, these statistics could one day be numbers of the past.

– Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in the Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands, located in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, has had its fair share of organized crime. Many in this country are in danger of human trafficking. Fortunately, the government is stepping in to address human trafficking in the Marshall Islands.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. Victims are often swindled for labor and sexual abuse. The International Labor Organization estimates that 12.3 million people globally have been forced into involuntary labor, involuntary child labor, bonded labor and sexual subjugation.

In order to combat this, the U.S. Congress created the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to end worldwide human trafficking. A specific tool utilized is the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which evaluates the government response in countries with reputations of human trafficking. The governmental endeavors to end trafficking are the foundations for the annual country report of three tiers.

The Marshall Islands rank in Tier 3, which means they do not entirely act in accordance with the minimum guidelines for the abolishment of trafficking and there are no major efforts to accomplish this. Sex trafficking in the Marshall Islands is of particular concern, with many women of Marshallese and East Asian descent being targeted.

Recent Example

In late 2019, Paul Petersen, a public official in Arizona, was arrested for the trafficking of Marshallese women. The multi-million dollar scheme involved smuggling pregnant women into the U.S. and then profiting from their newborns.

As the owner of an adoption law firm, Petersen falsified documentation on the mothers’ residency and then charged parents in the U.S. tens of thousands of dollars for the newborns. According to Duane Kees, the U.S. attorney for the western district of Arkansas, “Many of these mothers described their ordeal as being treated like property.”

While this case is being addressed in the U.S., efforts to prevent women from being taken from the Marshall Islands are also needed. One of the difficulties of human trafficking, however, is that it often occurs internationally, making it hard to find traffickers and their victims.

Government Efforts

The Republic of the Marshall Islands’ government is taking action to eliminate human trafficking. These actions include starting their first trafficking prosecution in just under a decade while also initiating an investigation on an immigration officer for reputed trafficking collaboration. Due to increased efforts, the Marshall Islands have recently risen to Tier 2.

Efforts to address human trafficking in the Marshall Islands can be categorized as prevention, protection or prosecution. To help prevent human trafficking, the government banned unregistered visitors on foreign fishing boats in Majuro. It also required crewmen to bring their ships in by nightfall.

To protect victims of human trafficking, the government created a network of safe houses for women aged 14 to 18. Other protection services provided by the government include legal assistance, counseling and examinations for sexually transmitted diseases.

In terms of improving prosecution, the government has been establishing more specific punishments for human trafficking. The Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act criminalized labor and sex trafficking and authorized punishments of up to 15 years in prison as well as a fine of $10,000.

Moving Forward

Human trafficking in the Marshall Islands has decreased, but more work needs to be done to eliminate it completely. Moving forward, the government and other humanitarian organizations must prioritize addressing the root causes of trafficking, protecting victims and finding and prosecuting traffickers. Hopefully, human trafficking will continue to be on the decline in the coming years.

Shalman Ahmed
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in the Marshall Islands
Poverty in the Marshall Islands is a major issue, with 30% of the population in the island’s two cities living below the basic-needs poverty line. With the threat of rising sea levels and the lack of quality health care, education and jobs, a third of the nation has migrated to the west in search of a better life. Here are some facts about poverty in the Marshall Islands.


Unemployment is rampant with a rate of 40%. There is a scarcity of younger workers (20-45 years old) due to this demographic leaving the islands for higher-paying jobs in the United States. The primary job sectors are fishing and agriculture, which made up three-fourths of the labor force in 1958. This has changed drastically to 21% in recent years. This reliance on overseas imports is one of the main factors of poverty in the Marshall Islands.

The 1986 Compact of Free Association Law Treaty

The United States and the Marshall Islands have close ties due to the 1986 Compact of Free Association Law (COFA). This treaty grants citizens of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands to live in the U.S. without visas or work permits. Marshallese citizens have permanent non-immigrant status, distinguishing them from refugees who only receive temporary asylum.

COFA emerged in response to nuclear weapons tests during the post-World War II period from 1946 to 1958, testing 67 nuclear bombs on these Pacific Islands and atolls. The treaty serves as reparations for the loss of lives, resources, forced migration and land destroyed during the times of the nuclear testing. As a result of these tests, a number of islands–like the famous Bikini Atoll of the Marshall Islands–are uninhabitable due to the high levels of radiation still prevalent to this day.

Inefficient Health Care and Malnourishment

The insufficiency in health care is another pervasive issue on the islands, specifically in the outer islands where poverty in the Marshall Islands is high. Many citizens have to leave the Marshall Islands to receive treatment due to the limited health care facilities and programs in place. These off-island referrals are costly, further depleting government finances.

PBS interviewed Isaac Marty–a Marshallese journalist who shared how his wife was not able to get proper treatment for her chronic anxiety and depression. Marty claimed that there is a shortage of qualified medical professionals living on the Marshall Islands, and oftentimes citizens receive medication that is inadequate for their ailments.

Additionally, many Marshallese children are malnourished due to reliance on highly processed imported foods. This has led to a high percentage of diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and gout. With a lack of exports and locally grown food, the country continues to rely on unhealthy and cheap imported foods–widening the deficit and increasing poverty in the Marshall Islands.

Environmental Challenges

In recent years, environmental changes have permeated the globe, but the Marshall Islands specifically has had to bear the brunt of these adverse weather changes. Many have found that small island states, specifically in the Pacific, are the most prone to the variability in sea-level rises. The incremental increase could gradually rise by one to four feet–to the potential cessation of some island states by 2050.

Droughts are a persisting issue with 92% of households indicating that one had affected them. During droughts, household members become dehydrated and sick because their only source of water is salty well water. When water reserves are down, those who cannot afford to buy clean water have to beg.

The Ebeye Water Supply and Sanitation Project

The ADB has worked together with Australia and the Marshall Islands to form the Ebeye Water Supply and Sanitation Project. This project sets out to improve freshwater systems and has done so with success. A new desalination plant implemented in 2017 has increased people’s access to safe, reliable water. The incidence of waterborne disease, particularly gastroenteritis, has decreased, and water supply and sewerage networks have expanded to an additional 300 households.

These facts about poverty in the Marshall Islands indicate that in its fight against poverty, the Marshall Islands has to first tackle the issue of improving various internal sectors, lessening its dependency on others, while increasing the country’s GDP. By working with natural resources abundant in the country, as well as implementing governmental programs, there can be significant changes in health care, quality of education and the economy, as well as improved climate provisions. This would further pull the population out of poverty in the Marshall Islands and increase the island’s viability.

– Mina Kim
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the Marshall IslandsThe Republic of the Marshall Islands is an island country in the Pacific Ocean consisting of more than 1,200 islands and islets. The Marshall Islands borders Wake Island, Kiribati, Nauru and Micronesia and are home to nearly 60,000 residents. Most of the Marshallese population lives in densely populated areas in Kwajalein and Majuro, the denominal capital city. Some residents living on the outer islands depend on fishing, raising livestock and subsistence farming to survive. However, the country’s primary sources of employment and revenue come from U.S. subsidies under the Compacts of Free Association (COFA). As well as land leasing for U.S. missile testing. As a result, many still live in poverty in the Marshall Islands.

Causes of Poverty in the Marshall Islands

For the Marshall Islands, a major cause of poverty has been the U.S. government’s activity in Kwajalein. The U.S. military performed extensive nuclear testing in the region between 1946 and 1958. This has caused radioactive damage to the region equivalent to “1.7 Hiroshima blasts every day for 12 years”. The resulting fallout of the Ronald Reagan Missile Testing Site displaced many Marshallese residents living on nearby islands to Ebeye. Despite relocating to Ebeye, many hope to find commuter jobs on Kwajalein island.
The unemployment rate in the islands has been as high as 40% as a result of such dependence on U.S. government jobs. The lack of gainful employment on-island has led to a shortage of skilled workers. Furthermore, the island has issues with tuberculosis and infectious diseases in addition to the lack of food security and pervasive poverty.

Changing Weather Conditions Have Impacted the Marshall Islands

According to NewsHour’s Mike Tabbi and Dr. Hilda Hilne, the president of the Marshall Islands, climate change has further exacerbated the shortage of skilled workers. As Mike Taibbi explains, “Climate change is a big issue here, […] punishing king tides combined with persistent drought have wreaked havoc on dwindling freshwater supplies. The view among climate experts […] is that the islands are sinking, if not disappearing.”
Dr. Hilne fears that the rising tides and disappearing land combined with the high unemployment rates will continue the mass exodus. Given that more residents are leaving in search of education and employment opportunities in the U.S. She says, “People are looking for better things, and they think that anything in the United States is better than what we have here.” The troubling emigration rate means fewer educated and skilled workers to help those who stay face the mounting pressure from pervasive poverty.

Poverty and the Marshallese Youth

Poverty in the Marshall Islands has had dramatic effects on the Marshallese youth. According to UNICEF’s 2017 report, more than one-third of children under five showed signs of stunted development. This results from extreme poverty and malnutrition. Such poverty and malnutrition at a young age have drastic effects on a child’s learning and development. This will impair their earning potential and the ability to escape poverty in the future.
The World Bank is working in partnership with the U.S. International Development Association (IDA), UNICEF and the Marshallese government to address poverty through its 2019 Early Childhood Development Project. The initiative hopes to alleviate some of the strain on impoverished Marshallese families by funding social programs. For instance, healthcare, nutrition and education services for children in their first 1,000 days of life. The project hopes that providing support for Marshallese residents at such a young age will give them a better chance at living healthy, educated lives essential to escaping the cycle of poverty in the Marshall Islands.
As of 2020, the U.S. government provides roughly $74 million in funding to help alleviate poverty in the Marshall Islands, predominantly through the countries’ COFA. However, more than half of this funding goes to general budget support for the Marshallese government. Only $20 million is committed to education and $10 million to Marshallese healthcare. The government will need further assistance as well as new sources of revenue and employment to keep its people in the islands and out of poverty.
Andrew Giang
Photo: Flickr

Children in the Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean, have high poverty rates. Approximately 30% of the populations of Majuro and Ebeye, the Marshall Islands’ most populated territories, live below the poverty line. Meanwhile, 60% of the populations of the remaining 34 islands and atolls are impoverished. These conditions have left children in the Marshall Islands behind in terms of education, nutrition and growth.


Beginning in 1946, the United States used the Marshall Islands as a site for nuclear bomb testing for over 10 years. The 67 nuclear tests left the Marshall Islands with contaminated land areas and elevated radiation levels.

As a result, many residents live in small, overcrowded spaces. For example, in Ebeye, 10,000 of the total 55,000 Marshallese people reside in an area that encompasses less than a tenth of a square mile. This island has become known as the “slum of the Pacific,” but inhabitants fear to relocate due to contamination.

Effect on Children

These poor living conditions have had a large effect on the health of children in the Marshall Islands. According to a study conducted by UNICEF and the Marshallese government, over a third of children below the age of 5 are unable to grow and mature at a rate standard for children. This can be attributed primarily to malnutrition, which inhibits one’s intellectual and physical development.

The study concludes that reducing malnutrition levels within the Marshallese population may provide a series of benefits.  Most notably, these benefits would include the improved health of Marshallese children and improved economic conditions of the Marshall Islands due to a more prosperous upcoming generation.

Foreign Aid

Several organizations, including the World Bank, have made efforts to improve the current conditions that the people of these islands face. In 2019, the World Bank launched the Early Childhood Development Project in response to a request for aid made by previous Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine. The project focuses on improving the lives of children in the Marshall Islands by investing in education and healthcare.

Heine hopes this project will improve the overall quality of life in the Marshall Islands. “By investing in our children and ensuring they are afforded the best opportunities to learn and thrive, we are ensuring a sustainable and rich future for the Republic of the Marshall Islands.”

By the end of 2024, the Early Childhood Development Project aims to have enrolled 1,000 children between the ages of three and four in kindergarten, which is an addition of 762 students from their start in 2019. In terms of health improvements, the project hopes to provide essential health and nutrition services to at least 19,850 people. This is clearly a substantial improvement from the zero receiving similar services in 2019.

Moving Forward

This is only the beginning of helping the Marshall Islands recover from decades of poverty. Moving forward, it is essential that the World Bank and other humanitarian organizations continue to focus on improving the health of children in the Marshall Islands. These efforts are vital to the Marshall Islands’ ability to move towards a more prosperous future.

Hannah Carroll
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare crisis in the Marshall Islands
Carlton Abon is a singer, songwriter and musician. For his whole life, he carried out the thousand-year-old musical traditions of the people of the Marshall Islands, singing about their stories and legends. His successful career as a recording artist, however, was brought to an end when a cancerous growth near his thyroid required a surgery that cost him his singing voice. He has worked a desk job in the nation’s capital of Majuro ever since.

A Paradise with a Dark History

The Marshall Islands is a nation comprised of 29 coral atolls, spread out over a remote swath of the Pacific Ocean roughly the size of Mexico. It is also a sparsely populated country. Most of its 58,000 residents live on the two densely populated atolls of Majuro and Kwajalein, leaving the rest of the country an isolated and idyllic paradise of pristine beaches, untouched lagoons and coral reefs.

Its remote location, however, also made the Marshall Islands a target for U.S. nuclear tests during the Cold War. Between 1946 and 1958, the US detonated 67 nuclear devices in the Marshall Islands. This had a cumulative radioactive impact of more than 7,000 Hiroshima bombs. Hundreds of Marshallese were relocated by the US government as their home atolls became saturated with levels of radiation more than six times the livable amount.

The Healthcare Crisis

These tests sparked a healthcare crisis in the Marshall Islands. There was a massive rise in the number of radiation-linked diseases in the Marshallese population. Record numbers of stillborn and deformed babies were born in the years following the end of the tests, and many citizens suffered permanent eyesight and skin damage as a result of the intense heat. Decades later, the pain of the blasts is still being felt in the Marshall Islands in the form of a debilitating disease.

Thyroid cancer has become one of the leading causes of death for those in the Marshall Islands. US government studies predict that 50% of those cancer cases are a direct result of the radioactive fallout that blanketed these islands decades earlier. These daunting figures are compounded by the fact that there are no permanent oncologists practicing in either of the nation’s two hospitals. Common cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, are not offered due to the nation’s dated healthcare infrastructure. The combination of these factors has turned radiation-caused thyroid cancer into a public health crisis in the Marshall Islands.

A Culture in Jeopardy

Thyroid cancer, as well as high rates of other communicable diseases, have also had a disastrous effect on the culture and livelihood of the nation. Like Abon, many victims of the healthcare crisis in the Marshall Islands are from an older generation of islanders. High mortality rates among this demographic means that indigenous traditions and native ways of life are slowly disappearing in the modern population of islanders.

As Marshallese music producer Daniel Kramer explains, “You have an older generation that was unable to pass down what it could if it was at its full potential. If even one or two of its talented artists are affected, it has a big impact on a small community.”

As artists like Abon lose their ability to pass on their cultural knowledge, thyroid cancer has begun to destroy the ways of an entire people, a threat that has prompted leaders in the Marshall Islands to take action.

Action Being Taken

Since the nuclear testing in the mid-1900s, the US government has repeatedly attempted to provide reparations and attempt to build up treatment capacity in the Marshall Islands’ hospitals. However, these actions have been proven ineffective; high rates of poverty and high prohibitive costs make adequate treatment unfeasible for many Marshallese. This is why in 2017, the Marshallese government established a National Nuclear Commission, one of the first of its kind. Working closely with nuclear-justice-focused NGOs such as REACH-MI*, the commission aims to:

  • Improve and invest in cancer-treatment infrastructure in the Marshall Islands
  • Use public schools to educate the public about the previously unknown risks associated with exposure to radioactive material
  • Establish an independent panel of researchers to conduct studies into the levels of radioactivity in the islands, and provide information to the Marshallese people without the influence of the U.S government

Additionally, a Marshallese initiative in the US is trying to preserve the deeply-rooted musical traditions of the island nation through modern technology. KMRW, a radio station run out of Springdale, Arkansas, has become the first island music station in the United States. Residents of Springdale, which is home to a sizable Marshallese immigrant population, can enjoy island music, culture and even public health information from the station.

Since the U.S. used the Marshall Islands as a target for nuclear tests, the people have been facing a health crisis. Radiation related cancers, such as thyroid disease, have taken a toll. However, the government of the Marshall Islands and NGOs such as REACH-MI* are stepping in to help. Although the long-term impacts remain to be seen, initiatives like these are crucial for fighting the healthcare crisis in the Marshall Islands and preserving its unique culture.

Shobhin Logani
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in the Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands is an island country in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. The nation is part of the island group Micronesia. Meanwhile, Wake Island lies to the north with Kiribati and Nauru to the south and the Federated States of Micronesia to the west. The Marshall Islands’ fragile ecosystem and densely populated areas present unique challenges for the country. These environmental and social factors have led to food insecurity and hunger in the Marshall Islands.

At the moment, there are limited statistics regarding hunger and food insecurity in the Marshall Islands. However, estimates determine that 21.5% of women and 20.8% of men living on the Marshall Islands have diabetes. Though this is not necessarily a direct relation, studies show that high rates of diabetes may correlate with food insecurity.

The Reasons for Hunger in the Marshall Islands

  1. The Marshall Islands have experienced rapid urbanization. The nation’s urban population has increased from 58% of the total population in 1980 to 77% in 2019. As a result, the people of the Marshall Islands are transitioning from traditional diets of fish and fruit to imported diets of rice, flour and meat. Consequently, there is an increased reliance on imported food items. This is quite risky as the price of imported food depends largely on global commodity prices. The fluctuation in these prices results in unreliable access to imported foods in the Marshall Islands. This reliance on imported food makes finding food more difficult for citizens of the Marshall Islands, especially those living in poverty.
  2. Rising sea levels have contributed to the loss of cultivable land. Most of the Marshall Islands are less than six feet above sea level. Farmers like Kakiana Ebot have reported that their crops have rotted and died due to saltwater soaking the soil. Ebot says that she has lost about $30 a day due to the death of her breadfruit tree.
  3. El Niño, a period of warm ocean temperatures in the Pacific, puts the Marshall Islands at greater risk of drought. During times of drought, fish become scarce. This is concerning because fish is one of the main non-imported food sources in the Marshall Islands. Additionally, ocean warming and acidification harm the coral reefs surrounding the Marshall Islands, further threatening the existence of local fish.

Multinational Efforts to Address Hunger in the Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands, in collaboration with other nations, has taken action towards establishing food security and eradicating hunger. One such initiative is the Readiness for El Nino project (RENI), a measure that the European Union funded and the Pacific Community (SPC) implemented. This project is a response to the severe 2016 El Niño drought. Dr. Colin Tukuitonga, Director-General of the SPC, stated that the project’s goal is to “enhance the resilience of the Marshallese communities in preparation for future droughts, and serve as a model for mitigation efforts across the region.”

The implementation of the RENI project started in June 2017 and will proceed through October 2020. During the implementation phase, project leaders consult local communities including women and other marginalized groups. The consultations determine each community’s exposure and sensitivity to environmental challenges, as well as their ability to adapt.

In addition to preparing communities for drought, the RENI project also teaches home gardening and provides training in food preservation methods. All of these strategies seek to establish food security and decrease reliance on imported foods. This project will directly benefit 1,059 people and indirectly benefit 1,605 people.

So far, the RENI project has returned preliminary reports from the Ailuk Atoll, a northern atoll of the Marshall Islands. The consultation phase of the project has concluded and the RENI project has drafted a disaster management plan with the community.

Pacific Island Countries Addressing Hunger Together

Other island countries, like Taiwan, have also partnered with the Marshall Islands to increase food security. Taiwan’s International Cooperation and Development Fund established a hydroponics demonstration farm to help introduce innovative farming techniques to the Marshall Islands. This farm opened in January 2020.

Hydroponics farming is a method of growing plants using nutrient solutions in water solvent instead of soil. It is helpful in countries that lack fertile soil like the Marshall Islands. This farming technique will help diversify local fruit and vegetable production.

Like the RENI project, Taiwan’s hydroponic project has an educational component that will share vital knowledge about crop management and nutrition. In the next five years, this project hopes to increase vegetable and fruit production by around 100 kilograms per month.

Over time, with cooperation between the Marshall Islands and other nations, the country may be able to eradicate hunger.

 – Antoinette Fang
Photo: Flickr

Life expectancy in the Marshall Islands
The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is a country located in the Pacific Ocean. In total, there are 1,200 islands and islets with a total population of 58,000. Although the estimated life expectancy in the Marshall Islands was 72 years in 1987, the life expectancy dropped to 65 in 2000. Today, the Marshallese have an estimated life expectancy of 74. By comparison, the United States has a life expectancy of 78. Here are some of the problems with and potential solutions to life expectancy in the Marshall Islands.

10 Facts about Life Expectancy in the Marshall Islands

  1. The leading causes of death in the Marshall Islands are diabetes and Ischemic heart disease. In 2017, it was estimated that 5,642 per 100,000 deaths were caused by Ischemic heart diseases. Many people in the Marshall Islands suffer from problems associated with low levels of physical activity and occupational hazards. The Ministry of Health has created government programs to encourage exercise.
  2. Life expectancy decreased after the 1940s because of U.S. nuclear weapon testing on the islands. During the Cold War, the United States decided to test multiple nuclear weapons on the islands. They moved dangerous soil from a Nevada atomic testing location into the Marshall Islands. Despite the U.S. relocating residents from the Bikini and Enewetak atolls, the citizens have still experienced symptoms of radiation sickness. Lingering radiation may be responsible for 170 different types of cancer in a population of 25,000 Marshallese.
  3. Dengue fever outbreaks pose a risk to life expectancy. Dengue fever can lead to more severe conditions in 5% of the population. In 2019, the island of Ebeye, which is the country’s most populated island, experienced a massive outbreak due to rampant mosquitoes. Because of these outbreaks, the Ministry of Health issued $450,000 to fight the disease.
  4. The country’s life expectancy is similar to other surrounding countries. In 2018, the Marshall Islands’ estimated life expectancy matched that of the Federated States of Micronesia at 67 years old. Most life expectancy data from the Marshall Islands has not been updated since the early 2000s, and the WHO has marked their life expectancy data as not available. Though the information is not clear, there is currently an approximate life expectancy of 74 according to the World Factbook.
  5. Life expectancy in the Marshall Islands is threatened by rising sea levels. The islands may completely disappear by 2050 because of rising sea levels. This threat affects life expectancy and quality of life, since Marshallese could become refugees as a result. Global support and funding to reduce pollution could help reduce this risk. There has also been discussion about a possibility of raising the islands above sea level.
  6. Various dangerous weather conditions affect life expectancy. The islanders have experienced droughts, bleaching coral reefs and cyclones. Wave flooding due to changing climate conditions could also gradually make water unsuitable for drinking. In September 2012, a drought damaged much of the islands’ produce, affecting 20% of the population. To combat climate change, the Internal Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) are committed to drastic reductions of carbon emissions by 32% by 2025.
  7. Women have a longer life expectancy than men. Projections for 2020 estimated that women will live 76.5 years, compared to their male counterparts who will live 71.8 years. However, health care is not equally accessible between the sexes. In 2019, the Marshall Islands introduced the Gender Equality Act to change this. It specified the government’s responsibility to provide affordable health care to all women.
  8. Imported processed foods diminish the life expectancy of the Marshallese. A 2013 study conducted by the National Institute of Health found that 65% of the islanders are overweight or obese. Marshallese diets often lack micronutrients because many eat more packaged food than fresh island-grown food. This has caused problems associated with multiple diseases. The Ministry of Resources and Development is attempting to change this by promoting traditional island agriculture and diets.
  9. Health care causes problems with life expectancy. Health care in the Marshall Islands is as cheap as $5 per checkup. Despite this, health care can be hard to access. Much of the population does not reside in urban centers, yet there are only two major hospitals in the larger cities of Ebeye and Majuro. The Ministry of Health has enacted a 3-Year Rolling Strategic Plan to ensure that health care is accessible on the less populated islands. The plan will also help fight non-communicable and communicable diseases that affect life expectancy.
  10. Limited job opportunities decrease life expectancy. The minimum wage on the island was $5/hour as of 2014, and in 2016, the unemployment rate was about 36%. Since there is not much competition in different job sectors, jobs can be difficult to find. Additionally, the estimated poverty rate in the Marshall Islands stands at 30%. These factors make it difficult for Marshallese to pay for health care. To increase job opportunities, the government is working to attract foreign companies to the islands by enticing them to create fisheries and tourism.

These facts highlight persistent problems, as well as efforts to combat them. Moving forward, the government and other humanitarian organizations must continue to focus on improving life expectancy in the Marshall Islands.

 – Sarah Litchney
Photo: Pixabay