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.
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.
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