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