SEATTLE — As a spread out island nation, the Marshall Islands is known as an exclusive economic zone that is less than 800,000 square miles. The country’s economic future depends on its rich, vast and pristine lagoons and ocean access. However, there is still room for efforts to better the livelihoods of the country’s people. Since 2014, several development projects in the Marshall Islands have been proposed.
The Marshall Islands have limited groundwater supplies and heavily rely on rainfall for freshwater. Because of this, the islands’ people are at constant risk of drought, storm surges and flooding. Majuro uses the airport runway, its largest area, to collect rainwater and divert it to storage tanks where it is treated and piped to communities. But with the island’s outdated infrastructure and increasing population, along with challenging weather, the system was becoming inadequate.
In early 2014, the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC) project announced plans to address the Marshall Islands’ water security concerns, focusing on an improved reservoir system in Majuro. The project conducted an adaptation and vulnerability assessment, testing Majuro’s water sector and cost-benefit analysis. PACC focused on repairing the reservoir and opened it in April that year. The reservoir holds 36.5 million gallons of water, larger than the 31.5 million gallons prior to the PACC project.
The Marshall Islands have been known to have serious housing issues and poor academic results at public schools on the island Ebeye. The 12,000 residents have the lowest academic results in the Marshall Islands’ public school system. In November 2015, the United States granted $4.2 million for development projects in the Marshall Islands to improve the situation. Carl Hacker, the new Kwajalein Atoll Development executive director, is pushing for the projects to begin. “This will involve relocating a few families to make room for construction work,” he added.
With thousands of inhabitants residing on fewer than 80 acres of land, Ebeye has often been called the “slum of the Pacific” due to its dense population and poor infrastructure. In April 2016, Ebeye launched a five-year-long revamp of its infrastructure. Costing the U.S. $50 million, $19 million of those funds will go toward fixing the island’s sewage and water system, which has not been properly maintained for four decades.
Maritime shipping is the most important industry for development projects in the Marshall Islands. In November 2017, the German Environment Ministry (GEC) revealed plans to support the Marshall Islands’ plan to develop low-emission maritime shipping. GEC will support the project with €9.5 million under its International Climate Initiative. Barbara Hendricks, the German Environment Minister, called the Marshall Islands “a diplomatic force and important climate pioneers.”
With an average height above sea level of two meters, heavy rain and storms constantly pose a threat. Drought and crop failures increase the Marshall Islands’ dependency on imports. Ninety percent of the islands’ energy supply is drawn from these imports as well.
The Marshall Islands Republic commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the threat of climate change. In December 2017, the World Bank approved $34 million for a Sustainable Energy Development Project in the Marshall Islands. “The Marshallese government is working hard with the development partners to meet our targets of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, and 100 percent renewable energy by 2050,” said Brenson Wase, the islands’ minister of finance.
More expansive than many other development projects in the Marshall Islands, the World Bank’s will deliver three components. Majuro will receive assistance in installation and operational support for generating solar power, along with replacing existing generators to ensure lower emissions. The Marshall Islands will receive technical assistance to reduce energy demand. There will also be training and workshops focused on improving energy policies and investments needed in Ebeye.
Development projects in the Marshall Islands will continue to be implemented. With the progress that has been made through these projects, Marshall Islands residents can continue to experience improved livelihoods. With the help of the U.S., Germany and other parties, the Marshall Islands can continue to prosper in the coming years.
– Rhondjé Singh Tanwar