The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is already in crisis not only in its vulnerability but its state of emergency with regard to natural disasters and climate change. Sea level rising is the biggest threat in RMI with the country’s highest point being just 10 meters above sea level in 2017.5 The country is also at risk for tropical storms, typhoons, storm surges, and drought.
These emergencies further impact the country, often producing secondary disasters affecting the country include marine pollution, ecosystem degradation, coastal erosion and food insecurity which stack the effects of these disasters across all aspects of society and impacting not only the viability of the country but also the sustainability of the people of RMI. Additional factors contributing to the country’s vulnerability to climate change include population density on the islands, poverty, low elevation, wide geographic dispersal, a fragile ecosystem with limited fresh water resources and an economy at risk to global influences. Emerging threats such as flooding and disease outbreaks such as dengue have also put a strain on the country.
Marshall Islanders have a wide range of health problems to include communicable and noncommunicable diseases. The impact of sustained nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands during the 1940s and 1950s also contributes to these ongoing health problems.
RMI has disaster management (DM) legislation in place to combat their disaster risks. The National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP) of 1997, the Standard Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) of 2005, the National Emergency Response Plan, a Draft Communicable Disease Response Plan, a Draft Majuro Hospital and Public Health Emergency Operation Plan, and an Emergency SOP, are important documents. The National Disaster Committee (NDC) is responsible for mitigating the effects of any disaster and for conducting disaster operations. For large-scale disasters, the Government of RMI may request supplemental U.S. disaster assistance through a U.S.
Presidential Disaster Declaration, which enables funding support from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/ OFDA). In February 2016, The President of RMI declared a state of emergency, followed by a State of Natural Disaster in March, and an extension of State of Natural Disaster in April. Approximately 21,000 individuals were affected by these extreme drought conditions. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) partnered with the Government, USAID, Australian Aid, and Women United Together Marshall Islands to respond to the drought.
USAID OFDA and FEMA have developed an operational blueprint which guides humanitarian assistance in the event of a significant disaster in RMI. External support arrangements through the Compact of Free Association (COFA) between RMI and the U.S., as well as the UN regional office are initiated at the direction of the President of RMI on the advice of and through the NDC. Operational deployment of these arrangements, including via the humanitarian Cluster system and at the state level, are through the National Disaster Coordination Team (NDCT). USAID/OFDA collaborates closely with FEMA, as well as USAID/Philippines and USAID’s Bureau for Asia, to implement humanitarian programs in RMI.14 Additionally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. (NOAA) provides weather forecasting, critical natural hazard monitoring and warning, for the country and other regional COFA participants.
RMI is heavily dependent on the local government as well as resources provided by the U.S. military to help sustain its economic growth. Although a vulnerable economy, RMI has seen some growth in commercial and small-scale fisheries, aquaculture, agriculture, traditional handmade goods, and tourism. A pressing issue for RMI is ensuring adequate fiscal transition as the Marshallese face the possibility of the expiration of certain economic provisions in 2023, as health and education are almost entirely funded through the Compact.
A number of U.S. Government agencies operate programs or render assistance to the Marshall Islands. These include the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Postal Service, Small Business Administration, USAID, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Department of State, and the Department of the Interior.
A number of international humanitarian partners provide support to RMI. International Organization for Migration (IOM) has multiple projects in the country to help raise awareness and provide humanitarian assistance training. International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) and Marshall Islands Red Cross Society (MIRCS) are involved with disaster response, early recovery, and help facilitate and coordinate international humanitarian and disaster response.