Date: Fri, 29 Apr 2016 09:48:21 +0200

Majuro, Marshall Islands, April 29, 2016 (AFP) - The Marshall Islands on Friday hailed a US decision to declare a drought disaster in the parched Pacific nation, welcoming much-needed aid from Washington to cope with one of the worst dry spells in its history.   US President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration Thursday as the drought in the Marshalls enters its fourth month, with residents scrambling to find fresh water amid mounting concerns over food crops.   Marshalls and its Pacific neighbours are in the grips of a drought caused by one of the strongest El Nino events in recorded history, according to US weather officials.   Obama's declaration will trigger $3.0 to 4.0 million in aid from Washington, according to a US official in Majuro. 

The money is expected to be put toward drought damaged crops that support subsistence islanders in remote parts of the Pacific nation, according to the Marshall's government.   "The president's action makes federal funding available for US government emergency relief and reconstruction assistance to the Republic of the Marshall Islands," a White House statement said.   Kino Kabua, Marshalls' deputy chief secretary overseeing the drought response, said the US declaration would boost resources and provide much needed reverse osmosis (RO) water-filtration units.    "Obviously we cannot provide RO units to all islands at the moment but... once the additional ones arrive, we will send out more," he said.   The Marshalls declared a drought emergency in February, then elevated it to a disaster and appealed to the United States and other countries for aid.    Australia, India, the European Union and the Asian Development Bank have provided funding in recent weeks to buy water filtration units, water delivery trucks and catchment tanks.

About a third of the Marshalls' population of 56,000 rely on subsistence farming on remote, difficult to access islands, eating fish, breadfruit, pandanus, coconuts and bananas.   Crops began wilting in March, several months into the drought.   "I can tell you that the water situation is getting worse," said Ota Kisino, the mayor of Wotje atoll in the northern islands.   In the capital Majuro, water is being rationed to four hours, just one day per week and the supply of water in the city reservoir has dwindled to less than half its capacity.    Elsewhere in the region, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau have declared states of emergency, while Guam and the Northern Marianas are experiencing low rainfall.
Date: Fri, 11 Mar 2016 02:42:25 +0100

Majuro, Marshall Islands, March 11, 2016 (AFP) - Residents in low-lying areas of the Marshall Islands were braced for ongoing flooding Friday, as a series of inundations underscored the Pacific island nation's vulnerability to climate change.   A combination of king tides and storm surges have swamped several communities in the Marshalls this week, tossing rocks and debris into roads, backyards and homes.   While no one was injured and damage was slight compared to ocean flooding over the past two years, the waters were expected to return Friday and experts say the pattern will increase in frequency as ocean levels rise.   Several hundred residents on Kili Island had to leave their flooded homes on Wednesday, the second time in as many years that high tides have caused significant flooding there.

The island is home-in-exile for Bikini islanders who were moved by the US Navy from their home atoll in 1946 to start nuclear weapons testing.   "We had to move families from the northern part of Kili to the town area because their houses were flooded again," Bikini mayor Anderson Jibas said.   "We are on full alert (for more flooding)," he added.   In the capital Majuro, some homeowners whose houses were flooded with about 15 centimetres (six inches) of seawater called on the government to bolster seawalls and shoreline protection.   Murray Ford, a climate researcher based at the University of Auckland, said Majuro had been inundated 20 times since 1979, with half a dozen of these coming in the past five years.
Date: Sun, 22 Mar 2015 10:09:35 +0100 (MET)

Majuro, Marshall Islands, March 22, 2015 (AFP) - A tiny central Pacific community, forced to evacuate their homes because of US nuclear testing, are now demanding refuge in the United States as they face a new threat from climate change.   "We want to relocate to the United States," Nishma Jamore, mayor of the atoll of Bikini, said on the weekend as Pacific waters continued to eat away at the small Kili and Ejit islands in the far-flung Marshall Islands archipelago.   Jamore heads a community of about 1,000 islanders who have lived in exile on the islands for decades because their original homeland of Bikini remains too radioactive for resettlement.   There were 24 nuclear tests conducted on the atoll in the 1950s, including "Bravo", the largest hydrogen bomb detonation conducted by the United States.

Unable to return to Bikini, the islanders are now faced with increasingly heavy flooding from high tides and storms hitting Kili and Ejit with waves washing over the islands and wiping out food crops.   Jamore voiced their concerns to US Assistant Secretary of Interior Esther Kia'aina during her visit to the Marshall's capital of Majuro this month.   "We want to relocate to the United States," Jamore said. "Kili has been repeatedly flooded since 2012 and we've asked the Marshall Islands government for help with no response."   There is also serious concern over a recent legislative move by the Marshall's parliament, known as the Nitijela, to take authority for Ejit Island away from the Bikinians.   The latest flooding at Kili hit last month during annual high tides, and Jamore described the island's airport runway as like "the Nile River" as water flooded over it.

- Runway flooded -
As the floods damaged houses and damaged crops, the 1.6 kilometre (one mile) long runway, which is 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) above sea level, disappeared beneath about 25 centimetres of saltwater.   This is the second time Bikini Islanders have called to be resettled in the United States.   In the 1980s, following an aborted resettlement on Bikini atoll that ended with the islanders exposed to high levels of radiation, they attempted to buy a tract of land on Maui in the state of Hawaii for resettlement.   The plan was vetoed when it ran into considerable opposition from Maui residents, but it is gathering steam again because of the damage to homes and agriculture caused by repeated flooding of Kili and Ejit in recent years.   "We're going to Washington next month," Jamore said, insisting he would take the plan to the US government.

Arkansas, Oklahoma and Hawaii have been identified as ideal locations as they are already home to significant populations of Bikini islanders.   Jamore and other Bikini Council executives want to use the US-funded Bikini Trust Fund to purchase property for the resettlement.   Currently the Fund allows for property purchase only in the Marshall Islands, but Jamore said they have asked the Interior Department to change the agreement so they can buy land in the United States.   "This will give the people options for education and jobs," he said.
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 2014 01:31:46 +0100 (MET)

MAJURO, Marshall Islands, Dec 22, 2014 (AFP) - The Marshall Islands is experiencing its worst-ever coral bleaching as global warming threatens reefs across the entire northern Pacific, scientists said Monday.   Marine researchers said an El Nino weather pattern had been developing in recent months, raising ocean temperatures and stressing delicate coral reefs.   "The worst coral bleaching event ever recorded for the Marshall Islands has been occurring since mid-September," Karl Fellenius, a Majuro-based marine scientist with the University of Hawaii told AFP.   C. Mark Eakin, manager of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch programme, said recent observations showed the problem was widespread across the vast waters of the northern Pacific.   "Major bleaching was seen in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, the northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI), the Marshall Islands, and Kiribati," he said.   "Thermal stress levels set new record highs in CNMI and the NWHI and we saw the first widespread bleaching event in the main Hawaiian Islands."

Fellenius said coral bleaching was a naturally occurring phenomenon but not on the scale currently being seen.   "While bleaching can occur on very hot days in pools of water with little circulation (such as) very low tides on reef flats, it has become a global problem due to greenhouse gas emissions causing elevated temperatures under climate change."   He said sea surface temperatures had been on average half to a full degree Celsius higher than normal for months, adding: "This does not seem like a lot but it makes a big difference to corals."   Fellenius said the last major bleaching event was in 1997, when an exceptionally strong El Nino system affected about a quarter of the world's coral reefs.   He said indications were that the latest episode had affected up to 75 percent of smaller corals and 25 percent of the larger varieties at some sites in the Marshalls.     He said the bleached coral was becoming covered with algae, hindering its chances of recovery.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) raised the alarm about rising sea temperatures this month on the sidelines of UN climate talks in Lima, saying 2014 was set to be the hottest year on record, consistent with man-made climate change.   "What is particularly unusual and alarming this year are the high temperatures of vast areas of the ocean surface," WMO chief Michel Jarraud said.   The Asian Development Bank warned last month that widespread coral bleaching would have a major impact on Pacific island nations, many of which are heavily reliant on tourism.
Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2014 09:56:35 +0200 (METDST)

MAJURO, Marshall Islands, Sept 18, 2014 (AFP) - Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak was forced to heightened the seawall protecting his home last year but says the year-old defences are now barely enough to protect his family from a "climate emergency".   "Out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, climate change has arrived," Loeak said in the video to be released globally Friday, ahead of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's climate summit in New York City next week.

Standing outside his home in the capital Majuro next to the heightened seawall, Loeak tells the camera that it is "barely enough to protect my family from the encroaching waves".   "For the Marshall Islands and our friends in the Pacific, this is already a full-blown climate emergency," Loeak said.    He will join more then 100 heads of state at the September 23 forum which he hopes will galvanise support to build "the greatest climate change alliance" the world has seen. 

The United Nations is seeking to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, but scientists say current emission trends could hike temperatures to more than twice that level by century's end.  While US President Barack Obama is to outline his vision for reining in greenhouse gas emissions, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are among a number of prominent world leaders who will be no-shows at next week's meeting.

UN climate envoy Mary Robinson believes the summit will see the world begin to seriously tackle global warming ahead of a crucial conference in Paris next year.    "The message from the climate summit and the message going forward to Paris is that it's not business as usual with a little bit of green attached," Robinson said recently.  Loeak's video includes clips showing Majuro residential areas inundated by tides in March this year, emphasising small island's vulnerability to rising sea levels.

"In the last year alone, my country has suffered through unprecedented droughts in the north, and the biggest ever king tides in the south," he said as the surf rumbles in the background.    "The beaches of Buoj Island where I used to fish as a boy are already under water, and the fresh water we need to grow our food gets saltier every day," he said.   While the New York summit is not a formal negotiating session, Ban has urged leaders to outline their action plan and to commit to a deal on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Paris in December 2015.
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