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Marshalls drought destroys food, raises tensions

Thursday June 6, 2013 - 20:20 EST
Audience submitted image
More than 5,000 people in the north of Marshall Islands have limited access to clean and safe drinking water, proper sanitation and nutritious food. - Audience submitted

A drought crisis in the Marshall Islands is creating tensions between villages forced to share dwindling water supplies.

More than 5,000 people in the north of Marshall Islands have limited access to clean and safe drinking water, proper sanitation and nutritious food.

The only water available for drinking, cooking and hygiene is being made by reverse osmosis water purifying machines flown into the northern atolls by aid groups.

National water advisor to the Marshall's government Tom Vance has told the drought is causing some villagers to relocate to be closer to water.

"In some of the villages where the wells have become so salty, the people have migrated to the areas where there's been just one (Reverse Osmosis) machine and it's caused a lot of social tension," he said.

"They are from different villages and...people like to stay on their own islands and when the northern villages population goes to the southern villages, it does create problems because they don't really have places to stay and it's just not their home land.

"So at present, that's what we're trying to deal with - we're trying to keep everybody in their own villages."

Mr Vance says some islands, such as Enewetak and Utirik, are struggling with food supplies, having not received significant rainfall in almost a year,.

He says Enewetak has completely run out of food, while the drought is also affecting food supplies on Ujae, Lae, Wotho, Namu, Ailuk, Mejit, Likiep and Maloelap.

"All of these islands have been affected by this drought where its actually affected them to the extent where their freshwater lands has started to deteriorate and the well water has become so salty that the breadfruit trees and a lot of the crops have started to die off.

"So it's a situation where it will take time to replenish, so even when the rains start it will probably be about a year before there can be much progress seen as far as the local food supply goes,

"So it's a very dire situation for the people living on the islands."

An opinion piece written by Marshalls Minister for Foreign Affairs Phillip Muller says this humanitarian crisis is climate induced.

Neville Koop, Meteorology and Climatology Adviser with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), says Mr Muller is making some valid points.

"Countries like the Marshall Islands that suffer these sorts of droughts really don't have a Plan B - there's really nothing else for them to do," he said.

"Large countries like Australia and New Zealand in the region, if a particular natural disaster occurs, there's normally enough of the rest of the country operating at a normal capacity to cover up the shortage or whatever the problem is.

"This is an unusual event, there are probably links in this to changes in the climate in the region, and we just hope that rain starts soon to relieve the appalling conditions in parts of the Marshalls."


© ABC 2013

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