US declares drought disaster

Residents throughout the Marshall Islands have been spending a good deal of time locating water sources, filling up containers and transporting them to their residences as the extended drought has impacted availability of fresh water. Photo: Isaac Marty.
Residents throughout the Marshall Islands have been spending a good deal of time locating water sources, filling up containers and transporting them to their residences as the extended drought has impacted availability of fresh water. Photo: Isaac Marty.

President Barack Obama’s Presidential Disaster Declaration (PDD) late last week has opened the doors to additional US federal aid for drought relief in the Marshall Islands.

“The PDD allows us to tap into FEMA resources,” said USAID Office for Disaster Assistance Regional Advisor Dan Dieckhaus, who is based at the US Embassy in Majuro.

Earlier this week, he said they were working out details with officials in Washington for disaster aid that will soon be supplied. This included selection of the non-government group or groups that will partner with USAID and FEMA in delivery of the disaster support.

Aid is expected to be focused on supplemental food for outer islanders where local food supplies have dwindled because of the drought, hygiene supplies, and parts and maintenance for reverse osmosis (RO) units, Dieckhaus said.

“Funding levels have not been decided,” he said earlier this week. “Next week, we will have more to announce.”

In the meantime, Majuro and nearby islands received a deluge of rain Wednesday, the first substantial rainfall since February. Weather officials reported that Majuro, Jaluit and Ailinglaplap received less than one-third of the average rainfall for April, while other islands to the north received even less.

“Severe damage to food crops is likely across the Marshall Islands,” said an El Nino advisory issued by Guam-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials. “Food assistance could become necessary if the damage to plants and fruits is irreversible.”

The Guam weather forecasters also said the lack of fresh water is likely to lead to public health problems, including a spike in conjunctivitis (pink eye) and diarrhea.

Read more about this in the May 6, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.

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