Drought worsens in northern islands

Marshall Islands High School students take cover from heavy rains that hit the capital atoll in early February. Rainfall in Majuro is not a good indicator of rain levels in the northern atolls. Photo: Wilmer Joel.

The northern islands are now facing a looming drought with little to no rain in January.
While Majuro was deluged with rain the first couple of days in February, rainfall in Majuro is no indication of wetness in the northern islands. While Majuro received 8.76 inches of rain in December, Wotje saw only 2.55 inches. January was worse: Even as Majuro experienced a drier than normal January, with only 4.73 inches of rain, Wotje reported zero rain the first 26 days of January.

Last month during Nitijela session, Wotje Nitijela Member Ota Kisino reported that Northern Islands High School on Wotje was running low on water supplies.

A drought information statement issued last week by US weather officials in Guam was headlined: “Extreme drought expands across the northern Marshall Islands.” It went on to point out: “Overall expectations are for drought to continue to worsen across the northern Marshall Islands the next month or so before showers begin to pick up in March.”

“The outlook for the northern RMI, particularly north of 9N, remains a very dry one the next couple weeks,” said Guam-based weather official Landon Aydlett. “Wotje remains in ‘D3’: Extreme Drought conditions, with nearby islands exhibiting similar conditions.”

He offered a brief summary of the unfolding situation on the northern islands: Many catchments are very low or empty. Some wells are salty but well water levels are still decent. Catchment water is being used for drinking only on many islands with some using coconuts for hydration. Plants are yellow to brown with some plants absent of leaves. Some fruits are dropping prematurely. Some islands have reverse osmosis units but many are inoperable. Many islands have two-to-four weeks of water left if no rain falls.

Office of Chief Secretary staff member Yetta deBrum Aliven said “the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) has received complaints from atoll communities in the Kabin Meto and Ratak chain.”

Reports about drought conditions are coming in from NDMO neighboring island representatives and some local government officials. “We called back to verify the complaints and most atolls insisted they are running out of water with water catchments below half,” said Yetta. “We also verify the accounts with National Weather Services Office in Majuro, which confirms shortage of rainfall which is a normal occurrence every year.” She added: “We are not at a state of emergency for dry season.”

NDMO together with the National Disaster Committee and the WASH Cluster leads have devised an immediate response plan for the dry season 2022. Activities including getting teams to verify the reports from affected atolls.

The National Weather Service Office in Majuro confirmed what all residents knew: January was a dry month even by dry season standards. But the first two days of February produced more rain in Majuro than all of January combined: over six inches fell, most of it in one 24-hour period.
Only 4.73 inches of rain were recorded in Majuro for January. This is barely half of the long-term monthly average for January of over eight inches of rain.

There has been no change yet in water hours for the downtown area, which have only been on for four hours Monday and Friday afternoons. Even though water is on for only four hours on these two city water days, Majuro Water and Sewer Company’s reservoir report shows that as the dry season intensified, water consumption rose significantly. In early January, less than 600,000 gallons of city water were used by customers. But two weeks later, when it hadn’t rain for many days, water usage spiked to over 800,000 gallons.

The airport reservoir ended January at 21 million gallons, about 60 percent of capacity.
With 7.46 inches of rain recorded in the first six days of February, the reservoir level bumped up to over 27 million gallons as of mid-week.
The 7.46 inches of rain in the first six days of February is more than the long-term average for February, normally a dry season month.

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