Little water left as Micronesia struggles with long drought
Some parts of Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands are experiencing their worst drought in recorded history, with some atolls close to running out of drinking water.
Some parts of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands are experiencing their worst drought in recorded history, with some atolls close to running out of drinking water.
The two countries consist of sparsely populated atolls spread across many thousands of kilometres of ocean, and the region is in the grip of one of the worst El Niño systems in years.
Mark Adams, the emergency response co-ordinator at the International Organisation for Migration's FSM office, says the drought has been exceptionally strong in Micronesia, with some islands having had little to no rain since the end of last year.
He says some islands are in the worst possible category of drought, with only a few weeks of drinking water left, and after the category five typhoon Maysack last year, food security is a real concern.
Mr Adams told Jamie Tahana a wide-ranging response is underway, but logistically, it's proving to be a real challenge in the vast region.
MARK ADAMS: Historically speaking and as was forecasted this is an exceptionally strong El Nino and while it is slightly weakening frankly most rain won't return until after mid year. Some islands have had from late last year and until now the lowest rainfall amounts they have received on record since they have been tracking the data for 60 something years and right now the biggest concerns are two atolls and islands in the RMI are classified in the worst possible category that is exceptional short and long term drought. While some in the FSM particularly the eastern islands of Yap in the northwest and Chuuks main island are in an extreme drought situation.
JAMIE TAHANA: What exactly do these categories mean, how bad is it for these islands?
MA: To look at the rainfall map the various shades of red are concerning as they plotted them across this north-western Pacific region. The biggest concern frankly right now is drinking water and that these remote islands are typically dependent on rainfall and rain water catchments. And these catchments have only in some cases weeks and at most a month of rainfall left that are classified in these worst categories and they only have that much water left. And so we are facing a situation where they require water and that comes to them in two ways predominantly one it can be delivered and respective government in the region have begun water deliveries and a slightly easier less labour intensive method is through the delivery of reverse osmosis units which can be solar or gas powered and obviously take away the impurities in the saltwater from the water that is either in the wells or the ocean itself. This would alleviate the strains on their rainwater catchments and obviously water conservation methods are in place by the majority of the population. But we are going to look at a situation where obviously crops are beginning to show the effects of the drought. Staple crops are either misshapen such as the pandanus and the yam and the breadfruit are wilting or they are not producing as they normally would. Food security and food will become a challenge in the coming weeks.
JT: According to NOAA's latest assessment significant rainfall is not expected for another few months yet so I guess once the rain does come the damage to crops and things will be a lot longer too. Because we had typhoon Maysack last year.
MA: Exactly so Yap State and Chuuk State which were both affected by Maysack this time last year have declared a state of emergency due to El Nino and induced drought conditions. And they are in the process of allocating personnel and resources to further assess the level of crop damage, crop damage and water needs and also attempt to meet those needs. As international responders we and the Red Cross have been assisting with those efforts but if you had to be asked for formal more robust assistance in the form of water deliveries and food assistance.
JT: You say there are relief supplies going out there and reverse osmosis machines being put in too. But the Marshall Islands and FSM are very vast countries massive journeys across the sea to cover I guess logistically a very challenging relief operation.
MA: I think you hit the nail on the head Jamie. The logistics challenge underlying every component of these operations from communications to figuring out how severe the problems are and which populations are most in need with the limited supplies available, the limited vessels available to deliver those supplies and frankly the time it takes to get relief supplies from the main production centres or transit centres such as Manila or the western coast of the US to this region. And that is one reason that the United States agency for international development through IOM had prepositioned reverse osmosis units and other relief supplies in the capital of the RMI Majuro and we have deployed those per the request of the Marshall Islands government who has on March 6th declared a state of emergency or a state of disaster due to the drought.
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