Thousands still affected by Marshall Islands drought
Drought in the Marshall Islands dire, thousands still affected.
The drought in the Marshall Islands is being described as dire, as thousands of people are still affected.
Major rain water supplies have been exhausted, and ground-water is unsafe to drink, crops are dying or dead and health and social issues are also getting worse.
Leilani Momoisea reports:
Government officials have again been assessing the worst hit atolls. Its National Water Advisor, Tom Vance, says 17 water purifying units are helping hydrate the population in need, but most of the local food supply is gone.
TOM VANCE: The biggest fatality in the plants are the breadfruit trees, and the breadfruit are a real staple in the outer islands. There's a huge die-off of the breadfruit. Also one of our islands - it's called Enewetak - that's the driest island, they've had such a problem with the drought that all of their local food crops have collapsed, and they've had an extreme problem trying to get any food into the island.
He says the extent of the drought and the deterioration of the freshwater lenses is something the Marshall Islands has never seen before. Mr Vance says even when it does start to rain, it may take all year for the freshwater lenses to be replenished and for the plants to start growing again. He says the drought has been especially difficult on the health of the children and elderly.
TOM VANCE: There's many people in the hospital, especially the elderly. They're always used to drinking water out of the same well, their whole lives. And with the deterioration of the lens the salinity levels have gone up so high in the wells that they are starting to have a lot of kidney problems, and diabetes and diarrhea and fevers.
New Zealand Red Cross aid workers produced over 12,000 litres of water, and left behind a machine capable of making another 4,000 litres of fresh water a day. Red Cross delegate and water engineer Ana Zarkovic says very dry weather is expected till at least the end of June, especially on the hard to reach northern atolls. She says this means people will be struggling for a while in terms of water, and especially food. Ana Zarkovic says people travelling to other villages for safe drinking water has also causing been causing social tension.
ANA ZARKOVIC: We have got reports that community tension started rising because of the drought, because additional population put stress on the resources of communities. So the fact that we supplied them with safe drinking water eased some of the community tensions that were building up.
Women United Together Marshall Islands Executive director, Kathryn Relang, says the group is collecting gallons of water, canned goods and powdered milk to be sent to the outer islands. She says some people are running out of ways to get to water supplies.
KATHRYN RELAG: A lot of the people that are living in the outer islets on Wotje Atoll are struggling, trying to come into the centres of the atoll to get water. And their mode of transportation to the centre is by boat. They've run out of fuel to get on boats to get them to the centre to get water. They're struggling extra harder than the ones that are in the more urban areas of the atoll.
The group is helping assess how fairly supplies are being distributed, and what more is needed. The government says, for now, food supplies will have to be sent to the outer islands, but they are hoping to get international help for a long-term solution, like hydroponic gardening for crop supplies.
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