UN disaster assessment team arrives in drought-affected Marshall Islands

Photo: OCHA/Dan DeLorenzo

10 May 2013 – A United Nations disaster assessment team has arrived in the Marshall Islands to help the Government respond to a severe drought affecting its northern islands, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today.

Assessments are ongoing in the country, where a state of disaster was declared on 7 May, according to a report issued by the OCHA Regional Office for the Pacific.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke said assessments from four atolls, with an estimated population of 1,500 people, found that most of the domestic water tanks were completely empty and water from wells was unsafe to drink due to bacterial contamination and high levels of salt.

Most of the installations for water purification and desalination were operating below capacity, he added.

In addition, food crops, which were mainly breadfruit and banana, were also reportedly “devastated” due to the drought.

“The lack of clean drinking water is of acute humanitarian concern, and children are particularly vulnerable,” said Mr. Laerke.

Two Government ships to the north-east and north-west of the Marshall Islands had begun transporting full water containers, hygiene kits and other relief items to nearly 600 families in the worst-affected communities.

“There is a high likelihood that drought conditions will remain through July,” Mr. Laerke stated. “It will take several months of normal rainfall for groundwater to be replenished and longer still for food crops to recover.”

The Government will receive an initial OCHA emergency cash grant of $50,000 to assist with the immediate response efforts.

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