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  • Marshall Islands
  • David W. Kupferman (bio)

The period under review in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) was focused largely on the impacts of climate change, both physical and political, as well as on preparations for hosting the 44th annual Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro in September 2013. Additionally, clear lines were drawn within the RMI national government, specifically in terms of government spending, as well as in the context of relations with the United States, which continued to be strained over the past twelve months largely due to tensions surrounding concerns about funding under the Compact of Free Association and a US Department of State report on human trafficking. One bright spot was the seeming progress toward a constitutional convention, which, while put on hold due to the upcoming Forum, appears likely to take place some time in 2014 and, unlike the climate-change situation, may give the Marshall Islands the opportunity to produce tangible results.

The topic of climate change was foremost on the minds of the RMI government, and especially Minister in Assistance to the President and Kwajalein Senator Tony de Brum, who has apparently made the issue the primary focus of his cabinet portfolio. At the United Nations climate meeting in Doha, Qatar, in December 2012, de Brum announced that the theme of the September 2013 Forum meeting was to be climate change, and specifically how the Pacific Island heads of state can take a greater leadership role on the issue globally (mij, 21 Dec 2012). De Brum followed this up with an appearance at an “Arria-formula” meeting of the UN Security Council on 15 February 2013. (Arria-formula meetings are not officially classified as meetings by the United Nations, and records or transcripts of the proceedings are not kept.) Despite the informal nature of the meeting, which was organized by the United Kingdom and Pakistan, de Brum’s speech was available on the Internet and a video report about the meeting was picked up by the online video magazine Slate V (2013). In the speech (and repeated in Slate’s report), de Brum arguably made a dubious connection between the drought in the northern atolls that had begun in January 2013 and the water company’s rationing schedule in Majuro, which was unaffected by the drought at the time of the speech. The minister then announced the drafting of a Majuro Declaration, which he said would call on all nations to commit, through their own actions, to limiting global warming to less than two degrees (de Brum 2013). The Marshall Islands will present the declaration for formal approval at the 2013 Forum.

The drought in the northern atolls did worsen, and in May RMI President Christopher Loeak’s cabinet declared it a disaster area, after which relief in the form of money and supplies [End Page 177] began to pour into the country. The Republic of China (Taiwan), Japan, and the Asian Development Bank each donated $100,000 to the relief efforts in May, as did Australia (which then sent another $385,000 in June). Most significant was the move by US President Barack Obama, who signed a disaster declaration on 14 June 2013, which was followed shortly thereafter by $1 million in rapid-response aid from the United Nations, announced by UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, to be available by the end of the month. A few days later, RMI National Water Adviser Tom Vance described the situation in Enewetak and Utrik atolls as “dire” and reported that tensions among Islanders were rising. In response, the minister of foreign affairs and trade, Majuro Senator Phillip Muller called Vance’s comments “an overstatement” and suggested that the Marshall Islands was doing all it could to deliver relief to the northern atolls (pir, 20 June 2013).

While rains returned to the northern atolls at the beginning of July, the total cost of the drought relief was estimated at $4.7 million, which ultimately cost the RMI government more than $900,000 after all international aid had been taken into account (mij, 21 June 2013). In a sign of things possibly to come for low-lying islands should climate change advance, on 25 June...


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pp. 177-184
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