As President Obama rose to the podium to announce his long-awaited ‘Climate Action Plan’ on Tuesday, a king tide again brought the devastating reality of climate change to the people of the Marshall Islands (RMI).
With emergency teams still scrambling to deliver water and food to RMI’s drought-stricken northern atolls, the capital Majuro was struck by heaving waves that breached the city’s sea walls, flooding the airport and other major areas of the atoll nation’s major population center.
The capital is expected to bear the brunt of further king tides in the coming days. As described recently by RMI’s Foreign Minister Phillip Muller in the Washington Post, the Marshall Islands Government declared a State of Disaster on May 7 and called for emergency international assistance to tackle a climate-induced drought in its northern atolls. The drought left 6,000 people surviving on less than one liter of water per day, exacerbated by failing food crops and the spread of drought-related diseases like diarrhea, pink eye and flu.
Many countries and international organizations have generously provided support for the delivery of drinking water, purification units, and foodstuffs. Following a request from Marshallese President Christopher Loeak to US President Barack Obama, the United States declared the drought a disaster on June 14, enabling disaster assistance from US government agencies. A team from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived in Majuro in recent days to assess the drought, only to witness the king tide and storm waves knock down the seawalls and flood the runway at Majuro’s airport yesterday.
Marshall Islands Minister-in-Assistance to the President, Tony de Brum, who is responsible for climate change issues, called for a new surge of political commitment and international leadership to stave off further climate disasters from battering his country, and other vulnerable countries like it.
“From drought to deluge, my people are suffering an escalating climate crisis. Thousands of my people in the north are thirsty and hungry, thousands of us here in the south are now renched in seawater. As I said to the US emergency team this morning, “Welcome to Climate Change”.
“We are very grateful for the help we have received. But aid will not stop floods, droughts and disease from becoming the new norm. As we have said for years, prevention is far better than cure. What we need is a new wave of climate leadership.”
“This September, we will host the 44th Pacific Islands Forum summit, bringing together leaders from the Pacific Island countries, Australia and New Zealand, and our development partners from the world’s biggest emitters, including the US, China, the EU, India, Japan and Canada.
“At the Forum, we will propose a Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership to galvanize more urgent and concrete action on climate change. President Obama’s announcement today is a welcome, if long-overdue, step in the right direction. But it is only a first step.”
“I urge U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other climate leaders to accept our invitation to come to the Forum in Majuro. Standing just two meters above sea level, there is no more poignant place to say: ‘Enough is enough, we will beat this thing!’ ”
- RMI Office of the President, Majuro, Marshall Islands, June 28, 2013
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