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El Niño's Drought Extends to Pacific, Obama Declares Disaster

Barack Obama has declared the severe drought in the Marshall Islands a disaster, opening the way for emergency US funding for the Pacific island nation.

The disaster declaration, which follows a request from Marshallese president Hilda Heine on 1 April, will allow Fema to provide emergency relief to the archipelago, which is suffering one of its worst-ever droughts. Fema is able to provide federal assistance to overseas territories such as the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Marshall Islands, as well as US states.

Heine declared a state of emergency in February after the Marshall Islands, a collection of atolls south-west of Hawaii, received just a quarter of its usual rainfall during the November to February period.

Water is being carefully distributed, with residents in the capital Majuro given an allocation once a week for a four-hour period. “We’re receiving complaints from the public that they’re out of water,” said Majuro mayor Ladie Jack as the emergency declaration was made.

The low-lying Marshall Islands is extremely reliant on consistent rainfall for its water supply, given there are few freshwater reservoirs or sources of groundwater. The strong El Niño climate event has fueled the drought, with Micronesia, Palau, Fiji and Papua New Guinea also affected to varying degrees.


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