Preliminary census results in the Marshall Islands show poverty worry

10:10 am on 21 October 2022
Marshall Islands residents have seen their pocketbooks hard hit by skyrocketing prices across the board, with fuel hitting $7 per gallon this past week for the first time ever. Pictured: A crowd of young people at a sports event in downtown Majuro in November 2021.

Although the size of this youth crowd at a basketball court doesn't suggest it, the preliminary results of the 2021 national census show that the Marshall Islands population dropped by 20 percent since the last census in 2011 Photo: Wilmer Joel

Preliminary data released by the Marshall Islands government from its late 2021 national census indicates rampant poverty in the north Pacific nation.

Coupled with the UNICEF-Ministry of Health study in 2017 that showed 35 percent of children from birth to five years old were malnourished and evidenced growth stunting, the national census points to the cause of massive out-migration that has seen the country's population plummet by 20 percent since the last census.

Together, the early childhood malnutrition findings and the national census report paint a troubling picture about quality of life for a large percentage of the population in the Marshall Islands.

Nearly half of all families in the Marshall Islands worry about not having enough food to eat, while one-in-three households said they sometimes "go without eating for a whole day." These are among the preliminary results of the Marshall Islands national census conducted late last year that have been released by the government's Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office's.

There is still no indication from government officials as to when the final report of the 2021 national census of will be issued.

The Marshall Islands launched its its every-10-year national census in late August with over 150 census takers on Majuro, Ebeye and the outer islands.

In this file photo from August 2021, a group of census enumerators was on their first day of work conducting the 2021 national census for the Marshall Islands Photo: Marshall Islands Journal

In the meantime, however, the Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office has issued a series of preliminary census data slides.

The data shows that the Marshall Islands population has shrunk since the census conducted in 2011 showed there were 53,158 people in the Marshall Islands. The preliminary count from the August 2021 census shows there are 42,594 people living in RMI. This represents an astounding 20 percent decline in the population that is explainable by heavy out-migration to the United States. The population decline may also have been exaggerated to some degree by the Covid border closure that prevented unrestricted travel to the Marshall Islands from March 2020 through the census counting period at the end of 2021.

Of the 7,228 households in Marshall Islands, nearly half - 46 percent - reported being worried that they would not have enough food. Almost the same number of households said they were "unable to eat nutritious food." A total of 2,912 households said they "run out of food," and 2,822 reported they "skip a meal."

Over one-in-three households said they "go without eating for a whole day."

In 2017, Health authorities with the support of the United Nationals children's program conducted a national survey of young children. It confirmed that poor nutrition has caused stunting in 35 percent of those surveyed. The results of this study motivated then President Hilda Heine to ask the World Bank to support an early childhood development program that was approved and has this year moved into gear after delays due to Covid.

In other findings, the report said 86 percent off all households have a flush toilet. The report said that 37 percent of households have a refrigerator, 56 percent have a freezer, 62 percent a stove and 53 percent a washing machine. A total of 42 percent of households have an internet connection.

The report also focused on extreme weather and climate issues. Its shows that: 1,702 households have been affected by drought/irregular rain; 905 by storm surges; 879 by floods; 686 by king tides; and 715 by coastal erosion.

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