Many Marshallese advised to give up fish
Many Marshallese advised to give up fish because of possible contamination.
Thousands of Marshallese are being faced with the agonising choice of eating fish that could be contaminated or giving up a food source they depend upon.
The Marshall Islands government is advising people on islands around the US missile base on Kwajalein Atoll not to eat fish after significant levels of the pollutants PCBs were found in the waters.
Jo O'Brien reports
Fishing has been prohibited in the immediate area around the Kwajalein Base harbour and near the base landfill, after US Army draft reports released last year found health risks for fish there may exceed US standards hundreds of times over. People on islands around the atoll are also being advised not to take fish as a precaution after toxins found in fish on some islands exceeded regional standards. With fish making up 90 percent of the Marshallese subsistence diet, the Authority's General Manager Moriana Phillip admits its hard advice to follow.
MORIANA PHILLIP: I know from my experience, in my consultation with the communities if people can't eat fish what do they eat. It goes back to fish being part of the staple diet in the Marshallese community.
A report is expected on fish samples from the island of Ebeye, home to the Marshall Islands second largest population of 12 to 15 thousand people. They are among those being advised not to take fish as the island is just a ten minute boat ride away from the military base. Kwajalein Atoll Senator David Paul says it's a public health issue of epic proportions.
DAVID PAUL: Let me characterise it this way it is like telling people to stop breathing, when you tell people to stop eating fish its like stop breathing, that's how significant this thing is.
An epidemiological study to assess the effects of the pollutants on the Marshall Islands population is in the pipeline but known risks include cancer and developmental delays in children. And Senator David Paul says the potential risk is magnified for Marshallese because they consume the whole fish, including the head and bones where contamination is concentrated. He says while it is a hardship for people, there may need to be a ban on eating fish in the entire lagoon. He says the opportunity cost of that decision will need to be assessed.
DAVID PAUL: What's the cost of replacing this food source, because this just didn't happen. It happened because of the industrial activity that are taking place within the atoll and whichever party is responsible should be held accountable and do the right thing.
David Paul says findings indicate the contamination is due to activities at the military base, and there need to be discussions at the highest level between the US and Marshall Islands Government about the issue. The Marshall Islands Foreign Minister John Silk says his government is working with the US military to assess the seriousness of the contamination, and is awaiting further reports from the military and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
JOHN SILK: Well we certainly want to make sure that we know what's really causing it and how extensive the contamination is so we know how to address it.
The Foreign Minister says they have not discussed whether the US would consider compensating the Marshall Islands for the contamination. Senator David Paul says compensation and alternative food sources to fish are options to be considered. But he says the importation of processed Western foods isn't an option as it's already contributed to an epidemic of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes in the Marshall Islands.
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