Reverse Osmosis Units Ease Drought Impacts In RMI

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Isolated atolls begin to get relief as machines arrive

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, May 27, 2013) – The arrival of reverse osmosis water-making units has eased the impact of an ongoing drought in Marshall Islands.

The United States, Australia, Taiwan, Japan and the Asian Development Bank have all contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to relief efforts, and earlier this week reverse osmosis units began arriving on these isolated islands with populations from 100 to 600 people.

Red Cross officials from New Zealand and a Majuro Water and Sewer Co. worker arrived on Ailuk Atoll earlier last week, and immediately set up two portable reverse osmosis units that were producing purified drinking water within hours of arrival.

"These people are pretty resourceful," said Red Cross representative Greg Johns Thursday of the adaptation of local residents to the drought on the northern atoll, "but they were running out of resources. When it’s down to just coconuts, that’s getting tough."

Most of the northern of the islands in the country where about 5,000 people live have received virtually no rain since late last year. These small islands depend on rain for their drinking water. In early May, the Marshall Islands government declared a drought disaster on the northern islands, which has paved the way for increased donor support.

In response to the Marshall Islands drought disaster declaration, an eight-member U.S. government preliminary damage assessment team flew into Majuro, and is currently visiting drought stricken islands to determine the severity of the problem. Their assessment could trigger additional emergency aid from the U.S. government.

"The team is working with Marshall Islands government counterparts to identify additional emergency and reconstruction needs in the drought-affected areas," said U.S. Ambassador Thomas Armbruster on Thursday.

"We're pumping well water up through the RO unit and then the fresh water into two big tanks we procured," Johns said of the Ailuk relief effort. A hose leads from the tanks and is available for everyone to use. "All of the children have a water bottle and we're encouraging them to come and fill them up whenever they want."

In addition to the New Zealand Red Cross provision of reverse osmosis, or RO, units, the U.S. government has already donated 13 portable RO machines that can produce up to 350 gallons of drinking water daily by filtering well or sea water. A fleet of government and private vessels over the past 10 days have delivered the drought-affected islands hundreds of collapsible water containers filled with water, large empty water containers, and thousands of cases of bottled water donated by local residents.

U.S. weather service officials on Guam predict that rains will not begin returning to the northern islands until July.

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