Poor Housing For Marshallese Evacuated To Ebeye Spotlighted

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50 years ago Kwajalein ‘Mid-Corridor’ residents moved for missile testing

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Sept. 7, 2015) – Problems affecting a group of islanders evacuated 50 years ago to make way for United States missile testing in the Marshall Islands are being put in the spotlight by the new executive director of a development organization.

Carl Hacker, a former president of the College of the Marshall Islands who recently took up his post at the Ebeye Island-based Kwajalein Atoll Development Authority, issued a report last week on the deteriorating housing conditions of a group of islanders from the "Mid-Corridor" area of Kwajalein Atoll, which hosts the Reagan Test Site missile base.

Hacker is calling for U.S. funding to be directed to improve living conditions for the approximately 700 people who were moved off their islands in 1965.

With the advent of the Nike-Zeus anti-ballistic missile testing program of the 1960s, the U.S. military decided for safety and security reasons to evacuate the central two-thirds of islands bordering Kwajalein’s vast lagoon to create a zone where dummy nuclear warheads could be targeted.

In 1965, Marshallese residents were relocated from the "Mid-Atoll Corridor" to Ebeye and were provided with housing and the incentive of work at the base on Kwajalein.

Not only were they removed from their land and access to abundant marine resources, but most Mid-Corridor people did not have land rights to Ebeye, leaving them without much of a say in their future, said Hacker.

The most recent count shows there are 41 households with 693 people from the Mid-Corridor on Ebeye.

At 17 per household, the number of people per Mid-Corridor home is nearly double Ebeye’s average of about nine people.

The "overall state of almost all homes was very poor, with limited access to bathrooms," said Hacker in his report issued this week.

"Flooding was a major complaint from many people," he added.

"Very large growth in this population over the last 50 years has produced a very poor quality of life for almost all Mid-Corridor households.

"Ebeye Special Needs Funds or ESN under the Compact can alleviate many of these poor living conditions.

"Enough ESN funds need to be shifted from supporting government operations to meaningfully address this special need on Ebeye."

Hacker is gearing to produce an Ebeye housing solution with a Project Development Plan, with project costs and a timetable.

"This will probably require some temporary housing during demolition, clearance and construction," he said. "This is very doable. If the needed priorities and decisions are made purposefully and in a timely manner, can do! Fifty years is a long enough wait and this is a very worthy project."

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