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Marshall Islands country profile

Map of Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands consist of two chains of coral atolls, together with more than 1,000 islets, just north of the Equator.

The atolls are coral deposits on the crater rims of submerged volcanoes.

The islands were occupied by the US for several decades after World War II. They are now a sovereign nation under a Compact of Free Association with the US.

Overview

The compact came into force in 1986 and was renegotiated in 2003. The US controls the security and defence of the islands, which receive millions of dollars in aid every year.

MARK OF NUCLEAR PAST
Concrete dome covers crater made by nuclear blasts
A huge concrete dome over a crater left by nuclear blasts on Runit Island caps off radioactive debris from tests in the 1940s and 1950s

Under the compact, the US pays an annual rent to use the Kwajalein atoll as a base and missile test range.

The legacy of the post-war US occupation is seen particularly starkly on Bikini and Enewetak, which were both used for nuclear weapons testing between 1946 and 1958.

The US paid $150 million in a compensation package for the test victims in the 1980s. But whilst Enewetak has been partly decontaminated, Bikini is still uninhabitable. The Marshall Islands has petitioned for additional compensation.

A major problem for the islands is how to gain some measure of financial independence from the US. Imports dwarf exports, unemployment is high and many islanders live by subsistence farming.

Tourism is one option; unspoiled beaches abound and the islands are an ideal base for scuba diving and sports fishing. The islands also sell fishing rights to other countries, and offer ship registrations under the Marshall Islands flag.

Facts

  • Full name: Republic of the Marshall Islands
  • Population: 54,400 (UN, 2010)
  • Capital: Majuro
  • Area: 181 sq km (70 sq miles)
  • Major language: Marshallese, English
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 64 years (men), 67 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 US dollar = 100 cents
  • Main exports: Chilled and frozen fish, coconut oil, copra, shark fins
  • GNI per capita: US $3,060 (World Bank, 2009)
  • Internet domain: .mh
  • International dialling code: +692

Leaders

President: Jurelang Zedkaia

Traditional chief Jurelang Zedkaia was elected president in October 2009 by a slender 17-15 margin, replacing Litokwa Tomeing who was ousted in a no-confidence vote.

President of Marshall Islands
President Jurelang Zedkaia

Mr Zedkaia, the parliamentary speaker in the Tomeing government, defeated the only other nominee, former president Kessai Note.

A five-term senator and paramount chief for the capital atoll of Majuro, Mr Zedkaia was speaker during Mr Tomeing's 22 months in office and was a vice speaker in earlier administrations.

Mr Tomeing was the first leader to lose a no-confidence vote in the 30-year history of constitutional government in the former US Trust territory.

The vote followed a power struggle between Mr Tomeing and Mr Note who was vying to return to power after he lost office in the last election.

Media

The government generally respects media freedom. A privately-owned weekly is published in English and Marshallese. A government monthly contains official news but avoids politics.

State-owned and private radios offer diverse views. US forces radio and TV can be received in some areas and US TV is available via cable.

There were 4,820 internet users by June 2011 (Internetworldstats). Access is limited by slow connections and high costs - "the most expensive in the world", says the US State Department (2010), citing the IMF and World Bank.

The press

Television

  • MBC TV - state-run
  • AFN Kwajalein - US military

Radio

  • V7AB - operated by state-run Marshall Islands Broadcasting Company, sole station with national coverage
  • Micronesia Heatwave - commercial
  • V7AA - religious
  • AFN Kwajalein - US military


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SEE ALSO
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25 Dec 08 |  Asia-Pacific
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