Water Futures and their Influence on Sovereignty in the Marshall Islands

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Life on coral atolls can be very precarious. The sand cay islets are low-lying (in the main less than 2m above high water) and small in size. Only the larger islands (over 500m by 1000m) are suitable for perma-nent human habitation, as they possess a fragile lens of freshwater floating on top of a saltwater base. It is this lens of groundwater that allows for a variety of plant life, and it is this source of fresh water that al-lows humans to exist. Environmental disasters, such as typhoons with waves of over 10m washing across an entire islet, can swamp the groundwater lens with saltwater, causing salinisation and thus imperilling human survival. To reduce the consequences of the environmental disasters, Marshallese chiefs had land holdings scat-tered over several islands of the same atoll, as well as land rights and, importantly, rights to resources, on other atolls. In times of disaster there were thus other resources to call upon. That level of connectivity al-lowed the Marshallese society to thrive on the marginal land the inhabited.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWater, Sovereignty and Borders in Asia and Oceania
EditorsStephanie Hemelryk Donald Stephanie Hemelryk Hemelryk Donald
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9780415437264
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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