Storm surges rendered Majuro residents homeless

US Government offers $100,000

High tide energised by storm surges flooded many parts of Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, on 3 March — the latest in a series of inundation events that have hit this north Pacific atoll nation in recent years. Two flooding incidents last year, including one that knocked down portions of the international airport protective seawall, flooding the runway and closing the airport for a day, and last month’s flooding have fortunately resulted in no serious injuries or deaths.

But they have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and left hundreds homeless for short periods of time, forcing the government to intervene with emergency aid. Pacific climate researchers believe these high tide floods will increase in “frequency and magnitude” in the coming years. “We consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know,” said a climate report issued in mid-March by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.”

The ongoing flooding events in the Marshall Islands are putting the government on the spot with increasing costs for emergency response. It also underlines the need for — and current lack of — zoning rules in atoll urban centers, where local residents have built on marginal pieces of land within centimetres of the high water mark, placing themselves at risk. The flooding on 3 March hit around 4am with no warning. Ocean surges churned up by a storm to the east of Japan coincided with the high tide, flooding many of the lowest-lying areas on the eastern coast of Majuro. The high tide also impacted several other outer atolls. Alson Kelen, who lives on Ejit, a small island in Majuro Atoll, said he was awoken at 4am by “people screaming outside my house. They were freaking out because this is the highest king tide we’ve ever experienced.”

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