Republic of the Marshall Islands
LOCATION AND SIZE.
The Marshall Islands are located in the North Pacific Ocean some 4,000 kilometers (2,486 miles) northeast of Australia. They consist of 2 groups of small islands, atolls (coral islands), and reefs running from the northwest to the southeast. The more easterly of these is the Ratak Chain, the more westerly, the Ralik Chain. It is estimated that there are 1,152 islands and 30 atolls, but only 4 islands and 19 atolls are inhabited. With terrains of coral, limestone, and sand, none of the islands have any high ground, and the most elevated location of the islands is 10 meters (33 feet). The total land area is 181 square kilometers (70 square miles), and about 60 percent is taken up by crops. There are phosphate deposits and the possibility of minerals in the seabed within the 200 nautical mile economic zone claimed by the Marshall Islands. The capital is Majuro, which is located on an atoll of the same name.
The Marshall Islands are located within the tropics, and the weather is generally hot and very humid. Temperatures average around 27°C (81°F), and vary little during the year. There is a rainy season from May to November, with annual rainfall of about 4,000 millimeters (157 inches), but the sandy terrain means that little water is collected, and the shortage of drinking water is a continual problem. The islands are occasionally hit by typhoons.
The population was estimated at 68,126 in 2000, giving a population density of 375 persons per square kilometer (971 per square mile), quite a bit higher than in neighboring island states in the Pacific. The population was estimated to be growing at 3.9 percent a year in 2000, which is considered a very rapid rate. The birth rate was 45 births per 1,000 population, and the death rate was 6 persons per 1,000. The figures indicate negligible migration, but the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has indicated that there is in fact significant out-migration to the United States. The average fertility rate is 6.6 children per woman. With such a rapid rate of growth, the population can be expected to have a young age structure. The 0-14 age group contains 50 percent of the population, the 15-64 group contains 48 percent, while only 2 percent are 65 and over. Slightly more than half of the population lives on Majuro Atoll, and a further 20 percent live on Kwajalein. The urban population is about 70 percent of the total.
Almost all of the people on the Marshall Islands belong to the Micronesian ethnic group and follow the Christian religion. Most are Protestant, although there are some Catholics and small communities of Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Bahai. English is the official language and is spoken by everyone. Two local Malayo-Polynesian dialects are in use as local languages, and they are used in parliament and for some radio broadcasts. Overall life expectancy is 66 years, with a 64-year expectancy for males and a 67-year expectancy for females. The adult literacy rate was 93 percent in 1980, with practically all adult males and 88 percent of females being literate.
BANKING AND FINANCES.
The banking sector includes 2 U.S. commercial banks, the domestic Bank of the Marshall Islands, and the Marshall Islands Development Bank. Most lending consists of consumer loans for construction, travel, and education. The lack of private titles to land or a land market makes lending to the agriculture sector difficult.
Tourism offers some prospects for expansion. In 1997, there were 6,000 arrivals in the islands, but less than 1,000 were tourists; the rest were on business or in transit. There are presently less than 200 hotel beds, although a new government-owned hotel of 150 beds is under construction. In 1997, tourism is estimated to have earned $3 million for the Marshall Islands. Visitors are presently deterred by the lack of facilities (particularly outside Majuro), the relatively high cost of transportation to the islands, the radiation contamination of some of the atolls by nuclear testing, and the current program of weapons testing on Kwajalein. It is thought, however, that the islands have some possibilities in establishing a specialty market in tourism, based on sport fishing, diving and snorkeling, gambling (approved in 1996), and the general tropical attractions of the islands.
Marshall Islands has no territories or colonies.
United States dollar ($). One U.S. dollar equals 100 cents. There are notes of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 dollars. Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents and 1 dollar.
Fish, coconut products, and shells.
Foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels, beverages, and tobacco.
GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT:
US$105 million (1998 est.).
BALANCE OF TRADE:
Exports: US$28 million (1997 est.). Imports: US$58 million (1997 est.).