Marshall Islands

Flag of Marshall Islands

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After almost four decades under US administration as the easternmost part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the Marshall Islands attained independence in 1986 under a Compact of Free Association. Compensation claims continue as a result of US nuclear testing on some of the atolls between 1947 and 1962. The Marshall Islands have been home to the US Army Base Kwajalein (USAKA) since 1964.

Geographic coordinates:

9 00 N, 168 00 E


total: 181.3 sq km
note: includes the atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Kwajalein, Majuro, Rongelap, and Utirik
water: 0 sq km
land: 181.3 sq km


tropical; hot and humid; wet season from May to November; islands border typhoon belt


low coral limestone and sand islands

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed location on Likiep 10 m

Natural resources:

coconut products, marine products, deep seabed minerals

Land use:

arable land: 16.67%
permanent crops: 38.89%
other: 44.44% (2001)

Natural hazards:

infrequent typhoons

Environment - current issues:

inadequate supplies of potable water; pollution of Majuro lagoon from household waste and discharges from fishing vessels

Geography - note:

two archipelagic island chains of 30 atolls and 1,152 islands; Bikini and Enewetak are former US nuclear test sites; Kwajalein, the famous World War II battleground, is now used as a US missile test range


57,738 (July 2004 est.)

Ethnic groups:



Christian (mostly Protestant)


English (widely spoken as a second language, both English and Marshallese are official languages), two major Marshallese dialects from the Malayo-Polynesian family, Japanese


definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 93.7%
male: 93.6%
female: 93.7% (1999)

Government type:

constitutional government in free association with the US; the Compact of Free Association entered into force 21 October 1986




21 October 1986 (from the US-administered UN trusteeship)

Legal system:

based on adapted Trust Territory laws, acts of the legislature, municipal, common, and customary laws

Economy - overview:

US Government assistance is the mainstay of this tiny island economy. Agricultural production is primarily subsistence and is concentrated on small farms; the most important commercial crops are coconuts and breadfruit. Small-scale industry is limited to handicrafts, tuna processing, and copra. The tourist industry, now a small source of foreign exchange employing less than 10% of the labor force, remains the best hope for future added income. The islands have few natural resources, and imports far exceed exports. Under the terms of the Compact of Free Association, the US has provided more than $1 billion in aid since 1986. Negotiations have continued for an extended agreement. Government downsizing, drought, a drop in construction, the decline in tourism and foreign investment due to the Asian financial difficulties, and less income from the renewal of fishing vessel licenses have held GDP growth to an average of 1% over the past decade.

Labor force:

28,700 (1996 est.)

Labor force - by occupation:

agriculture 21.4%, industry 20.9%, services 57.7%

Agriculture - products:

coconuts, tomatoes, melons, taro, breadfruit, fruits; pigs, chickens


copra, fish, tourism, craft items from shell, wood, and pearls

Exports - commodities:

copra cake, coconut oil, handicrafts, fish

Exports - partners:

US, Japan, Australia, China (2000)


$54 million f.o.b. (2000)

Imports - commodities:

foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels, beverages and tobacco

Imports - partners:

US, Japan, Australia, NZ, Singapore, Fiji, China, Philippines (2000)


US dollar (USD)


total: NA km
paved: 64.5 km
unpaved: NA km
note: paved roads on major islands (Majuro, Kwajalein), otherwise stone-, coral-, or laterite-surfaced roads and tracks (2002)

Ports and harbors:


Merchant marine:

total: 420 ships (1,000 GRT or over) 16,954,092 GRT/28,176,762 DWT
by type: barge carrier 1, bulk 81, cargo 25, chemical tanker 41, combination bulk 4, combination ore/oil 7, container 77, liquefied gas 9, multi-functional large load carrier 5, passenger 6, petroleum tanker 149, refrigerated cargo 4, roll on/roll off 7, vehicle carrier 4
registered in other countries: 50 (2003 est.)
foreign-owned: Australia 2, Chile 3, Croatia 2, Cyprus 10, Denmark 2, Germany 119, Greece 82, Hong Kong 12, India 2, Japan 16, Monaco 18, Netherlands 6, New Zealand 1, Norway 5, Poland 11, Singapore 1, Slovenia 1, Switzerland 4, Thailand 2, Turkey 8, United Kingdom 10, United States 92


15 (2003 est.)

Airports - with paved runways:

total: 4
1,524 to 2,437 m: 3
914 to 1,523 m: 1 (2003 est.)

Airports - with unpaved runways:

total: 11
914 to 1,523 m: 10
under 914 m: 1 (2003 est.)

Military - note:

defense is the responsibility of the US

Disputes - international:

claims US territory of Wake Island