The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is a Small Island Developing State and home to nearly 70,000 people. It is a raised atoll island nation located in the North Pacific Ocean at equal distance between Hawaii and Australia. The country comprises 34 major islands and atolls, including the atolls Bikini, Enewetak, Majuro, Rongelap and Utirik. Approximately 1,225 low-lying islets make up the twenty-nine atolls of the Marshall Islands. The islands are scattered in an archipelago consisting of two rough parallel groups, the eastern ‘Ratak’ (sunrise) chain and the western ‘Ralik’ (sunset) chain. However, for climate analysis a difference is made between the North and South Marshall Islands. With an average elevation of just two metres, RMI is uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Twenty-two of the atolls and four islands are inhabited and almost 70 percent of the population live on Kwagelin (Ebeye) and Majuro, the RMI capital. Bikini and Enewetak are former US nuclear test sites; Kwajalein, the famous World War II battleground, surrounds the world’s largest lagoon and is used as a US missile test range. The Marshall Islands have also claimed the Wake Islands (Enenkeo) to the north, currently an American possession and not occupied by Marshallese in historic times.
The topography of the islets is low and flat, with maximum natural elevation rarely exceeding three metres.The highest recorded point on the atoll, Likiep, is 10m above sea level. Soils are nutrient-poor and subject to salt spray; hence, the vegetation type is very limited.
The Spanish, German, Japanese and Americans have all been part of the RMI’s colonial history. In July 1977, the Marshall Islands voted in favour of separation from the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands and in May 1979, it declared self-government under its own constitution. In March 1982, the Marshall Islands declared itself a Republic and in September 1991, the RMI became a member of the United Nations.
The legislative branch of government consists of the Nitijela (Parliament). The Nitijela has 33 members from 24 districts elected for four-year terms. Members are called Senators. The Executive comprises the President and the Cabinet. The President is elected by majority vote from the membership of the Nitijela and then selects the Cabinet (currently 10 ministers plus the President) from members of the Nitijela. There are four Court systems comprising of a Supreme Court and a High Court, plus district and community courts and the traditional rights court. The 13-member Council of Chiefs (Iroij) serves a largely consultative function on matters of custom and traditional practice.