While Puerto Rico Fights For Aid, This Long-Forgotten Island Remains 'Slum of the Pacific’
By Whitney Webb
Since Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory—which rarely garners much attention from the national media—has received widespread coverage which has focused on the Trump administration's slow response to the disaster.
The situation in Puerto Rico is undoubtedly dire, as many struggle without power and access to basic necessities for more than a week after the storm struck. In addition, the Trump administration's response has been notably lackluster in several regards, which has brought renewed scrutiny to its attitudes and performance.
Other islands under the U.S.' thumb have, however, lived for years with the deplorable conditions that Puerto Rico now faces. Yet, these places are the victims not of a natural disaster, but rather of a long-standing federal policy of "benign neglect."
One such territory is the Pacific island of Ebeye, found within the Marshall Islands and often referred to by its unfortunate nickname—"the Slum of the Pacific."
A streetscape in Ebeye, Marshall Islands, February 2012. Erin Magee / DFAT / Flickr
Once a pristine and sparsely populated sandbar island, Ebeye is now one of the most densely populated places in the world with over 15,000 residents crammed into less than 80 acres of land (31 hectares). Many of its residents are refugees from other islands throughout the Marshall Islands—islands that were rendered uninhabitable or completely destroyed by the U.S. government's tests of 67 atomic bombs over a twelve-year period, following its seizure of the territory from the Japanese after World War II.
Some of those islands have since been cleared by the federal government as "safe" to inhabit. However, local leaders remain skeptical that this is the case, given that the government made such assurances to the Marshallese before, only to have the inhabitants unwittingly become part of a massive human experiment on the effects of environmental radiation exposure over time. In the meantime, the displaced make their living in "a shameful slum," as Ebeye was once called by author and journalist Simon Winchester.
Since assuming control of the island in 1944, the U.S. government was tasked with administering the governing body of the Marshall Islands, of which Ebeye is part. Though the Marshall Islands ostensibly gained "independence" in 1986, since 1983 its sovereignty has been dictated by a "Compact of Free Association," which did little to change its status. Per this compact, the Marshall Islands leased most of its land to the U.S. military for bases and other installations in exchange for U.S. economic assistance to the islands.
Lurking below these technicalities and legalities is the reality that Ebeye has essentially been rented to its populace by the U.S., primarily to serve the needs of the U.S. military and its base on neighboring Kwajalein. Independence means little without the resources or wherewithal to provide for the needs of one's people. Ebeye's sewer system has not worked for nearly four decades—it did not work prior to "independence," and it has not worked subsequent to "independence." As a result, raw sewage often pools in the streets while human waste is often pumped into a lagoon near where children swim. Lesions and sores on islanders are common, as are periodic outbreaks of cholera and dengue fever.
Clean drinking water has to be brought in by ferry from nearby islands. The only health center on the island struggles with insect infestations. The nearest hospital, located on a different island, does not include any oncologists despite the fact that cancer is rampant as a result of radiation exposure. Indeed, there is not a single oncologist in all of the Marshall Islands.
High school students hang out in the shell of a former hospital on Ebeye, steps from the ocean. Marshall Islands, 2015.Dan Zak
Ebeye—even though a large portion of its population is under the age of 18—has no functional schools and no parks. It is also exceedingly overcrowded. The shacks that line its streets can house up to 40 people, often extended family members, who take shifts sleeping due to the lack of space. Almost a decade ago, the island ran out of space to bury its dead, forcing grieving families to place coffins on top of existing graves. Numerous housing units essentially share space with the island's open-air garbage dump.
The lack of space has also made it impossible for the island to grow its own food, forcing islanders to eat imported junk food—like Spam and Cheetos—because that's all that is available. As a result, the adult population has the highest rate of diabetes in the world, obesity is rampant, and children often fail to grow to their normal size due to malnutrition.
Most of Ebeye's population is unemployed, making poverty not only common but often inescapable. The local economy is dependent largely on the U.S. military base just three miles away, a base that boasts all of the amenities of modern living in a resplendent microcosm of American suburbia. About 1,000 Ebeye residents are ferried there on a daily basis to serve the American soldiers, military contractors and their families. They make $10 to $12 an hour, significantly more than the Marshall Islands' minimum wage of just $2 an hour.
The military base—part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, on the nearby island of Kwajalein—is worlds apart from Ebeye, despite their geographical proximity. The island is more than 3,000 acres in area, nearly 40 times larger than Ebeye, yet houses just 1,300 Americans who work for the U.S. military, along with their families.
The Americans live a "wonderfully luxurious country-club existence" where they are "utterly segregated" from the native islanders. The base boasts a golf course, movie theaters, a country club, a bowling alley, a skate park and a yacht club, among other amenities. It also has an elementary and junior/senior high school, a childhood development center, and adult enrichment programs.
Marshallese, however, are not permitted to live on the island, including those who lived there prior to the base's construction; nor are they permitted to freely visit or enjoy any of the amenities offered at the base. The base is accessible only to the handful of Marshallese who work there and only for work-related purposes.
Only a small fenced-in area near the dock, complete with barbed wire and security guards, is open to the Marshallese. It holds the only laundromat available to residents of Ebeye, as well as an "American eatery" that serves fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
Journalist Simon Winchester described the situation to ABC national radio as follows:
"When the people from Ebeye, which is the third or fourth most densely populated [island] on the planet … want to go to the laundromat, they don't have one on their island, so they have to come to a little chain-link-fence-corralled section of the American island and wash their clothes there, while five feet from them there are people living in total luxury."
Occasionally, islanders are permitted entry to the Ebeye hospital, which is not located on Ebeye but rather on Kwajalein. However, the hospital caters to the American population and the services it offers to the Marshallese are minimal.
As one Ebeye resident told journalist John Pilger, "They don't treat them [the Marshallese] with medicine. They just go there for taking the blood and then X-rays." When someone on Ebeye is seriously ill, the hospital is "unable" to help them.
If that weren't enough, the base itself poses a threat to Ebeye. Several times a year, missiles are fired from military bases in California and Alaska towards the Kwajalein Atoll, which includes Ebeye—tests that some have called a "a multi-million-dollar game of darts," as the nuclear-capable missiles have been known to occasionally veer off course.
Every missile fired on the Marshall Islands and from the Kwajalein military base costs at least $100 million. Meanwhile, Ebeye lacks even the most basic necessities.
The U.S. government is well aware of Ebeye's troubles. In the 1970s, the Army surveyed Ebeye, finding that the sewers, water and electrical systems were nonfunctional. Nothing was done.
Then, in 2010, the U.S. Army was warned that Ebeye's lack of infrastructure was a major health risk to its residents. That advice, however, was ignored for six years until the U.S. government announced that it and Australia would spend $50 million on restoring the island's nonfunctional sewage and water systems. Though the project has yet to make real progress, it is supposedly set to end what the U.S. government refers to a period of "benign neglect" that has resulted in Ebeye's woes.
Everyday Puerto Ricans, themselves victims of U.S. neo-colonialism, now find themselves—in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—living in conditions comparable to those the Marshallese on Ebeye have endured for decades. Puerto Rico will likely receive increased aid, spurred by harsh media criticism of the Trump administration's handling of the matter, and will eventually be able to rebuild. Yet Ebeye continues to languish in the shadow of the Kwajalein military base, as its people remain voiceless and without recourse.
Reposted with permission from our media associate MintPress News.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- California Winery Cuts Carbon Emissions With Lighter Bottles ... ›
- Wealthy One Percent Are Producing More Carbon Emissions Than ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
- 14 States On Track to Meet Paris Targets - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Names John Kerry as First-Ever Climate Envoy - EcoWatch ›
By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Pebble Mine Threatens One of the Last Great Salmon Rivers ... ›
- The Pebble Mine Is Too Toxic Even for the Trump Administration ... ›
- Trump Admin Reverses Obama-Era Restrictions on Pebble Mine ... ›
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.