|General background: 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.
Area comparative: About the size of Washington,
Climate: Wet season from May to November;
hot and humid; islands border typhoon belt
Terrain: Low coral limestone and sand islands
Population: 73,630 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Micronesian
Religions: Christian (mostly Protestant)
Language: English (widely spoken as a second
language, both English and Marshallese are official
languages), two major Marshallese dialects from the
Malayo-Polynesian family, Japanese.
Government type: Constitutional government
in free association with the US; the Compact of Free
Association entered into force 21 October 1986.
Legal system: Based on adapted Trust Territory
laws, acts of the legislature, municipal, common,
and customary laws.
Economic 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 labour 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 provides roughly $39 million
in annual aid. 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.
Communication/Telephone system: Digital switching
equipment; modern services include telex, cellular,
internet, international calling, caller ID, and leased
Places of interest: With over a thousand flat
coral islands of white sand beaches and turquoise
lagoons, the Marshall Islands beckon visitors with
all the promise of a tropical paradise.