Marshall Islands

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A country consisting of a cluster of 29 low-lying atolls and five islands in the central Pacific.


The archipelago comprises two parallel chains of islands, the Ratak (sunrise) chain to the east and the Ralik (sunset) chain to the west. The islands are coral caps over dome volcanoes and have a tropical climate.


Farming and fishing are the main economic activities. Coconut oil and copra are exported.


The islands were originally inhabited by Micronesians. They were sighted by European sailors in 1529 but were not exploited. The islands were named after a British captain who visited them in 1788. In 1886 the Marshall Islands became a German protectorate. After World War I the islands were administered by Japan, and after World War II they became a UN Trust Territory under US administration. From 1946 the US used Bikini and other atolls in the group for atomic bomb tests. In 1986 they were given semi-independence in a ‘compact of free association’ in which the USA maintained control over military activities. The Trusteeship was terminated in 1990 and the country joined the United Nations the following year. Amata Kabua became President in 1980; he was re-elected in 1984, 1988, and 1992. The islands, which have the highest reported rates of certain cancers in the world, were used by the USA as sites for the testing of nuclear weapons (1946–58). In 1992 the US government made the first payments of compensation for personal injury to islanders. In 1993 the Australian government commissioned the building in the islands of a research station to monitor changes in sea-level; even a comparatively small rise in sea-level could submerge the entire country.




181.48 sq km (70.07 sq miles)


56,300 (2005)


1 US dollar = 100 cents


Protestant 62.8%; Catholic 7.1%; Mormon 3.1%

Ethnic Groups:

Marshallese 88.5%; White 6.5%


Marshallese (Kajin-Majol), English (both official)

International Organizations:

UN; Pacific Islands Forum; Secretariat of the Pacific Community

Subjects: World History — Warfare and Defence.

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