Marshall Islands Fragility Brief 2022 

Located in the central Pacific Ocean, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is a small island developing state (SIDS) that faces growing fragility. While not listed on most fragile state indices nor imparting negative spillover effect on neighboring countries, the RMI’s state of fragility requires attention from the international community in three main aspects. First, SIDS feel the effects of climate change most acutely and serve as an early warning system for other countries. Second, the RMI is a beneficial case study in terms of (1) illustrating climate change adaptation processes relevant to SIDS and other island states and (2) demonstrating techniques on how to garner the international community’s support and aid in climate change adaptation. Finally, the RMI’s case of fragility illustrates the need for policymakers to look beyond symptoms when assessing state fragility and focus on structural causes.

With the significance of the RMI’s fragility established, the RMI is currently facing a moderate level of fragility with primary drivers including governance, economy, and environment clusters. The country is stuck within a capacity trap with low capacity, economic dependency, and isomorphic mimicry. This cycle is perpetuated by the government’s reliance on aid actors, creating a feedback loop that reinforces government ineffectiveness. Using four six-month scenarios as a guide, three policy options have been created for this report’s end user, the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The policy options include: (1) a disaster risk insurance scheme to support resiliency to natural disasters; (2) an entrepreneurship program to diversify the private sector; and (3) a group of CSOs to collaborate with the government and the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) to strengthen service delivery. Moreover, as a key financier of development projects in the Asia Pacific region, the ADB holds a strong potential for impact due to their acute awareness and attention to SIDS. With a relationship spanning over 30 years, the ADB has the knowledge and capacity to support the RMI in a path towards strengthened capacity, legitimacy, and authority.