In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and Guam, lies the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Made up of hundreds of tiny islands and about 30 atolls (ring-shaped islands with lagoons in the center), the country is more ocean than it is land. But despite being surrounded on all sides by water, the 60,000 residents haven’t ever had reliable access to clean drinking water.
Most Marshall Islands residents have long relied on traditional rainwater harvesting, which is easier to set up and manage than water utility systems in such a remote region. But as droplets fall on roofs and run into catchment systems, the water can become contaminated with bacteria from animal poop and debris. Groundwater, which is used in times of drought, is just as bad, if not worse, because sea level rise is causing salt water to infiltrate the freshwater aquifers underground. Residents frequently got sick with waterborne diseases, like gastroenteritis and cholera, which caused malnutrition and other health issues. “[We’ve spent] so much money trying to provide medication to or cure people and children suffering from all these waterborne diseases,” explains