With Australian-ADB investment, clean water is flowing in Marshall Islands’ Ebeye

Project Result / Case Study | 27 January 2020

Ebeye, Marshall Islands - Accessing safe, reliable drinking water has always been a challenge here for the people of Ebeye.

Ebeye is the second largest city in the Marshall Islands and located within Kwajalein, the largest coral atoll in the world. With a population of about 15,000 settled on just 32 hectares of land, Ebeye’s small size is tested by a population density that is higher than Hong Kong.

Complicating life here even more, Ebeye has no freshwater streams and minimal groundwater reserves.

For years an inefficient water supply system was only able to service households for up to one hour of safe drinking water per week.

“Waterborne diseases were among the most frequent cases we saw at the hospital,” says Dr Joaquin Nasa Jr, Chief of Staff at Ebeye Hospital.

“This transformative project is already improving the lives of the people of Ebeye. The new desalination plant has been especially effective in increasing people’s access to safe, reliable water and we thank the Government of Australia for their strong support in this venture.”

Yuki Ikeda, ADB project team leader

The island relied on a desalination plant for 78% of its water supply. The old desalination plant produced about 500,000 liters of freshwater per day but nearly half of that was lost due to leaks in the supply network and problems with the processing equipment.

In 2015, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a $5 million grant and the Government of Australia provided a $4 million grant to boost access to safe water and improve sanitation on the island through the Ebeye Water Supply and Sanitation Project.

ADB, together with the governments of Australia, the Marshall Islands, and the United States, are working together to connect Ebeye households to upgraded freshwater and sewage systems, and drastically improve hygiene standards.

“This transformative project is already improving the lives of the people of Ebeye,” says Yuki Ikeda, ADB project team leader. “The new desalination plant has been especially effective in increasing people’s access to safe, reliable water and we thank the Government of Australia for their strong support in this venture. There is already evidence that the incidence of waterborne disease, particularly gastroenteritis, has decreased following the commissioning of the new desalination plant.”

The old Ebeye desalination plant was replaced, sewage overflow events were reduced, and the water supply and sewerage networks were expanded to service an additional 300 households, and hygiene awareness courses were made available to 90% of the population. Since the new desalination plant was commissioned in late 2017, freshwater production capacity has increased threefold.

Before the project, the main source of water on Ebeye was a public tap located in the center of town. People would come and go on bikes and in trucks all day, collecting water in various receptacles.

Ebeye resident Tonki Riklong dreams of having clean water in his home 24 hours a day, and it’s a dream close to becoming a reality.
Ebeye resident Tonki Riklong dreams of having clean water in his home 24 hours a day, and it’s a dream close to becoming a reality.

Hauling 55-gallon drums full of water onto a bike and delivering this precious cargo in the heat to friends and family is an effort and a challenge, says Ebeye resident Tonki Riklong. He dreams of the day when he has 24-hour access to safe drinking water.

Gretha Nam, a 41-year-old accounts clerk, only needs to visit the public tap twice a week as she has water storage facilities at her home for her family of four. Sometimes her children, ages 16 and 11, help her collect the family’s water.

Upgrades to increase the resiliency of Ebeye’s electrical supply equipment (on which Ebeye’s water supply and sewage systems are reliant) are underway and when complete in May 2020, all households on Ebeye will be connected to the water supply system and have access to a continuous supply of freshwater. That will make the dream of Tonki Riklong, and all who live here on Ebeye, a reality

For inquiries, please contact Neil Hickey (Communications Specialist, ADB's Department of Communications) and Sally Shute-Trembath (Senior External Relations Officer, ADB's Pacific Liaison and Coordination Office in Sydney, Australia).