Federated States of Micronesia [FSM]

The Federated States of Micronesia [FSM] has no regular military forces. Defense is the responsibility of the USA. Island nations consisting of small landmasses separated by large expanses of ocean face particularly severe challenges in their quest for economic and social development.

The FSM is an oceanic country of over 600 islands in the western tropical Pacific. Land varies from low-lying, forested atoll islets, typically 1 to 5 meters above mean sea level, to densely vegetated and eroded extinct shield volcanoes of several hundred meters elevation. On the main islands of each state (Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap) are modern developing communities; on the atoll islets are low-technology, traditional communities dependent on fishing, agro-forestry, groundwater, and rainfall.

The Caroline Islands, with a population of 104,719 (July 2016 est.) are a widely scattered archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean; they became part of a UN Trust Territory under US administration following World War II. The eastern four island groups adopted a constitution in 1979 and chose to become the Federated States of Micronesia. (The westernmost island group became Palau.) Independence came in 1986 under a Compact of Free Association with the US, which was amended and renewed in 2004. Present concerns include large-scale unemployment, overfishing, overdependence on US foreign aid, and state perception of inequitable allocation of US aid.

The FSM is a confederation with a weak central government. Each of the FSM's four states has its own constitution and its own elected legislature and governor. The state governments maintain considerable power, particularly regarding the implementation of budgetary policies.

Health care facilities in the FSM consist of state-run hospitals on each of the four major islands and a few scattered clinics. These facilities lack advanced supplies and medicines, and the quality of health care is low. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services. Medical evacuation assistance for non-ambulatory patients will take a minimum of 12 hours to arrive and can be expensive. There are no daily commercial flights, and flights often sell out, so finding last-minute seats is difficult. Scuba divers should note that although there are decompression chambers in Yap, Chuuk, and Pohnpei, they are generally not in working order, and local staff may not have adequate experience in treating diving injuries.

There is no formal training in road safety or driving, so many drivers are unaware of road safety rules. Drivers often make sudden turns or stop without warning to chat with or pick up pedestrians. Taxis are available in state capitals, but passengers should always be careful since many taxi drivers are reckless. When traffic accidents happen, they often result in fatalities or serious injuries.

Driving is on the right-hand side of the road, as in the United States. However, the majority of vehicles in FSM are right-hand drive vehicles imported from Japan. Drivers in these vehicles do not have an optimal field of vision, which can interfere with driving maneuvers and drivers’ ability to establish visual contact with other road users.

Speed limits throughout the FSM are very low: 20-25 miles per hour (mph) in most places and 15 mph in school zones when children are present. It is not uncommon for drivers to drive at 5 to 10 mph, even when there is no traffic. Drivers may stop in the roadway without warning to talk to someone on the side of the road.

Most roads in the FSM are in very poor condition; they are narrow and without sidewalks. All roads are used simultaneously by pedestrians, children playing, animals, and vehicles. Road conditions can worsen significantly after heavy rains, which occur frequently. There are very few street lights, so road visibility is difficult at night, and pedestrians may dress in dark clothing, making them especially hard to see. Roads outside of towns are mostly unpaved.

Travel by bicycle is hampered by the lack of shoulders on the roads and the presence of many dogs on the islands.

Unexploded ordnance from World War II remains in some areas. It is dangerous, as well as illegal, to remove “souvenirs” from sunken WWII vessels and aircraft.

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