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Government of the Federated States of Micronesia


Photo: A view on Pohnpei

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is a grouping of 607 small islands in the Western Pacific about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii, lying just above the Equator. Generally speaking, FSM comprises what is known as the Eastern and Western Caroline Islands. While the country's total land area amounts to only 270.8 square miles, it occupies more than one million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, and ranges 1,700 miles from East (Kosrae) to West (Yap). Each of the four States centers around one or more "high islands," and all but Kosrae include numerous atolls.

Chuuk State has a total land area of 49.2 square miles and includes seven major island groups. Pohnpei State has 133.4 square miles of land area, of which 130 is accounted for by Pohnpei island, the largest in FSM. Yap State is made up of 4 large islands, 7 small islands and 134 atolls, with a total land area of 45.6 square miles. Kosrae is essentially one high island of 42.3 square miles.


FSM enjoys a tropical climate, with relatively even, warm temperatures throughout the year. Rainfall is generally plentiful, and Pohnpei reputedly is one of the wettest places on Earth, with up to 330 inches of rain per year. Nevertheless, drought conditions do occur periodically throughout FSM, especially when the El Niño condition moves into the Western Pacific. At these times groundwater supplies have dwindled to emergency proportions. Tropical typhoons constitute an annual threat, particularly to the low-lying atolls.

Land Ownership and Use

Land ownership in the FSM can best be characterized as one of small holdings. Most property is held as family trusts and land use rights are passed down from generation to generation within the extended family system. Subsurface property rights are synonymous with surface rights. There are no publicly-owned subsurface mineral or water rights in any of the states.

Land ownership is limited by the Constitution to citizens only. Even domestic corporations which have non-citizen shareholders may not own land. Non-citizen individuals and corporations may lease either public or private lands.

Special importance is attached to land in Micronesia both because of its short supply and its traditional importance. Leasing of private lands in particular can be time-consuming, due to fractional ownership and uncertain boundaries and titles. Many parcels of land are held by families or clans which may have different factions, all of whom assert interest in the land.