Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muizzu has told local media that the number of populated islands in the Maldives needs to be reduced by half as part of a national resettlement policy.
“The inhabited islands in the Maldives need to be reduced. This cannot be attained within one or two days. It can take up to 10 years,” Muizzu was quoted as saying.
The minister reportedly revealed details to carry out this strategy with a combination of subsidies and housing for those willing to move from smaller to larger islands.
Dr Muizzu was not responding to calls at time of press. However he was reported as saying that relocation would only occur if the majority of an island’s population consented to being transferred, requiring cooperation with local councils.
Haveeru today reported that Haa Alif Molhadhoo Island Council had accused the government of informing the council that its population of 400 would be relocated to nearby Dhihdhoo island without prior consultation.
Muizzu has denied this, reiterating the intention to seek consensus on any consolidation projects whilst highlighting the efforts made to facilitate the potential move.
“We are hoping to start a new housing project in Dhihdhoo in the next two months. Those units will be set aside specially for those moving into Dhihdhoo and would be completely free. There’s no need to even pay rent,” he told Haveeru.
There were also protests against the potential transfer of the population of Rinbudhoo in Dhaalu Atoll earlier this month.
With a total population of nearly 350,000, dispersed over 196 inhabited islands spread over a distance of more than 600 miles, the Maldives is one of one of the world’s most dispersed countries.
Dispersed populations and small island communities have been long recognised as key challenges to the sustainable social and economic development of Maldives.
Both the former Minister for the (now defunct) Atolls Development Ministry and current Vice President, Mohamed Waheed Deen, and Special Advisor to the President, Dr Hassan Saeed, have spoken publicly about the economic importance of population consolidation since the new government came to power.
“Without population consolidation we cannot achieve sustainable economic development,” Deen contended, speaking to the media in April just after taking office.
“Population consolidation needs to start so we can deliver public services fairly to all people as well realising economies of scale in delivery. This cannot be just an aspiration; action has to start now,” Hassan explained in a comment piece for local newspaper Haveeru in June.
The Vice President also expressed his long term vision for economically viable population distribution in the country – going far beyond Muizzu’s aim of bringing the country’s inhabited islands to just under one hundred.
“I envision that people of Maldives will live in 25 to 30 islands. Each island will be of twice that of Hulhumale’. Around 60,000 to 70,000 will live on each island. This is a dream I see. I will try to make this dream come true.”
Muizzu yesterday stated his belief that repopulation will enable the government to better provide for people’s basic constitutional rights with regards to medical care, education, housing and travel.
Studies by the Ministry of Planning and National Development for the most recent National Development Plan (NDP) found strong links between social vulnerability and population size.
With higher rates indicating greater vulnerability based on a composite of twelve living standard dimensions, populations of less than 200 had an average of 5.3 on the Human Vulnerability Index (HVI), islands with more than 2000 inhabitants had an average of 2.4, whilst those with over 4000 had an average of 2.1.
The seventh NDP also found that the average income of islands hosting those displaced by the 2004 tsunami rose by 30 percent within 6 months.
Currently, around 130 islands have populations less than a 1000, and others between 1000-6000, while Male’ accounts for one third of the total population, where the density of the population is over 40,000 per square kilometres.
The government’s repopulation policy signifies a renewed ambition to follow through on the much awaited population strategy that has been discussed for a quarter-century, but has fallen short of making any significant outcomes.
Resettlement of nearly 17 islands were reportedly under review during former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s last term in office, but confronted by the 2004 Tsunami and the pre-2008 democratic reforms, population consolidation plans lost emphasis.
The talks ultimately disappeared from the table under the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed, which lobbied for a national transportation network between the islands to boost connectivity and economic progress.