Nolhivaranfaru ground water contaminated as flooding causes septic tank overflow

Severe flooding on Haa Dhaal Atoll Nolhivaranfaru Island has caused a sewage overflow resulting in contamination of the island’s ground water.

According to Nolhivaranfaru Councilor Adham Jaufar, torrential rains on December 18 and 19 caused damage to septic tanks on the island resulting in sewage overflowing in bathrooms and onto the streets.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has issued an alert expressing concern over health risks due to contaminated water, and urged Nolhivaranfaru’s residents to pay attention to cleanliness to avoid the spread of water-borne diseases.

“We appeal to the public to use chlorinated well water in all areas of the island, to only use boiled water or rainwater that has been stored safely for cooking and drinking and to pay particular attention to general cleanliness. We note it is important to wash hands with soap after using the bathroom or before cooking,” a statement by HPA said.

The National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) has said it has distributed chlorine to disinfect wells and puddles on the streets, and the HPA conducted an awareness campaign on health risks.

Although the 1,030 strong population have access to potable drinking water, the sewage overflow has left 47 households without any water for bathing or washing, Jaufar said.

Over 50 residents staged daily protests this week over the lack of safe water, but suspended activities today after an environment ministry team arrived on the island to inspect damage.

Protestors have warned they would resume demonstrations within three days depending on the outcome of the visit.

The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) has drained water from the streets and is now in the process of cleaning and draining overflowing septic tanks.

Jaufar said Nolhivaranfaru requires a sewerage system to prevent sewage overflow in the future.

The worst affected areas are at a lower elevation than the rest of the island, and residents of the 47 houses have to periodically drain septic tanks to avoid overflows, Jaufar said. Maldivian islands are on average only one meter above sea level.

Meanwhile, the NDMC has allocated 100 tonnes of water for Nolhivaranfaru, but the water has not yet been transported to the northern island as there are no mechanisms to store water there.

Head of the Environmental Protection Agency Ibrahim Naeem said the agency is waiting on a report from the ministry team on the extent of the damage.

In addition to a sewerage system, the island would also needs an artificial drainage system, Naeem said.

According to Jaufar, the government had promised a sewerage system in 2012, allocating funds for the project in 2012, 2013, and 2014. But there has been no progress yet.

In early December, a fire at Malé’s desalination plant left the capital’s 130,000 residents without running water. The government declared a crisis, set up water distribution centers throughout the city, and requested foreign governments for assistance.

India, China, and Bangladesh airlifted bottled water, and India sent in ships equipped with desalination plants to produce water for the capital.

Normal operations resumed at the Malé water plant on December 13.

In June, residents of Laamu Atoll Gan also staged protests over a sewage spill on the island following severe damage to the island’s sewerage system.

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