Laamu Atoll Gan Island Council has raised fears of an imminent “health disaster” following a severe sewage spill on the island.
The spill was caused by damage to pumps and septic tanks in the sewage treatment facility. Recent rains have spread the sewage throughout the island, Gan Council President Ahmed Salah told Minivan News today.
The council is trying to contain the sewage, but have received no help from any government office, Salah said.
“The pumps in the system are not working, and the [septic] tank is also damaged. So when sewage effluent gathers in the tank it overflows and spills out. But this has got worse with the rainy season, the waste is being carried across the island through the puddles. And sometimes it is overflowing from the toilets, leaving houses and rooms filled with waste,” he said.
The spill poses “enormous health risks,” Salah said. Exposure to sewage can cause several infections including gastroenteritis of the stomach and hepatitis.
“We have asked the hospital to be on alert for a medical situation, and we have also informed the Ministry of Health and other authorities. We told them we are facing great health risks here and we have asked them to take action,” he said.
According to the council similar incidents have occurred on the island during the rainy season. The 5,500 strong population is among the biggest in south central Maldives.
“It was the first thing we discussed in the new council as well. We informed the ministries, we even went to Malé to bring this to their attention. We wrote to the disaster management center, but no action has been taken yet,” Salah said.
The sewage system at fault is located at the new settlement of tsunami-displaced population that moved to Gan from Mundoo and Kalhaidhoo Islands in 2007.
The sewerage project was funded and implemented by the International Federation of Red Cross Societies (IFRC) as part of their tsunami recovery work. After the project was completed, it was handed over to the government of Maldives.
Salah said no one has taken ownership of the system since it was handed over and said he believed the spill had taken place due to lack of maintenance.
“No one took the responsibility for managing it. The council doesn’t have the financial capacity to handle it, and without any ownership and repair it eventually broke down. We have discussed the issue with Fenaka [state-owned utility corporation] as well, but they won’t take charge until the system fully repaired. Their estimated cost for repairing it is above MVR1 million (US$ 64,850),” he said.
The council is now trying to manage the situation by using a mobile tank called bowser to drain the waste into the sea. The bowser was donated as part of the sewage system.
“It [the bowser] has a very small tank, even with 20-30 rounds we are unable to drain it to a level where people can use the toilet. We are trying to find a way to control the situation even if it is by pumping it all in to the sea,” he said noting that some households are not using the toilet.
When the council approached the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) for a solution, the office said they could not offer any help as the sewage spill cannot be considered a disaster.
Speaking to Minivan News today, an NDMC official confirmed that the situation cannot be considered a disaster as it had developed gradually. The NDMC said the sewage project was the responsibility of the Ministry of Housing.
However, the Housing Ministry has said the Ministry of Environment and Energy was responsible for the project. The Environment Ministry was unable to comment on the issue at the time of publication.
A MVR85 million sanitation facility is being built on Gan Island for areas that do not have a sewage system with assistance from the French government.
Salah said the council has proposed to join the old and new systems, but experts have said the task is impossible as the two systems are incompatible.