Islands are hoping for a reprieve to water shortages as the dry season ends, while political turmoil stalls drinking water supply projects.
The Maldives’ Disaster Management Centre has said long-term strategies are being developed to address ongoing drinking water shortages affecting 117 inhabited islands this year alone. The focus comes as some local authorities raise concerns over the level of financial support set aside to assist with dwindling water supplies.
Disaster Management Centre Project Officer Hisan Hassan told Minivan News that in just a “short space of time”, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) had moved to refill public water tanks on 86 of the 117 islands that have raised concerns over water availability.
Local authorities in Addu Atoll have said that as the country’s “dry season” – resulting from the north-east monsoon – draws to an end for this year, heavier rainfall is expected to partly alleviate short-term pressures on island water supplies. However, the same authorities stressed that finance remains a key challenge to ensure water demand can be met in the future through projects like desalination plants and collection tanks.
Looking beyond the drinking water shortages that have arisen during the first four months of 2012, Hisan Hassan claimed a cabinet paper was now being prepared to outline longer-term measures for managing water supplies across the country. He said that the paper focuses on dividing the country into seven administrative regions that would take a more localised approach to shore up water supplies. An emergency operation had already been established to collect information from local islands on the current scale of water supply issues as part of this new focus, according to Hassan.
With a further 13 islands said to be facing uncertainty over their remaining reserves of drinkable water, the Disaster Management Centre said budgetary issues were a strong concern in dealing with possible demand surplus.
Hassan said that with the the country’s south-west monsoon wet season commencing this month, heavier rainfall was expected to be seen in the next few days on a number of islands dealing with low water supplies.
“Met Office predictions have suggested we will see heavy rain in the country’s north and south atolls,” he said. “We do not have confirmed information on this, so we will checking these weather patterns to see if the rain will replenish supplies.”
Minivan News reported last month that in the country’s southerly Addu Atoll, an estimated 90 percent of the local population were reliant on rainfall to bolster their drinking water supplies. Numerous islands in the atoll are said to experience severe supply issues for drinking water annually as a result.
Hisan Hassan claimed that the issue of island water supplies had been an ongoing problem for the Maldives since 2004, when a large number of islands were affected by the December 26 tsunami that devastated the wider South Asia region.
“What has happened was that after the tsunami in 2004, 80 percent of islands including the country’s resort properties were flooded with salt water,” he said. “This salt water contaminated ground water, which is the main source of drinking water for many islands.”
From a meteorological perspective, Met Office Deputy Director General Ali Shareef said that the levels of rainfall during the first four months of the current year had been below the national average for the period.
Though unwilling to speculate whether the patterns were part of a trend, Shareef claimed that similar below average rainfall had been recorded over the same period of time in both 2011 and 2010. He added that temperature – another issue likely to impact water consumption – was found to have been consistent in recent years.
The Met Office said the issue of rainfall was just one of a number of factors that had compounded water supply issues of late.
With a growing national population, Shareef said he believed that another concern was over the capacity of the nation’s water collection tanks, which he contended were increasingly struggling to meet demand.
“The water shortages are not completely based on the amount of rain. This year’s [average] rainfall is just about higher than in 2011,” he said. “We may also need to look at how consumers in the country are using their water supplies.”
Addu Atoll is one area that has experienced ongoing problems with maintaining drinking water levels. A number of islands in the atoll such as Feydhoo and Hithadhoo have requested assistance in boosting their supplies.
Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodig said that in addressing these concerns, some local resort properties, as well as the MNDF’s southern command had been “very supportive” during the last few years in helping to maintain water supplies to the region.
“The MNDF have been very supportive since day one. We have also been getting support from certain resorts that have actually been supplying free water,” he said.
According to Sodig, with the 2012 dry season now having officially passed, an anticipated increase in rainfall was expected to alleviate present concerns about water levels.
“We’re getting enough rain now and I think the problems [with water supplies] will be solved for the moment,” he added.
Looking ahead to the next year, Sodig claimed financial support was proving to be the key challenge in ensuring sufficient supplies of drinking water to the public.
“The regional port here for example has a desalination plant that can distribute water. The MNDF also has one as well, though this is smaller in capacity,” he said. “There are enough desalination plants here to produce water, so the challenge remains a financial one. At present we are buying water from desalination plants at Rf90 per tonne (US$6).”
Sodig alleged that despite providing financial support back in 2009 and 2010 to aid water supply efforts , the Disaster Management Centre had not been providing as much economic assistance of late.
He added that last year, the government had initiated a multi-million dollar water management and sanitation project in collaboration with a foreign infrastructure specialist.
According to Sodig, the potential benefits of the project are expected to be seen in the next few months through the provision of water supplies directly to homes on the island of Hithadoo.
He raised concerns about the long-term viability of the part government-funded project, due in part to political uncertainty following the controversial transfer of power on February 7.
“Right now the project is trying to get a loan from a UK-based company,” he claimed. “However, this has been withheld due to the political situation here. The loan will not be handed over until elections are held.”
Asked about the challenges facing the government in addressing the country’s water supply shortages, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad requested Minivan News contact the local water board.
“If you were in another country, you wouldn’t contact the White House or Buckingham Palace about water shortages,” he said.