Extreme weather compels emergency relief from Maldives’ government

Maldivian government authorities are providing emergency services and relief funds to island communities battered by three weeks of “extreme weather”.

The National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) issued a statement today (May 15) urging island and atoll councils to report any damage caused by the “harsh weather” as soon as possible.

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik met with officials from the Maldives Police Service, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), the NDMC, and other high-ranking government officials yesterday (May 14) to discuss damages sustained and relief counter measures being taken nationwide.

Waheed provided assurances that government authorities will collaborate with island communities to provide “all the assistance and support needed”. Thus, it was decided state funds will be provided to assist “those islands with maximum damage” through the Ministry of Finance and Treasury’s contingency budget.

State funds will not be released directly to NDMC, instead the Finance Ministry will maintain control of money allocated for relief efforts and “coordinate bills” with the centre, NDMC Project Director Hisan Hassan told Minivan News today.

The exact amount of emergency relief funds will be determined today, Hassan added.

Meanwhile, the MNDF and police have issued precautionary warnings to the public due to the severe weather conditions.

The Coast Guard issued a request yesterday that “all travelers to take necessary precautionary measures before setting on their journeys due to the severe weather with heavy rain and thunderstorms… particularly in the northern and southern regions of the Maldives.”

They recommended travelers test communications sets and obtain updated weather forecasts before embarking on any journeys.

The Coast Guard further stated that average wind speeds of 15-25 miles per hour (mph) in the southern atolls and 7-17 mph are expected in the northern atolls, while wind gusts during thunderstorms will reach 40-50 mph.

Additionally, the police issued an SMS bulletin today also warning the public to “take precautionary measures due to the bad weather”.

A “white bulletin” was also issued by the Maldives Meteorological Service (MET) today, warning that the central atolls can expect average winds speeds of 23-30 mph.

Food shortages and flooding

Thus far damage assessment reports have been submitted by 12 islands from seven atolls – Shaviyani, Meemu, Dhaalu, Thaa, Laamu, Fuvahmulah, and Addu City – representing regions from the far north to the far south of the Maldives, the NDMC told Minivan News today.

Hassan explained that other islands have reported storm-related damage directly to the media or have spoken with the NDMC, but have yet to official report these issues to the centre.

Flooding due to three weeks of severe weather and heavy rain has damaged households, sewerage systems, as well as caused extensive agricultural destruction, according to Hassan.

Food shortages on some islands have resulted from agricultural damage and the disruption of transportation and supply networks due to bad weather.

“All islands import food from Male’, however the seas have been so rough [supply] boats are still in Male’ and unable to reach the islands,” Hassan explained. “Yesterday the State Trading Organisation (STO) announced the they will try to send [food supplies] somehow.”

STO is not providing free food-stuffs to islands, rather they are seeking ways to reach the islands so community shops can restock. Normally, supply boats travel between the atolls at least twice a week, according to Hassan.

“Some small islands’ [residents] are a little afraid to travel to a nearby island [to resupply] because travel is difficult,” he said.

Hassan emphasised that food shortages have not reached “emergency situation” levels.

“For the time being there is no emergency. If an island completely runs out of food, the MNDF is always on board [collaborating] with STO and NDMC, and will send vessels,” said Hassan.

The MNDF and police will deploy and provide first response emergency services, if necessary, he added.

“The MNDF is also assisting with flood relief. They take fire fighting equipment to islands and help pump water,” said Hassan.

“Houses are flooding because they are not built on high platforms, so with one or one and a half feet of flooding, water will rush into homes,” he added.

Hassan emphasised the need for people to “take responsibility” and precautionary measures to ensure their safety in the bad weather conditions.

“They should not wait until flood waters reach knee-high levels and require the MNDF to provide assistance,” Hassan said.

“People should move [their] belongings to higher ground, get rid of old trees and branches, clean their roofs, and collect rainwater in tanks. Also, sandbags should be used to minimise further flooding,” he added.

Ensuring roofs and houses are secure is also essential given the strong winds that have accompanied the recent severe storms.

The NDMC is coordinating with the relevant ministry’s to ensure damages are evaluated and addressed promptly.


Fioyree Island suffers storm damage due to bad weather

Ongoing stormy weather in the Maldives has damaged another island in the south, Fiyoree, located in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.

Fiyoree has suffered storm related damage, including flooding, fallen trees and roofs of some homes have been blown off by strong winds, reports local media.

Fiyoree Island Council President Mohamed Ahmed told local media that Sunday’s (May 12) bad weather had also destroyed yam crops planted in preparation for Ramadan and flooded parts of the island.

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) is working to drain the flooded areas, including the yam farms.

Since 2009, Fiyoree has been visited by “several groups” conducting surveys on flood prevention in the yam-growing areas, which flood each time there is heavy rain, according to Ahmed. He expressed concern that despite four years of surveys, a drainage system has not yet been established on the island.


Strong storms and rough seas cause nationwide damage

Stormy weather conditions – heavy rain, harsh winds, and rough seas – over the past week have caused damage to islands throughout the Maldives.

In the south the island of Fuvahmulah has suffered the most damage, said Minister of State for Defence and National Security and head of the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC), Ahmed Mohamed.

“The harsh winds that hit Fuvahmulah yesterday afternoon blew off roofs. A large coconut tree had fallen on top of house and a large tree had fallen on top of the council office. There is additional damages as well. An estimate of damages is now being assessed,” Mohamed said.

He also noted that heavy rains have led to a food shortage, flooding and property damage on Thinadhoo Island in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.

“In Thinadhoo, some of the roofs of houses were blown off due to strong winds. Heavy rain had caused flooding throughout the island. The flood water had seeped into the houses damaging people’s property. We are also receiving reports that they are short of food,” said Mohamed.

Meanwhile, in the north of the country, Rashgetheemu Island in Raa Atoll suffered damage from a lightning storm on April 27 which left all electronic systems within the Island Office “useless”, equipment inside the island’s health centre and power house damaged. Additionally, some electronic devices in private homes were harmed, as well as the island’s banana plantations, Island Council Vice President Ali Hameed told local media today (May 9).

The Maldives Meteorological Service has forecasted thunderstorms throughout the country, concentrated in the central and south, over the next 24 hours, with rough seas, and strong winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour. They have also issued warnings about flooding due to storm surge and tidal waves, particularly during high tide.


Maldives launches US$3.38 million eco-tourism wetland conservation project

With the launch of a US$ 3.83 million eco-tourism wetland conservation project, the Maldives continues to push forward with climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives, aiming to serve as a model for small island states.

The Environment Ministry eco-tourism initiative will create wetland conservation areas and enhance drainage systems on Hithadhoo Island – an administrative district of Addu City – and on Fuvahmulah Island, in the far south of the Maldives.

The project aims to address climate change impacts by mitigating flooding and erosion due to storm surge, enhance fresh water security, as well as create economic benefits from these sustainable conservation initiatives. Additional mitigation and adaptation components of this Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF) supported project include coral reef monitoring in Kaafu Atoll, and rainwater harvesting on Ukulhas Island in Ari Atoll.

“This is the first such project in the Maldives with a conservation plan to develop eco-tourism on an inhabited island. Developing a firm and systematic plan to manage and gain economic benefits from these wetland areas could play a vital role in changing the interpretation of the people regarding them,” Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela told local media during the project’s inauguration ceremony yesterday (May 7).

“We strongly believe that the environment is the only asset that the Maldives has to market ourselves to the international community,” Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen said while speaking at the project launch.

“Our beauty, whether it is underwater, above water, or wetlands, these are all God’s blessings, nature’s blessings. Unless we know how to look after God’s blessings they will disappear,” he added.

The Vice President also thanked the international community and project donors for recognising that the Maldives has been a minor contributor to global pollution, particularly greenhouse gas emissions, but has “quite unfortunately become a victim” of the resulting climate change impacts.

“I sincerely support the world community for lending support to the Maldives because we believe this is the only way we can make our land, our assets economically viable, and sustainable,” stated Deen.

He emphasised that once the environment has been degraded, it is not possible to restore to its original pristine state, therefore properly implemented environmental conservation can also develop the Maldives’ economy.

Deen noted that the Maldives’ environmental policies have “never changed” and the current government are also “strong environmentalists”, akin to former President Maumoon Gayoom and former President Mohamed Nasheed.

“The Government of Maldives will assure you that the environmental policy maintained by the last two presidents is still maintained,” he stated.

Community-based conservation

The Wetlands Conservation and Coral Reef Monitoring for Adaptation to Climate Change (WCCM) project will be implemented in three phases over 18 months, to be completed in September 2014.

Phase one consists of developing a conservation plan, designing an eco-tourism methodology, and improving water drainage systems. During phase two, eco-tourism facilities will be established in addition to continued water drainage “system rehabilitation”. Phase three includes commissioning a RAMSAR (convention) wetland and national park with eco-tourism.

“The idea is that these are terrestrial wetlands, in the vicinity of the community, so we are trying to manage these protected areas with the help of the community,” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Environment and Social Safeguards Coordinator Ibrahim Mohamed told Minivan News yesterday.

Mohamed explained that the nearby communities will be the main implementing partners managing the wetland areas and local NGOs are hoped to contribute as well. A “pool of people” will be trained to manage the areas and act as tour guides.

“There will be a visitor centre and a fee and go into the area accompanied by tour guides, it’s going to be like a national park,” said Mohamed.

“These are very beautiful places, that you will immediately sense are very different from the rest of the Maldives, given the [large] size of the islands and the unique way they are connected.

“In Fuvahmulah there are huge fresh water bodies, swampy areas in the depressions of the islands. While the Hithadhoo wetlands are a huge area with mangroves. There are so many birds here, you will always see so many,” he added.

Spanish company Hidra has been hired to prepare the phase one components over the next five months, including the community-based wetland management plan, for which extensive public consultations – including students – are being conducted.

“Then we will start the civil works, such as making the nature trails, visitors center, and bird watching areas,” said Mohamed.

Public private partnerships

The coral reef monitoring component of this conservation project will involve partnering with resorts in Kaafu Atoll, explained Mohamed. They will be trained by the Environment Ministry to monitor water surface temperatures, erosion, biodiversity, bleaching, impacts on fish, as well as “fish landings” to determine where fish being brought to the resorts are caught.

The goal is long-term monitoring of reefs nationwide, however this project will begin by looking atfive. Currently coral reef monitoring is limited, because it primarily focuses on bleaching and is only conducted twice annually, in accordance with the monsoon and dry seasons, according to Mohamed.

“We have started developing the database and the [monitoring] protocols, which have been peerreviewed by international reef ecologists,” said Mohamed.

“The idea is that over 10 to 15 years we will know what is happening to the coral reefs, so that we can determine the impacts from climate change,” he added.

“Exemplary example for small island states”

Mohamed stated that the overall goal is for these wetland and coral reef areas – and the entire nation – to be protected and developed sustainably to become biosphere reserves.

He further explained that the idea behind this CCTF project is for the Maldives to become an exemplary example for other small island states.

“This project can be replicated anywhere in the world, all small island countries can utilize [what the Maldives has developed],” he added.

The holistic approach to wetland and coral reef conservation is necessary because the components are “so interrelated”.

“If you don’t properly manage waste there will be impacts on coral reefs, etc.,” noted Mohamed.

The CCTF serves as the “main umbrella” under which there are three projects in the Maldives: the WCCM, clean energy for climate mitigation, and solid waste management. The WCCM in particular is supported with donated funds from the European Union and Australian Aid, and managed by the World Bank.


Maldives expects flooding due to storm surges

The Maldives Meteorological Service (MET) has warned that high storm surges due to current poor weather conditions could cause flooding nationwide, reports local media.

Flooding due to storm surges during high tides, as well as heavy rain accompanied by strong wind and thunder, can be expected throughout the atolls, said a MET weather forecaster, according to local media.

“Flooding has not yet been reported from any region, but it can be expected in this bad weather,” he said.

The northern and central atolls can expect the worst weather, however heavy rain, thunder and rough seas will likely be experienced in all regions.


Thailand donates US$10,000 for cyclone recovery

The government of Thailand has donated US$10,000 to the Maldives to assist recovery from severe flooding caused by the cyclone ‘Nilam’ that hit South Asia in late October.

The US$10,000 cheque was handed over at a ceremony on Thursday (December 20) at the Maldives High Commission in Sri Lanka, according to the Foreign Ministry.


Hoarafushi has “returned to normal” after last month’s flooding

Families displaced by last month’s flooding of Hoarafushi have been able to return home following a relief effort by the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC).

Twenty-four inhabited islands were reported to have been affected by the heavy rain, with Hoarafushi in Haa Alif Atoll deemed by the NDMC as the most severely affected.

According to Hoarafushi Island Council Chair Ahmed Mauroof, up to 95 houses were flooded in the area, affecting an “estimated 600 people.”

The NDMC has been working to restore normality on the islands since the flooding. Disaster Management Centre Project Officer, Hisan Hassan, said: “Everyone has been returned to their homes, and I have heard from a councillor on the island that it has returned to normal now.

“Some families are still expecting some aid relief, as many foods, electrical and personal items were destroyed in the floods.”

An initial figure of MVR 10 million (US$648,000) had been made available from a contingency component in the national budget to provide relief to the damaged islands.

A government spokesperson confirmed that a report on the damage has been published.

Joint efforts from the island council, the island’s youth, police, the MNDF, officials of the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) and staff from the nearby Manafaru resort helped to put up sandbags, move furniture and to pump water from clogged up roads.

The floods started with heavy rain in the late afternoon on Monday October 29, causing flooding of up to five feet, according to police. The rains lasted non-stop until dawn on Tuesday.

Other islands affected by the rising waters, including Haa Alif Baarah and Haa Dhall Hanimadhoo were also assisted by the MNDF Northern Area Command.

Speaking to Minivan News last month, Mauroof said: “The cost of damage caused by flooding is expected to rise to millions.

“We formed the task force because our aim is to recover from this as quickly as possible.”

The severe weather had been linked to low pressure from cyclone Nilam, over the Bay of Bengal.


Heavy rain damages agriculture fields in three atolls

Agriculture fields in Haa Alif Baarah, Gaaf Alif Nilandhoo and all islands of Laamu Atoll have been damaged in the heavy rainfall experienced across the country.

Local daily Haveeru reported today that 90 percent of farmland in Laamu Atoll was “destroyed” by the rain.

Laamu Atoll Council Chair Mohamed Rasheed told the newspaper that 80 percent of farmers in the atoll would cease to have a source of income. Farmers in the southern atoll earn a monthly average income of between MVR20,000 to MVR30,000, Rasheed said.

He added that the rain also damaged some homes, including 29 households in Fonadhoo.

Of the 11 inhabited islands in Laamu atoll, only three reported no damages, Rasheed said.

Moreover, as a result of damage to a sewerage pump in the island of Gan, waste was spreading into the island from two junctions.

The rains that started on Monday evening lasted non-stop until Tuesday night, he said.

Meanwhile, Nilandhoo Councillor Asif Mohamed told Sun Online that 280 fields in the island have been completely destroyed.

Heavy rains meanwhile flooded agriculture fields in Haa Alif Baarah.

Baarah Councillor Hussain Fahmy told Haveeru that floodwaters have not receded from the farmlands as of this afternoon. Heavy rains continued to fall last night, he said.

Damage to wooden stoves was also causing difficulties for islanders, the councilor added.


Severe flooding in Hoarafushi damages 95 households

Severe flooding caused by heavy rainfall on Monday has forced several residents of Hoarafushi in Haa Alif atoll to evacuate their homes after flood waters damaged furniture and electrical wiring in 95 households.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Hoarafushi Island Council Chair Ahmed Mauroof said 95 households were flooded, affecting an “estimated 600 people.”

“The cost of the damage caused by flooding is expected to rise to millions,” Mauroof said, explaining that furniture and electronic equipment were damaged in the affected households.

While some families have since returned to their homes, Mauroof said the island council has provided housing and food for a number of islanders at a public building while others have found shelter with relatives.

The flood waters have now receded or been pumped out by the joint efforts of the island council, the island’s youth, police, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), officials of the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) and staff from the nearby Manafaru resort, Mauroof said.

The joint efforts included putting up sandbags, moving furniture and other items to safe locations and pumping water from clogged roads, police said in a press release yesterday.

Heavy rains that started in the late afternoon on Monday caused flooding of up to five feet, according to police. Thick torrential rains that started around 4:30pm on Monday reportedly lasted non-stop until dawn on Tuesday.

The MNDF Northern Area Command meanwhile launched efforts in collaboration with island councils on Monday to pump water from the affected northern islands, including Haa Alif Baarah and Haa Dhaal Hanimadhoo in addition to Hoarafushi.

Hoarafushi, one the of the northernmost islands in the Maldives, has a population of over 2,000 people.

Task force

In addition to households, Mauroof said flooding also caused damage to the island’s health centre.

“The flood water damaged the computer system and some documents there as well as medical equipment,” the councillor said, adding that electric wiring in “the very old building” was also damaged.

Moreover, as there was no sewerage system in the island, “the septic tanks, owned by the people of the island, burst, overflowed and spread waste into the island.”

Mauroof said he received information today that children and adults were being treated at the health centre for diarrhoea.

The island’s youth together with the island council have formed a task force to coordinate relief efforts and seek assistance, Mauroof said, adding that he was currently in Male’ with a number of youth from the island to seek donations.

The deputy chair of the island council was coordinating efforts back at Hoarafushi, he explained.

“We formed the task force because our aim is to recover from this as quickly as possible,” the council chair said.

As the only usable water in the island at the moment was rainwater stored in tanks – privately owned wells were also contaminated – Mauroof said the task force in Male’ was working with the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) to send water supplies to Hoarafushi.

Hoarafushi residents appeal for help on social media

On the efforts to seek financial assistance, Mauroof said business magnate and Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim has donated MVR 250,000 while ‘Champa’ Mohamed Moosa has pledged the same amount on behalf of private broadcaster DhiTV and its sister network DhiFM.

Other wealthy individuals in Male’ have pledged financial assistance, he added.

Mauroof said he believed that assistance from “affluent persons” was necessary as it was “unlikely” that the island could recover from the flooding solely through the efforts of the council and central government in Male’.

Hoarafushi youth have meanwhile made appeals on social media for assistance. Mauroof said the task force planned to launch a hotline and a relief fund later today.

President Waheed visits Hoarafushi

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik meanwhile arrived in Hoarafushi this morning and pledged government assistance to the families affected by flooding.

State broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) reported that two people were being treated at the health centre for diarrhoea.

A TVM reporter at Hoarafushi explained that canals have been dug out on two locations of the island to draw flood waters out to the sea.

According to TVM, the DMC has set up an ’emergency working group’ with the MNDF, Maldivian Red Crescent and the Local Government Authority to assess damage caused by flooding and coordinate relief efforts.

Emergency Response Officer Mohamed Didi said that arrangements have been made with the State Trading Organisation (STO) to provide foodstuff to the affected islands, which also included two islands in Haa Dhaal Atoll.

“At 3:00pm today, an STO boat will leave Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi for Haa Alif Hoarafushi with 90 bags of rice, flour and sugar,” Didi told the state broadcaster.

Moreover, a second STO boat would leave from Male’ at 6:00pm with medicine, water supplies, pillows and mattresses, the DMC official said.

Meanwhile, in a statement today, former President Mohamed Nasheed noted “with happiness, the good example and Islamic principle showed by citizens to provide assistance to those in need at this time.”

In addition to the northernmost islands, the former president’s statement noted that severe weather has caused damage in the Hulhudhoo and Feydhoo wards of Addu City as well as Fuvahmulah in the south.

The Department of Meteorology yesterday warned of “rough seas, heavy rain and strong winds for the next two days.” The current weather conditions were believed to be linked to low pressure left by a cyclone currently active in the Bay of Bengal.

The BCC reported today that cyclone Nilam was expected to make landfall on the Tamil Nadu state of India.

Meanwhile, in an announcement yesterday, the MNDF coastguard urged travellers to take extra precautionary measures and stay updated on weather conditions.

The coastguard also advised against non-essential travel as heavy rains and rough seas were forecast for the next 24 hours.