Permanent water crisis for Maldives islanders

Every January, councillors on the central Maldivian island of Baa Atoll Goidhoo switch on the island’s water desalination plant in preparation for the dry season.

In doing so, the council hopes to scrape through the blistering heat of the four-month-long northeastern monsoon without having to rely on others to provide its 700 inhabitants with clean water.

However, this year the council was not able to fire up the plant because of severe budget constraints and maintenance issues.

“The government is not giving us money to repair it. How can we fix and run the plant while we can’t afford its electricity bill?” asked council president Mohamed Amir.

“The households have now run out of water,” Amir said.

“Every dry season we have the same problem.”

Amir had no choice but to notify the National Disaster Management Centre of severe water shortages, becoming one of over 69 islands to have reported droughts this year alone.

Since its inception in 2004 after the Indian Ocean tsunami, the centre has been providing water to about 80 of the Maldives’ 200 inhabited islands each dry season for the last ten years, says Hisaan Hassan, a spokesman for the centre.

The tsunami severely contaminated groundwater in several islands, forcing inhabitants to look up to the skies for rainwater instead.

When a fire in the capital, Malé, cut off water supplies last year, the crisis drew global media attention and prompted the public to ask how prepared the government is for an emergency water cutoff.

However, islanders who face the same problem every year remain hopeless, with no permanent solution in sight.

Environmental consultant and water expert Fathimath Saeedha says that the government needs to immediately come up with strategic, yet island-specific solutions.

Contaminated groundwater

Unlike in Malé, where the groundwater is heavily polluted due to over-consumption, islanders in atolls used to rely on groundwater for consumption.

However, thanks to a rapid population increase and the arrival of appliances such as washing machines, groundwater consumption in the islands has increased above the rate at which groundwater is naturally replenished, said the environment ministry.

In addition, the ministry points the finger towards the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which heavily polluted many islands’ fresh water table, lying one to 1.5 meters below the soil surface. The tsunami killed at least 82 people in the Maldives and caused $470m of damage.

However, a United Nations Environmental Programme tsunami impact study in 2005 estimated that only 39 islands’ groundwater had been suitable for drinking even before the tsunami.

Water expert Saeedha also pointed out that poorly constructed septic tanks in the islands have contributed to water contamination.

“People built septic tanks on their own, which led to domestic waste leaking into the water table,” said Saeedha.

With the groundwater contaminated, inhabitants then had to rely on rainwater for consumption. In 2005, the government provided islands with large numbers of storage tanks to store rainwater.

However, with low average rainfall during the dry season, numerous islands are left in a drought every year, forced to rely on the disaster centre for drinking water.

Ready for droughts

Umar Fikry, another spokesman for the disaster centre, says that it has urged all island councils to inform the centre of water shortages in advance.

“We are prepared and ready for the water shortages every year,” Umar said.

He says that islands usually report water shortages to the centre when they are down to one month’s supply.

However, the National Disaster Management Centre is among those questioning whether the centre should be called upon to deal with shortages every year.

“We spend an average of MVR 5 million (US$ 330,000) on delivering water to the islands [each year]. The problem cannot be solved by the disaster centre alone,” said the centre’s Hisan Hassan.

Hisan believes it is time for everyone from the environment ministry to island councils and the general public to get involved in looking for a permanent solution.

Individuals have to keep in mind this happens every year and focus on better water usage, while councils should work on getting better storage systems in place for the dry season, said Hisaan.

The Environment Ministry meanwhile is running a water programme aiming to create an integrated network of island water storage containers in 30 strategic locations.

Three of the island storage locations have been completed, while seven are undergoing construction. Furthermore the ministry has secured finance to build 14 new desalination plants, it said.

Unsuitable emergency plans

With the disaster centre called upon to provide large quantities of water, some islands have criticised the quality of the water that arrives.

“People did not use the water because there was a pungent smell in it. We should be provided with good quality water,” complained Baa Atoll Dharavandhoo council president Hussein Nazim.

Dharavandhoo is home to one of the busiest regional airports in the country, bringing in tourists from the capital to the atoll’s eight resorts.

Nazim said that he was told that the water arrived from nearby Dhuvaafaru in the storage area of a fishing boat.

Some islanders had to resort to pumping water from households lucky enough to have clean well water, he added.

A resident of nearby Goidhoo said that it is “immensely difficult” to fulfill essential water needs during the dry season.

“Every house has a water tank which runs out during the dry season. Now we have to go to the water plant on the beach through the boiling sun,” she complained.

Tailor made solutions”

Water expert Faathimath Saeedha says there is no one overall solution to the annual water crisis, with different areas instead needing a “tailor-made solution”.

“Every island has very specific needs which need to be addressed,” she said. “Then only can we reach a permanent solution.”

It is important for the government to come up with a strategic plan to address the root cause of the issues for each island, she said.

Back in Goidhoo, council president Amir has been able to fire up the desalination plant with a “temporary fix which will last the current dry season”.

He believes that the situation will repeat itself again next year, with the councillors forced to resort to the barely functioning water plant, hoping for the best.


Maldives’ economy hardest hit by climate change: Asian Development Bank

Climate change could cause annual economic losses of over 12% of the Maldives’ GDP by the end of this century, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) climate and economics report released today (August 19).

“A potential ocean rise of up to 1 meter by 2100 will have devastating consequences for this island archipelago, where the highest natural point is only a little over 2 meters above sea level,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.

The Maldives is the most at-risk country in South Asia from climate change impacts, said the report titled ‘Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia’.

Given the uncertainties of climate change, there is a slight possibility that the losses could swell to more than 38%. But if mitigation and adaptation steps are taken, the Maldives will benefit the most in the region, with annual losses limited to around 3.5% of GDP by 2100, the report concluded.

Programmes and Advocacy Manager at local environmental NGO Ecocare Maeed Mohamed Zahir, however, believes the government is currently far from taking such steps.

“There is no clear-cut adaptation strategy,” he added.

Energy supplies at risk

According to the report, the Maldives’ energy supplies are particularly at risk from climate change.

The Maldives’ energy vulnerabilities are related to the low elevation and small size of islands, the report explains. Their low elevation and narrow width makes powerhouses and associated infrastructure vulnerable to flooding and damage from severe weather events.

The report also notes that, with the commitment to become carbon neutral by 2020, the country is increasingly investing in renewable energy technologies, particularly solar power, for which there is abundant solar energy — 400 million MW per annum.

The environment ministry has recently announced a number of initiatives to minimise the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, including a pledge to convert 30 percent of all electrical use to renewable energy, and the Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Programme (SREP) set to “transform the Maldives energy sector.”

However, President Abdulla Yameen has also pledged to explore for crude oil in the Maldives as an alternative means of diversifying the economy and supplementing fuel supply.

Vector-borne diseases

In addition, the report highlighted that vector-borne diseases could be a major public health concern for the Maldives in the future.

Dengue is now endemic in the country with seasonal outbreaks, observed the report. Epidemiological data shows changes in the seasonal nature of dengue, spreading across the atolls, and leading finally to epidemic proportions.

Morbidity from dengue by 2090 could increase to 34,539, with 324 deaths per year, the report stated.

Moreover, although malaria is not prevalent in the Maldives, it could be future concern if left unchecked said the ADB.

During 1990–2003, the number of malaria cases averaged 16 per year, with no fatalities. However, the report warns that annual morbidity due to malaria incidence by 2090 could reach more than 200.


Ecocare’s Zahir argued that the government is at best unclear, and at worst unprepared, for climate change. Speaking with Minivan News, Zahir appealed to the government to reveal their policy for adaptation in the face of climate change.

He went on to explain that in the last four to five years there has been no clear stance on climate change from the government.

“The number one priority is to make everyone aware if they have one,” he said.

Back in 2009, former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, unveiled a plan to make the Maldives carbon-neutral within a decade. Zahir suggested that the following administration’s have been less clear on the issue.

“In the last two governments we don’t have a clear-cut climate change plans,” he argued. “From 2009 to now – it’s a disaster for us.”

Ecocare has previously accused the Maldives as being “not prepared at all” for the projected acceleration of sea level rise caused by the collapse of a glacier system in Western Antarctica.

Officials from the Ministry of Environment and Energy were not responding to Minivan News at the time of publishing.


MNDF assists with relocation of Maafilaafushi island residents

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has today continued with efforts to relocate families on the island of Maafilaafushi in Lhaviyani Atoll, local media has reported.

MNDF officers began assisting with the transfer of families to the island of Naifaru yesterday (July 10) at the request of Lhaviyani Atoll Council.

MNDF officials have told Sun Online that the ongoing transfer of the estimated 80 people living on Maafilaafushi was expected to continue on Saturday (July 13).  The military also thanked islanders for their cooperation.

Local media has reported that the decision to transfer residents to nearby islands in Lhaviyani Atoll had been taken after the government declared Maafilaafushi an inhabited island.

The office of Lhaviyani Atoll Council and MNDF Media Officer Captain Abdulla Ali were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

In 2011, the former government began discussions on transferring the population of Maafilaafushi – then estimated at around 100 residents – to other islands.

Local Newspaper Haveeru reported at the time that residents on Maafilaafushi, which was used by the MNDF for training, had demanded to be relocated due to military exercises conducted on the island.


33 islands will not receive ballot boxes for PPM presidential primary election

The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has decided 33 islands in the Maldives will not receive ballot boxes for its upcoming presidential primary election.

PPM Election Committee Member Mohamed Tholal told local media on Tuesday (March 19) that islands with less than 18 PPM will not receive the ballot boxes.

Local media reported that PPM members who reside within the 33 islands not chosen to receive a ballot box will still be able to vote at islands where the ballot boxes are placed.

According to local media, the islands chosen to not receive the ballot boxes are Haa Alif Mulhadhoo, Haa Alif Thurakunu, Shaviyani Kan’ditheem, Shaviyani Maaun’gudhoo, Shaviyani Maroshi, Shaviyani Noomaraa, Noonu Kudafaree, Shaviyani An’golhitheem, Raa Fainu, Baa Dhonfanu, Baa Fehendhoo, Baa Goidhoo, Baa Hithaadhoo, Baa Kamadhoo, Baa Kihaadhoo, Baa Kudarikilu, Alif Alif Feridhoo, Alif Alif Maalhos, Alif Dhaalu Dhigurah, Alif Dhaalu Fenfushi, Alif Dhaalu Kun’burudhoo, Alif Dhaalu Mandhoo, Alif Dhaalu Dhidhdhoo, Vaavu Keyodhoo, Vaavu Rakeedhoo, Vaavu Thinadhoo, Meemu Raiymandhoo, Faafu Magoodhoo, Dhaalu Ban’didhoo, Dhaalu Hulhudheli, Dhaalu Maaen’boodhoo, Dhaalu Meedhoo and Laamu Gaadhoo.

The PPM Election Committee has announced a total of 172 ballot boxes will be placed in 148 islands for its primary elections.

Both Abdulla Yameen and Umar Naseer are competing for presidential primary scheduled for March 30.


Government plans to launch new scheme to empower local councils

Fifty percent of rent from atoll shops in Male’ and lease rent on uninhabited islands is to be given to atoll councils, the government has decided.

Speaking at a function marking the decentralisation of administration in the Maldives, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik announced strategies for providing financial support to local councils, local media reported.

As of July this year, the government plans to give 50 percent of rent from atoll shops and uninhabited island lease rent to atoll councils.

The president noted that for the decentralisation system to work there would need to be equal assistance and opportunities for the people. To do this, Waheed said it would take local councils to set aside their political differences.


Harbour construction project begins in Gemanafushi

The Maldives Transport and Construction Company (MTCC) has begun a 10-month harbour construction project on the island of Gemanafushi in Gaafu Alif Atoll.

The project aims to reconstruct a 304 metre long and 91 metre wide harbour in place of the old habour, which is in ruin and insufficient for use, local media reported.

President of Gemanafushi Council Asim Mohamed told local media that work on the project begun on January 24, adding that MTCC were given 10 months to complete the project.

Asim thanked president Waheed for starting the project soon after making a promise to do so on a recent visit to the island.

“When President Waheed visited this island a while ago, he promised that a new harbour would be constructed here. Within a short period of time, work on what will be one the best harbours in the Maldives has begun here.

“I thank President Waheed in my own name, as well as on behalf of the people of this island”, Asim was quoted as saying in Sun Online.


Supplementary budget to be proposed in first half of 2013: President Waheed

A supplementary budget is to be proposed to parliament before the end of the first half of 2013, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has announced.

Speaking at Henbadhoo in Noonu Atoll, the President claimed the country’s economy “is not as bad as it is perceived to be”, adding that the decline in global economy was affecting the Maldives in an adverse way, local media reported.

Waheed stated that that priority will be given to projects such as health centres and other basic services on islands, and that he intends to make the necessary changes to the supplementary budget in order to address these issues, he was quoted as saying in local media.


Vice President pushes for population consolidation plan

The Vice President Waheed Deen has called for the country to prioritise a population consolidation plan to foster sustainable economic development in Maldives.

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. The extremely dispersed population and small island communities have been long recognised as key challenges to the sustainable social and economic development of Maldives.

“Without population consolidation we cannot achieve sustainable economic development,” Deen contended, speaking to the media first time since taking office, after parliament unanimously endorsed the resort tycoon as the Vice President on April 25.

Deen observed that islands with population below 400 still demand services such as sanitation, harbors, schools and hospitals, but the distribution of such social and economic services to the remote and least populated islands is an economic burden due the state to the high expenditures.

“So where is the economy of scale?” Deen asked. “If government continues to spend on small island populations, the expenditure will turn out to be a waste.”

According to the new VP, people need to understand that they can have access to be better services under a comprehensive sustainable economic model if they live together. He identified capital Male’, Hulhumale’ and Addu city as key examples of such development.

“Divide and Rule”

Meanwhile, the new Vice President also shared concerns over several obstacles to the resettlement of the people into larger populations.

“A policy of divide and rule has long existed among us and we need to move away from this,” said Deen, well known for his philanthropic works and praised as “the founding father of local government in the Maldives” for spearheading efforts to introduce local governance through elected councils, before resigning as Atolls Minister in August, 2008.

“Getting votes in smaller populations are easier. However, if the community grows larger, influencing or controlling the people will not be easy,” Deen explained. “So, this is a very important point people needs to think about.”

He noted that detailed discussions on the matter are yet to be had with the government, but the issue remains a top priority: “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 a a dream I see. I will try to make this dream come true.”

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 kilometer.

Failed initiative

Deen’s remarks today on population consolidation mark 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. The former MDP government – now replaced by a coalition of former opposition parties – had favoured connectivity and transportation, but stopped short of relocation.

Population consolidation plans originated in the 1980’s under the banner of ‘Selected Islands Development Project’. However, concerned by the inefficiency of distribution of social services and basic infrastructure in islands with small population, and counter in-migration towards capital Male’, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration embarked on a revised resettlement program called the ‘National Population Consolidation Strategy and Programme’, published in 2001.

Under this proposed strategy, two regional growth centers were agreed to be created serving respectively the Northern and the Southern atolls. In addition, 85 focus islands were selected to receive a high order of services; the other inhabited islands, called primary islands would receive a minimum level of services and population would be encouraged through various forms of subsidies to move toward the focus islands and the regional centers

Resettlement of nearly 17 islands were reportedly under review during the Gayoom’s last term in office, but confronted by the aftermath of 2004 Tsunami and the pre-2008 democratic reforms, the population consolidation plans were pushed to to the background. The talks ultimately disappeared from the tables following administration of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) which lobbied for a national transportation network between the islands to boost connectivity and economic progress.


‘Market Harbour’ project amended, bids re-open

The Economic Development Ministry has announced that the ‘Market Harbour’ project, designed to develop island harbours, has been reopened bidding, Haveeru News reports.

The project was first announced on March 24, 2011. The Ministry has since amended the proposal to suit amendments proposed by island councils.

The ‘Market Harbour’ projects intends harbours to be developed along regional, atoll and local standards. The projects will take effect in Dhaal atoll Kuda Huvadhoo, Gaaf Dhaal atoll Gahdhoo, Thinadhoo and Ihavandhoo, Haa Dhaal atoll Kulhudhufushi, Haa Alif atoll Hoarafushi, Meemu atoll Mulah and Raa Dhuvaafaru.

Haveeru News reports that project bidding is open to local and international companies. The report adds that facilities such as warehouses, banks, and guesthouses will be available.