“Black rain” in Eydhafushi unsafe for use

The Public Health Unit (PHU) has warned Baa Atoll Eydhafushi Island residents against drinking or cooking with rainwater following a “black rain” shower on Tuesday.

Similar incidents of black colored rain were reported in Meemu Atoll Kolhufushi Island in 2011, and Haa Dhaal Atoll Kulhudhuffushi Island in 2006.

In 2013 there were further reports on Haa Dhaal Atoll Nolhivaram Island and Haa Dhaal Atoll Kurimbi Island, and in Dhaalu Atoll Meedhoo Island.

However, little seems to be known about the health implications of this occurrence. Islanders have speculated the phenomenon maybe acid rain.

“We advise people not to use the water for drinking or cooking, but they might be able to give it to their plants,” a Health Protection Agency (HPA) official told Minivan News.

The HPA said they have not observed any negative health effects from black rain yet.

Islanders are heavily dependent on rainwater for cooking and drinking, but many are now turning to store-bought mineral water as reserves run low in the dry season.

Senior Community Health Officer at Baa Atoll Hospital Sidqi Abdulla told Minivan News islanders were not concerned about threats posed by polluted water to their water supplies as the black rain was only seen on some parts of the island.

“This is the first time we’ve seen black rain in Eydhafushi,” he said.

However, he noted increased water insecurity in the island due to intrusion of saltwater into groundwater.

Although state officials have yet to confirm the reason for the black rain, research carried out by University of California’s Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan indicates there is ten times more pollutants in the air mass north of the Maldives compared with the south.

The Cloud Aerosol Radiative Forcing Dynamics Experiment (CARDEX) carried out in 2012 suggests that soot and carbon from India are captured in ‘brown clouds,’ which drift over the North of the archipelago.

This pollutant layer, he argues, is an insidious mixture of soot, sulphates, nitrates and ash, Ramanathan has said.

Only the southern tip of the long island chain enjoys clean air coming all the way from Antarctica.

“The stunning part of the experiment was this pollutant layer which was three kilometre thick, cut down the sunlight reaching the ocean by more than 10%,” Ramanathan said in a BBC interview.

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‘Toxic bomb’ ticks on Maldives rubbish island: AFP

“Descending by plane into the Maldives offers a panoramic view of azure seas and coral-fringed islands, but as the tarmac nears, billowing smoke in the middle distance reveals an environmental calamity,” writes the AFP.

“Thilafushi Island, a half-hour boat trip from the capital, is surrounded by the same crystal clear waters and white sand that have made the Indian Ocean archipelago a honeymoon destination for the rich and famous.

But no holidaymaker sets foot here and none could imagine from their plane seats that the rising smoke is the waste from residents and previous visitors being set alight by men like 40-year-old Fusin.

A migrant from Bangladesh, he is one of several dozen employees on “Rubbish Island” — the biggest waste dump in the country where he’s paid $350 a month for 12-hour shifts, seven days a week.

With no safety equipment bar a pair of steel-capped boots, he clambers over a stinking mountain of garbage, eyes streaming and voice choked after four years’ exposure to thick, toxic fumes.

Beneath his feet lie the discards of the cramped capital Male’ and the local tourism industry that has helped turn the collection of more than 1,000 islands into the wealthiest country in South Asia.”

Read more

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Governance, socio-economic and political issues threaten Maldives’ reefs: study

Governance, socio-economic and political issues within the Maldives are reducing the ability of local, atoll and national management to address threats to coral reefs nationwide, according to a recently published study.

The extent of coral reef recovery following the 1998 and 2010 bleaching incidents was collaboratively studied by Reef Check, the Marine Conservation Society and Biosphere Expeditions, with the results recently published in the expedition report entitled “Little and Large: Surveying and Safeguarding Coral Reefs and Whale Sharks in the Maldives”.

“Given the severity of the initial catastrophic bleaching [in 1998], there has been a moderate to good recovery of corals in the central Maldives atolls… [however] most coral communities in the central reefs are still recovering from the massive bleaching event,” the study found.

Furthermore, human activities causing local environmental pollution and global climate change impacts are “suppressing recovery” from coral bleaching incidents for reefs nearer to “more heavily populated centres” as well as threatening sustainable “maintenance of the very corals on which the Maldives exist,” the report noted.

“[However] the potential for a full recovery of Maldives corals in many sites is good,” it continued.

The report identified numerous government and management shortcomings that exacerbate the threats impeding reef recovery in the Maldives, despite ongoing government efforts to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPA) as well as reduce carbon emissions nationally and internationally.

Governance problems must be addressed if the Maldives is to achieve UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status for the entire island nation, the study emphasised.

Governance shortcomings harm reef resilience

Political instability and the recent economic downturn in the Maldives have shifted immediate priorities away from marine conservation, according to the report.

“Unfortunately, the monitoring budget for the [Maldives] Marine Research Centre (MRC) appears to have been drastically cut in the recent past, with little information coming out of the MRC in terms of reef conditions,” noted the study.

There is also “inadequate investment in enforcing” environmental conservation laws, particularly in MPAs.

“Enforcement has been undervalued as a net contributor to the nation’s wealth, because economic returns from such an investment are not easily apparent or quickly attainable,” the study explained.

Inadequate reporting of rapid environmental degradation was a key concern highlighted in the study, because this destruction has “degraded the natural capital of the islands and the reefs that support local and tourist islands.”

Reefs have been “heavily modified” over the past 30 years – due to the lack of “concurrent precautionary management” – as “resource exploitation has expanded to meet the demands of an increased human / tourist population,” the report added.

Education and awareness regarding sustainable reef management is lacking, as balancing environmental resource extraction with protection is not included in the national curriculum, according to the report.

Meanwhile, business and tourism remain heavily dependent on a carbon-based economy due to the Maldives’ geographic remoteness, the study noted.

Given that the “Maldives’ islands are entirely, naturally made from the fine coral sand washed up onto the very shallowest coral platforms, with the highest point reaching approximately 2.4 meters above sea level” the study emphasised the importance of correcting these governance issues for reef protection.

Reef destruction threatens Maldives’ survival

Coral reefs play an unrivalled role in the Maldivian culture, lifestyle, and for fisheries relative to most other Indian Ocean states, in addition to supporting an expanding tourism and recreation industry, noted the study.

Human activities such as “tourism, reef fishing, coral mining, dredging, reclamation and the construction of maritime structures and pollution represent most impacts on coral reefs,” the study identified.

Overfishing of keystone species that are important for keeping reef predators in check, as well as inappropriate atoll development, sedimentation, and pollution were also identified as key threats.

Climate change induced impacts including sea surface temperature increases and seawater acidification from increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide are, respectively, leading to coral bleaching as well as decreased coral skeletal strength, growth rates, and reproductive outputs. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere need to be reduced to less than 350 parts per million, the report noted.

The mutually reinforcing combination of these threats will have “detrimental consequences” for the Maldives unless national and local government, tourism, and local island groups manage the local and global impacts threatening reefs, the report emphasised.

“Only with the development of capacity-building, training and resources committed to conservation at the local atoll and island level will mitigating measures be implemented,” stated the study.

Proactive island level sustainable environmental management is essential for coral reef health and recovery from previous “catastrophic, massive bleaching”, the report recommended.

This includes establishing and promoting sustainable fisheries that protect species from overfishing, including enforcing and expanding “no-take zones” for one in every three reefs, particularly around grouper spawning locations.

“Pollution must [also] be tackled” to prevent algal growth, which harms reef health.

The study concluded that “local islands, their political administrators and resorts should adhere and enforce these environmental standards, where possible, in order to stave off the most severe detrimental effects of climate-driven change to the health of the reefs.”

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‘Surfers against sewage’ shame city council over night market littering

Appalled by excessive amounts of garbage littering streets, nearby parks, and sea due to the Male’ night market, local surfers have staged a creative protest using the rubbish to pressure the city council into action.

The night market is held annually before Ramazan to provide people a plethora of affordable goods. Locally referred to as the ‘Ungulhey Bazaar’ – literally meaning the ‘rub up against someone market’ – the 10 day event draws dense crowds, and this year has a record-breaking 765 stalls representing 450 groups, according to local media.

Thousands of people shopping and eating amidst the hundreds of densely packed stalls generates enormous amounts of waste, which is pitched onto the streets or into the adjacent sea since there are no trash cans.

For the past three years the market has been located near ‘raalhugandu’, Male’s surf point, adjacent to the Tsunami Monument in Henviru ward.

Fed up with the pollution the “surfers against sewage” decided to take action.

“There are no dustbins so the rubbish ends up in the ocean and we don’t want that,” local surfer and Maldives Surfing Association (MSA) Spokesperson Ibrahim Riffath told Minivan News yesterday (June 11).

“It’s very bad, like a real slum,” said Riffath. “The Maldives is one of the most beautiful countries, but the sh*ttiest place.”

The wind carries the waste into the water and spreads it through the streets, so the bad storm that wreaked havoc on Male’ and the night market earlier this week exacerbated the problem, Riffath explained.

The surfers were in good spirits walking through the empty market stalls to collect trash – which was strewn over the ground – to reuse for their protest.

An impromptu improvisation about the waste management problem, sung by local surfer Ibrahim Aman to the tune of Pink Floyd’s the Wall, with accompanying lyrics “we don’t need no trash around us”, made the rubbish hunt a lively affair.

As did Aman’s poetry about inserting trash into a bin: “My name is dustbin and I’m always empty. My girlfriend’s name is garbage…”

The random rubbish pieces were arranged along the sea wall, hung from trees in the small park near ‘raalhugandu’, and piled next to protest boards in an artistic fashion.

Witty signs, banners, and graffiti expressed their frustration with the waste management problem: “Is this a pretty picture? Is this heaven on earth? Is this the garbage area? For an independent Dhivehi Raajje (Maldives) we need a clean Dhivehi Raajje.”

The lone trash can located near the park at the night market’s entrance was adorned with graffiti saying “What is this?”, while other ironic messages saying “thank you city council”, “welcome to paradise”, “sunny side” and “carbon neutral 2013”.

While most of the “surfers against sewage” are MSA members, their protest was not conducted as an official MSA initiative, but was rather spontaneous collective effort.

“MSA’s president wrote to the city council this year, but we have not yet received a reply,” said Riffath.

“The city council is saying they will have dustbins, but they have not yet done it and no one is coming to collect the trash,” he continued.

“They told us that this place, [the raalhugandu park], is not the road so it’s not part of their mandate to clean,” claimed Riffath.

“We are doing this for ourselves, the public and the environment,” he added. “People aren’t educated about why littering is so harmful.”

Be green and clean

“It’s not nice or hygienic,” local surfer Hamd Abdul Hadhi told Minivan News yesterday.

“Each stall should be responsible for keeping their area clean, daily,” he suggested. “If we were rich we would have bought the dustbins ourselves.”

“Most of the pollution from the market ends up in the sea,” he explained. “The trash hurts the fishes and corals, plus when we’re surfing and get a plastic bag stuck to our faces then we’re in trouble.”

Raising awareness about the link between human and environmental health is necessary to stop people from haphazardly throwing their garbage everywhere, which is why the surfers are leading by example, Hadhi noted.

“People are damaging mother nature so much with rubbish,” he said. “As surfers, we understand more than others and want to show people that it is good to be clean.”

“We clean the park and surrounding area two or three times a week, but no one else bothers,” Hadhi lamented. “And every night market we put up notices saying ‘do not litter here’.”

“It’s not just for our benefit, waste management is important for the whole country,” he said. “We are one of the smallest countries, so it’s crazy we can’t manage waste properly.”

“No one listens to us, so this [protest] is all we can do,” he declared.

Male’ City Council

“Of course this is a problem at the night market,” Male’ City Council (MCC) Mayor Ali ‘Maizan’ Manik told Minivan News today (June 12).

“I move around every day early morning and my goodness I know how bad it is,” said Manik.

“My secretary general will be arranging a meeting for this afternoon with the [protest] organisers and we will discuss waste management how we can reach a solution and solve this issue,” he added.

Manik explained that the Environment Ministry has been handling the waste management problem, but has not kept the MCC informed of what they are doing.

“Given the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) investigation into the [Tatva] contract we were asked to stop [waste management activities] until the inquiry was completed,” said Manik.

“I spoke with the Environment Minister and they are already approved to sign the [new] Tatva agreement, but before the council signs we have to know the changes they have made to the contract,” he noted.

“The Tatva discussion was already held and the original agreement was signed in November 2010,” he continued.

“Changes were already made to the agreement by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank, so there shouldn’t be [additional] changes, but the Environment has Ministry altered the contract,” Manik said.

“This is the kind of government we have, doing this to disturb us,” he added. “The waste management agreement should be made to benefit the public.”

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Q&A: French tourist Mary Kivers

Minivan News interviewed French tourist Mary Kivers, a travel agent visiting the Maldives from France. Kivers came to the Maldives interested in seeing local life, and she shared her perceptions of a country that is both a world-class vacation destination and a unique victim of climate change. Kivers was randomly chosen for the interview, and nothing was known about her or her travel plans in advance.

Eleanor Johnstone: What made you decide to come to the Maldives?

Mary Kivers: When I’m traveling I just look for the cheapest opportunity because I have a promotion as a travel agent. So I saw Male’, and I thought, “Maldives, it’s one of my dreams to go there”, especially because I am a diver, so I decided to go. But then it was pretty hard to find accommodation at a good price.

EJ: How was your trip planned?

MK: I looked on the Internet a lot, and I knew I wanted to go to a local island. I found three websites: one was rather expensive and another never called back, but the third did a package with activities including a boat trip, and full board on Guraidhoo in South Male Atoll at a great price.

EJ: What was your first impression of the Maldives?

MK: When I arrived, I thought it was really nice. First, I went to a resort because I wanted to go diving. So I spent two days and two nights in a resort. I knew I wouldn’t like it too much though, because tourists stick together and it’s a honeymoon destination, so as a girl traveling alone the resort scene can get boring. But I talked to the staff who were very friendly, even though work was hard for them during Ramazan.

I talked with some Sri Lankan staff, who said they spent seven months here and three months at home, which seems very hard for them. But otherwise, the beach was clean, the nature is perfect and the sea is really amazing. Two days, though – it was enough.

EJ: Can you tell me about the local island experience?

MK: Well, when we arrived on Guraidhoo the manager took us to see the tourist beach. There’s only one beach for tourists to wear bikinis, which is hidden away from islanders. Everywhere else, you have to be appropriately dressed for the culture.

Afterwards, every day we took boats to see inhabited islands. But it’s a pity because there’s a lot of garbage and plastic bottles, shoes, everything really, everywhere. There are no trash bins anywhere, even on the local islands. There’s a large amount of garbage, and sometimes they burn it, but it’s right near the sea. There’s the beach, then the sea, then the garbage.

EJ: Where does the garbage come from?

MK: From the people on the island. At first I thought it was all from the boats, but on my last day I really wanted to see the village and local inhabitants so I decided to go there instead of taking the tourist boat. It was really great, I was walking around and everyone was inviting me to sit with them or eat in their house.

Even though it was Ramazan, they gave me food and drinks. They were very nice, even though they don’t see many tourists. It’s funny – children speak English but the older people don’t speak English. It’s now two years since they got a ferry, so before that there wasn’t a ferry or a teacher. Now it’s getting better. In this island for example they have two schools – one for ages 2-6, and the other for ages 6-14. After 14, they have to go to Male’ or another island. The government will pay for housing on another island. But because they have many children, I think it can be hard to get everyone educated.

EJ: You’ve seen the resort side of the Maldives, the local island side, and now you’re on the capital island. How would you describe Male?

MK: Big city, lots of buildings… it’s funny because people look at you  weirdly, because I think as I’m a woman alone so I stand out. But they’re very nice people. Yeah, it’s a nice city but it’s built above garbage, they put the garbage anywhere, there’s no trash, no bin. It’s funny because we who live abroad think that Male’ will be an example for the world about pollution and everything, since global warming is important here. But when you see the inhabitants in the Maldives, they put anything into the sea. It was funny, on Guraidhoo one of the girls had a diaper, you know for the baby, and I asked her where she was going. She said, “I am going to the bin,” and she went and threw it in the sea.

EJ: Really?!

MK: Yeah, I know! I even talked a little to the people about garbage, recycling, pollution, but I think it will be a long time for that change to happen. But it’s too bad, I think the sea is so nice, but when there is trash it distracts from nature and the sea.

EJ: So overall, how would you recommend the different parts of the Maldives to other travelers?

MK: Well for me, I prefer local islands for sure. Because you can really get into the culture and see how they live, and it’s more alive. Resorts are like a postcard. It’s just right, perfect…. but it’s not the real country. I guess if you like luxury and honeymoons it’s perfect, but for me it’s a little bit dead. Tourists aren’t smiling much, and I don’t like that, personally.

I would recommend people stay on a local island. I think I will do a post online about how someone can do that, because it was so hard to find a place where I could stay. So if I post on a forum and chat about where to stay in the local islands of the Maldives, maybe I can make it easier for other travelers.

EJ: What do the people you know think of the Maldives?

MK: I met a group of French people on the local island, and I think they were just happy to stay on the boat. They didn’t seem to really want to see the locals and the traditions.

EJ: Thank you, I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay, and have a safe flight home.

MK: You’re welcome.

Tourism is the biggest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldives, bringing in over 700,000 visitors each year. Some resorts, such as Soneva Fushi, appeal to the eco-minded tourist by providing environmentally conscious services. But waste remains an issue for the Maldives. In 2009, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that 330 tons of waste are transported to Thilafushi island for processing. Thilafushi is now commonly known as ‘garbage island’.

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Maldives a vital force of high ambition in climate diplomacy: UK Special Representative for Climate Change

International climate change negotiations are reaching a critical “and potentially quite dangerous moment” ahead of this year’s COP17 summit in Durban, the UK Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change John Ashton has said during his first visit to the Maldives.

With economic meltdowns in Europe, deep internal political debates in the US and the drive in developing economies to create jobs for the increasing number of people migrating to cities, political attention was  being distracted from climate change, he observed.

“There are lots of distractions and we need to keep an eye on the ball. The Maldives can help the international community to do that,” he said. “Whenever I get a chance I draw attention to the circumstances of the Maldives, and I encourage people here to use the platform they have because their voices need to be heard more widely.

“The Maldives is extremely important. Because of its vulnerability, particularly to sea level rise, and the skills of President Mohamed Nasheed in communicating the country’s predicament globally, the Maldives has a global influence on perceptions of climate change. I’m here because we need to learn to see this problem though eyes of the Maldives. What is clearer here than in other places is the scale, urgency and existential nature of the problem. In our global response to climate change, we haven’t developed a response commiserate with that urgency.”

Underneath the ongoing climate talks, he said, “is a battle between low and high ambitions. It is partly played out as a battle between those who want to see a legally binding approach and those who want a voluntary approach – which is likely to be as effective as a voluntary approach to speed limits.”

Ashton predicted that climate negotiations in Durban and over the next few years would lead to a “decisive battle between the two models.”

As a country with intense vulnerability to climate change, the Maldives had an opportunity to use its iconic status to frame the debate.

“One goes [to the talks] and feels the tussle between the forces of low ambition and high ambition. The Maldives is very much a force of high ambition, and that is appreciated very much by all of us who identify with the need for a high ambition response, including the UK,’ Ashton said.

Minivan News understands that international delegations expressed surprise and confusion during talks held in Berlin in early July, when the Maldives’ Deputy Environment Minister Mohamed Shareef appeared to entertain support for special response measures proposed by Saudi Arabia – measures which would see the kingdom compensated for lost oil revenues.

A person familiar with the matter voiced frustration at the position and claimed it signalled the Maldives “has gone from being a world leader to a banana republic in international climate policy in the space of little more than a year.”

Speaking to Minivan News today, Dr Shareef said “I don’t believe for one minute that Saudi Arabia’s concerns are genuine, and I don’t like the idea of response measures.”

“This has been taken out of context. Our argument is that the concerns of all parties should be addressed,” he said. “Real concerns should be kept, the others thrown out. My argument is that we can’t just put difficult issues aside – there are very difficult issues in this negotiation we are not considering. Saudi Arabia and OPEC countries are blocking [the negotiations] and we are not addressing their concerns. There should be a mechanism to address the concerns of all parties.”

Ashton today observed that “there is always a danger at these meetings of over-interpreting what other people are saying. People have their antennae finely tuned, and if you are someone who doesn’t go to all of the meetings it’s quite easy to misinterpret something as the opposite of what was meant.”

“I don’t know what was said. But I have in all of my engagement with Maldives seen it as a voice of pragmatic high ambition in the global conversation, and that has been greatly reinforced by all the meetings I’ve had here. I wouldn’t read too much into indirect accounts of what one Maldivian official might have said in Berlin.”

The agreement on climate was, Ashton said, “the most complex piece of diplomacy ever devised. It’s not surprising that it has twists and turns, not the least because the problems involving not just negotiation but the underlying domestic politics of the parties involved in the negotiation. Every negotiation involves compromises, and there are people who want to go faster, and people who want to go slower.”

The Maldives’ hitherto empathetic and uncompromising position on climate change had given it an “ enormous authority as an arbiter as to how fast is fast enough,” he said.

“If I was a representative of the Maldives I would not be willing to compromise on that, because the stakes are so high.”

It was legitimate to raise the subject of response measures, Ashton said, as “this really is about a re-engineering of the global economy. Lowering carbon emissions affect how we produce electricity, use land and conduct industry. It not an environmental negotiation about air or water quality, it’s an economic negotiation. You have to accept this is going to have disruptive consequences, and where you have economic disruption you have politics. Political economy comes into play because you have a distributional problem – how opportunities are shared and how risks allocated. That’s true within economies, and to some extent internationally.”

Questions surrounding response measures and distribution were significant for the Maldives, he said, because it suffered from climate change “in an existential way. If the sea level rise, there are real questions about the viability of a state like the Maldives. In an order of priorities, problems like that should come right at the top.”

Response measures recognised that the process of reengineering the global economy was disruptive, he said, “and that there is time for economies to adapt.”

“But I don’t think it is legitimate for the whole process to be held hostage by an issue like this. Because in the end if this is the approach that everybody adopts, we will get precisely nowhere.”

The Maldives’ had an opportunity to benefit financially from becoming a carbon neutral economy, he predicted, “because all your energy comes from diesel, which you have to import, and over the next 10 years is going to become more expensive. You could probably [adapt] in a way that doesn’t impose additional burdens on the economy, and actually save money while building a more resilient and energy-secure economy.”

The world had confidence, Ashton said, that the Maldives’ ambitions to become carbon neutral by 2020 “is not just cosmetic positioning. I came here partly because I wanted to see what was happening with the carbon neutral plan. I’m hugely impressed.”

“Maldives make a huge difference. Athough people understand carbon neutral economy, a lot of people feel it thwill be a burden – a risk to the economy rather than an opportunity, and perhaps a risk to political stability. People hesitate. What the Maldives can say in pursuing its carbon neutral plan, is that ‘If we are, why can’t you?’. That’s a powerful message.”

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Pollution in water surrounding Malé poses serious health risks, warn doctors

Sewerage and contaminants infiltrating the water and reefs around Malé have been a concern for many years, but as the population grows, so does the amount of sewerage going into the water, and the health and environmental risks this could pose are spiralling.

Business Development Manager at the Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC), Hassan Saeed, said waste in Malé is simply “disposed into the sea.”

He said at the moment there is no governing law that prohibits sewerage from being dumped into sea, and it is just being discharged at 50-100 metres below the surface.

Saeed said the seweage is not treated before being discharged, but is collected from households and then directed to the sea.

“So far it’s safe,” Saeed said. “We are discharging it into deep water and the currents take it away from the island.”

He said the MWSC has tested the waters near the swimming tract and artificial beach, and the Ministry of Health has also done independent studies.

He noted that the discharge pipes near the swimming areas have been extended up to 600 metres in length, to ensure they are taken further away from swimmers. “We have tested near the tract and we have found it is safe in that area,” he said.

The issue of safety had been raised before, he said, and added the government is looking into investing in treating the water.

“We are also ready to do that, the treatment of sewage,” he said, “but total investment is very high. We might have to ask the public to pay for it, it’s very costly.”

Saeed explained a lot of land space was needed for a water treatment plant and would require a high investment. He noted the project could also be carried out on a barge, if necessary, but said the cost for that would probably be higher than doing it on land.

“If we have to do it in a floating area, then we will need a lot of investment,” he added.

Garbage around Malé harbour
Garbage around Malé harbour

Medical concerns

Dr Abdul Azeez Yousuf from Malé Health Services Corporation said pollution in the water is a concern, since it is “a question of considerable contamination” and added there is “not an easy solution” to the problem.

He noted that since it’s not just sewerage in the water, but also many chemicals, it could cause many diseases, including ear and throat infections diarrhoeal diseases.

Dr Yousuf said the government had looked into the issue in the past and “have done some damage minimising” to improve the state of the water in the artificial beach and swimming tract.

The biggest problem, Dr Yousuf said, are all the boats in the harbour. “They don’t have proper sewerage disposal,” he said. “It goes straight into the sea.”

Medical doctor at the Central Clinic in Malé, Dr Ahmed Razee, said he has treated cases of gastro-enteritis caused by infections from the water.

“I am able to say very emphatically that yes, people can develop gastro-enteritis from swimming in Malé lagoon,” Dr Razee said.

He noted that “theoretically, the possibility [of getting gastro-enteritis] is very much real,” and “in medicine what we say is if something is possible, it will happen.”

But he added that “as far as the local population is concerned, and people who are continuing to go swimming, even if there was an infection, they would probably all have immunity to it, most of the common organisms.”

He explained it’s like traveller’s diarrhoea, “because you’re not [as vulnerable] to the germs that are in your surroundings.”

Dr Razee said the more “ominous thing is the presence of typhoid in the water and enteric organisms.” He said although enteric typhoid has been almost “wiped out” in Malé, “we do see some sporadic cases.”

He noted though, due to constant travelling between the Maldives and neighbouring Sri Lanka and India, “we cannot definitely say that the few cases we have seen have been locally infected.”

People get typhoid fever from contaminated water, Dr Razee explained, and noted it is a “bacteria which is excreted in the stool, so where the stool goes, the bacteria goes”.

He said “the waters are polluted with bacteria” that could cause digestive infections, and was mostly due to the boats in the customs area of Malé.

“There are a lot of boats which are more or less permanently moored there, and they are using the sea as a toilet,” he said. Additionally, “the sewage that is treated in Malé is not treated to eliminate bacteria, so it’s almost raw sewage, in an unrecognisable form, that is being let out into the sea.”

Dr Ramzee was considerably angry at those working in sewerage disposal. “These people are making so much profit, where is their social responsibility?”

“They, as professionals and scientists, know they are not doing what they are supposed to be scientifically doing,” he said, adding “it is the responsibility of the sewage company to ensure they do not pollute the water. They make millions of dollars out of these poor folks.”

Media Coordinator for Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) Zeenath Ali Habib said “we haven’t got any cases regarding the matter” and it is “not a concern” for the hospital.

Environmental impact

fish feeding off sewerage which is discharged every half an hour
Fish feeding off sewerage vented from a Male outlet

Ali Rilwan from environmental NGO Bluepeace says his organisation is “concerned with the contamination from sewage” seeping into the coral around Malé reef.

Rilwan said “there are all sort of things” contaminating the water, including heavy metals. The contaminants are reaching Malé reef from five outlets, he said, noting that “the reef is decaying.”

Another major concern is these contaminants reaching people through the food chain; if the fish get infected, people who eat it could also be infected.

Photographs courtesy of bluepeacemaldives.org

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