Residents of Laamu Gan demonstrated today over the island’s damaged sewage system which has remained unfixed for the past two months.
The system at fault is located in the new settlement of the tsunami-displaced population that moved to Gan from Mundoo and Kalhaidhoo islands in 2007.
It was funded and established by the International Federation of Red Cross Societies (IFRC) as part of their tsunami recovery work before being handed over to the government of Maldives upon completion.
According to the council, no one has since taken ownership of the system and it has remained abandoned and without any maintenance. The Ministry of Housing has earlier said the damages to the system was caused by vandals.
The damaged system has been causing sewage waste to spill into the island, particularly during wet weather. In June the council expressed concern over the issue, alerting authorities and the media.
“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,” Council President Ahmed Salah told Minivan News at the time.
“Sometimes it is overflowing from the toilets, leaving houses and rooms filled with waste.”
The council had proposed to join the system with a new MVR85 million sanitation facility being established in Gan for areas which previously did not have any such facilities. However, experts said it was not possible as the two systems are incompatible.
Gan council subsequently managed the situation by using a mobile tank, donated with the sewage system, to drain the waste into the sea. The process takes around 20-30 rounds to drain it to a usable level after each spill, explained the council at the time.
After repeated requests from the government and ministries, including a special visit to Malé to meet the heads of institutions, the Ministry of Environment and Energy awarded the operation and maintenance of the sewerage system to FENAKA Corporation Ltd on July 21.
The US$1.8 million project will be implemented under International Federation of Red cross and Red Crescent Societies loan, Minivan News was unable to contact FENAKA at the time of publication
The Ministry of Environment and Energy will attempt to diversify how it finances infrastructure projects in order to compensate for a reduced budget during 2013.
State Minister for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed told Minivan News that reductions to government expenditure over the next 12 months would create “operational difficulties” in its ability to provide water and sewerage projects to a wider number of islands.
The claims were made as the Environment Ministry yesterday unveiled its work plan outlining developments for the next twelve months that will include water projects across 15 islands and sewerage developments on 47 islands.
Despite these commitments, Matheen stressed that the ministry’s development focus has been limited by parliament last month approving a budget of MVR 15.3 billion (US$992 million). The approved amount had been cut by over MVR 1 billion (US$65 million) from the budget originally presented by the Finance ministry to parliament as part of efforts to curb concerns over a budget deficit.
In order to try and make up for possible shortfalls in spending for development projects, Matheen said private sector collaborations were among initiatives sought by the Environment Ministry.
“Definitely we will be facing operational difficulties due to the budget cuts, so we are trying to diversify the financing sources for the development projects and apply the maximum flexibility in the procurement process,” he explained.
“In addition, we are aiming to increase the private sector participation and contractor financing for project implementation.”
Along with water and sewerage projects, Matheen claimed that efforts were also under way by the ministry to secure MVR800 million (US$51.9 million) for development of the country’s energy sector.
A key focus of this development would be focused on renewable energy, reflecting ongoing commitments to try and become a carbon neutral nation by the end of the decade.
He added that donor funding and private sector finance was presently being sought as part of this green focus.
According to local media, the Environment Ministry yesterday unveiled that state funding would be supplied for water projects on five islands, as well as the introduction of sewerage systems to a further 32 islands.
Further projects on 13 other islands were reported to be funded through loans, while two sewerage systems would be implemented as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
Dr Shakeela was reported as saying that an estimated MVR500 million (US$32 million) was needed to fund the total number of water and sewerage projects it had outlined for 2013.
“Due to the budget difficulties we are almost not able to pay salaries in some areas. But we are working through the projects we have in hand and other ways. We are trying to find a solution by holding discussions with the Finance Ministry,” she was quoted as telling local media.
Back in December 2012, State Minister Matheen claimed that there were “concerns” about the amount of funding allocated to the Environment Ministry in the proposed state budget.
Such concerns were addressed this month by Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad, who pledged to hold discussions with government departments, independent institutions and the Maldives judiciary to try and reorganise their respective spending allocated within the 2013 budget
Despite the efforts to reallocate monies within each ministry, Jihad has maintained that the present state budget was likely to be insufficient to cover costs over the next year. “We will have to submit a supplementary budget this year,” he contended.
The parliamentary committee that reviewed the state budget last month had originally recommended MVR2.4 billion (US$156 million) worth of cuts to state spending.
A number of the committee’s members claimed expenditure could be reduced largely by cutting “unnecessary recurrent expenditures” within the budget such as ministerial spending on foreign trips and office expenses without impacting services.
State Minister for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed has played down a report that his department yesterday slammed the proposed state budget for neglecting the “fundamental rights” of Maldivians, claiming there had been a “misunderstanding” with local media.
The Sun Online news agency yesterday reported that senior environment ministry officials had raised fears before the Majlis’ National Development Committee that it had been allotted an insufficient budget for proposed water and sewerage projects needed across the country.
Environment Ministry Permanent Secretary Ahmed Saleem was quoted as claiming that some 15 projects proposed by his department had been excluded from the budget is being debated within parliament this week. These projects were said to deal with issues including waste management, as well as supplying water and sewerage systems to more islands around the Maldives.
Saleem was reported as saying that complaints over the matter had also been sent to Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad, who had in turn had responded that any amendments to the budget would have to be made through the Majlis with support of MPs.
Both finance chief Jihad and Economic Development Minister Ahmed Mohamed were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.
Speaking following yesterday’s meeting with the National Development Committee, Permanent Secretary Matheen claimed that Saleem’s reported comments had been the result of a “misunderstanding” by its author. He alleged that the journalist had focused on a few points of a long meeting with the committee.
While Matheen said that there were some “concerns” about the present status of the budget allocated to the Environment Ministry, he that alleged the article’s conclusions were “very misleading”.
“The budget issue is very sensitive right now, so i’m afraid I cannot make any comments about the matter at present,” he said. “The islands are all asking what they will have from the ministry.”
Matheen added that he was presently unable to comment on the exact nature of the “misunderstanding” contained within the Sun Online report due to the fact discussions on finalising the state budget were ongoing.
Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Hassan Adil, a member of the National Development Committee, was unavailable for comment when contacted on the challenges in trying to balance ministry expenditure in the current economic climate, asking Minivan News to call this evening. However, Adil was not answering calls at the time of press.
Presenting the budget to parliament last week, Finance Minister Jihad explained that next year’s budget deficit was to be financed with MVR 971 million (US$62 million) as budget support and MVR 1.3 billion (US$84 million) from Treasury bill (T-bill) sales.
However, as debate on the budget commenced yesterday amidst, regularly coming to a halt due to frequent loss of quorum – most MPs complained of the lack of funds allocated for development projects in their constituencies. these projects included developments such as harbours, water and sanitation systems, additional classrooms and upgrades to health centres.
Meanwhile, it was revealed last week that the proposed budget for defence expenditure for 2013 was found to be 14 percent higher than the funds allocated during 2012.
A total of MVR 930.9 million (US$60.3 million) was proposed for defence expenditure, which amounts to 5.5 percent of the total budget.
Balance of payments
With the Majlis currently contemplating the 2013 budget, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission to the Maldives last month noted that a ballooning fiscal deficit had “implied a rise in the public debt ratio, which now stands at over 80 percent of GDP.
According to the organisation, these developments also helped to boost national imports, thus worsening dollar shortages in the economy and putting pressure on MMA (Maldives Monetary Authority) reserves.”
The IMF forecast for the current account deficit was “nearly 30 percent of GDP this year.”
“Gross international reserves at the MMA have been declining slowly, [and] now account for just one and a half months of imports, and could be more substantially pressured if major borrowings maturing in the next few months are not rolled over,” the IMF mission warned.
The mission recommended formulating “a realistic and prudent budget for 2013″ to rein in the fiscal deficit, suggesting hiking taxes and “selectively” reversing import duty reductions.
According to an overview of the economy presented by the Finance Ministry along with the state budget (Dhivehi) proposed to parliament last week, the current account deficit in 2012 was expected to be 27 percent of GDP.
Following water shortages that authorities said affected over 100 inhabited islands back in May, Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodig at the time claimed financial support was the key challenge in ensuring sufficient supplies of drinking water to the public, even with the assistance of local resorts and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).
Minivan News reported back in April 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.
Ottawa-based Clearford Industries Inc. has signed an agreement with The Upper South Utilities Limited (USUL) of the Republic of Maldives to negotiate and enter into sewerage infrastructure projects for up to fifteen of the islands located in the country’s Upper South Province, using Clearford’s Small Bore Sewer system.
Canadian company Clearford Industries has signed an agreement with the Maldives’ Upper South Utilities Limited to install and service sewerage infrastructure on 15 islands.
Solid Waste and Recycling Magazine reported that the “good faith” agreement would enable the Maldives to pay Clearford over a 20 year period, in a deal worth an estimated US$40 million.
Sewers are currently installed on just 12 of the Maldives’ almost 200 inhabited islands.
Groundwater on islands without sewerage systems was frequently contaminated due to the porous coral and sand structures of the islands, the report stated.
“The Maldives has been one of the 10 priority countries for Clearford during the last year of international business development,” the magazine reported Bruce Linton, president and CEO of Clearford, as saying.
“We have interacted with and made proposals for servicing on some of the islands over this period. I am confident that we have a very knowledgeable customer and an optimal technical solution for their requirement.”
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.
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.
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.