President Abdulla Yameen’s administration has scaled down water relief efforts today by ending the distribution of bottled water to residents of capital Malé.
“We decided to stop the bottled water distribution because there is no shortage of drinking water at the moment. There is also enough water at corner shops for purchase,” Minister of Defense Colonel (retired) Mohamed Nazim said at a press conference last night.
The government had set up water distribution centers after a fire at Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) on December 4 gutted the sole desalination plant in Malé, leaving 130,000 people without drinking and running water.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) condemned the government’s decision with party Chairperson Ali Waheed saying that the decision will lead to further hardship and claimed the Maldives is currently seeing its worst days since the 1970s.
A Bangladeshi navy ship, the BNS Samudra Joy, arrived in Malé today with 100 tonnes of bottled water and five reverse osmosis plants, the Foreign Ministry has said.
Meanwhile, custom built panels to replace the damaged panel boards connecting electricity generators and desalination plants at MWSC arrived in Malé from Singapore today.
MWSC has now started releasing water once in the morning and once at night. Water was available for four hours this morning and will be available from 7:30 pm – 12:00 am tonight.
The government has also decided to establish a 20,000 ton ‘strategic reserve’ of water to prevent another crisis, using funds gathered through the US$ 20 million ‘Malé water crisis management fund.’
Nazim, who also heads the water crisis task force, said that funds would mainly be used to recover costs which are not covered by insurance, the construction of the 20,000 ton water reserve and to cover the cost of relief operations. Individuals and corporations who contributed to the relief effort will all be reimbursed, he said.
The fund’s establishment has garnered criticism from the opposition and civil society groups, who have demanded transparency in the fund’s utilization.
In response, Nazim said the fund was set up with “very good intentions.”
“Information about the fund would be released in a very transparent manner. I urge the public to refrain from politicizing the fund.” he added.
Anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives has demanded a break down of the US$20 million and said “the decision to seek donations from the public raises questions given that MWSC is a private, profit-making corporation with 80 per cent government shares.”
Private donors have contributed US$5.5million to the fund so far.
Protests demanding free water continued in Malé last night, but were disrupted for the third time by a group of seven young men.
Minivan news observed six to seven young men who were hiding within the protesters jump on a truck and start vandalizing the generator powering the sound system. One attacker lifted up the generator and threw it on the ground.
Police immediately moved in and arrested the attackers. Minivan news saw little to no resistance from the attackers during the arrest.
Several eyewitnesses later told Minivan news that the attackers were praising President Yameen as they waited for a police vehicle to take them to the police head quarters.
“President Yameen is the best thing to have happened to the nation,” one of the attackers was reported as saying.
Another eyewitness told Minivan News that he heard one Special Operations (SO) police officer insulting Former President Mohamed Nasheed while stating those arrested would be released the next day.
A police media official confirmed to minivan news that seven men were arrested last night in relation to the attacks at the protest.
A similar incident occurred on the previous night when three young men attacked the protest armed with box cutters.
On Wednesday, Mirihi Island resort has donated a temporary desalination plant capable of producing 100 tonnes of water to the Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital.
The MNDF has also started distributing disposable cups, plates and cutlery to cafés in Malé.