Maldives secures US$50m loan for water and waste projects

The Maldives has obtained a US$50million loan from the OPEC Fund for Development to provide access to water and solid waste management on 49 islands.

Finance minister Abdulla Jihad signed the agreement in Vienna on Thursday. The loan is to be repaid within 18 years, including a grace period of four years.

The interest rate on the loan is 4.6percent.

Under the “Provision of water supply, sanitation and solid waste management project,” sewerage systems will be established on southern Addu Atoll’s Maradhoo, Maradhoofeydhoo, Feydhoo, Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo islands.

Water supply networks will be established in ten islands and water supply systems with desalination and storage facilities will be established in 14 islands.

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Comment: Living with Water

This article is by Ms. Shoko Noda, the UN Resident Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative and UNFPA Representative in Maldives.

Today, 5th June is World Environment Day, a day celebrated every year around the world to encourage awareness and action for the environment. This year’s theme, “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care”, highlights the global citizen’s responsibility towards sustainable living as a way of securing our future; one that is extremely vulnerable for the Maldives, a country often considered Ground Zero for Climate Change, due to the challenges surrounding the element of water alone.

I had only been in the Maldives for 2 months at the time when the “Malé Water Crisis” occurred in mid-December last year. An electric fire at the only water treatment plant in Malé caused an almost complete disruption to the water supply in the capital for about four days. The 133,000 residents of Malé had their first experience of what it means to be taken away the access to one of the basic necessities of life, even if for only a few hours per day. In Malé there was a feeling of panic and worry as people feared violent outbreaks if water became too scarce. Mockingly came the rain, which many believed was a blessing, but this was soon replaced with frustration as the people were ill-prepared to collect the rain water.

The experience was truly an eye-opener for myself as a newcomer to the Maldives. It highlighted how vulnerable the country is to any type of man-made or natural disasters. In stark contrast to my last post in Nepal, a mountainous land-locked country, I had a lot to learn about the true challenges facing this small island nation.

Indeed, the Maldives is increasingly becoming vulnerable to climate change and water-related disasters. More intense weather, in the form of high winds and rough seas, are increasingly causing damage and flooding throughout the country. The situation is worsened by the effects of erosion, which is reported by majority of inhabited islands. Where erosion has occurred the impact of seasonal flooding, caused by high tide, is increased dramatically. Furthermore, population pressures, coupled with the small nature of islands, mean that today many people live within 100m of the shoreline. The result is that the impact of disasters on the people of Maldives is manifold.

On the other hand, during the north-east monsoon when the dry season begins, the now familiar problem of water shortages sets in. The fragile freshwater lens in most of the islands has been contaminated either due to weak sewerage systems or salt water intrusion. The current methods of collecting rainwater in household tanks are often insufficient due to growing populations making all communities highly dependent on bottled water. In many remote islands, water-shortages are an annual occurrence.

The National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) reports that in the past 4 years, on average 68 islands each year have requested emergency water and water has been supplied at a cost of over USD 1 million. Even though the whole nation is surrounded by water, the crisis made everyone pause for a moment to reflect on the challenges that this deceptively abundant yet precious resource can cause. The country’s vulnerability to climate change hits home where the dual challenges of flooding and prolonged dry season compound each other, a reality which exists for most islands in the Maldives.

Much is already being done for these islands to increase their resilience to natural disasters and the longer term impacts of climate change. Coastal protection in the form of seawalls, groynes, sandbags and other measures to combat erosion have almost become the norm for all islands. The country’s capacity to manage disaster risks is increasing as NDMC’s capacity grows. Community-based Disaster Risk Management Plans are a start in this regard together with the establishment of island-level Disaster Management Units and the vital Disaster Management Bill with our support.

Innovative approaches and localised solutions are also being explored through partnership between the Government and UNDP. For example, in Gaafu Dhaalu Thinadhoo a combination of hard and soft engineering measures are being used for coastal modification to address the island’s prevalent coastal problems. Similarly, longer term solutions on flood management are being demonstrated in Haa Dhaalu Kulhudhuffushi. Excess rainwater will be channelled to recharge groundwater as well as a method to combat flooding that is becoming common in many islands.

To bring an end to the problems of water shortages, Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) systems are being considered the most appropriate solution for the islands in the Maldives. It combines rainwater harvesting, desalination and groundwater recharge as a tripartite solution. Currently piloted in three islands in the Maldives through partnership with the Government, UNDP and UNOPS with the support of the Adaptation Fund, these solutions are already being replicated in several other islands.

In the future, these solutions can be further improved. The power hungry desalination process can use solar energy. Excess water from household roofs can be piped into the system. In combination with sewerage solutions, ground water recharge can improve the quality of the fresh water lens.

The water related challenges predicted worldwide are a reality for the Maldives already. The good news is, we have started employing innovative solutions that fit our current and future needs. The protection and sustainable use of the most important natural resource for life should be a priority for us all. On this World Environment Day UNDP renews its commitment to work hand in hand with the government and communities for sustainable use and management of water resources.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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Dealing with the dry spell – Malé’s water crisis continues

Five days since the fire at Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) – the capital city’s sole provider of running water – disrupted water supplies, residents and local businesses struggle to make do with the limited resources available.

As politicians begin finger-pointing, the inhabitants of the capital continue to cope with the crisis in any way they can.

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the Maldives Red Crescent have been distributing bottled water received as aid from neighbouring countries to citizens since December 5.

The drinking water distributed by the MNDF in this manner is being transported to the capital city voluntarily from nearby islands by local businessman Adam Manik of Galolhu Sentuge, owner of Tug Service Marine Pvt Ltd.

Adam Manik has also taken the initiative to set up nearly a dozen large water tanks near the Water Jetty, where drinking water is dispensed free of charge.

“I purchase the water, transport it to Male’ on my boats and distribute it for free to all and any citizens. I see this as a national effort and will continue to provide this service as long as the current water difficulties continue,” Adam Manik told Minivan News today.

Adam stated that his employees have been working relentlessly for the past 4 days on all his boats.

Three of his boats are being utilised for water transportation – ‘Adam 60’, which has the capacity to carry 200 metric tonnes of water, ‘Ifba’ carrying 60 metric tonnes and ‘Namoona’, carrying 20 metric tonnes.

Meanwhile, Happy Market is currently producing ‘Life’ bottled water at maximum capacity, catering to the public, businesses, and resorts.

Happy Market Purchases and Procurement Manager Akram stated that, while the company is unable to provide unlimited supplies, they are working to sell water at an equitable rate.

The public can at the moment purchase one case of four 5 litre bottles at any of the Happy Market outlets in the city for MVR56 (US$3)

Akram stated that other producers of bottled water are slowly resuming retail, which would stabilise the situation while taking some pressure off the sole seller of bottled water.

Leaving water troubles behind

While the queues at free distribution centres grow shorter, there are reports that many residents of Malé have chosen to travel to other islands, especially nearby Villingili and Hulhumalé – both of which have unaffected supply.

Guest house owners confirm that all accomodation at these islands are now fully booked, while some guesthouses have started a new strategy of only renting rooms to Malé residents on an hourly basis.

Traditionally, December is the time of the year when customary circumcision parties are held in the Maldives – which typically include a week long celebration after young boys undergo the procedure.

Fathimath Waheeda stated that on December 4, she had to move her son from the hospital to Villingili as, due to the water shortage, she could not cater to the multitude of guests who would visit her son’s party.

“I rented a room in Villingili and we are having the party here. Less people turn up, but at least there are no concerns of hygiene or catering here,” she said.

Limited water, Limited services

Local businesses are also facing hardship due to the water troubles, with some opting to temporarily close down business until water services resume.

Others continue to persevere, with many gathering water from distribution centres, or collecting water at the limited dispensing hours.

Fahari Cafe’ – run at the North Harbour of Malé – said it is attempting to run business as usual, assigning one employee the task of going to queue at water distribution centres, while another stays alert to collect water during dispensing hours.

Abdulla Saeed, owner of a food outlet called “Home Delivery” stated that they are following the same process.

“What else can we do? This is the work we do to feed ourselves. We cannot give it up regardless of how difficult it may be,” he said.

Marble Hotel owner Athif Saleem said that guests are aware of the crisis and that therefore very few complaints are received.

“We are providing well water to the guestrooms and notifying them of the water supply dispension hours. We are also using rainwater in the cafe for washing purposes and services are available. However, we are getting fewer local customers in the cafe’ during this crisis,” he explained.

Hair salons are also facing difficulties in providing normal services. Many claimed to be open only to offer a limited number of services – those which require a minimal amount of water usage.

Cyza Salon also spoke of decreased number of customers during the crisis.

“Like most others, we also bring water from the distribution centres. We aren’t getting too many customers these four days but if someone does come, we will try to provide services as best as we can”.

According to Special Task Force member Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer, it will take upto 10 days or more for regular water supply services to resume.

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President Yameen to return to Maldives as water crisis enters third day

President Abdulla Yameen will cut short his personal trip to Malaysia and return to the Maldives as the Malé water crisis continues into its third day.

Speaking to the press, President’s Office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz said Yameen is expected to return tonight (December 6), cutting short his visit to Malaysia, where his son is said to be receiving medical treatment.

In Malé, Minister of Defence Colonel (retired) Mohamed Nazim has said that damage to the capital’s desalination plant is extensive, and could take between three days and a week to fully repair.

Water services to the capital Malé have been shut off after a crippling fire damaged crucial components of the island’s sole desalination facility – the Malé Water and Sewerages Company (MWSC) – leaving over 130,000 people without water for bathing, cleaning, and cooking.

“We hope to achieve 100 percent in about a week. God willing, we will be able to get a good result in about three days,” said Nazim, speaking on behalf of a presidential task force.

While 60 percent of the repairs have been completed, he continued, the fire had caused considerable damage to the water treatment plants, requiring extensive repairs.

“The damage to the water treatment plants’ panel board was a lot more than we had expected. Since the spare parts are not available in the Maldives, we must wait until we can acquire it,” said Nazim.

International aid

Fresh supplies of water continue to arrive from abroad – most notably from India – with distribution being carried out by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) with the assistance of local NGOs alongside numerous private businesses.

The government has set up water distribution centers at schools and other public spaces, with each person allowed two 1.5 litre bottles, leading to the formation of large queues stretching around the capital. Local IT enthusiasts have developed a mobile app to enable residents to locate nearby distribution centres.

In addition, water is being pumped every six hours by MWSC for one hour periods although low water pressure means that many of the capital’s residents living in high rise apartments have received no supplies.

The MNDF has started distributing water through mobile tanks set up on military vehicles at various locations of the city, temporarily easing the queues at the water distribution centers.

President Yameen has declared today that all government offices will be closed on Sunday and Monday (December 7 and 8 ) as a result of the crisis, while calling on the public to remain calm and cooperative.

Meanwhile, the government of India continues to send supplies, having delivered over 150 tonnes of water via military aircraft in the past 24 hours. A second Indian vessel, with reverse osmosis facilities capable of delivering 200 tonnes of water daily, is expected to arrive today with 800 tonnes of water.

The Chinese government has sent 12 tonnes of water aboard a Mega Maldives flight from Beijing, with the foreign ministry also reporting Chinese naval vessels being en route to the capital.

Yesterday, Sri Lanka started sending water to the Maldives via Sri Lankan Airlines flights, while the UN in Maldives has said it will distribute 180 tonnes of rainwater stored under its premises on Buruzu Magu.

Local efforts

The Maldives Red Crescent (MRC) and teams of volunteers from telecoms provider Ooredoo have been been assisting security services, with Head of Planning Shabeen Ali telling Minivan News that people waiting for water have been “very calm and disciplined”.

Detailing efforts, MRC spokesperson Safa Musthafa explained that the MRC has mobilised more than 450 volunteers, requesting more people to join the distribution teams by reporting to Majeedhihyaa school which is operating as the organisation’s headquarters.

Safa also revealed that 5 tonnes of bottled water would be shipped tomorrow under the disaster and emergency relief fund set up by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has commended the state’s quick response to the water crisis, though it noted concern over reports of discrimination against migrant workers.

Human rights and pro-democracy NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) also voiced concern over reported discrimination, though volunteers at distribution centres have said the government has reversed the initial requirement of an official ID to collect water.

Rumours of discrimination against migrant workers have circulated on social media with some members of the public telling Minivan News of a fight breaking out at Galolhu stadium last night after locals demanded priority over migrant workers in the queue.

MDN also raised concerns over the absence of a backup plan, urging authorities “to take lessons from this incident and come up with a backup plan for Malé and other islands”.

Former President Nasheed has called for an immediate inquiry into the causes of the crisis, questioning the government’s preparedness levels as well as President Yameen’s absence from the country.

Malé City Council – originally mandated with the provision of water services under the 2010 Decentralisation Act – has also raised the issue of responsibility for the crisis. A council statement noted that its offer of assistance had been rejected by the government’s task force.


International coverage

The BBC reports ‘Maldives in Water Crisis’, while a number of outlets, including the  Daily Mail and Al Jazeera, have chosen to focus on the small number of isolated incidents involving violence.

Government minister Mohamed Shareef was quoted by Reuters as saying that a state of emergency has been declared – soon picked up by the AFP – though this has subsequently been denied by the foreign ministry.

The Diplomat noted that the crisis represented an opportunity for India to demonstrate its capacity as “first responder” in time of crisis, as well as suggesting that a prolonged period without water might lead to “grave economic consequences and a broader political crisis”.

In Indian media, the New Indian Express ran the headline ‘IAF Airlifts Water Bottles to Quench Maldives’ Thirst’, while the Hindu has led with ‘How India staved off Maldives’ water crisis’.



Related to this story

Indian aircraft arrives to ease Malé water crisis

Malé water supply cut after fire at MWSC

Nasheed calls for inquiry into MWSC fire

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Law and Gender Ministry to provide water from local supply to Special Needs Centre

The Ministry of Law and Gender has said it is currently working on providing clean water to the Centre for People with Special Needs in Guraidhoo through the local water supply plant.

The announcement has been made following the issuance of a directive from the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) ordering the ministry to make immediate arrangements to provide clean water that fits WHO standards to the community.

Observation teams from the HRCM found the water used at the centre to be contaminated with e-coli bacteria and has been advising the ministry to solve the issue since 2009.

Speaking to local media, Deputy Minister of Law and Gender Mohamed Zahid dismissed the HRCM’s observations, stating that residents of the centre were not currently using the contaminated water for drinking or bathing purposes.

He explained that the delay in supplying clean water to the centre came because of the Ministry’s intention of “acting justly towards all” and attempting to provide water from the plant to all locals of Guraidhoo instead of just those living in the centre.

“The water we naturally get from Guraidhoo is not of a quality safe for any use. We wanted to do things justly and equitably towards all. It is not fair to provide clean water only to those residing in the centre,” he is quoted as saying.

Zahid, however, added that water from the public supply can be continuously supplied to the centre within 25 days, while the rest of the island can expect to get the service by 2015.

The directive released by HRCM on October 14 callsed upon the ministry to immediately introduce temporary facilities which will provide clean water for basic needs, and requests detailed plans for dealing with the facility’s water and sewerage problems by October 19.

In 2011 the HRCM has conducted tests on the water available in the centre after receiving complaints that it had a foul smell. Three of four samples taken from the centre proved to be below WHO approval standards.

Hafeeza, head of the ministry’s section mandated with oversight of the centre, could not be reached at the time of press, while a ministry official who requested to remain unnamed declined from commenting on the matter.

The Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) signed an agreement with Kandooma Resort last year to provide a 30 tonne water plant to Guraidhoo as part of MVR1.5 million (US$97,600) investment.

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“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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Ministry of Environment holds panel discussion to reflect on World Water Day 2014

The Ministry of Environment and Energy yesterday (April 1) held a panel discussion as well as a question and answer session to mark the occasion of the World Water Day 2013, which fell on March 22.

According to the press statement, the presentations covered a range of topics from water and energy, the history of water and sewerage systems in Maldives, the current plans and policies of the government including summary information on projects, meteorological aspects related to water security, water as a human right, issues related to water quality, and how water is related to climate change.

The event was held mainly for the students studying environmental management, journalism, and teaching at the Maldives National University (MNU). Their participation was intended to enrich their knowledge and to orient them towards environmental issues in Maldives, the ministry’s press release stated.

The event was held in association with the Faculty of Science at MNU, with a welcome address given by the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr Ali Shareef, followed by the speech by the State Minister for Environment and Energy Hasan Shah.

Minister of State for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed has previously told Minivan News that the government is emphasising integrated systems in order to make the best use of the water resources currently available in the country.

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Maamigili integrated water supply scheme launched

A project to bring an integrated water supply system to the island of Maamigili, Alif Dhaal atoll, was launched yesterday.

The project will provide desalinated water through reverse osmosis, and will also incorporate storage tanks for rainwater collection and connections to residents’ homes.

The foundation stone was laid yesterday by Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim and local MP and businessman Gasim Ibrahim.

The Ministry of Environment has revealed that the project will cost around MVR50 million and should be completed by the end of the year. The scheme will be implemented by the Malé Water and Sewerage Company.

Following the introduction of a pioneering desalination project in Kaafu atoll last week, Minister of State for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed told Minivan News that the government was emphasising integrated systems in order to make the best use of the resources currently available on the islands.

In January, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development chose the Maldives from amongst 80 applicants to receive concessionary loans worth US$6 million (MVR92 million) for a clean energy project which could produce up to 62 million litres of desalinated water per year.

Scarce fresh water supplies have become a growing problem in the Maldives, particularly since the contamination of much of the country’s groundwater following the 2004 tsunami. While rainwater is collected and stored for drinking on the islands, seasonal dry periods often leave locals reliant on outside sources for consistent supply of fresh water.

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Emergency water supplied to Alifushi bacteria infested, says council

The emergency water supplied to Alifushi island contains bacteria and dust, the island’s council has said.

Vice President of the council Ibrahim Shuaib said that, following a water shortage,  the island requested 185 tonnes of drinking water from the government – the capacity of the council’s water tanks.

After the island was  presented with 40 tonnes of water, it was subsequently found to be bacteria infested.

“After we received complaints about the water, we tested a sample from the health center here. They found that there were bacteria and dust in it. So we have asked not to use that water,” Shuaib said.

He said that complaints have officially been filed with the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) and the Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

“The EPA asked to send an official letter – we sent that too. But we still haven’t got an answer. Some people are now using that water after boiling,” revealed Shuaib.

Speaking to Vnews NDMC denied the claims, saying that the water was produced at Dhuvaafaru water plant and that no complaints had been received from other islands that had received water from the same plant. Both the EPA and the NDMC are investigating the matter.

With a population of 2700, the council estimates there are approximately 1600 people currently residing on the island. According to the council, the island faces water shortages every year around this time.

Traditionally, Maldivians have depended on groundwater, supplemented by rainwater, for drinking and cleaning. However, the contamination of ground water following the tsunami, and the failure to harvest rainwater, means that water shortages during dry periods are increasingly common.

While every house in capital Malé city is supplied with desalinated water, there are no sustainable systems to supply water on most islands. Water shortages all around the country have become a regular occurrence in the past few years during the dry period – which falls between February and April.

According to the NDMC, during the dry seasons of 2009 and 2010, the Maldivian government supplied desalinated water to over 90 islands at a cost of Rf10 million (US$640,000).

Last year between 3 February and 25 April 2013, some 53 islands reported water shortages to the NDMC. Plans have been underway to find more sustainable solutions to the issue in the past few years.

Minister of State for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed has said that the government was emphasising integrated water management systems in order to make the best use of the resources currently available.

“Our policy is to use the available resources as much as possible,” said Matheen. “Just basically to reduce the water costs.”

Earlier this week he island of Gulhi, in Kaafu atoll, became the first place in the world to produce desalinated drinking water using waste heat from electricity generation.

The project – a joint venture between state electricity supplier STELCO and UK registered charity the Aquiva Foundation – can produce around 8000 litres of water for local consumption.

In January, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development chose the Maldives from amongst 80 applicants to receive concessionary loans worth US$6 million (MVR92 million) for a clean energy project which could produce up to 62 million litres of desalinated water per year.

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