Alifushi still without water as more islands request emergency water

Alifushi island in Raa atoll has still not received emergency water after the last batch was found unsuitable for drinking.

The council’s tests through the island health center indicated there were bacteria and dust in the water which is currently being tested by Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

Alifushi council President Abdul Latheef said that no water have been delivered to the island since the incident, and that people were depending on bottled mineral water bought from local shops.

While the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) stated the island authorities had not requested more water, Alifushi council said that they should receive a replacement for the contaminated batch without having to ask.

Seasonal water shortage

Meanwhile, the NDMC has said that 34 islands have requested a total of 2,639 tonnes of emergency water following water shortages this year. Water  has now been delivered to sixteen of these islands.

Water shortages have become a seasonal issue, with 53 islands requesting water  between February 3 and April 25 last year, with similar numbers in previous years.

While no research have been done as to what causes the water shortage, it has been suggested that it is due to the contamination of ground water following the 2004 tsunami.

Traditionally, rainwater when collected is used for drinking as well as water from ground wells. Ground water was also used for cleaning, cooking, and other purposes. Every year during the dry period – particularly from February to April – a number of islands request emergency water.

Stating that the impact of the tsunami on the island was relatively small, Latheef blamed a lack of effective sewage system and having to dispose sewage effluent into ground for the water contamination.

“The population is not small here. For years we have been given the good news of a sewage system. Eight times, I remember,” he said.

Lateef said that just last week a research team from Maldives Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) came to island.

“We have seen so many teams and research being done. But I have no hope that it could actually happen”.

Government response

According to NDMC, the water is bought from MWSC and is then collected from the nearest desalination plant and delivered to the islands by private companies on contract bases.

The councils then sign and approve the water before it is transferred to public water tanks.  The NDMC buys the water from special funds allocated by the Ministry of Finance, with no specific budget allocated for this purpose.

The Alifushi Council president said that the island has a desalination plant gifted to local NGO ‘Vadinge Ekuveri Jamiyyaa’ by the UNDP, though the plant was later handed over to the state-owned FENAKA utility corporation.

“If the council had that plant, we would be producing water right now. But FENAKA has not produced any water for the past two years,” Latheef said, adding that FENAKA produced and distributed forty litres of water daily for every household until they stopped.

When contacted by Minivan News, FENAKA explained that the only person authorised to talk to the media was the managing director who would require a written enquiry.


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.


Nearly 60 islands hit with water crisis

Aishath Haseena* and her sisters, clutching empty bottles, rushed to the water tank near the mosque as soon as the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officials finished re-filling the tank. It had been empty for over two weeks.

“Water tanks in almost all the houses are empty now. So everyone started to collect water from the public tanks. But, two weeks back, the public tanks also ran out of water,” Haseena, a resident of Hithadhoo in Addu Atoll, told Minivan News today.

While 90 percent of the atoll’s population depend on rain water – often collected in household water tanks as a principal source of water – the reduced rainfall during the dry season (January-June) leaves several islands across Maldives in a severe annual water crisis.

According to the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC), so far this year 58 islands have reported water shortages and asked for emergency water supplies.

“We have received requests for water from 58 islands facing severe water shortages. We are working with the MNDF to supply emergency drinking water to those islands as soon as possible,” NDMC Project Director Hisaan Hassan said.

Among the worst-hit areas were the islands of Addu city, with a population of nearly 30,000. The MNDF is now providing the islands with water from the desalination plant situated on the Southern Regional Harbour on Hithadhoo island.

“People were buying bottled water from shops when the MNDF started refilling the public water tanks, including schools and mosques,” Haseena observed. “People were very worried, because they use rainwater for drinking and bottled water is so expensive. Everyone can’t afford them on a regular basis,” she added.

According to MNDF media official Lieutenant Abdulla Mohamed, last week nearly 10 tonnes of water were supplied to the islands daily.

Meanwhile, Mohamed also noted that 35 tonnes of water were collected from the Felivaru fish processing plant and carried to islands of Baa and Raa atoll on a finish vessel. The water was discharged into both public and household water tanks using pipes, he explained.

“We are also facilitating NDMC to provide water to rest of islands facing shortages” Lieutenant Mohamed noted.


All islands in the Maldives do not have a functioning water supply and distribution network that can ensure sufficient supply of safe freshwater during dry periods, except Male’, Vilingili and Hulhumale’, which are home to over a third of the total population.

While surface fresh water is generally lacking throughout the country, key problems pertaining to freshwater security relate to the of increasingly variable rainfall patterns induced by climatic change and the management of saline groundwater.

Until recently, groundwater was commonly used for all purposes including drinking and cooking, however, following the 2004 tsunami the underground water wells in most islands were contaminated by sewage, waste and salt water – thus increasing the use of rainwater.

However, the rain water storage is limited with an  average household storage capacity of 2500 liters on most islands. And due to the changing weather patterns and prolonged dry periods, the islands experience severe shortage of drinking water, prompting calls for emergency water supply.

Current figures from NDMC show that in 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). The average cost of this service is expected to rise with fuel prices.

NDMC noted that the centre is working to find a sustainable solution to the annual water crisis, which is being “discussed at policy level”.

Meanwhile several internationally funded projects have been initiated over the past years to provide sustainable water solutions.

The Ministry of Housing and Environment and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) last year signed a US$8.5 million project to provide “climate smart freshwater solutions” to three densely populated islands; Ihavandho in Haa Alif atoll, Mahibadhoo in Alif Dhaalu atoll and Gadhdhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu. This project is estimated to provide clean water to more than 6700 people.

The United States government is meanwhile providing US$7.1 million towards an integrated water resource system on Lhaviyani Hinnavaru and Haa alif Dhihdhoo islands, under an agreement signed last year between the two governments. Both islands have approximate populations of 4000.

* Name changed on request