The World Helps Maldives Overcome Drinking Water Crisis

(MENAFN- NewsIn) By K/Daily News

Colombo, May 28: Known as a luxury holiday destination with crystal blue waters, the Maldives is an idyllic small islands state in the Indian Ocean. But like other Small Island Developing States (SIDS), it is one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change and faces many unique challenges including a recurring drinking water problem.

Rising sea levels and increasingly erratic rainfall patterns are threatening the country's freshwater resources, putting the health and well-being of its people at risk, the website says.


On May 24, the international media reported that China had gifted 1,500 tonnes of mineral water from the Tibetan glaciers to the Maldives, the second such donation in less than two months. The water was from China's Xizang Autonomous Region. Xizang is the Chinese name for Tibet. Glacial water is clean, clear, and rich in minerals.

Back in March, the Maldivian government announced that it had received a similar consignment of 1,500 tonnes of water from China. The decision to provide Maldives with drinking water was reached during the official visit if China's Tibet Autonomous Region's Chairman, Yan Jinhai to the Maldives in November 2023.

In December 2014, India carried out“Operation Neer' (Water) during one of the worst water crises in the Maldives following a massive fire in the Male Water and Sewerage Company complex. Close to 150,000 Male residents had been left without water in their homes after the generator unit of the Maldives Water and Sewerage Company caught fire and burned.

The Hindu reported that the Indian Air Force dispatched five planeloads of drinking water, which were followed by another five. Two naval warships, the INS Sukanya and the INS Vivek were also pressed into action. They purified water through Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems. The vessels remained berthed off Male harbour until the desalination treatment plant in Male had been repaired.

Officials said that the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj received a distress call from her Maldivian counterpart Ms. Duniya Maumoon around 10 p.m. By morning, an IL-76 loaded with 20 tonnes of fresh potable water had landed in Male, where restive people were awaiting the water crisis.

While the Maldivian government put out similar calls to the U.S., China and Sri Lanka as well, India was the first, and best placed to respond, the paper said.

The Maldives comprises 1,192 islands which are mostly composed of coral reefs and sandbars, a combination that makes groundwater and freshwater extremely scarce. Climate change only exacerbates the problem. Therefore, drinking water is a perennial problem in this Indian Ocean archipelago. And this is bound to aggravate with time with the increasing population, the declining rainfall and incident of drought, says theFoundation for Environment, Climate and Technology, Kandy.

“A part of the solution would be a combination of improved desalination systems powered by clean energy, sound management of groundwater resources, groundwater recharge wells, good sanitation practices and carful harvesting of ground water from uninhabited islands,” the Foundation's report said.

In 2000, 75% of the Maldivian population used rainwater for drinking and groundwater for other purposes. Despite receiving ample rains most of the year, the Maldives faced water shortages during the dry season because of the limited capacity of the aquifer. The rainwater tank capacity was inadequate to last for the dry period. The storage systems, including the superficial aquifer, were not capable of storing enough water to last a dry period of two months or more. The solution for this is to turn to desalinization option which is expensive and environmentally not attractive, the study says.

The capital city of Male had enough water to support only about 10,000 people, but by 2014, the population had grown to 153,000 including migratory workers and visitors.

On most densely populated islands, groundwater was highly polluted. The government abandoned relying on groundwater as a source of potable water because of the low water quality. Pollution was mainly due to from sewerage from septic tanks, prompting the population to seek water from the government to meet their daily needs.

Groundwater pollution caused a series of epidemics in the 1970s forcing the government and people to look for alternative sources of freshwater. In the absence of surface water resources, such as rivers and lakes, the only viable options were rainwater harvesting and desalinization supplemented by imported bottled water.

Of the three, the most economical option was rainwater harvesting. From the beginning of the 20th century rainwater harvesting was practiced in a small scale. The demand grew from the 1970s onwards.

Only 40% of the population had access to safe drinking water in 1977. but it went up to 61% in 1990 and 91% in 1998. WHO and UNICEF reported in 2014-2015 that 99% of the people of Maldives had access to improved sanitation facilities and safe drinking water by 2012. The same report said that the government's target was 100% coverage by 2013.

The government's main focus had been to improve rainwater harvesting infrastructure and expansion of desalination capacity.

Now Malé, the capital, is provided with pipe-borne desalinized water to all its residents. The government also undertook to provide public rainwater harvesting tanks free of charge and individual household tanks on cost-recovery basis to the residents of other islands.

Under the Science and technology Master Plan (2000) 2,914 tanks with the total capacity of 1,520 cubic metres were distributed free of charge for communal use and another 1,588 household tanks on a cost-recovery basis.

But the perceived safety of the rainwater was also problematic. The picture emerging from the scanty data available showed that this source might also be contaminated to a certain extent.

The Government of the Maldives launched a USD 28.2 million project in 2017 with the support of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). According to the project aimed to secure year-round, safe, reliable, and uninterrupted water supply to residents of the most vulnerable outer islands – around 105,000 people or one-third of the national population.

The project also involved the Maldives Meteorological Service to enhance weather forecasting and enable improved harvesting of rainwater. New climate-resilient Integrated Water Resources Management systems (IWRM) became operational on the four main islands of Nolhivaranfaru, Foakaidhoo, Maduvvari, and Dharavandhoo. The systems – which brought together rainwater, groundwater, and desalinated water – would serve as distribution hubs for seven northern islands during the dry season.

The construction of 25 Rainwater Harvesting Systems was completed, with new tanks designed to collect 150 tonnes of water in residential homes in addition to water collection at various public buildings. Unlike the previous community tanks, the new system used ultrafiltration to treat and sterilise harvested rainwater. Four Intergrated Water Resource Management systems (desalination as well as rainwater harvesting) became operational.

According to :“The project's model is cost-effective, combining expensive desalination technology and innovative water harvesting capabilities with slashed fuel import costs thanks to the switch to renewable energy. With access to safe drinking water, communities will benefit from reduced risk of waterborne disease, improved social security, and less outward migration from other islands, with flow on benefits for development, local tourism, and livelihoods. Ultimately, each and every citizen will have clean water on tap when they need it.”

“The project represents a turning point in water security in the Maldives, marking a transition from reactive emergency measures to long-term proactive solutions to tackle their water crisis. The Maldives government recognises the immense scale of its unique challenges and is focused on rapid climate action.”

In 2010, in response to a request from the Maldives government, the Hitachi Group began participating in the management of Malé Water and Sewerage Company Pvt. Ltd. (MWSC). Since then, it's worked to help improve the efficiency of comprehensive water and sewage operations in the Maldives.




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