Managing Water Resources
Maldives is experiencing an acute water shortage owing to change in rainfall patterns and policy mismanagement
Famous for its serene beauty, natural habitat, and a tourist destination, the island of Maldive suffers from lack of water resource management. This is causing problems for residents since their access to clean water has become limited over the years.
For years, Maldives has been receiving an adequate supply of freshwater but now the crisis has accentuated given that there is mismanagement on part of the government and a change in climate. Authorities are debating over the traditional reliance on groundwater supply for both potable and non-potable usage. The densely populated islands have been experiencing a water crisis because of over-extraction of groundwater,
contamination, and salinization of aquifers given a rise in sea level.
The government is making efforts to improve the methods of rainwater harvesting and desalination to supply drinking water in residential and commercial areas. Moreover, it is also giving due attention to the threemonth dry season and to effectively use stored rainwater during this period. Rainfall occurs throughout the year, however, dry periods prevail between December to April. Furthermore, open water evaporation and transpiration from vegetation is high which reduces the availability of freshwater. Despite demands from residents, some islands do not have rainwater tanks. The situation varies widely between islands and regions. More than 80 per cent of households on the island of Muli, the capital of Meemu Atoll in the South Central region, have rainwater tanks while only 20 per cent of households have such reservoirs in Ribudhoo, a neighbor of Muli. Moreover, in the Southern region, 69 per cent of households have rainwater tanks and in the South Central region, it is only 36 per cent. Even with the availability of rainwater tanks, the residents face water crisis during dry seasons, as the tanks cannot store enough rainwater.
The water management situation in Hithadhoo on the Addu Atoll,with a population of nearly 30,000, is troubling. The Maldives National Defense Force ( MNDF) is providing the island with water from desalination plants. According to MNDF, nearly 58 islands of the Maldive have reported water shortages and asked for emergency water supplies.
Apart from rainfall, groundwater is the second source of water. Groundwater in Maldives is found in freshwater lens beneath every island. In hydrology, a lens refers to the study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water. Moreover, a lens is the curved layer of freshwater that floats on top of a denser layer of saltwater.
Researches in hydrology estimate that groundwater capacity across the 203 inhabited islands of Maldives is nearly 0.147km. Moreover, climate change is also adding difficulties for Maldivians in storing and gaining access to freshwater. Although there is ample understanding of climate change in Maldives and NGOs are educating the people with the concerns regarding sea-level rise, the government is still slow in assessing the impact of climatic changes on the population and groundwater resources across the islands.
According to certain estimates, when the sea level rises by 1 meter, it reduces the available capacity of groundwater by 79 per cent. However, some research suggests that islands experiencing a coral reef erosion may be able to keep pace with the rising sea levels. Unfortunately, a time will come when the climbing sea level will affect every island.
It is high time that the Maldivian government took action over the issue of rising sea level. Not only is it affecting the availability of ground water, it will eventually determine the land area for inhabitants in the near future. Moreover, changes in rainfall patterns and an increase in population are likely to affect groundwater capacity that will reduce the availability of freshwater on a per capita basis.
The Maldivian government should create water management policies that preserve groundwater quality, protect freshwater lens, and regulate groundwater demand and extraction from its source.
Moreover, the government should also improve procedures to harvest rainwater and focus on agricultural production through sustainable irrigation. Unfortunately, rivers and streams are a rare sight in Maldives, thus making it difficult for residents to obtain freshwater. Therefore, the population uses rainwater for drinking and groundwater to fulfill domestic needs.
The residents store rainwater in community tanks and use it during dry season. However, the situation differs in Male where the population has access to desalinated water distributed through a piped network. Unfortunately, Male, is now facing difficulties as sewage pollution is spoiling the groundwater.
Integrated methods can help Maldives develop a combination of groundwater resources and methods to increase rainwater harvesting. Although desalination is an expensive alternative in the Maldives, the government should set up plants that provide clean drinking water.
During the 70s, Male’s rapid development attracted the population from other islands as the Maldivian capital experienced an unnatural population boom and the quantity of water drawn from Male’s aquifers increased tenfold. This also increased groundwater pollution as more sewage was being disposed into the ground.
With the Maldivian elections set to take place on September 7, presidential candidates should include water management and distribution problem in their manifesto and vow to resolve this crisis. The changing climatic conditions, a rising population, an increase in water pollution along with a lack of government initiatives will only exacerbate the water crisis in Maldives. What strategies the government will take to resolve this remains to be seen.