Man­ag­ing Wa­ter Re­sources

Mal­dives is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an acute wa­ter short­age ow­ing to change in rain­fall pat­terns and pol­icy mis­man­age­ment

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Muhammad Omar Iftikhar

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.

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