Waters of Paradise - Adapting to Climate Change in the Maldives

The Maldives is one of the wonders of the world. Located in the Indian Ocean and made of 1192 coral islands, it is also the world’s lowest lying country. The highest natural point is just 2.4 meters above sea level. Today, one of the main problems for Maldivians is water. And it is likely to get worse with Climate Change. While Northern islands face drinking water shortages during the dry season, from April to May, most Southern islands face a different problem: flooding.The United Nations Development Programme with support from the Green Climate Fund is supporting the Government of the Maldives, to ensure that most vulnerable islands have year-round access to potable water and that they can cope with floods on their own.

Nearly half of its population lives in Male, the capital of the islands, in less than 1.4 square kilometers. The rest is spread over 186 small, scattered islands. Maldivians have lived for centuries from coconuts and fishing. There are no rivers or streams on any of the islands. Except for Malé and a handful of other islands, most islands rely on rain for drinking water. Islands affected by floods and shortages of potable water receive relief from the capital island Malé. Transportation costs are high with the Maldives scattered geography. This makes emergency relief very expensive for a government already struggling economically. Climate change is expected to bring stronger storms, and longer periods without rainfall.

A rise in the ocean’s temperature and acidification has had devastating effects on coral reefs, affecting tourism and fisheries, both critical to the livelihoods of most Maldivians. Damaged reefs also function less effectively as a first line of defense against sea swells and flooding. Until the nineties, Maldivians used groundwater for drinking. But over the past decade, the groundwater of most islands got contaminated. The freshwater lenses of most islands was badly affected by the Tsunami of 2004 and poorly planned urbanization.

As a result, today, rainwater, together with water produced using desalination and expensive bottled water are the only potable water options. In the past ten years, the National Disasters Management Center in Malé had to send emergency shipments of water to about half of the 186 inhabited islands during the dry season. An expensive solution that sometimes can take up to two weeks to arrive. Most households have one tank of 2500L and fill it by collecting rain from their roofs. Bigger families might even have 2 or 3 tanks, since one is not enough for them to make it through the dry season. When water supply ends, households cope by borrowing from neighbors, by buying bottled water or by receiving water relief from Male.

Director: Marta Baraibar