In 2014, the then president of the Maldives was forced to cut short an overseas trip to deal with an unfolding water crisis in the capital, Male.

Without running water in one of the most densely populated capitals in the world, and more than a third of the population without water for drinking, bathing, cleansing and cooking, the small island state was in a state of emergency requiring immediate international intervention. assistance.

The crisis was triggered by an event, a fire in a desalination plant. But it reflected a larger problem: the general precariousness of the Maldives’ water supply. And the acute need for climate change preparedness is putting even greater pressure on the dwindling precious resource.

SURROUNDED BY THE SEA, ON THE FRONT LINE AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE

With more than three-quarters of its 1,190 coral islands located less than one meter above sea level, the Maldives are extremely vulnerable to climate change.

The impacts are already visible. Records show that the small island state is already experiencing significant warming alongside decreasing total rainfall, rising sea levels and more frequent and intense extreme weather events such as flash floods.

Overall, and in addition to existing human pressures on the natural environment, the country faces a perfect storm. The government recognizes the scale of the challenges and is focusing on climate action. Adaptation remained a national priority.

A WORSENING WATER CRISIS

Over the years, the small island state’s freshwater resources have come under increasing pressure from overuse and pollution. Today, the impacts of climate change are compounding the challenges, with rainfall becoming increasingly unpredictable and sea level rise (currently around 3mm/yr) polluting valuable groundwater sources.

Drinking water shortages have become a regular phenomenon on the outer islands during the dry season, with significant impacts on people’s health, food security and productivity.

Lack of sanitation and groundwater contamination have exacerbated the risk of waterborne diseases. Women in particular have been affected by poor water quality due to their family roles in cooking, washing, bathing children and cleaning. Complaints of skin irritations and infections are common.

Improving water security is a key objective of the small island state’s climate goals and one of the ways the government is building more resilient islands.

MAKE WATER SHORTAGES A Thing Of The Past

In 2017, the Government of the Maldives launched a $28.2 million project with support from the Green Climate Fund and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to ensure a safe, reliable and uninterrupted water supply throughout the year to the most vulnerable residents of the outer regions. islands – about 105,000 people, or one third of the national population.

Despite some delays due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and supply chain issues, the project is now nearing completion.

New climatic resistance Integrated water resources management systems (IWRM) are now operational on the four main islands of Nolhivaranfaru, Foakaidhoo, Maduvvari and Dharavandhoo. The systems – which bring together rainwater, groundwater and desalinated water – will serve as distribution centers for seven northern islands during the dry season.

Seventeen Rainwater harvesting systems were also completed. The systems are an improvement on existing community systems, with tanks designed to collect 150 tonnes of water in addition to water collected from various public buildings. Unlike existing community reservoirs, the project’s systems use ultrafiltration to treat harvested rainwater.

In total, the rainwater harvesting systems are expected to provide an additional 3,750 tonnes of water storage for 25 communities, reducing the need to request supplies from the capital.

Taken together, the systems will provide approximately 20,000 people with an uninterrupted supply of drinking water and mitigate the effects of water shortages.

A drinking water safety plan in dry weather was completed, reviewing the existing dry season water supply process and making practical recommendations for its improvement.

Meanwhile, a new monitoring portal enables the Department of Water and Sanitation to manage water supply more effectively in dry weather by registering the water reserves of the islands, facilitating requests for water from the communes, registering complaints and service disruptions, and improving coordination before shortages occur.

The department is also able to continuously monitor and analyze groundwater conditions using a new geographic information system (GIS).

The project has worked closely with the Maldives Meteorological Service to improve weather forecasts and enable better rainwater harvesting. SixAutomatic weather stations were delivered, supporting the collection of climate-related data and informing more accurate precipitation forecasts.

An update to popular weather app Moosun now allows any of the app’s more than 43,000 users – including utility companies, households and councils – to receive location-based notifications on the probability and amount of precipitation in a particular area.

Occupational standards have been developed for water operations, sewage operations, plumbing and laboratory operations, as well as courses for the National Skills Development Authority. This is the first time that a national certificate level course has been developed for the sector.

The Water and Sanitation Department has a new e-learning management system to house up-to-date training materials for continued use.

EARTH, FOR LONG-TERM RESILIENCE

One of the most important objectives of the project has been to help improve the quality of groundwater for domestic use.

To this end, the project completed the first systematic study of groundwater in the Maldives, on 37 islands. The results will inform island-specific management designs and policies for sustainable groundwater recharge and restoration in the future.

A number of resources are now available for water sector practitioners, competent authorities and researchers, including a groundwater improvement guide, a screening approach and a baseline assessment.

Groundwater management plans are being finalized for distribution to island councils and ministries for reference in land use planning and overall development projects. Officials from all government agencies and the National University received coaching on how to conduct detailed groundwater assessments, equipping them to continue the monitoring program.

At the legislative level, the project has greatly contributed to the elaboration and enactment of water sector legislation and regulationsincluding the Water and Sanitation Act and the Utilities Regulatory Authority Act, both aimed at improving the management of water resources throughout the country.

The project also specifically influenced legislation requiring water production in the country to be supplied entirely by renewable sources. This not only bolsters the country’s carbon neutral ambition, but also reduces its reliance on fuel imports for its water security.

A Pricing model has been developed for the Utilities Regulatory Authority to adopt the best possible, sustainable and affordable tariffs.

A TURNING POINT

The project represents a turning point in water security in the Maldives, marking the shift from reactive emergency measures to longer-term solutions, with benefits on all fronts.

Importantly, the project model is cost effective, combining expensive desalination technology with expanding water harvesting capacities and reducing the cost of imported fuel by switching to renewable energy. The decentralization of water production and distribution means that communities will now have faster access to water during emergency seasons.

Water will be more affordable for households and the state. The cost of water supply during dry periods will be reduced by around 40%: an annual saving of around MVR 1.5 million (USD 98,000).

Due to the scalability of such an efficient model, the Ministry of National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure has now fully embraced it and is installing the necessary infrastructure in the other atolls and islands.

The project has mobilized more than $333 million in public funds for further scale-up, driving real transformation in addressing water shortages and helping meet the government’s commitment to provide water networks. water to all inhabited islands by 2023.

With access to clean water, communities will see a reduced risk of waterborne diseases, improved social security and less outward migration from outer islands, with benefits for development, local tourism and livelihoods.

Thanks to the recharge and monitoring efforts implemented as part of the project, the quality and consumption of groundwater will be gradually restored.

Ultimately, every citizen will have clean tap water when they need it.

Make annual water shortages a thing of the past.