Maldives faces water crisis after fire at its sole desalination plant

India, China and Bangladesh extend potable water supplies to the low-lying archipelago

Published: Tuesday 09 December 2014

Water bottles being loaded in C-17 Globemaster III of Indian Air Force

It could take about another 10 days before water supplies are restored in the island of Malé, the capital city of the Maldives. The government of the coral archipelago declared a water crisis after a fire broke out on December 4 at its only desalination plant, Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC).

Soon after the incident, there was a scramble to buy drinking water with scuffles reported in several areas. Speaking to the public, President Abdulla Yameen said, “I am not trying to make any excuses for the disaster at MWSC but the company was formed in the early 1980s. The design of the company and the water demand has changed with the population increase in Male…We did not have any fall back plan for any disaster of this magnitude.” According to Yameen, the government will look into various ways to prevent such an occurrence maybe by dividing up the water grid by wards.

The situation calmed down within a couple of days with aid from neighbouring countries.

Neighbours quench thirst

Indian navy fleet tanker INS Deepak arrived the Maldives on December 7, bringing with it 1,250 tonnes of water. The ship, which also has RO capabilities, is now at anchorage near Male where it will produce 100 tonnes of water a day. The desalinated water will then be transported to the capital via barges. So far, 10 Indian military airplanes have landed at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport bringing with them over 200 tonnes of water.

Two Chinese military flights, carrying 40 tonnes of water, and a Chinese vessel, capable of producing 90 tonnes of water a day, have also arrived at the archipelago.

A Bangladeshi military vessel with five desalination plants and one hundred tonnes of water is due to arrive on December 11.

“The 130,000 residents of Male are being provided bottled water and desalinated water via public taps and mobile vehicles. Distinct measures are also taken to address the needs of vulnerable and special needs population,” according to a statement issued by the UN.

President’s Office has announced that considering the difficulties people could face as a result of the current water problems all government offices, except banks, in Male will remain closed for the rest of the week.

High water tariff for no supply?

Meanwhile, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) condemned government efforts, particularly the decision to continue billing residents for water usage. According to Minivan Daily, a newspaper of the Maldives, Rozaina Adam, deputy leader of MDP, has criticising the decision of MWSC to implement a 30 per cent discount on water transactions for the month of December and said that water should be provided free of charge until the water crisis is resolved. MWSC charges a progressive rate on the water usage, which rises as the usage increases over a Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR) 30 fixed monthly charge. The rate can go as high as MVR95 per cubic metre when usage increases over 500 litres, the news daily reports.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has also called for an inquiry into the incident at NWSC.

The residents of Malé consumed around 14,000 tonnes of water a day, with the fully functioning plant able to produce around 20,000 tonnes.

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