Male' City         Male’ City – The capital of Maldives

Male’ is the capital city of the Maldives, a nation made up of over a thousand islands and completely surrounded by water. The Maldives is most well known as a favorite destination for tourists around the globe for it’s natural beauty, clear seas, rich marine ecosystems and white sandy beaches. However, the capital city Male’ is far from being a natural beauty unlike rest of the country.

While the Maldives is made up of hundreds of islands, the capital city is the only island with ‘proper’ health, education and other necessities. This has caused the majority of the population of the country to move to Male’ and this has caused major congestion in the island over the years. Maldives cover an area of 90,000 square kilometers in the Indian Ocean, but this island nation is often considered one of the most dispersed countries in the world. The capital city covers an area of 5.798 square kilometers by land. The population of the country is just over three hundred thousand and almost fifty percent of the whole population live in Male’. The government has had no proper infrastructure in place for the growing population. The island’s natural water resources are almost completely unusable due to over consumption and the increased construction of buildings throughout the island. It has become impossible to collect rainwater at all in the capital city, due to air pollution and the air being contaminated with dust and cement. However, people have started using bottled drinking water completely. Over the years, with the fight for democracy, Malé has been the epicenter of political protests and milestone events, and this has also brought in many socioeconomic problems in to this very small-congested island.

The Maldivian government established the Maldives Water and Sewerage Company as a solution for this and to provide the public with desalinated water from seawater as the main supply. MWSC has seen slow growth similar to the rest of the government owned companies and is the only water supplier for the whole island. The main income source of the country tourism gets most of it’s income through Resort Hotels established in islands which are fully equipped with desalination plants and resources, which is proof that the country has businessmen or investors who are fully capable of establishing a private water company. Although the government’s policy for this is quite closed and prefers a state owned company.

However, the inhabited islands also face the same problem of water scarcity at some extent. A dozen islands had nearly run out of water completely. If it weren’t for the weekly cargo boat that brought in bottles of water in plastic, the stored water in some households wouldn’t last a week. “I am very upset with the government because we need water,” 42-year-old Jameela Aboobakuru from Gaafaru. “We ran out of water, so we borrowed water from our brother. When he ran out of water we started buying bottled water imported from Male’.” In some parts of the country where there is shortage of clean drinking water a family would spend 22 dollars a day to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking. Due to the dispersed geographical positioning of islands, it has always been a challenge for the authorities responsible to provide proper facilities and services to the public. Not only is the water scarcity, but also in the field of education and health, it has always been a challenge to provide proper and up to standard facilities in every island.  And this has been the main reason why the capital city Male’ have been able to offer better infrastructure compared to islands, and this brought in many residents from islands into the city.

After the Asian Tsunami, over 70 of the 200 inhabited islands had disruptions to their water supplies, either through destruction of rainwater tanks or salinization of groundwater. The immediate response of the authorities was to provide mobile desalination plants, which proved effective if not expensive until rainwater harvesting could be reestablished in the monsoon. This has also brought in new thought of changing from traditional household self-managed systems to community systems necessitating co-operative management, which requires levels of technical expertise and financial recovery.

Congested we are...

       Male’ City – How congested we are…

The Island of Malé, the fifth most densely populated island in the world, without proper management has faced several problems in the last couple of years. The political unrest in the country itself brought in many new challenges and difficulties to the citizens, and also the struggle for power over political parties have diminished the standards of some basic public services like management of water, health services and also education standards. The Male’ city council at present governed by the opposition party members faces several difficulties when dealing with the government bodies, and this results in poor service for the citizens or delayed service. It is the question of interest that arises, the political interest or the general public interest that needs to be catered first. The decisions that we make for the gain of one single citizen would have several negative effects for the future.

Likewise, in the designing and construction industry designers do not further research into the possible challenges that might arise with poor designing of residential buildings in such a crowded and congested piece of land. If we do not make our designs sustainable enough now, then we do not have a chance even to exist on the land we care so much. Global warming and sea level rise has been one of the most concerning environment factors that the low laying islands have faced in the past several years. Due to its low height above sea level, seasonal rain floods the capital city with water and without proper drainage it becomes a complete chaos in the monsoon season. The poor waste management facilities in the capital add to this bringing in diseases during the rainy season. I believe this could be resolved with better and firm management and designing and proper waste management and recycling.

It is impossible to believe that a country surrounded by water does not actually have a proper water infrastructure. Designers when designing multi-storey residential buildings do not take into account consulting a professional electrician or plumber and even the authorities responsible for checking the building regulations do not take this as a strict measure. However, an office building or a resort island has proper regulations. But I believe that it is the residential buildings that need to be first properly managed in order to have other services running appropriately.Some of the policies of the government have caused increased prices for public services and slow growth in these areas, which could easily be resolved by privatising these companies.

One of the very recent issues the capital island of Male’ faced was the fire in the lone desalination plant (MWSC) on December 4th 2014, which left the capitals 130,000 inhabitants without running water for days. Schools and government offices were closed and the complete city was under fear of not having clean water for days. The issue was solved due to foreign relations with the neighboring countries like India and Sri Lanka who began airlifting bottled water to the capital as taps ran dry while China and the United States also provided assistance.  India also provided ships with desalination capabilities to boost supplies. However it is sad to say even at times of such crisis political preferences play a huge role in the tiny island nation. The designing also made the situation worse by people living on upper floors not being able to get water for days. Street scuffles erupted at many places where authorities were distributing bottled water under a strict rationing system. Shops ran out of containers to collect water and people went on to collect empty bottles from the junk yards, and the situation was worsened when there was dispute over water being supplied to certain citizens and were limited to others. While water is a basic need that needs to be provided apart from the political preferences.

Shekhar Kapur, at the WaterWoMen conference in the Maldives: ‘Long before we run out of water, we’ll go to war over it.’ 

Many restaurants and shops were closed and some residents travelled to neighboring islands where there is water for drinking and washing. The crisis did not hit the atoll nation’s luxury tourist resorts located on other islands, which have their own power generation and desalination plants.

Maldives with the biggest challenge of global warming and sea level rise needs to rethink in terms of designing and planning for the future. We need to reconsider how we want to shape our future city, and not constructing just buildings, but buildings that are sustainable and efficient in terms of providing the best services and facilities. I also believe that the capital city of Maldives needs better urban spaces and public spaces for the betterment of the future generations. The congestion and such crisis needs to be resolved sooner if we want to make our cities a better place to live in. We also need to keep our political differences aside, which quite seem impossible in a country like Maldives which recently went through a police mutiny by bringing down a government which was elected by the people. But if we are to improve our living standards and improve public services we need to keep political preferences aside. We need to be sustainable and we need to be economical.


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