Country profile: Republic of Maldives

Maldives is unique in many ways; its surface is 99 per cent water, no land point is more than 2.4 metres above sea level, its population of 344,023 is spread over 200 inhabited islands – among some 1,190 in the archipelago – and over 90 islands are exclusively for tourist resorts. The capital, Male’, squeezes 31 per cent of the total population [approximately 132,000 people] into two square kilometres, making Maldives a country with one of the highest population densities in the world.

The geographical makeup of the country, with its scattered islands, has resulted in a wide and uneven distribution of population, with Male’ being the only island with a population exceeding 15,000.

The island nation has a relatively high human development ranking, at 104 in the UN’s human development index, 2014. Though the highly urbanized capital has easy access to a wide range of services, this is not the case for the entire country.

The health standard in Maldives is generally good and significant achievements have been made in controlling the spread of communicable diseases. According to the Ministry of Health (MoH), appropriate interventions and public health promotion activities need to be undertaken to maintain the low prevalence of disease.

Despite Maldives’s relatively high human development index ranking, there remains a number of challenges – economic, environmental, health and social. Namely challenges that hinder implementation of decisions/actions in major issues, especially towards climate change, drug abuse and women empowerment.

Climate change poses the greatest long-term threat to the nation and its water security. Most of the worrying effects of climate change involve water. Low-lying states such as the Maldives are particularly vulnerable to effects caused by sea-level rise. Events caused due to rising sea levels and more intense tropical storms increases coastal erosion, loss/threat to property and pollution of groundwater which might lead to major problems related to health.

Maldivian Island Impacted by the Tsunami

Along with this there is also the fear of another natural hazards like that of the Tsunami Maldives faced in December 2004. Recognizing these vulnerabilities, the government has formulated a Strategic National Action Plan (SNAP) for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) which was launched by the Maldivian government in October 2009 – bringing together several stakeholders including MRC to identify the key issues, concerns, gaps and challenges in capacity building and mainstreaming of DRR and CCA, with a view of advancing, improving and mainstreaming efforts. MRC is also a member of the Disaster Management Steering Committee constituted by the National Disaster Management Council – in the Disaster Management Act that was ratified in 2015 – which is the national platform for disaster risk reduction and response.

Other implications Maldives face on the social front are due to the large and increasing income disparities over the past years – that favoured Male’ when compared to the atolls – contributing to urban migration. This led to numerous social problems in the capital caused by congestion, with many being drug-related. In 2003, the Narcotics Control Board (NCB) conducted a rapid situation assessment of the drug scenario. Its findings showed that heroin and hashish were the most frequently used drugs. Drug-related ills, including gang violence, pose major social harmony and law enforcement challenges in the country.

MRC voIunteers taking part in an island cleaning activity

Maldivian communities were first introduced to the work of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (RCRC) in the aftermath and recovery efforts of the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 when the MRC did not exist. The activities of the well funded partner national societies (PNSs) that implemented programs in the Maldives were targeted for specific communities that were affected by the tsunami. As a result of their work, some awareness of the humanitarian values and principles of the movement exited in these communities. This helped in the successful development of the National society in the infant stage. During the past 7 years,  awareness of the RCRC movement and the MRC among the Maldivian general public has increased tremendously.