Rapid assessment report of the impact of the tsunami in the Maldives
1. The tsunami that struck on the morning of the 26th December 2004 was the worst disaster to have ever hit the Republic of the Maldives - 82 people lost their lives, and a further 26 people are still missing. Of the 200 inhabited islands, available data indicates that 69 were completely flooded, 17 were half flooded, and 27 and 24 suffered one third and minimal flooding respectively. In 51 islands, an estimated 4,000 homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed.
2. The Government responded to this disaster immediately, providing a free food distribution to all islands within days of the disaster, as well as providing other non-food items and tents together with other aid agencies, NGO's, and the private sector.
3. The objective of this assessment was to rapidly provide a description of the impact of the tsunami on food security, and to determine if there are people in need of food assistance, the response and targeting options, and any other longer-term assistance needs for WFP and partners.
4. Within these parameters, this assessment drew on secondary data to categorize islands by broad economic activities, and post-disaster data to ascertain levels of damage that would have had an economic impact on people's purchasing power. Secondary data was used to estimate the numbers of people in the islands involved in different types of income generating activities, and field visits and focus group discussions on the islands were conducted to ascertain how these have been impacted on by the tsunami.
5. The assessment categorized 199 islands (the capital Male' was excluded) into 4 areas: Category 1, in which more than half the population was displaced (13 islands) due to loss of homes and large scale flooding; Category 2, where there has been complete or more than half flooding and / or large structural damage (82 islands), and where the greatest numbers of people likely to require assistance would be found; Category 3, where between a third and a half of the islands were flooded (23 islands) and in which some people may have been affected; and Category 4, which had minimal flooding and little to no structural damage (81 islands), where monitoring to ensure that no negative effects of the tsunami begin to manifest themselves on people's livelihoods.
6. Key findings indicated that in the 13 (Category 1) islands where displacement has occurred, all people irrespective of economic activity would require assistance. Almost all houses have been lost - people are crowding into tents or with other families thereby increasing the risk of disease outbreaks, and strain is being placed on water, sanitation, and other facilities and resources of the host communities. IDP's have been identified as one of the most vulnerable groups, and would require immediate and continued assistance until they can return and rebuild their homes, or be resettled elsewhere. An estimated 12,000 people fall into this category.
7. In terms of economic profiling of the population, those families that are unemployed and are not receiving remittances are considered to be the extreme vulnerable, as they will be relying on other members of the community for their needs. Those families that rely on agricultural production have lost seeds, tools and fertilizers, and water and arable land has currently become too salty for agriculture - until these two resources have been desalinated, there is little scope for these people to produce income. Small skilled artisans that require power tools, such as carpenters, welders, and seamstresses have either lost their tools and equipment or it has been damaged by salt water - they have little other income generating options until this equipment is replaced, and few skills to pursue alternative livelihood options in the short term. Families that dry and process fish for the Male' and export markets have lost some or all of their equipment, and will be facing economic hardships until this equipment has been replaced. All these groups should be considered vulnerable to the current situation, and would require support to get their livelihoods back on track.
8. Those families from the agricultural, skilled artisan, fishing, or fish-processing groups that have secondary or other sources of income are also vulnerable to loss of income and as such food insecurity, but to a lesser degree than those families who pursue the same activities yet as their primary income source.
9. A third group of people were identified - those who had a regular source of income, or who would not require specialized tools to pursue livelihood activities and could benefit from the reconstruction that is about to take place. Government employee's and public service workers, those involved in construction or working in tourist resorts, traders, and those families that are receiving remittances from outside of the islands fall into this group. Although these people have also been affected by the tsunami, will face economic trials in rebuilding their homes, and would benefit from any relief efforts, they nonetheless still have a source of income that the other groups may not.
10. The most appropriate and immediate to longer-term response for all of the affected populations would be through cash based employment, linked to reconstruction. Cash injected into the island economies will boost people's purchasing power, stimulating trade and the flow of goods and commodities required for people to rebuild homes and livelihoods. Credit and loans schemes for those that need to replace lost tools and equipment are essential, particularly if this equipment will be used in reconstruction efforts. However, many people are concerned that they would be unable to take a second loan, if they have an outstanding debt from the time before the tsunami.
11. Cash based employment has already started in most islands by the Government, the private sector, and national and international NGO's. During the time it takes to establish and implement these programmes, and in the lead time for people to be paid and benefit from this income, food assistance would be beneficial in the immediate short term for vulnerable people to act as a safety net and alleviate expenditures from limited financial resources. Such food assistance though, should be limited in duration, clearly targeted, and phased out according to vulnerability and livelihood profiles once the benefits from cash based programmes are realized. Food for work schemes will not be appropriate for the most part, and food support should be given freely.
12. The Government is currently giving a second free food distribution to an estimated 36,000 people that are displaced and have lost their homes, tools and equipment, or those that have damages to houses, although the level of damage has not been defined. This is also the same group of people that received a free cash payment in January. Beneficiary figures have been determined by the Ministry of Planning, and will be revised as the situation changes. At this stage, there is no Government decision on whether they will continue free food or cash distribution after January.
13. During the time that it takes for WFP food stocks to arrive in the Maldives, WFP could play a role in assisting the Government to target and monitor their own in-country stocks, and phase out food distributions as cash based programmes begin to take effect and benefit the most vulnerable. WFP could then replace these stocks, and furthermore, should give consideration to replacing some Government stocks distributed freely immediately after the tsunami.
14. In total, an estimated 29,000 vulnerable people would benefit from food assistance in the interim period whilst cash based employment schemes begin and money starts flowing through the island economies. These people are to be found throughout islands categorized as 1, 2, and 3, and will comprise of various livelihood profiles.
15. In the 13 Category 1 islands where mass displacement has occurred, food assistance would be beneficial to 12,000 people irrespective of livelihood group.
16. In those 82 islands that fall into Category 2, food assistance would be beneficial to families that are unemployed and have no family support, agriculturalists, manufacturers, and three quarters of the fish processors. An estimated 14,500 people would benefit from such assistance to alleviate limited household cash resources and income, and act as a safety net during the time it takes to establish cash employment, credit, and loans.
17. Vulnerable groups that could benefit from food interventions in the 23 islands in Category 3 would be the unemployed with no remittances, agriculturalists, half of the manufacturers and a quarter of the fish processors. A total of 2,200 people would benefit from this assistance.
18. Given the loss of fresh foods from the diet, and the likelihood that there will not be great improvements until agriculture is re-established, the provision of high energy fortified biscuits to schools will help to mitigate against the loss of essential nutrients amongst school children.
19. The remaining 81 islands that fall into Category 4 should be monitored by the Government to ensure that no negative changes in food security occur.
20. In the absence or delay of cash employment schemes, WFP should revisit its phase out strategy to ensure that the most vulnerable groups do not unnecessarily suffer food shortages, and to arrest possible further nutritional deterioration.
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