The Republic of the Maldives (hereafter referred to as Maldives) is a low-lying island nation comprised of close to 1,200 islands within 26 naturally formed atolls. All islands are subject to physical hazards due to the country’s low elevation and the flat topography. The country is regularly affected by high frequency low impact seasonal events such as monsoonal flooding, coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, and intense sea surge-related flooding due to sea level rise.
As 75% of the land area of Maldives is less than a meter above mean sea level, the slightest rise in sea level will prove extremely threatening. The capital city Malé is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with one-third of the country’s population residing there, and it is susceptible to many man-made incidents including residential fires.
The frequency of disaster triggered by natural hazards of large scale is relatively low; however, the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami brought devastating impact to the country’s people, economy, and development progress. Maldives was one of over a dozen countries in the region affected by the Tsunami, which in turn significantly impacted the nation and spurred the development of more robust disaster management and disaster risk reduction strategies in the country. The country established the National Disaster Management Center in December 2004 to coordinate national response efforts. Efforts have also been made to create laws stipulating disaster management in the last decade, including the National Disaster Management Act (2015).
In Maldives, frameworks, policies, and coordination mechanisms continue to evolve as they mature and are tested. National-level emergency response is led and coordinated by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA, formerly the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC)). NDMA is supported by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), Maldives Police Service (MPS), and Maldivian Red Crescent (MRC). However, local administrations (island councils) are the first line of response at the atoll and island levels. During a crisis or disaster, coordination occurs between councils, teams, liaisons, and other stakeholders.
One of the most important objectives of NDMA is to mainstream disaster risk reduction (DRR) at the national level. Under the 2015 Disaster Management Act (DMA), NDMA’s overarching objective is to minimize the impact of disasters, and work is underway to establish a modern Emergency Operations Center (EOC). In addition, the country has a Community Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM) Program run by NDMA as part of efforts to reduce risk and increase preparedness and resilience.
Enhancing cooperation between health authorities and other relevant stakeholders to strengthen country capacity for disaster risk management for health and health systems is most timely in responding to the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In 2016, the International Conference on the Implementation of the Health Aspect of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 recommended this measure as well as others that could assist countries in implementing the health aspects of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The Maldives Ministry of Health has established a website and is tracking the status of the COVID-19 disease while providing updates. Maldives was one of the first countries to receive COVID-19 vaccines from India in January 2021 through bilateral aid. Later, Maldives received delivery of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility in March 2021 by way of an initiative led by the World Health Organization (WHO), GAVI (formerly known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and UNICEF, providing vaccines to all developing countries suffering the brunt of the pandemic.