Maldives

Maldive: Floods show Tsunami lessons not learnt: top civil servant

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By Will Jordan in Male'

A Director of the Ministry of Atolls Development has hit out at the central government's reaction to the recent widespread flooding, saying it shows that lessons from the tsunami have not been learnt.

On the day the government appeals for international aid to deal with this latest disaster, Salma Fikry says if changes are not made, "our communities will continue to depend upon donors, the government and the international community."

She brands the government's reaction to the swells which have left scores of islands underwater as "ad-hoc," and says local authorities face too much "red-tape and bureaucracy" from Malé in dealing with the recovery.

"Ad-hoc reaction"

Ms Fikry says that in spite of the tsunami, local communities are still under-prepared for emergencies.

"We should have learnt our lessons from the December 2004 tsunami and the disaster preparedness or mitigation plans, awareness creation and training should have taken place after the period following the tsunami," she says.

"Instead, what happened recently was an ad-hoc reaction to an unprecedented event," she says.

"It is true most disasters are unprecedented, but it would have made a world of difference, both to the victims and the authorities concerned, had the lessons from the tsunami been acted on."

"Usual Donors"

Ms Fikry's criticisms come on the day the government has appealed to the international community for aid to deal with the damage caused by floods for tidal swells which began on Tuesday.

The appeal and the criticism come after the government claimed it was "much better prepared for an environmental emergency than before because of the work that has gone on since the tsunami."

"Four or five years ago we would have needed to ask for international assistance," said Chief Government Spokesman Mohamed Hussein Shareef on Thursday.

"We are certainly better prepared to handle environmental disasters than before," added Foreign Minister Dr Shaheed.

But on Sunday the government called on "the usual donors" for help, said Dr. Shaheed - meaning the European Union, the United States, Canada and Japan, as well as the SAARC countries and international organizations, including the UNDP.

Dependence and decentralisation

Ms Fikry warns that the "usual donors" will continue to be relied upon if changes are not made, and calls on the government to decentralise island administration.

"If in the future things remain as they are," said Ms Fikry, "our communities will continue to depend upon donors, the government and the international community and allow party politics to enter into relief and recovery efforts."

"Disaster management functions should be decentralised to the local level instead of local authorities having to go through government red-tape and bureaucracy," says Ms Fikry, who has worked in the Atolls Ministry for over ten years.

"Communities should be taught and mobilized to be self-reliant and to be resilient in such situations," says Ms Fikry. "The fact remains that local communities cannot deal with disasters of this magnitude given the meagre resources at their disposal," she complains.

Growing seriousness

When the floods first happened on Tuesday morning, the government's initial assessment suggested the recovery could be handled by local island administration with assistance from the police and Atolls Ministry.

The government played down the gravity of the event, and two days later, Mundhu claimed, "media reports of tidal waves are exaggerations...these are clearly storm surges [which] regularly happen in the Maldives at this time of year."

But following renewed floods in Gaaf Dhaal atoll on Thursday afternoon, the situation worsened and the cabinet called for the assistance of the Disaster Management Centre and Dr Shaheed admitted "the damage is much worse than we initially thought."

"This is the second biggest flood disaster in our history after the tsunami. And when it is on this scale, any country would struggle to cope," said Shaheed on Sunday.

"Unlike the tsunami, flood waters have destroyed a lot of agricultural land. Assistance will be needed for the restoration of livelihoods," he said, explaining why international assistance is required again.

Maldives Independent
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