A. Situation analysis
Description of the disaster
A fire broke out on Thursday, 4 December in the afternoon inside the Maldives Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) Generator Unit in the capital Malé. The fire caused severe damage to the unit. Subsequently to the fire, MWSC – the sole provider of clean desalinated water in the capital – had to suspend all water supplies. According to media reports, spare parts needed for the repair are not available in the country. The authorities estimated that it will take a week to make it fully functioning again. On 6 December, three days into the crisis, the repair works had reached 60 per cent, according to the authorities.
The population of Malé is 153,000 as per the preliminary results from a census1 done this year. In addition, Maldivian Red Crescent (MRC) estimates there are up to 150,000 expatriate workers and undocumented migrants in the city (not covered under the census). This is an important point, as most media outlets are running with old census figure, indicating a total population of 100,000. The vast majority of households in the capital rely on MWSC for their daily water needs. Wells have been a traditional source of water, but in recent years drainage water and other pollutants have increasingly lowered the water quality resulting in water from wells not currently in use for household purposes.
The total estimated needs for safe drinking water in Malé – based on the above-mentioned total population figures and minimum Sphere standards – would be at least 450,000 liters (450 tons) of water per day.
A state of disaster has been declared by the government and a task force has been set up to coordinate the distribution of safe drinking water. The government has officially requested organizations and partners, including MRC, to urgently provide water as a short-term solution as well as desalination units and other support to alleviate the situation. The president of the Maldives, currently abroad, has cut his trip short and is returning to the country MRC has mobilized 24 staff and 150 volunteers to assist the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) and the Police in the distributions.
Governments of India, Sri Lanka, China and the United States have been requested to support the Maldives. Planes from India and Sri Lanka loaded with water have already begun to arrive in Malé, bringing in at least 300,000 liters of water over the coming days. A Chinese vessel carrying 90,000 tons of water is bound for Malé.
Currently, water is being pumped every six hours by MWSC for one-hour periods. However, low water pressure means that many of the capital’s residents living in high rise apartments have received no supplies. While there is anxiety among locals about the situation, there have not been any reports of violence, apart from some scuffles in distribution cues. However, if the water supply is not restored soon or water supplies from other sources do not reach people efficiently, there is a risk that the situation triggers into civil unrest.
When the distribution points closed at midnight on 4 December, 90,000 people had received two liters of water each.
Maldivians and expatriates with identification cards and documentation (work permits and entry stamps) received bottled water. To ensure accessibility to the water distributions, authorities have informed that identification cards and documentation (monitoring purposes) are not necessary needed in this situation. The distribution of water bottles started again in the morning on 5 December, but no confirmed distribution figures are available. The MNDF is replenishing some water from the nearby water desalination plants at Thulusdhoo Island, located at about two hours from Malé. However, these water sources are not viable for longer term and if continues will likely bring disruption to the water supply on Thulusdhoo island.