Immediately after the tsunami, the Maldivian population faced a grim situation. Worst off were many people on the islands: some had lost family members and many others had suffered psychosocial stress and faced serious health threats from damaged water supplies. There were also losses of property as well as threats to livelihoods, since on many inhabited islands, as well as on a number of resorts, the tsunami destroyed physical infrastructure and damaged agricultural land.
Thousands of people had to leave their homes - and many have yet to return. Six months after the tsunami, about 11,000 persons, 4 percent of the total population, were still living in temporary accommodation. Of these, more than 10,000 were on the 14 most-affected islands(1) and another 1,000 on other islands. Since reconstruction takes time, the situation had changed only marginally even by the second quarter of 2006.
There are also persistent psychosocial problems. On the 14 most-affected islands about two-thirds of women, and more than half of men, continued to have difficulties with sleeping or eating or having less hope for the future or feeling less satisfied with the safety of their family after the tsunami. For both men and women, the main worries were housing and the future of their children. But not everything was negative. Around 30 percent of married people, men and women, felt that after the tsunami the relationship with their partners had improved, though about five percent considered it had worsened. Similarly, around 40 percent of women and half of men felt that their relationships with their families had improved while less than five percent indicated that they had deteriorated.
People returned fairly quickly to employment. Six months after the tsunami the majority of people of the most-affected populations had started work again. The extent of employment did not, however, seem to be linked to levels of stress. Indeed there appears to be no clear relationship between levels of psychosocial distress and the characteristics of the labour force.
Much of the lost property has now been restored or replaced. By the end of 2006 or the beginning of 2007, as a result of ongoing housing projects, most displaced people should have new permanent residences. People have also replaced most of their lost consumer durables: by July 2005, households had, for example, replaced 80 percent of gas cookers and washing machines and about 60 percent of TV sets.
Socio-economic situation at the household level
The tsunami badly affected the mainstay of the Maldivian economy, the tourist resorts. By June 2005, bed capacity was still more than 20 percent below that in the two previous years and tourism bed-nights were only running at half the rate of 2004. This had serious knock-on effects particularly for the workforce. Although the resorts generally did not lay off their local staff, many workers lost out because they normally rely for a substantial proportion of their income on service charges and tips.
The tsunami also damaged equipment for traditional fish processing - a major activity on the islands - resulting in reduced output. This was evident in 2005, a year when fish catches were very high and industrial processing capacity, mainly in MIFCO, was stretched to the limit. As a result, not all the fish could be processed and some was wasted.
(1) For four of these islands the population was displaced to other islands while on the other ten islands most people moved to temporary accommodation on their own island.