New homes for a tsunami-affected community in the Maldives

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DHUVAAFARU, Maldives, 28 December 2009 - Approaching Dhuvaafaru by boat, you soon notice it is unlike many of the other atolls and islands which form the Maldives. All of the houses are new and organized into neat rows. Mounds of golden sand on the shoreline and the sounds of construction are omnipresent as workers build up the island's defences against rising sea levels.

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After years spent in temporary settlements on other islands, the community has been reunited once more. This island has been transformed into a new home for an entire community, displaced from nearby Kandholhudhoo by the tsunami five years ago.

A new way of life

Walking around a newly completed administration building, Island Councillor Ismail Ahmed explained how this is the fulfilment of his dream to have a new home after the tsunami.

"It was tough living together in cramped temporary settlements," recalled Councillor Ahmed. "Everyone heard everyone else's domestic disputes, and the children suffered."

But with a population of 4,060 occupying 600 homes, the Councillor says they still need almost 80 new houses.

In one of the homes, fisherman Ibrahim Waheed showed us the bedroom shared by five of his children. With nine in the family, the three-bedroom house was simply too small, he said. Still, he was optimistic that gradually his family - like the community itself - would learn to adapt and conditions would improve over time.

A chronic shortage of land - a problem which will be made worse by climate change and rising sea levels - poses serious challenges for the future of the Maldives.

Urban problems

Expanded social services are helping to protect and promote children's rights well beyond post-tsunami recovery.

Since the tsunami, intravenous drug use has surged among adolescents, creating concerns about health, safety and the potential spread of HIV and AIDS.

"In the capital city of Male, if you want drugs, you just make a phone call and it will be at your doorstep within two to three minutes," explained chairperson of the local non-governmental organization and UNICEF partner Journey, Mohamed Arif.

Run by former addicts, Journey is a pioneer in fighting the scourge of drug addiction among young people.

Awareness campaigns

The intense pressures of overcrowded living plus the inevitable problems of trying to get off drugs when surrounded by peers who may still be using them, contribute to a worsening problem.

Helped by awareness campaigns supported by UNICEF, the problem is now at least out in the open, and Journey reports real progress on the part of Maldives society to face up to the problem. "People have started talking about this recovery and the good side of addicts," said Mr. Arif. "Not only the bad side, the crime and other things."

Often regarded as a tropical island paradise far removed from the real world, in truth the Maldives face many of the world's problems, which are as much of a challenge to its future as recovery from the tsunami itself.