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2004 Tsunami Crisis: Impact on Maldives

The Republic of Maldives is a country consisting territorially of a group of atolls in the Indian Ocean, south-southwest of India and Sri Lanka.  The small island nation is surrounded by the vast Indian Ocean, which made it extremely susceptible to the recent tsunami.  The latest report has at least 82 people confirmed dead and 26 missing due to the tsunami.  About 12,500 people have been displaced.

The Maldives holds the record for being the flattest country in the world, with a maximum altitude of only 2.3 meters.  Unfortunately, this puts the Maldives at a high risk of being non-existent in the near future most probably due to global warming which cause rising seawater.  The recent Indian Ocean tsunami, and the ensuing flooding, had an awesome impact on the geography of the country, which saw many parts “sink” under water.  Twenty of the Maldives' 199 inhabited islands have been described as totally destroyed.  

The economic impact of the tsunami on the Maldives has been extensive.  The Maldives are far more dependent on tourism than the other affected countries, where almost 40% of the workforce is employed in the tourism industry and contributes around 50% to the nation’s GDP.  Fortunately damage has been less severe than feared, and officials already say the most urgent clearing-up has already been completed.  Nevertheless, government officials estimate a need of around $250 Million in emergency aid, and some $1.3 Billion over the next 3-5 years.

Here are some of the tsunami-related stories coming out of the Maldives:

- The Maldives government believes that the tsunami has set the country back about 20 years in regards to socio-economic development.  Although the death toll in the Maldives was relatively low compared to other countries, the economic infrastructure has been badly damaged and experts say reconstruction will not be straightforward because of the logistical challenges presented by the vast archipelago of tiny islands.  Of the country's 199 inhabited islands, 53 had suffered severe damage, while about 20 were "totally destroyed".  Fourteen islands were completely evacuated, 79 islands do not have safe drinking water, 26 islands have no electricity, 24 islands have no telephones and four islands have no communication facilities.  Schools, clinics and pharmacies have been destroyed, on some 50 islands.  Fishing and tourism, both mainstays of the local economy, have been severely disrupted.  

- Male, the capital city of the Maldives, was prevented from being obliterated from the tsunami thanks to its sea wall.  The 3.5 meter high concrete seawall protected the city, as no major property destruction was sustained.  Without the seawall, the tsunami was forecasted to have destroyed half of the city, which is home to a quarter of Maldive’s population.    

- The contamination of the Maldive’s drinking water supply is one of the most devastating effects of the recent tsunami.  In the Maldives, reservoirs of fresh groundwater in the limestone rocks (lenses) provide the islanders with their water. Because the islands are limestone, permeable, and don't have much soil, the seawater that washed over them will have infiltrated the rocks quicker contaminating the reservoir.   An emergency relief effort to provide islanders with fresh drinking water is now well underway.  It seems that the Maldives will now have to depend on importing drinking water to the islands for a few years before rains flush out the groundwater systems.