Thursday, March 25, 2010

In Solidarity with Haitians and Chileans

Even though the government of the Maldives has said Haitians deserved the earthquake, that view is not shared by several Maldivian citizens. Having experienced the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, we, the people of Maldives, understand what it feels like to face a natural disaster and to live as survivors in the aftermath of a disaster. We take this opportunity to show our solidarity with the people of Haiti and Chile – two countries which experienced destructive earthquakes this year. We sympathize with the suffering of the people in those countries.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Safe shelter built in Muli

A safe shelter to protect against natural disasters such as tsunamis has been built in Muli island in Meemu Atoll, Maryam Omidi reports in Minivan News.

The shelter is a two-storey building with an open terrace. Each storey is around 174.5 sq metres in size.

It will house a 45,000 litre underground rainwater tank; a storehouse for food and life-saving drugs; an operations centre with communications equipment; and will be able to generate power for up to three days.

The building has been designed to allow for vertical evacuation which means people will be able to move upwards to a high central location in times of flooding.

The total cost of the shelter is US$333,498. Funds were provided primarily by the UAE Red Crescent (US$200,000) with the remainder from various sources.

Muli was identified as a vulnerable island in a “high tsunami hazard zone”, in need of measures to mitigate ecological disasters, according to Gemma Perez, disaster risk reduction project manager at UNDP.

The island was further selected to complement a UNDP community disaster preparedness programme, which included a disaster simulation drill in December 2006.

She added the UNDP was in favour of supporting the government’s proposal to develop a national early warning system.

In addition to assistance provided in 2006 to buy and install early warning equipment, the UNDP would help improve the National Meteorological Centre’s ability to “receive, monitor and analyse” relevant meteorological information.

Speaking at the ceremony, Abdullah Shahid, minister of state for housing, transport and environment, said that by mid-2010, in addition to safety equipment, the National Disaster Management Centre aims to link all islands through a communication system to be used during emergencies.

Kolhufushi in Meemu Atoll was one of the worst hit islands in the tsunami of December 2004. Following an internal dispute among the islanders, and the failure of the government to mediate a solution, the British Red Cross pulled out of the island in January 2007, halting the reconstruction process.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

What is causing flooding in the Maldives: Monsoon, tidal wave, storm surge or El Niño?

The waves that hit several islands of the Maldives during the last few days have caused much damage to the islands making even some people homeless.

Islands in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll have been hit badly according to reports from Minivan News.

There is some debate as to whether the waves are tidal waves or storm surges.

But Mohamed Hussein Shareef (Mundhu) criticised media reports of “tidal waves,” which he said were “complete exaggerations… these are clearly storm surges not tidal waves.”

“Storm surges regularly happen in the Maldives at this time of year… they don’t cause much damage because they recede very quickly,” he added.

However, a top official from National Meteorological Centre disputed the claim that the waves were part of storm surges.

A Meteorological Office forecaster has told Minivan News storm surges are not responsible for last week’s widespread flooding in the Maldives, despite the government’s insistence they are to blame.

“We don’t do oceanography here, be we don’t think it can be storm surges. Storm surges don’t last three of four days. They normally just last one day,” Met Office official, Ibrahim Waheed, told Minivan News on Saturday.

The assistant duty forecaster also said he did not know where the government had obtained the data it had used to confirm storm surges, as he was not aware of any oceanography facility in the Maldives.

There was a tropical storm in Bay of Bengal roughly the same time Maldives was hit by waves. It caused a tidal surge that hit the coastal areas of Bangladesh.

A tidal surge triggered by a storm in the Bay of Bengal swept through coastal districts of Bangladesh and Myanmar on Tuesday, killing at least one fisherman and damaging hundreds of homes, officials said.

Weather officials said the storm, with winds of up to 80 kph (50 mph), crossed the Bangladesh coast at dawn, heading east towards Myanmar.

Even though Maldives was not prepared for the waves, Bangladesh was on alert before the surge hit.

Bangladesh went on cyclone alert on Monday, with officials warning the storm in the Bay of Bengal could trigger a tidal surge two metres high. Nearly 80,000 people were evacuated to cyclone shelters.

Reuters has also reported on the flooding in the Maldives.

Waves from an Indian Ocean storm surge swamped dozens of islands in the low-lying Maldives on Tuesday, the government said.

"It is an annual occurrence at this point of the monsoon. Storm surges are quite common, but it is unusual to have them to the extent we have had today," government spokesman Mohamed Shareef said by telephone from the Maldives' capital, Male.

"It is essentially a rise of the tide. The water came in at least 100 feet (30 metres) on some islands, and then receded in the evening ... It is the low-lying islands that have felt the impact."

There are reasons to believe that the waves that hit Maldives this May are not part of an isolated event but a regional if not a global event. As the week ended Indonesia has become the target of more waves and flooding.

The Jakarta Post has reports on high waves damaging coastal areas of Indonesia on Thursday and Friday.

20th anniversary of 1987 tidal wave

What the media and the government have failed to emphasise is that this year is the 20th anniversary of a tidal wave hitting Male’ and some other islands. On 11-12 April 1987 tidal waves hit and flooded a large part of Male’ and caused damages to some 16 other islands.

There was an El Niño phenomenon in 1986-1987. El Niño conditions were prevailing in early 2007. Is it El Niño that caused tidal waves in April 1987 and is it the same phenomenon that is causing waves in the Maldives in May 2007? We do not know yet. But El Niño is known to cause freak weather globally and increases the occurrence of storms. It was the 1997-1998 El Niño which caused severe coral bleaching in the Maldives.

Too early for conclusions

It is too early to jump into conclusions about the cause of the waves hitting the Maldives presently. It is up to the scientific community to monitor the development and put forward theories and evidence. What is important is to provide aid and relief to the people who are in desperate need. We must be aware that climate is changing globally and freak weather patterns are more prevalent now. What we need is a good warning system and a quick emergency response plan as well as a disaster management plan.

The way the country is coping with the current onslaught of waves shows that we have not learned any lessons after the tsunami and that we are not prepared for such disasters.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Controversy over Red Cross workers being held captive in Mundoo

Minivan News reports that three French Red Cross workers were held captive in Mundoo in Laamu Atoll on Friday.

The islanders deny keeping them as hostages. The Head of the French Red Cross Delegation to the Maldives, Emmanuel Vivien, told Minivan News that previous reports in the media that Star Force attacked Mundoo after the incident were false.

Miscommunication within people of islands about the distinctive role of the international NGOs and the government in the tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction could be a factor that leads to such incidents, according to Minivan News.

The Mundoo incident also shows how little understanding most islanders have of the distinction between Categories of tsunami victims, or of the division between the responsibilities of the Red Cross, the government and its various agencies, and the UN.

Vivien described the many strategies the French Red Cross use to inform tsunami victims of their role in reconstruction. These include a 24-hour hotline manned by Dhivehi speaking staff, newsletters distributed to all islanders and question and answer sessions.

Vivien did not comment on whether the government is equally proactive in keeping victims informed.

Toriq Ibrahim, Director of the government’s Housing and Infrastructure Re-Development Unity (HIRU) was unavailable for comment, as were representatives of the other government agencies involved.

Tsunami victims in Gan protest over sewage system

Minivan News reports that tsunami victims who have recently moved to new homes in Laamu Atoll Gan have protested on Monday demanding a planned sewage system to be completed.

The tsunami victims from Mundoo and Kalhaidhoo moved into French Red Cross homes on Gan in March, but have been forced to defecate in the sea in the absence of a sewage system.
There are also divisions brewing between the people who are natives of Gan and those who shifted because of the tsunami. Such shifts recently made headlines in Alifu Dhaalu Atoll Maamigili as well.

Native Gan islanders claim tsunami victims from Mundoo and Kalhaidhoo are being given superior facilities to those already living on the island.

Residents of Gamuthundi village are demanding their village be incorporated into the planned sewage system.

They have refused contractors access to a key construction site for the sewage system, which is situated on the main road through their village. Since October groups of farmers and fishermen have taken shifts guarding the site to ensure work does not take place.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

British Red Cross pulls out of Kolhufushi

British Red Cross has pulled out of Kolhufushi island in Meemu Atoll, after the government and the people of the island failed to come to an agreement over the location of the houses to be built in the tsunami-ravaged island of Maldives, reports Minivan News.

The decision was taken on January 16, and a statement released to Minivan five days later said it had “not been taken lightly.” Funds totalling $3.7m will now be reallocated to other Red Cross projects and the statement says options for where the money is reallocated are currently under discussion with the government.

Earlier in January frustrated protestors blockaded the Island Office in Kolhufushi. Will Jordan from Minivan News visited the island during the peak of the protest and reports his findings.

Apart from the fortunate few whose homes were left more or less intact, everybody on Kolhufushi still lives in temporary shelters. Instead of the bright and spacious homes they have been promised, each family crams into a room no bigger than ten feet by eight. “It’s terrible now. I don’t know what to say…It’s worse than like a jail,” says Hassan Zareer.

The makeshift villages are a sad sight. Single mattresses are propped up against the walls in the tiny terraced rooms. If they are laid flat, they fill half the floor space of a room for five people. The walls are thin partitions which do not reach the ceiling. Privacy is not an option.

Outside, pots and pans balance precariously on tables in the sun and clothes hang on lines. There is no room to store them inside.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Troubled times for people of Kolhufushi

Unrest is brewing in Kolhufushi island in Meemu Atoll. Two years after the tsunami struck, several people are living in temporary shelters. Kolhufushi was one of the worst-affected islands. Minivan News has a report of what is going on.

British Red Cross has also recently explained why reconstruction work on the island has come to a painful halt.