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Drinking Water Crisis in Maldives: India Leads The Way

A fire in the generator of desalination plant crippled the supply of fresh water to Male city on 04 December. The 'Male Water and Sewerage Company’ runs the only plant which supplies fresh water to 120,000 residents located in 1 square mile of the island. Maldives declared it a 'national crisis’ and announced a holiday for the entire week to tide over the situation. Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen also returned back from Malaysia after cancelling his visit. Male which does not have any natural fresh water source, responded by sending a 'SOS’ call for help to India, Sri Lanka, China and the U.S.

India immediately dispatched an aircraft with 20 tons of bottled water which landed in Male on 05 December 14. Meanwhile Indian Naval Ship Sukanya which was patrolling off Kochi was diverted to Male. It covered the 450 nautical mile distance to deliver 35 tons of fresh water within 24 hours of the SOS.  The onboard desalination plant, which has a capacity of making 20 tons fresh water per day, was also used and it transferred 65 tons of water to Male city through water barges.  Meanwhile the Indian Air Force continued their relief operation and pressed two C-17 Globe Master-III and three, IL- 76, to transfer 153 tons of bottled water on 05 December. Another 130 tons of water was airlifted on 06 December and 80 tons was delivered on 07 December by the Indian Air Force transport workhorses. INS Deepak, an oil tanker, also reached Male with its stock of 900 tons of fresh water on 07 December.  The ship also has an additional capacity of producing upto 100 tons of water per day from its onboard desalination plants.

In all 1200 tons of fresh water was positioned by India in Male by 07 December to tide over the crisis. Sri Lanka too expressed solidarity and airlifted a token amount of water, while China dispatched two civil aircraft carrying 8-12 tons of bottled water on 07 December. It also ordered its ocean rescue vessel to reach Male with 960 tons of fresh water. However, as China is approximately 3000 nautical miles from Male, it takes around 8 days for the passage. Bangladesh also responded by announcing that it was sending 100,000 litres of bottled water and five portable desalination plants on a naval ship, which left from Chittagong on 07 December.

The shortage of fresh water in Male however created a crisis situation. Although, the Maldivian government created a task force for distributing safe drinking water under the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), which was supported by the National Emergency Response Team (NERT) and Emergency Response Team (ERT), there were sporadic reports of street fights and attack on shops that distributed water, which led to tensions on Male’s streets. The distribution of water was alleged to be biased as only people of Maldivian nationality were given bottled water, free of cost, and that too after production of Maldivian identity cards. There were also allegations that labourers and workers from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were denied free water. This situation was later brought under control after a substantial increase in the supply of water, from friendly countries. The MNDF also replenished water from the water desalination plants located at Thulusdhoo Island, from where it takes around two hours to transport the water.

For the complete article, please see National Maritime Foundation.