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Maldives:Tsunami sets back development by 20 years

Tsunami sets back development by 20 years in Maldives

Male Maldives – Within minutes of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the Maldives’ economic and social progress in recent years was washed away. Drastic drop in tourism, the country’s main income generating sector, is putting the country’s recovery efforts in serious jeopardy.

According to government officials, the Tsunami is a 20 year setback in both economic and social terms. “Only six days before the disaster, the United Nations had decided to officially remove the Maldives from the list of the least developed countries after the country had paid off a substantial portion of the country’s debt and was looking forward to a strong performance in 2005, says Moez Doraid, UNDP Resident Representative in the Maldives.”

But on the morning of 26 December these aspirations were shattered as flood waters dealt a serious blow to the tourism sector. Nearly one-fourth of the 87 resorts in the Maldives were damaged and are unable to operate. The good news is that about three quarters of the resorts remain intact and fully functional. Tour operators are now facing the daunting task of convincing tourists to return to the Maldives in an attempt to limit the expected loss of business following the Tsunami.

“The pristine beaches and coral reefs of the atolls in the Maldives attract thousands of tourists from all over the world. They remain as attractive as ever and the tourism sector, including airport services continue to provide efficient high quality service, says Moez Doraid.

The Maldivians hope to get their fair share of the international aid pledged to help Tsunami-affected countries. But most of all they hope to see tourists surging in as fast as possible so they can get back to work now, at the peak of the high tourist season.

Tourism accounts for one third of the economy and 60-70 percent when including tourism-based tax and customs revenues, and the resorts provide 25-30,000 jobs. In recent years incomes from tourism have grown significantly with a 9 percent increase of arrivals in the past year alone. These earnings have contributed to improving living standards in the Maldives, sending almost all children to school, providing jobs and buying higher education abroad for a growing number of Maldivian youths. And tourism is key to bringing the socio-economic development back on track. Schools, health clinics, jetties, power stations and telephone lines were all badly damaged due to the Tsunami and repairing them calls for extra budgetary funds for years to come.

The UN, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are preparing an assessment for the government on the needs of the country to get back on track.

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