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Maldives: The Quiet Disaster

Maldives: The Quiet Disaster

31 January, Male, Maldives -- The Maldives has made its mark on the world as a great place to spend a quiet tropical vacation. Even as the December 26 tsunami thundered through neighboring coastlines, here the waters quietly rose and quietly slipped away. But the disaster did not quietly recede with the floodwaters.

"The international community generally thinks the island paradise escaped harm because the death toll was low," said Moez Doraid, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in the Maldives. "Yet 10 percent of the Maldives' inhabited islands were totally destroyed, no structures remain. One-third of the population has been severely affected: their homes destroyed or seriously damaged or their food and water supplies cut," he says.

But the damage varies across the country's islands. Due to the geographical makeup of the Maldives, the island cluster experienced intense flooding without the huge waves. The flooding caused widespread damage to homes, infrastructure and capital assets. The Asian Development Bank recently concluded that the economy of the Maldives was one of the two most affected as a result of the Tsunami.

"On a positive note, the resort islands that play host to the Maldives' tourism industry were spared serious damage and the majority are functioning as well as they have always done," said Doraid. "The tourism industry, which makes up 33 percent of GDP, is now the main source of income for the Maldives. Most resorts were left relatively unscathed. We want to tell the world that the country is open for tourism business. This is the best time of year to come, and the outside world can help by visiting as tourists," he said.

The poorest of the poor were the hardest hit. Mr. Doraid explained that the lower-lying islands - no more than two meters above sea level - are home mainly to impoverished families reliant on the fishing industry. "Many of these people lost everything - houses, boats, fishing nets and the means to process their catches."

Doraid explained that the government, UNDP, and the private sector have been working hand-in-hand to rehabilitate these devastated islands. It has recently linked up with Banyan Tree Resorts to help with house reconstruction efforts on one low-lying island.

"While donors have given some funds, basic efforts aimed at providing shelter and capital for people to regain their livelihoods are seriously under funded," said Mr. Doraid. "It's the people on the poorest islands who have been affected. Their situation is an unfolding quiet disaster that requires an infusion of support to help get their livelihoods back on track as quickly as possible."


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