Following the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 (the most recent major natural disaster to have struck the Maldives), UNDP Maldives carried out a risk assessment to identify the threats posed to the country by natural hazards. The key findings from this study are summarised thus:
There is a significant tsunami threat in the east (Male’ Atoll, Felidhoo Atoll, etc.), and relatively low in the north and south atolls.
Northern atolls such as Thiladhunmathee Atoll have a greater risk of cyclonic winds and storm surges. There is a low hazard risk of this in the south atolls.
Addu Atoll, Fuvahmulah and the Gaafu Atolls have a minor earthquake risk.
Rise in sea levels due to climate change is a uniform hazard throughout the country; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated a rise in sea level from 0.09 metres to 0.88 metres in the country, years 1990-2100.
Overall, Maldives faces moderate hazard risk, with the exception of the tsunami risk, as well as the high consequential risk of sea level rise, leading to coastal erosion.
How is this information important? These facts can be used to pinpoint the natural disasters most imminent to the country. This goes a long way in planning—and starting work on—measures to protect the country from, and alleviate the effects of these hazards. Consequently, tsunamis and sea level rise must be prioritised when focusing on prevention and mitigation.
The prevention and mitigation of natural disasters can be categorised into two: structural and non-structural. As tsunamis and sea level rise pose the same type of risk (with the difference of tsunamis being a more abrupt phenomena compared to the gradual rise in sea levels), protection policies can be put into place which will address both hazards at once.
When looking at non-structural mitigation strategies, community awareness takes complete precedence. People must be informed about the threats we are facing and their consequences, especially those in smaller islands who are thus more vulnerable due to lack of resources. This can be done by carrying out informative seminars, workshops, etc. and informing island and atoll chiefs, religious leaders, and other people of power in these areas. These will help islands become more self-sufficient in terms of protection.
There is also zoning; it enables the government to set restrictions on the types of structures that can be built in various locations. This can be used to prevent critical infrastructure such as power plants and hospitals from being built in tsunami risk zones.
In terms of structural strategies, the Maldives has a slight economic constraint (being an upper-middle income country). Nevertheless, the government can certainly invest in hard structures such as dikes—which provide excellent protection against sea rise—and groins, which provide protection from large waves.
Building seawalls is a fairly expensive method, and it limits access to the water. However, it is one of the sturdiest protections against waves and sea level rise. One could argue that it is worth the expenditure.
One soft structure which would prove useful in mitigation is the construction of living shoreline, a shoreline management practice that protects, restores, and maintains coastal processes through the strategic placement of stone, sand fill, and other organic materials. It provides strong fortification against erosion, moderate protection against low storm surge, and wave action.
Subsequently, actions against natural disasters should not be taken lightly, particularly regarding the most immediate threats to the country. Every effort must be put in to ensure that all citizens are made aware of these dangers. The government must also invest in structural policies to mitigate the effects of the hazards, in keeping with the economic status of the Maldives.