Water and Environmental Sanitation
Clean Drinking Water for Island Communities: The groundwater in the Maldives, which most of the population relies on for cooking, washing and even drinking, is heavily contaminated with human waste.
The fresh water table sits just a metre or two below ground in the coral islands of the Maldives. The proximity of groundwater to the surface and the porous nature of the sandy soil make it highly susceptible to pollution and contamination from human activities, as well as saltwater intrusion. Most Maldivian households use septic tanks. Since the majority of these tanks are not maintained, untreated sewage pollutes the shallow fresh groundwater that people use for drinking.
Before the tsunami, only 19% of islands had groundwater suitable for drinking. Approximately 77% of the Maldivian population had access to safe drinking water, but only 28% of households had a sustainable supply of safe water throughout the year, including the dry season. The rest of the population relied on intermittent collection of rainwater. The tsunami, which occurred during this water deficit period and destroyed approximately 50% of rainwater tanks, rendered entire island populations without any access to safe drinking water. It also severely degraded both groundwater quality and soil fertility, due to the scouring and erosion effects of the tsunami inundation.
Additional damage to the environment and reduction of water quality post-tsunami have had a significant impact on the hygiene, health and nutritional status of children and women in the Maldives. With such poor water quality, children are exposed to recurring bouts of water-borne diseases. The degradation of the soil has rendered it almost completely infertile, hampering the growth of nutritious foods and forcing communities to depend heavily on expensive and irregularly supplied food imports. This intrinsic food insecurity, coupled with several other underlying problems, is a core contributing factor to the chronic problem of undernutrition in the Maldives. As a result, children do not have the solid nutritional foundation required to sustain water-borne and other related diseases, and the cycle of undernutrition and morbidity continues.