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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Building new homes for Maldivians displaced by the tsunami

© UNICEF Maldives/2005/Dan Thomas
Fishermen off the abandoned island of Kan’dholhudhoo

By Dan Thomas

RAA ATOLL, Maldives, 19 April 2005 – From the air, Kan’dholhudhoo Island looks like a tiny but crowded city. Narrow streets are lined with houses, a large domed mosque and a red-roofed modern school dominate the skyline, and a concrete seawall surrounds the island. But a visitor arriving by boat is greeted by an eerie silence.

Kan’dholhudhoo Island has been completely abandoned by the 3,700 people who used to live here. They left by boat on 26 December 2004 – the day of the tsunami – and will never return to live here. The Maldives government has deemed the island unfit for habitation because sea water has damaged the foundations of the remaining buildings.

“I thought the entire island was sinking into the sea,” said Haroon Musa, 51, a fish processor who was sitting at the jetty when the tsunami struck. “It wasn’t so much a giant wave as the whole sea level just suddenly went up and over the sea wall, flooding the island. The water level was over my head.”

Remarkably, only three people on Kan’dholhudhoo Island drowned that day. In total, the tsunami claimed around 100 lives across the Maldives and all but nine of the country’s 1,190 islands were flooded.

Zaha Waheed of the government’s Internally Displaced Persons Registration Unit said  more than 15,000 people were displaced and many are now living in temporary shelters.

© UNICEF Maldives/2005/Dan Thomas
The rubble of buildings on the abandoned island of Kan’dholhudhoo

Haroon Musa escaped together with his wife Arifa Hassan, their nine children and 13 grandchildren by boat to nearby Un’goofaaru Island, where they found refuge in the home of Abdul Sattar Wajdhee.

Like many in his community, Abdul Sattar Wajdhee was well used to having people stay in his house. Before the tsunami he often welcomed people from other islands who were coming for hospital visits or meetings with the local Chief. 

On the night after the tsunami, Abdul Sattar Wajdhee had 62 people staying with him. Some four months later he still has 32 guests in his house. Almost everyone on Un’goofaaru Island has been affected by the influx of internally displaced people who have no homes to go back to.

Since the tsunami, the population of Un’goofaaru has doubled to 2,600 people, putting pressure on the community’s resources, including the water supply, sanitation, health services and the school.

But with help from UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies, the government is constructing temporary accommodation on Un’goofaaru to cope with all the newcomers. UNICEF is the lead UN agency for water and sanitation and is helping to supply enough drinking water by providing water tanks and desalination units which can turn sea water into fresh drinking water.

UNICEF is also helping to accommodate internally displaced children in new schools by building new classroom blocks and housing for the extra teachers required.




19 April 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports from the Maldives on the situation of people whose homes were destroyed by the tsunami.

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19 April 2005:
UNICEF New York correspondent Dan Thomas interviews Mohamed Naeem, UNICEF Child Protection Officer in the Maldives.

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