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At a Glance: Water and Sanitation in the Maldives

At a Glance: Water and Sanitation in the Maldives

  • 92% of population using an improved water source (2004)
  • 28% of households with sustainable safe water supply year round (2004)
  • 39% of population having rainwater tank in compound (1998)
  • 90% of population using improved sanitation (2004)
  • 6% of population with no toilet (2004)
  • 86% of population with toilet connected to septic tank or sea (2004)

Situation of Water and Sanitation in the Maldives
Safe, clean water is the foundation of nearly every human development outcome, and water in the Maldives has always been precious. The fresh water table sits just a meter or two below ground in the coral that makes up the islands, just inches from seawater below and human waste above. 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 and saltwater intrusion. Most Maldivian households use individual septic tanks that are poorly built and maintained and that allow untreated sewage to pollute the shallow fresh groundwater. The tsunami, which occurred during the dry season, destroyed approximately 50% of rainwater tanks, rendered entire island populations without access to safe drinking water, and severely degraded groundwater quality and soil fertility. Additional damage to the environment and reduction of water quality post-tsunami have had a significant impact on hygiene and health of children and women in the Maldives. The degradation of the soil has rendered it almost completely infertile, hampering the growth of nutritious foods, forcing communities to depend heavily on expensive and irregular imports, and contributing to undernutrition.

UNICEF's Response
UNICEF has initiated three strategies:

  • Rainwater harvesting and reverse osmosis universally available to all Maldivians in the atolls
  • Four island pilot sanitation programme to provide a model for unified island sanitation
  • Environmental education

After the tsunami UNICEF worked to ensure that every family in the atolls had access to an adequate rainwater supply.  UNICEF also provided 23 reverse osmosis water desalination units, including four mobile boat-mounted desalinators, to convert seawater into drinkable water and supplement rainwater harvesting. The four island sanitation pilot project is a model system designed to point the way to an integrated solution that can transform the situation of water, waste disposal, sanitation, food, and hygiene throughout the Maldives. It is a low-emission closed sanitation system that will replace the aging piecemeal system of septic tanks and sewage runoff arrangements that pose serious pollution risks. The system will allow groundwater to revitalize, improving hygiene and sanitation. Compost from treated sewage will improve agricultural yields, creating an overall cycle of improvement in fragile island ecosystems. Finally, as demanded by Maldivians, the systems will be solar assisted, in order to reduce the environmental footprint and lessen the impact on global warming and rising sea levels.  

The Future of Water and Sanitation
Following the completion of the national rainwater harvesting programme and the four island pilot sanitation project, UNICEF will support assessment of the results and provide help for the replication of comparable sanitation systems throughout the country. School environmental clubs are currently being revived and provided with environmental toolkits that encourage students to become “environmental detectives” in their communities. They engage in activities such as water quality monitoring and organizing community events to consolidate the current levels of awareness around issues of water, environment and sanitation.

Our Partners in Water and Sanitation
Educational Development Center, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Environment, Energy and Water, Engineers Without Borders

Resources for Water and Sanitation
To carry out planned WatSan activities throughout 2008-2010, UNICEF requires US$590,000 (figures pending UNICEF Exec. Board approval).

Key Achievements since December 2004

  • 4,066 family rainwater harvesting kits and 2500 litre water tanks provided across 20 atolls
  • 2567 community rainwater harvesting kits and 2500 litre water tanks provided across 20 atolls
  • 19 atoll-level and 4 boat-mounted reverse osmosis water purification units provided
  • 4 zero emission solar-powered closed emission sewage systems being provided
  • 8 schools equipped with toilet facilities
  • Modules developed for environmental education in school curriculum for grades 1-4





For every child
Health, Education, Equality, Protection