Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
New Look: An MWSC pumping stationafter rehabilitation
Country Water ActionsMaldives: Life After 100% Urban Sanitation
Web Writer Maldives’ urban centers have reached 100% sanitationcoverage, says the multi-agency publicationAsia WaterWatch 2015.The country, it seems, has more thanachieved the water supply and sanitation targets of theMillennium Development Goals. But water and sewerageutility staff are not resting on their laurels. What is keepingthem on their toes?
PERFECTION IN URBAN SANITATION
Maldives should be layingback and relaxing,watching other countriesstruggle to achieve whatit already had in 2002—100% urban sanitationcoverage. Yet the staff of the Malé Water andSewerage Company(MWSC) are not relaxingwith coffee in one handand feet propped up on desks. They are conscientiouslymonitoring city population growth and migration trends topreserve the perfection in urban sanitation coverage thatthey achieved.In the 1980s, Malé’s population tripled to around 60,000from 20,000 in 1974, and has been steadily increasingsince. “People from the “outer islands” began migrating toMalé to get their children into school, find jobs, and benearer to what was once the only medical facility in thecountry,” Mohamed Rasheed, MWSC’s Marketing Manager,reasoned.The MWSC is now in-charge of the water supply andsewerage needs of Maldives’ three growing urban centers—Malé, Villingili, and HulhuMalé islands—that account forabout 30% of the country’s population. It took over thisresponsibility from the Maldives Water and SanitationAuthority (MWSA) in 1995. With an initial customer base of 6,500 in 1996, the MWSC is now serving 19,638households. “HulhuMalé is a new settlement that is fast becomingurbanized. We are keeping close watch of urbandevelopment to be ready to provide whatever additionalservices will be needed,” Rasheed said.
FROM BEACH BURIALS TO SPAGHETTI PIPES
Like any pre-toilet society, pre-toilet Maldives practicedopen defecation. The country’s kilometric beaches offeredthe most natural place to relieve one’s self (or "buryingmines" as the locals call it), without making any lastingdamage to the environment. Maldives survivedenvironmental exploitation for almost 2000 years. Defecation habits started changing on a mega-scale in the1970s, when the “four gears toilet” was introduced in Malé.Using an iron bar or strong wooden stick, a hole was dugfollowing the action of how one “changes gears” whendriving a vehicle. The resulting hole became the defecationarea and was usually near the shallow wells that suppliedwater to households. The more affluent constructed septictanks, but sewage continued to penetrate the island’s watertable, resulting in fecal contamination of groundwater.In the late 1980s, whencholera and shigellosisepidemics claimed severalhundred lives, peoplerealized how unhygienicpractices can lead togroundwater pollution,and directly affect theirhealth. Unfortunately, thegovernment did not havethe funds nor theexpertise to lay a proper sewer network so people simplylaid sewer pipes from their property to the sea.The result was a “spaghetti network” that lackedinterception chambers and access for cleaning. They becameclogged. Floods became common. And sewage spilled onroads every time it rained. Rasheed recollects, “Attending onsewer pipe repairs and cleaning the road of raw sewagebecame a 24-hour job.” Malé’s groundwater aquifer started to break down assewage seeped in from the top while salt water penetratedthe sides and bottom. The deterioration continued until 1988when a formal sewer network was installed to help slowdown the aquifer’s total collapse.
FIBERGLASS, TELEMETRY, AND OTHERTECHNOLOGIES
Malé’s sewer network,funded by Germany-based developmentbank KfWBankengruppe, boastedof 50 kilometers of sewer pipes, roughly1,000 accesschambers, and 9 pumpstations that collectsludge before pumpingthe water into the sea.The MWSA, which thenmanaged the system,held an annual “flushing” to clean the sewers. But withintwo years, sand, debris, and hydrogen sulfide and methanegases corroded the network.