The Republic of Maldives comprises 1,192 small, low-lying coral islands in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives archipelago is unique in having the sea forming 99.67% of its territory and the average elevation of the islands being 1.5 meters above the mean sea level, creating certain disaster risks, which the UNDP partnered with RMSI to explore. Maldives was among the most severely affected countries hit by the Asian Tsunami on December 26, 2004. The reason for Maldives’ evidently high vulnerability can be attributed to its particular geographic location, apparent effects of climate change, topographical features, tourism and fisheries based economy and associated trends of population concentration. To avoid the present scale of losses and damage in future, UNDP and RMSI initiated a study to address this context of Maldives’ high level of vulnerability. (Figure: 3-D view of bathymetry of Maldives – depth in meters)
Using GIS and Remote Sensing, RMSI’s team of risk modeling experts developed catastrophe risk models to assess various hazards in terms of their probable maximum impact using scientific principles, probabilistic methods, and global best practices. Furthermore, RMSI also developed a GIS base map of Maldives, which is the first in the country. As part of the deliverables, the UNDP was provided with a detailed report that included various results, findings and recommendations. The hazard, vulnerability and risk assessments at island level were provided on a 5-point scale – very high, high, moderate, low and very low. UNDP and the Government of Maldives can use the findings of this study for planning developmental strategies that will help in mitigating future disasters.
Analytical solutions applying GIS and other geospatial technologies like remote sensing, etc. are common in natural hazards risk assessments. Digital base map is fundamental to any geospatial analysis and modeling. Unfortunately, no such map of Maldives is available to this study. Hence, a digital base map for Maldives was created using remote sensing data. The base map contains administrative boundaries like islands and atolls, and attribute data like name of island, name of atoll, category of island (inhabited, uninhabited, resort, etc.), census data, housing and infrastructure data (schools, hospitals, etc.).’
In the study hazard zoning maps were created for tsunami, earthquake and cyclone including wind and storm surge. The hazard map represents probable maximum intensity of a particular hazard, expressed in probabilistic terms as the value that has a 10% chance of exceeding in 50 years (also corresponds to a return period of 475 years). Zones were given a 1-5 scale indicating very high, high, moderate, low and very low hazard and each island is mapped to one of the five zones separately for each hazard. Physical and social vulnerability risk assessments have been carried out for each of the hazards and all hazards combined (multi hazard) for every inhabited island. Similar to hazard map a risk index scale of 1-5 is used to map every island indicating very low, low, moderate, high and very high risk. Top 20 safe islands are identified for planning, development and investment purposes of the government of Maldives.
The principle recommendations put forth by this study are as follows. The hazard and risk information generated by the study needs to be incorporated into the national policy and planning. A beginning needs to be made to construct buildings and structures that can resist natural hazard forces at least in zones 5 and 4. Inhabited islands with small populations may be targeted for building community’s capacity to face natural disasters. This would require suitable training for Island Chiefs and Atoll Chiefs. Island-wise disaster management plans would be a useful starting point with activities like preparedness drills included. The communities in the atolls that are at greatest risk need to be well prepared to receive warnings promptly and react appropriately. The island offices and well established GSM network in the country are potentially the most useful tools for warning dissemination. The country has a robust educational infrastructure which may be suitably equipped to deal with natural disasters. School safety programmes would promote a culture of safety in the community. Hospitals need to build upon basic casualty drills including triage. Hospital emergency preparedness programmes are necessary across all islands particularly building capacity of the atoll hospitals.