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Waste management and threats of climate change, how Maldives is bracing against odds?

With almost half of its total household structures located within 100 metres of coastline, and population spread across 121 islands, Maldives has to tackle several health risks looming over its people from improper waste management. The waste and garbage that ends up in its lagoons not only contribute to water pollution but also create a much larger issue of public health as it threatens to spread several diseases through tidal waves, floods, cyclones and more frequent extreme weather. All these are combined with the impacts of climate change which are a constant threat to the country, tackling an existential crisis.

Climate Change – Single, most threating factor for Maldives

Climate change cannot be singled out as a devastating effect for a particular region or country, it is impacting all countries. However, some countries suffer from the greater intensity of it. Maldives is one such nation, where a 1-metre rise in sea level can submerge more than 80% of the total land area of the country. It is one of the biggest reasons for the existential crisis looming over the Maldives. Other challenges for Maldives include gradual and consistent soil erosion, salt-water intrusion into freshwater streams and even loss of its beaches.

People depending on fisheries for livelihood are regularly struggling as catches, especially of a particular type, such as tuna are regularly on the decrease. The rising temperature of oceans is the reason believed to be behind it. The health and well-being of the people is constantly being impacted by factors developed due to climate change.

Waste Management and Maldives challenges in disposing of its garbage

One of the problems, constantly on the rise in the island nation, is that of waste management. The geographical area and topography are the biggest reasons behind it. Due to the spread of the islands that contribute to the nation’s total area, problems in proper transportation of garbage, disposal and even collection, exist. Natural phenomenon such as tidal waves, intense rainfall and thunderstorms, further make the function of waste management challenging and more difficult. For almost three decades garbage generated in Male has been sent to Thilafushi Island, also known as the garbage island. A majority of the waste was burnt and ended up in a lagoon on the island, causing both water and air pollution. Waste burning accounts for almost 15% of the total carbon emissions of Maldives.

Greater Male Waste to Energy Project

The Maldives adopted the strategy of larger waste management in 2021 and it introduced the Greater Male Waste to Energy Project. It is an integrated waste management initiative in the country and the facility is located on Thilafushi Island. To support the project and make the waste collection and strengthen transportation, regional facilities are being set up within the Greater Male region for Ari and Vaavu Atolls. This would also help in storage, management and proper disposal. The aim of the project is to stop the incineration and burning of waste across all health facilities located in the country and promote an environment-friendly and safe healthcare waste management system, with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Involving communities to change attitudes about waste management

Garbage In, Garbage Out: Waste management in the Maldives, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), highlights about a waste management project spearheaded by local NGO Hoandedhoo Island Development Society (HIDS), which is making significant strides in improving the environment in Maldives. The project, funded through the Mangroves for the Future (MFF) Small Grant initiative, aims to tackle the growing issue of waste accumulation on the islands of Hoandedhoo and Nadella. Firushan, serving as the project development officer for HIDS, realized that addressing waste management required more than just infrastructure.

With extensive research and consultations with local communities, a participatory plan was developed. The initiative included door-to-door campaigns, town hall meetings, and training workshops to raise awareness and educate residents about waste management. HIDS also worked with the Island Council to establish a committee responsible for implementing a waste management system. Waste collection bins, dustbins in public areas, and waste transfer vehicles were provided, along with composting training for council staff. The project has already seen positive changes in community attitudes and behavior, with households now segregating their waste. The ultimate goal is to establish a fully functional waste management system that collects and manages waste while promoting recycling and composting.

“Turning Waste to Wealth”

That is the title given by the World Bank for Maldives initiatives in waste management, in one of the feature stories published on its website in July 2022. The article highlights the country’s commitment to not letting waste, sink its economy. The country has completely shifted its waste management approach, from a “use and dispose” system to a more practical, circular economy, ensuring sustainability and a greener future.

Organizations such as the Maldives Arts and Crafts Society (MACCS), Parley for the Oceans, and Zero Waste Maldives are actively engaged in household kitchen gardening, composting training, and advocating for waste reuse and recycling. MACCS has facilitated the production of reusable bags from used garments, incentivizing local businesses to adopt cloth bags and rewarding customers who consistently use them. Recognizing the pivotal role of women in waste management, these initiatives also empower women through education and engagement, fostering a transformative shift in waste management attitudes and practices across the islands.

Maldives is taking consistent steps to overcome the menace of waste mismanagement, which once threatened its very existence and future prospects as a nation. However, there is still a long road ahead that needs to be trodden carefully.

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