Speech by Minister of Defiance and National Security Col. (ret) Mohamed Nazim on the occasion of the International Disaster Risk Reduction Day
“Women and Girls – The invisible Force of Resilience”
13th October is the International Disaster Risk Reduction Day. Even though this day had been celebrated internationally, this is the first time that it is celebrated in the Maldives. I express my sincere well wishes to the citizens of Maldives on this day. This day should be remembered and lessons learned even if the day is not celebrated in the classical sense of celebration. We should find out how disaster prone we are and the likely forms of disasters that we will face in the future. We should learn lessons from the disasters that we have faced in the past, especially the tsunami of 2004 and evaluate and assess what needs to be done in order to brighten our future.
The slogan for this year’s international disaster risk reduction day is “Women and Girls – The invisible Force of Resilience”. However, since this is the first time this day is celebrated in the Maldives, I would like to address and express my views to the full spectrum of the Maldivian society and citizens. However, I am not trying to take the limelight away from the ladies to whom the slogan is addressed. I am simply addressing all the citizens because we have not had much opportunity to address the Maldivian citizens on Disaster Risk Reduction since the tsunami of 2004.
By the grace of God Almighty, we have not faced a nationwide disaster since the tsunami of 2004. However, due to global climate change, the small inhabited islands of the Maldives are facing unimaginable losses and island level disasters. These include hurricane winds, flash floods, extended periods of draught in the north east monsoon and its resulting impact of islands needing a supply of safe drinking water, the tidal floods experienced during the south west monsoons and the tidal floods caused by the sea level rise. The severity and the number of incidences are on the rise, from year to year.
During the last 7 years, over 80 islands experienced severe shortages of safe drinking water and needed resupplying. For some of these islands with acute shortages, the resupplying operations had to be conducted twice and thrice. However, this year is the first year in which the resupplying operations were repeated more than once for the same island. This shows that the extended periods of draught are on the increase, and we need a permanent solution for this problem.
Maldives is amongst the highest affected countries of the Asian Tsunami of 2004. Wave heights between 1.2m to 4.2m were reported from islands throughout Maldives. 26 people were lost at sea and 82 died from the tsunami. 29,500 people were relocated and over 12,000 people lost their homes completely. Even today, 1600 people are living in temporary shelters. It is estimated that the financial cost of the tsunami to Maldives is in the region of 470 million dollars, equivalent to 62% of the National Gross Domestic Product.
A study conducted in 2005 by the UNNDP in collaboration with the Ministry of Planning and national development showed that the islands of Maldives are extremely vulnerable to disasters. Though the probability of a tsunami or an earth quake is relatively low, the probability of strong winds, heavy rain and extended draughts and tidal floods due to sea level rise are high probability events. In addition, because of the low lying nature of the islands and habitation close to the shore line, Maldives is considered to be a high disaster risk nation. In this regard, the capital Male’ city is in a critical condition. Male is the commercial capital of the Maldives and this has resulted in Male being heavily congested with the construction of numerous sky scrapers in close proximity, the chances of being able to move out of the danger in a disaster may be virtually impossible in Male’.
Today, we need to do extensive work to reduce the risk of disasters, and minimize the losses during a disaster. To protect our citizens, we need to work with renewed zest, at the individual level, community level and at the national level.
While we are conducting the recovery and reconstruction operations post tsunami of 2004, the level of participation of the government, civil society, NGOs and the private sector are being re evaluated. It is believed that, to protect the people living in 192 islands, over 100 resorts and industrial islands, aforementioned sectors have as big a share of the responsibility as the government. It is a huge challenge to carryout disaster risk reduction procedures. Hence, today, I feel it is my responsibility to stress the importance of Disaster Risk Reduction and urge the public, the civil society and the institutions to work hand in hand to improve and increase the disaster mitigation capabilities of all inhabited islands.
When the tsunami struck Maldives in 2004, the government’s roles and responsibilities in responding to a disaster were not formulated. Nor was anything institutionalized. Hence, learning lessons from the tsunami of 2004, we need to plan our responses and try to mitigate future disasters and minimize our losses. In this regard, I feel that it is important to formulate a comprehensive legislative frame work to manage national disasters. I assure you that it is one of my top priorities. The formulation of the roles and responsibilities of government institutions that are involved in the Disaster Life Cycle need to be given a high priority and the coordinating mechanisms need to be practiced and sustained.
Because of the way the islands are scattered across the Indian Ocean, it is virtually impossible to provide the logistics needed to respond to a disaster from the capital Male’. Hence I urge the atoll councils and island councils to incorporate disaster risk reduction measures in their development plans and carryout disaster response and mitigation measures in a decentralized manner. I consider it my responsibility to urge the councils to increase the participation of the general public in the disaster Preparedness, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation measures of the Disaster Life Cycle.
My heart goes to the people of the 6 islands who are enduring the hardship of still living in temporary shelters. I assure them that providing permanent shelters to those households is a top priority of this government. They have endured the hardship since 2004 and I am disheartened by this.
I pray to Almighty Allah that our small community be able to live a happy, prosperous and a safe life, and our disaster risk reduction activities that we have started be blessed.