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Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture
The most important institutions concerned with water management are:
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): In 2009, the President of the Maldives abolished the Maldives Water and Sanitation Authority (MWSA), established in 1973, and the Environment Research Centre and transferred all activities to the newly established EPA. Following this change, the EPA was linked to the Ministry of Housing, Transport and Environment. It operates as a regulatory authority administered under a governing board (WASH, 2009).
- Male Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC): This was established in 1995 and is responsible for the operation and management of water supply and sewerage services in Male.
- Ministry of Housing, Transport and Environment.
- Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture (MOFA): Has the overall mandate for the sustainable management and development of the nation’s fisheries, agriculture and marine resources.
The development of sustainable water supplies should rely on a combination of developing groundwater resources and rainwater harvesting. Desalination is considered an expensive alternative in the Maldives, but one that is necessary on some islands. Desalination is widely used in the 87 tourist resorts. These are islands set aside solely for tourists, and each island has its own small desalination plant. It is an affordable option, because the islands are generating substantial revenue from the tourists.
Groundwater resources management requires improved land-use planning, assessment of groundwater conditions before development, and the designation of groundwater protection zones. The need for groundwater quality protection through improved sewage treatment and disposal of wastewater is recognized. Trials are to begin on use of gravel bed hydroponics (GBH) or constructed wetlands for sewage treatment to protect the groundwater from pollution. The kulhis (freshwater ponds) could be developed as a water resource, though studies have yet to be undertaken to explore this feasibility (Ibrahim et al., 2002).
Training is required for the following (Ibrahim et al., 2002):
- water quality monitoring and groundwater assessment, processing and interpretation of data and selection and use of equipment;
- developing geographical information systems (GIS) and groundwater modelling techniques, hydrology, hydrogeology and surveying;
- water balance studies to assess groundwater recharge and sustainable yield using climate and other data;
- design of appropriate groundwater pumping systems including infiltration galleries; and
- appropriate methods and techniques for determining marine water quality.
The government’s policy is to ensure that all inhabited islands have water supplies that meet basic requirements. Except for Male, current investment on the islands is for rainwater collection to develop a consistent supply of safe water for drinking and cooking. The Government’s objective, according to the Health Master Plan 1996–2005, is to provide access to 10 litres/person per day of safe water for drinking and cooking for the entire population and, on islands where groundwater is not potable, to provide 40 litres/person per day.
In 2006, MWSA presented the five-year activity plan, with the following activities: water resources assessment and monitoring, water supply and sanitation guidance and regulation development, and water and wastewater quality compliance monitoring (MWSA, 2006).
The cost of water varies, depending on whether it is used for domestically or commercially. The domestic tariff is stepped to provide a minimum quantity of water per day at an affordable rate. Table 5 gives the details of water tariffs in Male (Ibrahim et al., 2002). Male’s desalinated water is expensive. The average household spends between US$40-60 per month on water, while earning something like US$668 dollars per month, so people can spend about 6–9 percent of their income on their water bill (MPND/UNDP, 1998). Wastewater charges are also included in the water charge. The advantage of the present arrangement is that the public has the choice of using groundwater, rainwater or desalinated water according to the customer’s needs and their income. The application of charges has made the public aware and willing to conserve and use water judiciously (Ibrahim et al., 2002).
The associated costs of desalinated plants on resort islands are covered by revenue accrued by the resorts, of which they are a relatively small percentage.
The total cost of purchase, transport and installation of the desalination plant in Kandholhudhoo was US$102 000 and the cost per m3 of water around US$7.84. This tariff covers the cost of operation and routine maintenance, but does not provide any additional funds to cover the cost of replacing the filter membranes or other spare parts, which can be expensive and difficult to obtain. The government met the capital cost of the plant and no attempt is being made to recover this cost through the tariff being collected. The responsibility for operation and maintenance of the plant on Kandholhudhoo is held by the Island Office, equivalent to a local government office.
Policies and legislation
The following policies for the sustainable development of water resources were set out in the context of the Health Master Plan 1996–2005 and the Second National Environmental Action Plan 1999:
- To increase collection and storage of rainwater at household level. This will include the sizing of rainwater tanks at the household level to have sufficient capacity to store rainwater to last the whole year through.
- To improve community collection and storage by increasing the storage capacity, renovating existing tanks, increasing catchment areas and conducting information, education and communication (IEC) activities to ensure rainwater is collected safely. This will include the building of underground rainwater tanks during construction of community buildings, and will encourage directing rainwater into household wells where rainwater tanks are not available.
- To pilot new schemes such as community groundwater systems (infiltration galleries) in areas of low salinity with a low risk of pollution, as a means of supplementing rainwater supplies where necessary.
- In order to protect groundwater resources from becoming saline, to discourage the use of electric pumps.