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No recent figures are available on water withdrawal in the Maldives. It is, therefore, estimated that in 2008 the total municipal water withdrawal was 5.6 million m3 against 3.3 million m3 in 1987 (Table 2 and Figure 1). The industrial withdrawal was around 0.3 million m3 against 0.1 million m3 in 1987. No information is available on water withdrawal for irrigation. If, however, there is irrigation it will mostly rely on collected rainwater. This gives a total water withdrawal of 5.9 million m3, of which 1.225 million m3 is provided by desalinated water. The above amounts do not include water used by tourists. An estimated 500 000 tourists visit the Maldives per year and all tourist resorts have their own desalination plants. In addition, many people collect and store rainwater for their use, which is not included in the above amounts.
Rainwater is tapped from roofs and collected and stored in various types of tanks. All the islands have individual household as well as community tanks. The situation is different on the island Male, which is the capital and where everyone has access to desalinated water distributed through a piped network. In Male it is common for people to use desalinated water for drinking and cooking, bathing and other domestic purposes because the groundwater is highly contaminated. Groundwater is mainly used to flush toilets s. Those who can, however, often prefer to collect rainwater for drinking to save money. Those who cannot afford to have house connections can collect limited quantities of water for free from tap bays located in 15 places around the island (Ibrahim et al., 2002).
As in Male, many islands are now facing groundwater problems caused by human activities such as over-abstraction and sewage pollution. The island of Kandholhudhoo, the most densely populated island before the tsunami, had experienced problems similar to Male. A freshwater lens polluted by poor sanitation facilities and depleted by over-extraction, coupled with insufficient space to collect enough rainwater for the island’s population, has left little alternative but desalination.
In the tourist resorts, the desalinated water produced is generally used for cooking and bathing only, as guests are encouraged to buy bottled water for drinking. Rainwater is sometimes collected for staff to drink, and groundwater is sometimes used for irrigation of tiny areas, though neither resource is used to its full extent. On a few resorts treated wastewater is used for irrigation of food crops and some landscaping, but no data are available, though the amount must be very small (Ibrahim et al., 2002).