Maldives is an archipelago of 25 low-lying coral atolls that extends from 7°6’ N to 0°42’ S in the Indian ocean centered approximately at 73°E longitude. The double-chain of islets is around 860km long and varies from 80 to 120km in width. The country consists of a total of 1190 small tropical islands out of which only 358 are used for economic activities and human settlement. Local inhabitants occupy around 195 of these 358 islands, while the rest are mostly occupied by tourist resorts. The country is divided into 25 atolls for administrative purposes. The total land area of Maldives is less than 300km2 with more than 80% of the land being lower than 1m mean sea level (MSL). The highest point is in Wilingili Island in Addu atoll barely measuring up to 2.4m above MSL5. The Gan island within Laamu atoll located in the south is the largest island having an area of only 6km.
The climate of Maldives is greatly influenced by its tropical monsoon weather and the islands experience a warm and humid climate throughout the year. The annual mean temperature is around 28° C with little inter-seasonal variability. However, there is a well-defined wet and dry period particularly in the northern and central regions. This is because of the influence of the Asian monsoon which brings rainfall from May through November, and a shorter dry spell from January to March. The southern equatorial regions are not as strongly influenced by the monsoons, and hence have a less pronounced dry period. As a result, the annual mean rainfall has a north-south gradient with the northern areas receiving lower rainfall particularly during the dry (north-east) monsoon period.
The current population of the country is around 309,430 with more than 1/3rd of its inhabitants living in the urbanized capital city of Malé located in Kaafu atoll. The remaining population is distributed in the surrounding atolls (rural areas). The population growth seems to follow an unequal distribution with respect to urban and rural areas, with the city of Malé experiencing an increasing trend during recent years while many of the surrounding rural atolls are experiencing a decreasing trend. The unequal distribution of population has mainly to do with the migration of locals to urban areas under the need for education and employment.
The driving force of Maldives’ economy is tourism. Not only does it contribute to about one third of the GDP but it is also the fastest growing economic sector within the country. Tourism accounts for around 17,000 direct jobs and also provides indirect employment opportunities in the fields of transportation, communication, agriculture, construction and other local economies within the islands. The second largest economic sector is fisheries which contributes to around 7% of the nation’s GDP and provides direct or indirect income to more than 20% of the population. Both fisheries and a vast portion of the tourism industry’s infrastructure are primarily located in regions that are within 100m of the coastline. This makes the Maldivian economy particularly sensitive to sea-level rise and coastal storms. Even though the economy has been growing significantly and the income levels have been rising, there is income inequality between Malé and the surrounding atolls. There are also some reports of the northern atolls becoming poorer in comparison to the southern atolls. The government is looking into solutions to urbanize the remaining areas. Although the Maldivian economy suffered due to the worldwide financial crisis in 2009, it is expected to recover well, primarily through the recovery of tourism.
The island communities in Maldives depend primarily on rainwater for drinking purposes, and groundwater for non-potable uses. Major urban areas like Malé and all the resort islands use water from stand-alone desalination plants. Islands facing the problem of groundwater contamination have also been provided with desalination plants for meeting their water requirements. Since the scarcity of water is often felt in small island nations such as Maldives, rainwater collection tanks have been provided to individual households for rainwater harvesting.
Owing to their dispersed nature, each island in Maldives has an individual electricity generation and distribution system which provides metered service to its residents. The electricity production is based on diesel generators and is distributed through underground cables. In most islands, this system is operated by government owned utilities sector, although there are also private community operators such as Island Development Committees (IDCs), Non Government Organizations (NGOs) and other private owners in some islands. Besides island-based electricity generation for households, a major share of electricity is produced in tourist resorts. Electricity in all sectors is generated primarily from diesel fuel oil which is imported since the country has no conventional fossil fuel resources. Although alternative renewable energy related activities such as resource assessment, policy incentives, development of solar-diesel hybrid pilot systems, etc have been initiated in the past few years, their contribution to the total primary energy consumption still remains insignificant as of 2009.