More than 20 islands across the Maldives are already facing water shortages, according to the National Disaster Management Centre.
Some 80 tonnes of water was delivered to 24 islands last week, the NDMC’s Hisan Hassan said, adding: “This is quite early for so many islands to run out of water.”
While water shortages have become a chronic problem in the Maldives, islands usually run out of water late in the northeastern monsoon, in April or May.
Some 97 islands, nearly half of inhabited islands in the Maldives, had reported water shortages during the four-month-long monsoon in 2015.
Global temperature levels meanwhile registered an extraordinary spike last month with a 1.35 degree celsius increase from the average temperature for February.
Temperatures have been spurred on by a very large El Niño in the Pacific Ocean, but the temperature smashed records set during the last large El Niño from 1998, which was at least as strong as the current one, The Guardian said.
The NDMC said most of the islands facing water shortages were from northern atolls, noting that the southern atolls had experienced heavy rainfall in recent months. Some had reported extensive flooding.
Hisaan said providing water supplies takes up a sizeable portion of the NDMC’s budget each year. Since it was established in 2004 after the Indian Ocean tsunami – which contaminated groundwater in several islands – the centre has been supplying water to about half of the Maldives’ 188 inhabited islands each dry season for the last ten years.
But working towards a long-term solution is not part of the NDMC’s mandate.
“Providing water aid to islands during the dry season is not really something disaster management should have to do,” conceded State Minister for Environment Abdul Matheen Mohamed.
Tackling the persisting problem of annual water shortages is a top priority for the current administration, he said.
“The ministry is working to establish water and sewage systems, water storage systems or desalination plants in the vulnerable islands,” he said.
More than US$100 million worth of foreign loans and MVR500 million (US$32 million) from the state budget was allocated in the 2015 budget for water and sewerage projects, Matheen added, which he said is a good indication of the government’s commitment to resolving the problems.
In late 2015, the Green Climate Fund also approved US$23.6 million for a five-year adaptation project to ensure the delivery of safe freshwater to 105,000 people in the outer islands of the Maldives.
As the world’s lowest-lying nation, the Maldives is extremely vulnerable to effects of climate change, sea level rise and global warming.
Successive governments have been under pressure to deliver solutions to climate change-related issues with water, waste management, and coastal protection projects included in the state budget each year.
However, several projects remain in the pipeline and do not take commence.
In November, The Maldives Independent reported that a number of development projects planned for last year were stalled.
The islands facing water shortages this year are Maalhendhoo, Miladhoo, Kudafari, Magoodhoo, Lhohi, Fohdhoo, and Holhudhoo in Noonu atoll, Innamaadhoo and Rasmaadhoo in Raa atoll, Makunudhoo, Kumundhoo, Kuribi, Nolhivaramfaru, Hirimaradhoo and Miladhoo in Haa Dhaal atoll, Kendhoo and Dharavandhoo in Baa atoll, Narudhoo and Noomaraa in Shaviyani atoll, Kaashidhoo and Gaafaru in Kaafu atoll, Dhigurah in Alif Dhaal atoll, and Maarandhoo in Haa Alif atoll,
The island of Kunahandhoo in Laamu atoll is the only southern island to have reported water shortages so far.