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Appeals for unity as Maldives remembers tsunami

The December 2004 tsunami left 82 people dead and 26 missing and presumed dead.



The Maldives on Wednesday marked the fourteenth anniversary after the Indian Ocean tsunami, an unprecedented natural disaster that claimed more than 100 lives and depopulated several islands.

Speaking at the annual Unity Day function, held this year on the island of Dhuvaafaru in Raa atoll, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih recounted his experience on the day the tsunami struck.

The veteran lawmaker was on his native Hinnavaru with his six and seven-year-old children when the waves swept through the island. One of them climbed the top of a tree and the other sought refuge atop a wall, he recalled, teary-eyed with emotion.

Patience and faith in God’s mercy saw the Maldivian people through hunger and incalculable loss, he said, praising the solidarity and unity in the aftermath of the disaster.

The tsunami affected nearly a third of the Maldives’ population of 300,000, leaving 82 people dead and 26 missing and presumed dead. Some 21,663 people were displaced after a quarter of inhabited islands were damaged and 14 islands were evacuated.

About 15,000 people were forced to live in temporary shelters for years and the number of inhabited islands fell from 199 to 186 at present. Only nine islands were spared the effects of the tsunami.

Since 2005, the government has marked December 26 as the National Day of Unity in remembrance of the communal spirit and solidarity shown by Maldivians in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by the tsunami.

Addressing the resettled population of Dhuvaafaru, President Solih pledged to begin the process of registering their new homes as their place of permanent residence. A land reclamation project would be launched soon to build flats and award plots of land, he added.

He also pledged to enact the Disaster Management Act, which remains unenforced since it was passed in 2015.

Efforts were under way to establish a National Disaster Management Authority, a National Disaster Management Council, and a National Disaster Management Steering Committee, he said.

A draft of the ‘National Disaster Management Plan’ has also been compiled with proactive measures to be taken to prepare for and respond to disasters. A ‘Disaster Management Trust Fund’ was established on December 16, 2018, he added.

Basic supply storages would be set up on all islands along with relief mechanisms in each atoll to assist victims of fires and other tragedies.

In his remarks at the Unity Day function, Home Minister Imran Abdulla blamed politics for creating divisions in the previously close-knit and harmonious Maldivian society.

But the “political ranks” have at present reached a closeness and fraternity not seen in the past 30 years, contended Imran, leader of the Adhaalath Party, one of the four parties in the ruling coalition.