Businesses and households in Malé have been struggling to buy drinking water for the past five weeks amid an acute shortage caused by a fall in production coupled with high demand during the dry season.
In an announcement Tuesday, the economic development ministry urged shops not to sell the locally produced bottled mineral water at inflated prices. The price of a case has reportedly increased by up to MVR10 (US$0.60) in some corner shops.
Some shops also stopped selling water in early March and others have been rationing sales. Shops and businesses say daily supplies have been hard to purchase or entirely unavailable for delivery from the main producers.
“I’ve been calling the lines for water delivery, but they don’t pick up anymore. We went to the warehouse where they store water, but they didn’t have enough water available either,” a businessman who wished to remain anonymous told the Maldives Independent about difficulties in buying water to serve at his café.
“We had to go to the T-jetty, where they had a couple of palettes of water, and bring it to our café by ourselves,” he added.
With desalinated tap water unsafe to drink without boiling, the 150,000-strong population in the congested capital city rely on bottled water from three main suppliers – Island Beverages, Malé Aerated Water Company and Happy Market.
According to local media, the shortage in recent weeks was mainly caused by low supplies of the Taza or Life five-litre bottles bought by most households.
On Sunday, Happy Market told local media that the company’s production of the Life brand fell after a suction pump broke at its water plant on the island of Himmafushi near Malé.
But Managing Director Ali Ihusan assured that production will return to normal within a week. He also suggested that bulk buying of bottled water during the hot northeastern monsoon contributed to the shortage.
Temperatures have reached 34 degrees celsius during the past month.
Following the low supplies of the rival Taza brand in recent weeks, Ihusan said the demand for a five litre Life water bottle increased from 20,000 to 30,000 a day.
The withdrawal of a batch of Taza bottles due to a noticeable unpleasant smell in early March coincided with the problems at the Happy Market water plant.
At the time, the Island Beverages company temporarily suspended production of the five-litre Taza bottle.
But on Monday, Island Beverages assured the public that it has increased production of Taza bottles to maximum capacity.
The bottling plant is now operational for 24 hours, the company said. The government-owned Malé Water and Sewerage Company owns a majority stake in Island Beverages.
The State Electricity Company meanwhile introduced its bottled water to the market last week. But the state-owned company has limited capacity and is able to provide 10 cases per order daily.
Fazul Rasheed, managing director of MWSC, told newspaper Mihaaru earlier this week that the company expects the water shortage to be resolved next week.
“There are three big companies that produce water. If a plant of one company faces a problem it affects all the other companies,” he was quoted as saying.