Residents of Maafannu ward in Malé have raised concern over health risks posed by untreated sewage leaks in their homes and the streets amid a bout of heavy rain and stormy weather.
Flooding is an annual problem between June and September in the congested capital, home to some 116,000 people, causing sewers to overflow. The main reason, say civic planners, is that the sewage infrastructure has not kept pace with rapid expansion of residential areas.
A 33-year-old resident of the Handhuvaree Hingun street, requesting anonymity, said that the sewage outlet at his house overflowed and flooded the kitchen last week.
“A similar thing happened to our neighbours: their toilet started spewing sewage water,” he said. Officials from the Malé Water and Sewerage Company, a state-owned enterprise in charge of maintaining Malé’s sewers, carried out an inspection and told the household that the “sewage levels in the catch pits were ten inches above the level it should be.”
The Health Protection Agency has warned of health risks, including bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, from untreated sewage. The agency had warned of a diarrhoea outbreak earlier this month.
MWSC claims there is little they could do, with Mariyam Shiuna, a spokesperson, blaming Malé’s households for the plight.
“Some houses connect their rainwater drainage pipes to our sewage network and our sewage junctions start overflowing. Rainwater is not sewage. It can be let out to the streets,” she said.
Residents maintain that rainwater, when not connected to sewers, end up flooding already inundated roads. The practice is unlawful, Shiuna said.
“We get these kind of complaints a lot during rainy seasons. We advise the public not to connect drainage pipes against the regulations,” she said.
While the Malé City Council was previously responsible for regulating municipal services, including sewer services, changes to the Decentralisation Act last year transferred the authority to the housing ministry.
Malé Mayor Mohamed Shihab said that the flooding proved yet again that the government-sponsored amendments were counterproductive. “Everything in Malé has gone overboard. The housing ministry cannot take care of it,” he said.
Attempts to contact the housing ministry remained unsuccessful.
With guidelines on dealing with the issue not forthcoming, the military’s fire and rescue department and Malé city council have refused to provide any assistance to residents.
“Fire and rescue and they said there was nothing they could do unless there was water inside the house,” said a resident from Maafannu ward.
Shamau Shareef, a Malé city councillor, said that the main problem was overpopulation and congestion in the capital city. “The infrastructure of Malé was only designed for a 70,000 people capacity, be it the sewage systems, water, phone lines or health services,” he said.
The HPA said it had contacted MWSC when similar complaints were raised a few months ago.
“It’s a big health problem but we haven’t had a complaint lately. We got one a few months ago and had communicated with MWSC,” said an official.
Another 32-year-old resident of the Maafannu ward said that the authorities often refuse to acknowledge the problem.
“When I complained to the authorities, they denied [there was a problem],” he said.
“When I went to MWSC to complain a couple of months ago, they said that the junctions are properly sealed off and that there wouldn’t be sewage coming out. But we still see sewage in the water. We can even smell it on the streets.”
Photo by Ali Sulaiman