The Maldives is a unique holiday destination, a honeymoon dream destination for many. With its pristine white sandy beaches, turquoise lagoons and shallow waters, the island nation offers the holiday of a lifetime. Its fabulous setting and luxury resorts are truly unparalleled. These features are coupled with one of the most friendly and hospitable people on Earth, who make an escape to the Maldives truly special.
When we see pictures of this paradise country in glossy magazines or hear about a perfect honeymoon spent on one of the islands of the Maldives, it does not really occur to us where the waste products go from these impeccable luxury resorts and how the country disposes of its rubbish. If we were to know, we might be shocked.
Thilafushi, the Waste Dump of the Maldives
The waste of the otherwise perfect country is disposed on an artificial island named Thilafushi.
Thilafushi is less than 7 kilometres away from Male, the capital of the Maldives. It was brought into existence in the early 1990s after reclaiming one of the shallowest lagoons in the country, Thilafalhu. At that time the lagoon was barely 7 km long and 200 meters wide. Today, due to the landfilling activity of two decades, the landmass of Thilafushi is 0.43 square kilometres (4.6 million square feet).
Currently, Thilafushi is partially a waste dump and partially an industrial area. At its creation Thilafushi-2 was used as supplement land for ever-growing industrialisation. It is used for boat manufacturing, cement packing, methane gas bottling and warehousing. All of these industrial activities take place on landfill.
According to environmentalists, Thilafushi is growing by one square meter a day due to the vast amount of rubbish – approximately 330 tonnes – arriving on the rubbish island on an average day.
Environmental Apocalypse on Thilafushi
The shocking thing about Thilafushi is not the landfill or the rubbish island by itself. It is not beyond imagination that waste is produced even on the paradise islands of the Maldives and there is a need to get rid of it. It can even be said that it is sensible that the waste is accumulated in one place as opposed to be burnt locally on each island or dumped into the sea.
The problem with Thilafushi is twofold:
- The way the rubbish is collected and processed on the rubbish island does not happen in an environmentally-friendly way. The waste is not sorted properly. Only plastic bottles, engine oil, metals and paper are extracted from the inbound rubbish and sent to India for processing. Everything else – including electronics and batteries – are simply burnt on the spot. As a result, toxic fumes are created, which simply go up into the air, polluting the environment.
- As a result of land reclamation by landfilling, toxic waste is simply placed into the ocean. Lead, mercury, asbestos and other hazardous waste ends up in the water, which may poison the water, marine life and consequently endangers the food chain, risking human health, too.
- Several dozen migrant workers are employed on Thilafushi, whose work conditions are of a serious concern. According to reports, they work 12-hour shifts 7 days a week on the rubbish island, without any safety clothing and equipment. This means that they constantly breathe in toxic fumes as a result of irresponsible burning of waste products.
Is There a Solution?
The government of the Maldives signed a privatisation deal with a German-Indian waste management company back in 2008. It promised to deploy modern technology to process waste on Thilafushi. However, the private company has not arrived on the rubbish island, to date.
Promises are made that the private partner will start work this year and will install an incinerator on Thilafushi. From this it is expected that the open burning of unsorted waste will stop on the island.
Environmentalists call for more effective waste collection, recycling and monitoring of air and sea pollution around Thilafushi, too.
As Thilafushi is in a state of crisis at the present time, hopefully, the government will finally stop delaying the implementation of a resolution for the matter.