Event: Tsunami, 2004

The Port of Malé is a vital entry door for primary goods to the Maldives. The December 2004 tsunami, which followed an earthquake in the Indian Ocean, caused the disruption to the port.

Causes and impact

The tsunami caused the disruption and amplifying factors included: (i) the loss of communication and connectivity capability among islands and with other countries; (ii) the limited preparedness and planning for natural disasters; and (iii) the lack of early warning systems.

Nearly a third of Maldives’ population suffered from loss or damage of homes and livelihoods, which was estimated at $0.5 billion, which is 62 per cent of its GDP (World Bank Group, 2005). A quarter of the islands experienced major damage to essential infrastructures such as jetties and harbours, which provide crucial links between the islands and the outside world. Severe environmental effects included coastal erosion, solid and hazardous materials waste dispersion, contamination of water sanitation systems and floods (Marchant N., 2021).

Response and mitigation measures

The government established a special task force to provide prompt aid and supplies. Communications were restored to 11 atolls within 24 hours (Keating B. & Helsley C., 2005). A National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) was created to enact preventive assessments and preparation (Ministry of Planning and National Development, 2005). The Ministry of Defense and National Security (MDNS) coordinated the overall relief effort (donor assistance, long-term response, and planning). It initiated a project to collect the necessary funding/collective support to reconstruct the port. UNEP intervention focused on assessing environmental impacts and drawing recommendations for long-term reconstruction efforts. The port planned to tailor and adapt its physical lay-out and infrastructure.

The government planned to invest in coastal engineering defenses to protect against storm waves and promote the Safe Island Programme, which foresees communities living on smaller, less inhabited, and potentially more vulnerable islands, will be settled on five host larger islands, with enhanced coastal defenses. It also developed conceptual urban designs for enhanced mitigation features on the proposed host islands, including elevated areas or buildings to enable evacuation if needed.

Lessons learned and good practice23

  • Prioritize the design of transport infrastructure to withstand disasters, especially in countries highly exposed to extreme weather conditions. For example, being ringed by a seawall, Malé was better protected from tsunamis, compared to other atolls (Hieber Girardet L., 2019).
  • Invest in strategic regional short-sea inter-island services and strengthen the connections linking smaller ports to the main ports (Maritime Gateway, 2021).
  • Invest in local environmental protection and domestic renewable energy resources.
  • Invest in risk management systems documenting the range of risks and the likelihood of their occurrence, as well the identification of mitigation measures, including soft and hard measures. Soft measures include adapting legal and regulatory system, land-use planning and building codes, and hard measures foresee the building of sea defense works, adapted road and water networks, and identification of shelters.
  • Share and spread risks among relevant stakeholders to promote preparedness and raise awareness among the government, private sector, transport industry and insurers.
  • Integrate disaster and climate risks into public and private sector investment decisions and infrastructure developments (LaRocque I. & Steiner A., 2017).





23 This section also draws upon UNDP (2020).