Meeting information requirements: Maldives is facing severe environmental damage due to rapid economic growth. In order to arrive with new sustainable development policies, the country needs to acquire sufficient and reliable environmental data for decision-making, Environment Statistics has been brought in for such data collection activities.
The Maldives consists of a chain of coral atolls, 80-120 km wide and 860 km long, located on the Lacadive-Chagos submarine ridge in the Indian Ocean. There are altogether 26 natural atolls and the land is divided between 1190 islands of which 198 are inhabited. Historically these islands have been divided into twenty administrative regions also known as atolls. Over 80% of the land area of these islands is less than 1 meter above mean sea level.
Like most archipelagic states, the economy and the lifestyle of the Maldives is essentially maritime and marine-based. Until recently the lifestyles of the Maldivians had little direct impact on the environment. The main environmental impacts included the mining of coral and coral sand in the absence of other building materials and deforestation induced by the need for fuel wood. These activities were then generally sustainable since human populations were relatively small and stable.
Since the 1970s the population has been growing fast and from 180,088 in 1985 the population has reached 244, 814 in 1995. The rapid growth in the population of Male, the capital island has resulted in the environmental problems of Male reaching a crisis. At present 25.5% (62,519) of the population live in Male in a land area of only 177.7 hectares. The country has also experienced rapid socio-economic development particularly in the tourism industry. There are now in excess of 87 resorts in operation and others under construction.
Despite the constraints of technical know-how, manpower and finances, the Maldivian Government has instituted appropriate policy legislation, regulatory and institutional measures for environmental planning and management. Environmental education and awareness have been given high priority by the Government and a number of initiatives have been taken in this area.
Status of Environmental Information in Maldives
In Maldives lack of a centralised environmental information system makes access to environmental information difficult. Over the years, number of studies has been undertaken by various authorities of the government to investigate and detail problems and possible solutions relating to environmental protection and preservation. However, no synthesis of this information has been done, and no archives of such studies exist for referral. The results of most of these studies are contained in unpublished reports and documents held in various ministries and line departments.
The existence of an environmental information system is a key factor in determining the success of future sustainable development. To this end the Environment Section of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Housing and Environment has begun work on compilation of an environmental database. This database would help reduce duplication of efforts and consequent waste of scares financial and manpower resources.
In addition to the country studies, international scientific and technical literature on environmental topics such as global warming, climate change, bio-diversity and coastal zone management are needed primary reference materials. Such scientific and technical literature is currently not available in the country. Establishment of an environment information system that provides access to such material, among others, is a pressing issue for the Maldives at present.
The complete absence of some environmental information presents a major challenge, not only in evaluating resources and their state but also in assessing risks. For instance, accessing the sustainability of freshwater resources in northern atolls is difficult in the absence of data on recharge rates which result from the absence of any long-term rainfall data for the country north of Male. The absence of baseline data or a suitable data set for synthetic application is characteristic of most islands in the Maldives. Long-term meteorological data are available only for Male and Gan; hydrographic surveys of lagoons are incomplete; tropical maps of islands are few and vegetation, soil and land-use maps are generally lacking.
Legal basis for environment statistics
The Statistical Section of the Ministry of Planning and National Development (MPND) is the main co-ordinating agency in the government for collection, compilation and dissemination of official national statistics of the Maldives. The sections mandate is derived from law no. 3/68G in Official Matters (Chapter 3) and the principal responsibilities are to conduct the national census every five years, compile rudimentary national accounts for the Maldives, compile a consumer price index on a monthly basis, undertake statistical surveys, maintain statistical standards and approve statistical publications of other government agencies. The annual Statistical Yearbook is the principal publication of the Statistics Section.
The MPND recently issued "The Statistical Regulation of the Republic of Maldives" which outlines standards and procedures for collection, compilation, publication and utilisation of national statistics. In addition, this regulation ensures that the line ministries adapt a standard approach in data collection, compilation and publication.
The Environment Protection and Preservation Act 1993 (EPPA) of the Maldives gives the Ministry of Home Affairs, Housing & Environment (MHAHE) the responsibility to protect and preserve the environment of the Maldives, and to sustainably manage its resources for the collective benefit and enjoyment of present and future generation. Under the framework of EPPA, the Ministry is required to continually access the state of the environment (SoE) of the Maldives in order to provide information for decision-making among others.
The laws and regulations mentioned above are the only current legal entities in place to facilitate and support environmental statistics. At present there are no laws developed for issues related to copyright issues and ownership of data.
Institutional arrangements for environmental statistics
The Statistical Section of the MPND being the main coordinating agency for national statistics has adopted a decentralised approach in obtaining Sectoral data that are not covered on a yearly basis from the concerned line ministries. In this respect, the Ministry has established very close linkages with 36 Government agencies, including the Ministry of Finance and Treasury, Maldives Monetary Authority, Ministry of Home Affairs, Housing and Environment, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education, in the compilation of the annual Statistical Year Book. The major areas covered in the annual statistical yearbook are geography, population, health, education, justice, agriculture, fisheries, tourism, transport, communication, electricity, finance and commerce.
In terms of environmental statistics, the MPND and the Environment Section of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Housing and Environment works closely with other relevant line ministries in development, management, identification and incorporation of environment statistics required into data collection activities of relevant line ministries.
Human resource capacity
At present under the direct supervision of the Director, there are seven full time employees working on demographic statistics at the Statistical Section of the Ministry of Planning and National Development. This includes two diploma level statisticians.
The Environment Section of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Housing and Environment currently employees fourteen employees, out of which five employees hold university level education in environmental fields.
Data collection activities
The MPND adapts a decentralised approach to collection of national statistics. The National Census, which has environmental indicators incorporated, is carried out once every five years. Most of the universal development indicators are assessed on an annual basis, based on the data provided by the line ministries. Among these are the total population, maternal mortality, crude birth rate, crude death rate, infant mortality rate, still birth rate, gross domestic product, GDP growth rate, trade balance, growth in fish catch, growth in tourist arrivals, student enrolment, number of educational institutions, functional literacy rate, population per practising doctor, number of hospital beds, health expenditure as a percentage of national budget, per capita health expenditure etc.
The Environment Section of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Housing & Environment (MHAHE) also adapts the same decentralised approach for collecting environmental statistics that are required more frequently and not covered under the National Census.
While a large amount of environmental information is required, at present only the most important environmental statistics are collected. This is mainly due to a number of constrains and difficulties experienced by the line ministries. While emphasis is placed on routine data collection activities in order to provide continued data for trend analysis, a large potion of the environmental statistics currently available is collected as part of studies conducted on a need to know basis.
The current major ongoing/completed activities of the Environment Section include:
- Second National Environment Action Plan (Published 1999)
- Greenhouse gas (GHG) Inventory of the Maldives for 1994 (completed - not published)
- Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (completed - not published)
- Air Quality and Management Strategy (completed - not published)
- State of the environment of Maldives 2000 (ongoing)
- Maldives National Communication to the UNFCCC (almost completed)
An indication of the nature of some of the data available over the last 10-year period is provided in the table in the Appendix.
Lack of expertise and trained staff is one of the key constraints experienced in the Maldives. With the limited funds available, some progress has been made towards conducting in-country training for statistical data collection and reporting.
Ministry of Planning and National Development (MPND) conducts in-country training for national statistics data collection, management and reporting every five years under the National Census Programme. Under this programme, representatives from all concerned line ministries and others who are involved in the process get trained.
Focusing more on environmental information, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Housing and Environment (MHAHE) conducted the following training programmes, which are/has a data collection element involved:
"GHG Inventory Training - one week orientation course", June 1998 was carried out as part of the GEF funded Climate Change Enabling Activity. 30 participants from different government institutions attended the training.
"State of the Environment (SoE) data collection and reporting" in July 1999 was carried out as part of the NORAD funded project implemented by the UNEP on strengthening environment assessment and monitoring in the South Asia and the Greater Mekong Sub-region. This training was extended to all stakeholders involved in collection, management and distribution of environmental statistics.
"Workshop on Geographical Information Systems (GIS)", August 2000 was carried out to train the vulnerability and adaptation team on applications of GIS. This training was conducted as part of the GEF funded Climate Change Enabling Activity.
The MPND and MHAHE make every effort to participate in regional and international training workshops and programmes.
Computers are used in all Government authorities today. But there exist vast differences in computing capabilities of one Government office to another. The level or the capacity of computing facilities partly depends on the nature of the work carried in offices. Databases and database management systems provides useful tools for information sharing in the government ministries. To facilitate sharing of information Government ministries have begun implementing local area networks at a very small scale within ministries or departments to meet their information requirements. It needs to be noted that such instances are very few within the Government sector.
The Statistical Section of the MPND and Environment Section of the MHAHE rely to some extent on computer resources in management, analysis and distribution of environmental information. Special attention is given to development of databases using readily available and familiar database software packages such as the Microsoft Access to increase efficiency of data management and effectiveness of environmental information.
The table below shows computer resources allocated for environmental information management in the Environment Section of the MHAHE.
||Pentium III 600 MHz
|Local Area Network
||10BT CAT 5
|Optical Character Recognition
|Windows 98 Operating System
||Installed on terminals
||Installed on the server
|Data processing achieves
||MS Access, Dbase, Blaize, Paradox
Access to the Internet in Maldives is only available from DHIRAAGU, the countrys telecommunication company. This is one of their most recent services, which is fast becoming one of the most popular services. Private and public sectors exert more demand for this service than the government sectors. Even though Internet access is given to all government authorities, restrictions had to be placed on this service as a result of its high cost. The current configuration of the service including the quality and slow speed of the connection makes it less feasible to use.
Nevertheless, government institutions are now beginning to take full advantage of the Internet through communicating by emails and hosting their website on the Internet. The address for the Environment and the MPND websites are as follows:
A project proposal is being formulated to strength institutional capacities and upgrading of the Statistical Section of the MPND into a department in order to enhance efficiency and increase scope of data availability.
Environment Section of MHAHE has plans to expand the GHG inventory of Maldives to cover 1994 to 2000.
Work on collection of environmental data required for SoE reporting indicators will continue and attempts will be made to expand data coverage and reduce the data gaps.
Achievements/shortcomings in the improvement of environmental statistics
The first SoE report of the Maldives, which was produced for the UN Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island States held in Barbados in 1994, identified several issue in relation to availability, accessibility and management of environmental information in the Maldives at that time. Since then considerable efforts had been made to improve issues related to environmental information collection, management and access to them.
The establishment of a framework for SoE reporting and data collection is one achievement, which ensures that where possible required environmental statistics are collected and made available to the Environment Section in the appropriate format. This has had a positive impact in terms of up-to-data being available for reporting and decision-making. Another important achievement is the incorporation of environmental indicators into the National Census programme. More collaborative efforts are required to expand the range of environmental indicators covered by the National Census data collection activities.
Three main constraints or shortcomings can be identified with regard to environmental information and its networking in Maldives. Even with the current efforts, there still remain some areas where environmental information is not collected. Absence of environmental information is one of the major shortcomings in evaluating resources as well as assessing risks. The lack of certain information that relates specifically to the environment of the Maldives such as problems in coastal zone management restricts further analysis of the environmental implications. This issue is further exacerbated by the inaccessibility to available environmental information, which is presently scattered among various institutions in the Government.
The lack of an information dissemination medium such as a government or national network limits the access to this information. This absence is the second major constraint faced in effective sharing of environmental information. The existing networks by and large cater only to the information needs of the host institution. What remains to be established is the connection between these institutions and common base for environmental information exchange.
The other constraint is the limited human capacity for the information dissemination. The percentage of government employees with the knowledge of information management, although is increasing by the day, still remains inadequate to establish a tangible flow of environmental information exchange.