FAR from any continental land mass, the islands of Maldives have long been linked to a string of pearls set in the azure waters of the Indian Ocean. The country is situated 500km from the Southern tip of both Sri Lanka and India. Though rising from a common plateau, the country comprises 1190 islands located along a 512 mile stretch. It is formed by a double chain of twenty-six atolls stretching in a north-south direction off India’s Lakshadweep islands. All these Islands have flat terrain with an average elevation of one meter above sea level. Located in the equator, the country’s climate is tropical. The population of the Maldives presently stands at 298,842 (2006), scattered across the 199 inhabited islands. Male’ the capital of the Maldives is situated in the Kaafu Atoll. It is a bustling affluent island which houses the intellectual elite as well as the seat of the government.
Malé, pronounced as “Maa-lay” is the capital city of the country. It is located at the southern edge of North Male’ Atoll, known as Kaafu Atoll. The city is a small island of 1.77 square km. One third of the population is located in this small island. It is the heart of all commercial activities in the country. The urbanized island is divided into five divisions Henveiru, Galolhu, Maafannu, Macchangolhi and the island of Vilingili (VilliMale’).
Many government buildings and agencies are located on the waterfront. The Male’ International Airport is on adjacent Hulhulae Island which includes a seaplane base and a domestic base for internal transportation. Several land reclamation projects have expanded the Hulhulae Island. The social and economic backgrounds from Haa Atoll in the Northern tip of the Maldives, to Seenu Atoll at the Southern end are vast and diverse.
Addu or Seenu Atoll which is at the southern end of the Maldives is situated 400 miles south of Male’. The atoll is heart shaped and comprises Hithadhoo, Mardhoo, Feydhoo, Gan, Villingili, Huludhoo and Medhoo islands. Most of the islands are formed from coral rising from the plateau. The capital of the Addu Atoll is Hithadhoo. It is the second largest island of the Maldives. All of the Addu islands are connected to the other through a causeway.
The total population of Addu Atoll is just over 28,707. The dialect spoken in this atoll is Addu bas. The language differs from the official language Dhivehi. Addu Atoll has several places of interest. These include the Gan war memorial, Gan garment industrial zone, 900 year old Kogannu cemetery in Meedhu Island and the bustling city of Hithadhoo. Villingili, Feydhoo and Mardhoo are all year round beach destinations with brilliant sunshine, dry weather and perfect sea conditions.
“Haa” is the first letter of the Maldivian alphabet. The first letter of the Maldivian alphabet represents the northern most atolls in the Maldives. Haa Atoll is divided into two separate atolls for administrative purposes. This unique group of forty two Islands in the northern Maldivian archipelago is located approximately 300 kilometers from the capital city, Male’. It is also the closest atoll to Sri Lanka and India.
Haa Alif Atoll, also known as Thiladhunmathi has sixteen inhabited islands. The largest inhabited island is Baarah with a land area of 248.80 hectares. The smallest inhabited island is Hathifushi with a area of four hectors. The rest of the twenty six islands of this atoll are uninhabited. Some of the more commonly known uninhabited islands are Alidhoo and Huraa (which is famous for its migratory birds). Manafaru and Dhonakulhi ,Dhapparu, Dhapparuhuraa, Govvafushi and Umaraiffinolhu are the lesser known uninhibited islands of Haa Alif atoll. The atoll has a total population of 19,349 according to 2007 census.
The People of the Maldives are unified by a common history. They are also united through a common language, Dhivehi. The language has its roots in Sanskrit. The countries first settlers were Aryan immigrants from India who were believed to have colonized Sri Lanka around 500B.C. External nations influenced the Maldivian life significantly. In 1153 A.D the Persian and the Arab travelers converted the people of this Island nation from Buddhism to Islam. After the conversion of the first known king of the Malay dynasty to Islam, the rulers became known as Sultans. The Malay or Thimuge dynasty lasted for 235 years. Under the rule of 29 different Sultans the Hilali dynasty prevailed until the Maldives became a Republic.
The country gained its Independence from Britain in 1965. Since independence Mohamed Amin Didi, Ibrahim Naasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom were the three Presidents of the nation. His Excellency the President, Mohamed Nasheed has been governing the country and overseeing its administration since 2008.
The Maldives has passed 42 years of independence. The growth and achievements of the Maldives since independence are outstanding. The economy of the country has grown at an annual rate of 7.5% GDP(Gross Domestic Production). The per capita income of Maldives had increased from USD 377 in 1978 to USD 2401 in 2004. Its literacy rate in 2007 is ninety eight percent and is the greatest asset of the country.
The economy of the country increased tremendously as a result of booming tourism industry and due to the mechanization of vessels used in fishing. The Maldives has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles and Fishing is the main traditional livelihood of the Maldivians.
The fisheries industry in the Maldives plays a major role in the countries exports. The traditional boats used for fishing are called Dhoni. The fishing industry provides job opportunities to a vast majority of the Maldivian islanders. It is the second most important profitable sector in the economy which employs about 11% of the total work force. Of the fish catch sixty percent of the catch is skip jack tuna.
The tourism sector in the Maldives which had an astounding success story is entering a new track with fresh dimensions. Tourism in the country has become a major industry generating wealth and employment opening the minds of both visitor and resident to different ways of life. The expansion of tourism in the country continues to achieve spectacular gains. More than 675,000 tourists visited the country in the year 2007. The Maldives has made the optimum out of almost 100 island resorts. These resorts are covered with lush green vegetation with numerous palm trees, sandy beeches, shallow lagoons and reefs with multi colored fish.
Agriculture is another sector in the Maldives which has been recently growing in quantity and quality. The government has introduced a range of incentives to enable farmers to boost production and attract direct foreign investment to the Agriculture sector. Planting is done during the South west monsoon season. Coconut, Banana, Chilies, Cucumbers and Papaya are the main agro based crops which are grown in the islands of the Maldives.
The Maldives with an economic growth sustained by vibrant private sector activity has been a strategic trading location. The country offers one of the most business friendly environments in South Asia. Total foreign ownership is welcome in most areas of the economy. The private sector plays a vital role in traditional areas of public investment such as transport, energy and telecommunication.
The Maldives an equatorial tropical land of legendary beauty is encircled by sun drenched beaches, multi-colored fish, serene lagoons and offshore islands. Welcomed by the hospitality of the smiling people and its remarkable history and unrivaled settings, no wonder the Maldives has always been a prime destination for travelers from all corners of the world.
(Abdul Hafeez of the Maldives provided information related certain Atolls)