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Tsunami's effect on the Maldives

Macquarie’s Dale Dominey-Howes has spoken about his experience in the Maldives after the December 26 tsunami last year.

Dale, a senior lecturer in the Department of Physical Geography, spent six weeks in the country as a geographer, geomorphologist and disaster manager. Coincidentally, he is also an expert in tsunamis.

He said the tsunami devastated the island nation. Although the death toll was relatively low, 95% of the islands suffered medium to high damage and 1 in 10 people were left homeless.

“When you talk to the Maldivians, it is clear that the entire population has been affected."



Damage to homes and fishing boats in the main village of Guraidhoo Island, South Male’ Atoll, Republic of the Maldives

Dale said a major factor was the Maldives' extremely low elevation. The country’s highest point is just 1.5 metres above sea level, and at some points the tsunami reached heights of 4 metres. “That is quite substantial inundation for such a low-lying country.”

Perhaps most devastating has been the effect on tourism, which indirectly supports 70% of the population. “In January 2004 there were 16,000 visitors. In January 2005 there were only 3,000… The impact has been catastrophic.”

But incredibly, the environmental impact has been minimal. “The Maldives’ pristine environment is what brings visitors - and there have been almost no impacts on the physical environment,” he says.

Dale’s role was to assess the tsunami’s effects on a group of islands near the capital of Male'. He developed flood graphs and looked at the effect of vegetation in reducing impact.
He says the people of the Maldives will feel the effects for many years to come. “People were saying they hadn’t slept more than a few minutes a night since the tsunami- they were too scared it would happen again.”

Dale's work will be published in coming months. For more information on Geography at Macquarie, see the Division of Environmental and Life Sciences website.


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