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Population explosion; a major environmental issue in Male’

Male' a concrete jungle. Flickr Photo: mnaseeh


Male’ is the capital city of the Maldives. It is the largest city in terms of population, infrastructure and development in the country. Located 4°10′30″N – 73°30′32″E, Male’ is at the southern edge of North Male’ Atoll (also known as Kaafu Atoll). Though geographically located in Kaafu Atoll, Male’ is administratively not considered as part of it, but rather administered separately. Three more islands namely Villimale’, Hulhumale’ and Hulhule’ make up the Male’ city. Total area of the city is 5.798 km², which has a population of 103,693 (as per 2006 census). Male’ is the social, economical and recreational hub of Maldives provided with wide range of facilities and infrastructure. Also Male’ has a commercial harbor making it the centre of commercial activities in the country. Hulhule’ Island is basically an airport Island that hosts the Male’ International Airport and hence is the gateway to the Maldives. Male’ can be considered as one of the most densely populated capital of the world.

What is Population Explosion?

The basic textbook definition for the term Population Explosion is the increase in individuals occupying a particular specific area at a given time. In other words it is another name that can be used for the term “Overpopulation”. Overpopulation happens to be a common trend found in the developing countries around the world.

Overpopulation does not necessarily have to be the result of increased birthrate in that particular area but also can be due to the immigration into that particular area by people from other areas. When the number of any species, in this case Humans, exceeds the carrying capacity of that particular environment, it results in several effects which may include the depletion of resources, environmental deterioration, degradation and pollution. Other social effects include increase in violence, crime, over crowdedness and unemployment.

Male' Skyline ... Flickr Photo: Neesham

Population growth in Male’

Male’ being the social, economical and recreational hub of Maldives provided with wide range of facilities and infrastructure attracts people from all parts of the country. Therefore inhabitants of this small but very lively Male’ are mostly from different parts of the Maldives.

Why rapid population growth in Male’?

1-    Better medical facilities: Male’ is equipped with the finest hospitals in the country, with better facilities and hospital resources. People from all parts of Maldives are in a way forced to come to the capital to get treated since not all Island medical centers and regional hospitals are well equipped with either doctors or proper facility.

2-    Better education opportunities: Again Male’ being the most well developed Island in the chain, naturally education and schooling is far better than those in the Island communities. Schools, colleges and other education institutes in Maldives are solely based in the capital city where latest facility and quality faculty is available. In order to get a better and more quality education a lot of the Islanders have come and settled in Male’.

3-    Better job opportunities: Being the main hub of the country Male’ offers a lot of job opportunities with attractive salaries. Jobs are available in different fields both in private and public sector in Male’.

This maybe the 3 main reasons why most of the Island (Atoll) inhabitants migrate to Male’ resulting in the rapid population growth.

To add to this there is also the foreign labor force. It can be estimated that an unknown number of over 20,000 of foreign laborers live in Male’.

On the skyline, Male’ can be considered as one of the most urbanized Island in the country with tall high raised building and structures with a built-up area taking essentially the entire landmass. If all residence of the Island are to come down from all the buildings and assemble on the streets of Male’ probably some will have to either find themselves out of the main land in the sea that surrounds the Island or else there will be a serious issue of stampede!

Capital City Male' deprived from greenery. Flickr Photo: N95 Life Blog

Impact on the Environment

Rapid population growth in a small Island like Male’ definitely has a lot of impact on its rather vulnerable environment. The Island capital is surrounded by a large seawall donated by the friendly people of Japan, which pretty much does its role in protecting the Island to some extent from the large sea waves that pound on to the Island. It proved useful as it became the main reasons for Male’ surviving the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

The Island does not have any natural beaches as land reclamations in the city dating back to 100 or more years have broaden the Island in every possible manner and angle. This reclamation has also led to the loss of the marine ecosystem that once inhabited those reefs that surrounded Male’.

The Island has no natural forest land or the locally known “Valuthere”, which is a unique environmental setting for the Islands in the Maldives. With no forest or jungle cover there is not much of any terrestrial biodiversity or ecological system.

A large amount of power is generated by STELCO, the State Electric Company, to accommodate the needs of the ever increasing population. Increase in inhabitants came along with the large number of vehicles. Motorbikes and cars have filled Male’ with both noise and air pollution. The amount of CO2 emitted from vehicles has tripled resulting Male’ to becoming what is known as an “Urban Heat Island”.

Large amounts of waste are created in the capital. There are no public garbage or trash bins on the streets and roads available for the public though roads are maintained and cleaned regularly by the Municipal services. Residents of Male’ create a huge bulk of garbage that has to be carried off the Island and taken to Thilafushi Island located west of Male’, which is an artificial Island created as a municipal landfill.

Thilafushi Island, where the waste is dumped. Flickr Photo: muneez

The rapid construction and infrastructural development has become a nightmare to the very few remaining green patches that remain visible in the City. Every now and then large and old trees in the city are chopped down to give way for the construction of new buildings that keep on canopying the skyline of the city making it more concrete.

Urban soil contamination due to xenobiotic (man-made) or other alteration in the natural soil environment has degraded the quality of the soil losing its fertility. With all this, the ground water has become more contaminated which has led to the loss of fresh water availability in the Island.

To add to this is the marine water pollution that can be seen in the harbour side of the Island. Fish remains, tins, cans, plastics and other domestic waste are found dumped along with the oil that is spilled in to the sea by the local vessels that port the harbour. This has caused harm to the natural marine ecosystem that surrounds the Island city.


This very urbanized and developed small Island with an extreme population density has many negative impacts on the environment. The population explosion seen in Male’ may cause  Public health concerns in the near future with projected increase in vehicles, waste and other environmental problems, the degradation will result in contamination of air and water. It is important to come up with national strategic plans to reduce the amount of migrants who come to Male’ city. The development of other areas and cities are required in order to bring down the load on Male’.

To control the impacts of overpopulation on the environment, several immediate measures need to be taken. A more sustainable path of development is required. It is essential that proper conservation and protection measures are implemented for those remaining rare green patches found in the city which probably may be the last hope of a greener Male’. It is important to design infrastructure and building in a more sustainable manner that can co-exist with a cleaner and safer environment. The amount of energy consumed need to be limited and the amount of waste produced need to be cut down and reduced in order to refrain impacts on the environment caused by population explosion in the city. This can only be done by the collective effort and involvement of all those who inhabit the city and also the concerned authorities need to work together to make Male’ a more environment friendly city. It is necessary to take immediate steps to control population explosion in Male’.

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