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What is causing flooding in the Maldives: Monsoon, tidal wave, storm surge or El Niño?

20 May 2007 5 Comments

The waves that hit several islands of the Maldives during the last few days have caused much damage to the islands making even some people homeless.

Islands in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll have been hit badly according to reports from Minivan News.

There is some debate as to whether the waves are tidal waves or storm surges.

But Mohamed Hussein Shareef (Mundhu) criticised media reports of “tidal waves,” which he said were “complete exaggerations… these are clearly storm surges not tidal waves.”

“Storm surges regularly happen in the Maldives at this time of year… they don’t cause much damage because they recede very quickly,” he added.

However, a top official from National Meteorological Centre disputed the claim that the waves were part of storm surges.

A Meteorological Office forecaster has told Minivan News storm surges are not responsible for last week’s widespread flooding in the Maldives, despite the government’s insistence they are to blame.

“We don’t do oceanography here, be we don’t think it can be storm surges. Storm surges don’t last three of four days. They normally just last one day,” Met Office official, Ibrahim Waheed, told Minivan News on Saturday.

The assistant duty forecaster also said he did not know where the government had obtained the data it had used to confirm storm surges, as he was not aware of any oceanography facility in the Maldives.

There was a tropical storm in Bay of Bengal roughly the same time Maldives was hit by waves. It caused a tidal surge that hit the coastal areas of Bangladesh.

A tidal surge triggered by a storm in the Bay of Bengal swept through coastal districts of Bangladesh and Myanmar on Tuesday, killing at least one fisherman and damaging hundreds of homes, officials said.

Weather officials said the storm, with winds of up to 80 kph (50 mph), crossed the Bangladesh coast at dawn, heading east towards Myanmar.

Even though Maldives was not prepared for the waves, Bangladesh was on alert before the surge hit.

Bangladesh went on cyclone alert on Monday, with officials warning the storm in the Bay of Bengal could trigger a tidal surge two metres high. Nearly 80,000 people were evacuated to cyclone shelters.

Reuters has also reported on the flooding in the Maldives.

Waves from an Indian Ocean storm surge swamped dozens of islands in the low-lying Maldives on Tuesday, the government said.

“It is an annual occurrence at this point of the monsoon. Storm surges are quite common, but it is unusual to have them to the extent we have had today,” government spokesman Mohamed Shareef said by telephone from the Maldives’ capital, Male.

“It is essentially a rise of the tide. The water came in at least 100 feet (30 metres) on some islands, and then receded in the evening … It is the low-lying islands that have felt the impact.”

There are reasons to believe that the waves that hit Maldives this May are not part of an isolated event but a regional if not a global event. As the week ended Indonesia has become the target of more waves and flooding.

The Jakarta Post has reports on high waves damaging coastal areas of Indonesia on Thursday and Friday.

20th anniversary of 1987 tidal wave

What the media and the government have failed to emphasise is that this year is the 20th anniversary of a tidal wave hitting Male’ and some other islands. On 11-12 April 1987 tidal waves hit and flooded a large part of Male’ and caused damages to some 16 other islands.

There was an El Niño phenomenon in 1986-1987. El Niño conditions were prevailing in early 2007. Is it El Niño that caused tidal waves in April 1987 and is it the same phenomenon that is causing waves in the Maldives in May 2007? We do not know yet. But El Niño is known to cause freak weather globally and increases the occurrence of storms. It was the 1997-1998 El Niño which caused severe coral bleaching in the Maldives.

Too early for conclusions

It is too early to jump into conclusions about the cause of the waves hitting the Maldives presently. It is up to the scientific community to monitor the development and put forward theories and evidence. What is important is to provide aid and relief to the people who are in desperate need. We must be aware that climate is changing globally and freak weather patterns are more prevalent now. What we need is a good warning system and a quick emergency response plan as well as a disaster management plan.

The way the country is coping with the current onslaught of waves shows that we have not learned any lessons after the tsunami and that we are not prepared for such disasters.


  • Fenfulhangi said:

    great blgo..too bad more ppl arent reading wat u have to say…this is great…u know…tidal waves or not.. this is a national issue…so elts try to create more awareness ng et he governemnt to work to gether to find solutions..chek my blog thanks…

  • shockwavesinmaldives said:

    Thanks Fenfulhangi. You have a great blog and we appreciate the way you are covering environmental issues. We need more writers and if you want to contribute to our blog about tsunami related stories (other disasters such as the current waves could also be covered)please send us stories through email. The blog was started to document what we were seeing; it was just a humble effort. Unfortunately the burden of covering so many stories about tsunami and refugees is a too gigantic task for us. So any good input such as strength of fenfulhangi will be appreciated.

  • Kareen said:

    hey guys.
    First of all, great photos! I’m blown away. You should defenitely try to get some printed and have an exhibition. I haven’t seen many photos from the day of the tsunami, so thanks for putting them out there for us to see.
    Secondly, thanks for putting the effort into keeping a blog such as this. I’ve been trying to get some insight into whats been happening in Maldives since the Tsunami but have not been able to get adequate information on any of the websites that proclaim to offer news from home. So it was great to come across your blog and find a range of news clipings that paint a clearer picture of whats going on in terms of the people’s condition post-tsunami.
    I don’t live in Raajje anymore…but obviously its still close to my heart. And I was there soon after the tsunami and saw the devestation it caused. And when I read about this tidal surge (or whatever they called it in the end), I instantly thought of how scared everyone would have felt, thinking its another tsunami.
    Im actually working on a project that looks at how kids mental health is affected after natural disasters. I might be able to contribute to you guys some information about how traumatic experiences like the tsunami affect people’s psychology and what sort of things people can do to help each other…though I dont know how you could get intouch with me. (I havent used my blog since…well the first entry I made ages ago!)
    But suffice to say, you guys are doing a great job. Its quite a relief to know that there are people who care, and people who are trying to utilise the access to technology we have in Male’ to create dialogue and awareness about what’s going at home. Once again, Thanks!

  • shockwavesinmaldives said:

    Thanks Kareen. We feel we are not doing enough to cover the stories as there are so many untold stories. We would love to have your contribution concerning how people can help one another in overcoming traumas caused by natural disasters. Please send us anything you write to our email address which is written in this blog on the right sidebar. However, most readers of the blogs are not refugees living in the camps or people trying to rebuild their lives after the tsunami. But lets hope that good information is passed to them through people with access to Internet.

  • Gummi said:

    Tsunami Warning Org. is a partner of the Tsunami Institute Germany which developed a Tsunami-Alarm-System to mobile phones for everyone.

    You may register for the service here : Tsunami Warning Org.

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