Crowded in paradise!
In comparison to the rest of the world, the Maldives islands hold a remarkably low number on the population count. With an estimation of little over 360,000, it’s a teardrop in the ocean compared to the vast population of our closest neighbors in the Indian ocean. So it may come as a surprise to people when they find out that Male City, the capital of the Maldives is one of the most densely populated cities and the fifth most densely populated island in the world. In spite of having around 1190 islands, most of them uninhabited, over one third of the country’s population choose to live in Male City.
Male is home to an estimated population of around 133,000 people. With only 5.8km ,the city is heavily overpopulated and as such is host to many different problems due to so many people living in such close proximity. The crime rate is higher in Male’ than it is anywhere else in the Maldives. There is usually so much traffic on the street that it is difficult to move around during rush hour. The high demand for land elevates rent prices so high that most of the population must struggle to keep a roof above their heads. Trash is abundant in the streets and pollution continues to destroy the environment on both land and sea.
With so much free space available elsewhere in the country, many may wonder why the people are so attracted to come towards just one city. What is so special about Male’ City that so much of the population wish to live there, in spite of all the difficulties? To identify all the reasons we must look back at the history of the island.
In 1987, there were only 20,000 people living in the capital. That number has increased over six times by 2016. The huge increase in population over the past three decades is not by coincidence. Most of the development that has occurred in the Maldives has mainly been focused in the capital city. Parents who wished to provide an education for their children had to migrate to Male due to lack of educational opportunities elsewhere in the country. Anyone who had a medical condition they need treated must come to the capital as well, because it was the only island that could provide decent health care. As development increased, job opportunities opened up leading many to abandon their islands and come to Male to look for work.
Most of the other islands have remained relatively untouched over the past few decades. Male has however gone from having stone and wooden houses to a concrete jungle laden with skyscrapers. While most of the islands remain relatively clean and pollution free, Male has huge waste and pollution problems due to the extreme overpopulation. Where the other islands are relatively peaceful, Male is crime ridden. People struggle to look for housing in Male while most houses in the rest of the islands have been abandoned. Yet people still choose to live in Male because they believe it is the only way they can make their lives and the lives of their families better. Despite all the difficulties and the outrageous costs, people still come to Male in hopes of finding a better future.
Steps have been taken to combat the rising population in Male. A reclaimed suburb Hulhumale was settled near the capital in 2004. People settling in Hulhumale as an alternative has had some positive effects on the City. Hulhumale is larger than Male and still has a lot of free spaces. The services available there are comparable to those available in Male and there being only a 20 minute ferry ride between the two islands make Hulhumale just as inviting to be in as Male. The completion of the bridge currently in progress between the two islands is expected for even more people to swap Male to Hulhumale.
Development occurring elsewhere in the country could also provide people with a reason to leave the capital city. Many people only live in Male because their needs, whether it is educational, medical or otherwise, is not fulfilled in their native islands. Education and medical resources are slowly developing elsewhere in the country and could potentially motivate thousands of people to travel back home after decades of difficulty in Male.
Another reason for the overpopulation in Maldives is the huge number of foreign workers in the city. There are huge numbers of foreign laborers, teachers and doctors who live and work in Maldives. Due to there being only a few Maldivians available for these jobs, foreign workers are hired and brought into the city. This could easily be combated by training locals to do these jobs, but most of the time foreign workers are brought in because they take cheaper pay for longer hours. This leads to more and more foreigners coming in to the city each year and adding to the already high population.
Male City is currently one of the most densely populated islands in the world. In a country where so many islands are uninhabited, this is a strange development. Many steps are being taken by the government of the Maldives to ease the pressure on Male and make alternative locations more attractive for citizens.
But it may be a while before Male rids itself of the unwanted title of the most densely populated city in the world.