The Maldives, formally known as the Republic of Maldives, is a South Asian island country located in the Indian Ocean. It is located southwest of India and Sri Lanka. The chain of 26 atolls extends from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to the city of Addu in the south. The Maldives is one of the most geographically dispersed countries in the world, covering an area of about 90,000 square kilometers. With just over 393,500 inhabitants, it is the smallest Asian country by land area and population. Malé is the capital and most populous city, traditionally known as “King’s Island” because of its central location.
Located on the Chagos-Maledives-Laccadive Ridge, a massive submarine mountain range located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives Archipelago together with the Chagos and Lakshadweep forms a land-based eco-region. With an average ground level of 1.5 meters above sea level, it is the lowest country in the world, and even its highest natural point is the lowest in the world at 2.4 meters. Because of the subsequent risks of rising sea levels, the government has committed to make the Maldives a climate-neutral country by 2019.
The Maldives have been historically and culturally connected to the Indian subcontinent since the 4th century BC. The Maldivian archipelago was Islamized in the 12th century and consolidated as a sultanate, establishing strong economic and cultural ties with Asia and Africa. From the middle of the 16th century, this region became increasingly influenced by the colonial powers, and in 1887 the Maldives became a British protectorate. Independence from the United Kingdom was achieved in 1965, and in 1968 a presidential republic was established with an elected people’s maylis. The decades that followed were marked by political instability, efforts at democratic reform and environmental problems caused by climate change.
The Maldives is a founder member of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). It is also a member of the United Nations, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement. The World Bank classifies the Maldives as a higher middle-income economy. 18] Fishing has historically been the dominant economic activity and remains by far the largest sector, followed by the rapidly growing tourism industry. Along with Sri Lanka, it has been one of only two South Asian nations classified as “high” in the Human Development Index (HDI). The per capita income is the highest among the SAARC countries.
Tourism in Maldives
The Maldives remained a relatively unknown destination for tourists until the 1970s. Only 185 islands are inhabited by their population of 300,000. All other islands are used exclusively for economic purposes, with tourism and agriculture being the dominant sectors. Tourism accounts for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of foreign exchange earnings in the Maldives. Over 90% of the government’s tax revenues come from import duties and tourism-related taxes.
The development of tourism has supported the overall growth of the country’s economy. It created direct and indirect employment and income opportunities in other related industries. In 1972, its first tourist resorts were opened with the island resort of Bandos and Kurumba village ( today’s name is Kurumba Maldives), and these changed the Maldives’ economy.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, the advent of tourism in 1972 changed the economy and led to a rapid transition from dependence on fishing to tourism. In only three and a half decades, the industry became the main source of income. Tourism was also the country’s largest earner of foreign exchange and contributed most to GDP. More than 17,000 beds were available in 89 resorts on the Maldives in 2008, which hosted over 600,000 tourists annually.
Between 1972 and 2007, the number of resorts increased from 2 to 92, and by 2007 more than 8,380,000 tourists had visited the Maldives.
Regardless of their country of origin, visitors to the Maldives do not need to apply for a visa before their arrival, provided they are in possession of a valid passport, proof of onward travel and the money needed for their stay in the country.
Most visitors arrive at Malé International Airport on the island of Hulhulé, which borders on the capital Malé. This airport is serving flights to India, Sri Lanka, Doha, Dubai, Singapore, Istanbul and other important airports in South East Asia, including charter flights from Europe. Gan Airport, located on the southern atoll of Addu, also offers an international flight to Milan several times a week. British Airways has direct flights to the Maldives approximately 2-3 times weekly.
Geography of Maldives
The Maldives consists of 1,192 coral islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls north-south, which extend over approximately 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles), making it one of the most dispersed countries in the world. It is located between 1 ° south and 8 ° north latitude and 72 ° and 74 ° east longitude. Atolls consist of living coral reefs and sandbanks, located at the top of an underwater ridge 960 kilometers long (600 miles), which rises sharply from the depths of the Indian Ocean and stretches from north to south.
Only near the southern end of this natural coral barricade, two open passageways provide safe passage from one shore of the Indian Ocean to the other through the territorial waters of the Maldives. For administrative purposes, the government of Maldives has divided these atolls into twenty-one administrative districts. The largest island in Maldives is Gan, which belongs to Laamu Atoll or Hahdhummati Atoll. On Addu Atoll, the most western of the islands are connected by roads over the reef (commonly called Link Road), and the total length of the road is 14 km (9 miles).
Maldives is the lowest country in the world with its maximum and average natural ground level of only 2.4 meters (7 feet 10 inches) and 1.5 meters (4 feet 11 inches) above sea level. However, in areas under construction, it has been increased to several meters. More than 80 percent of the country’s territory consists of coral islands, which rise to less than one meter above sea level. As a result, the Maldives is at high risk of inundation due to sea level rise. The UN Environment Commission has warned that at the current rate of sea level rise will be high enough to make Maldives uninhabitable by 2100.
Demographics of Maldives
The Maldivian ethnic identity is a mixture of cultures reflecting the peoples who have settled on the islands, strengthened by religion and language. The earliest settlers probably came from South India and Sri Lanka. They are linguistically and ethnically related to the people on the Indian subcontinent. They are ethnically known as Dhivehis.
There is a certain social stratification on the islands. There is no rigidity, since rank is determined by various factors, which include occupation, wealth, religious virtue as well as family relationships. Instead of a complex caste system, in the Maldives a distinction was made only between nobles (bēfulhu) and ordinary people. Social elite are concentrated in the Malé.
The population doubled by 1978, and population growth reached a peak of 3.4 % in 1985. In the 2006 census, the population had reached 298,968, although the 2000 census showed that population growth had fallen to 1.9%. Life expectancy at birth was 46 years in 1978 and later rose to 72, infant mortality has fallen from 12.7% in 1977 to 1.2% today, and adult literacy has reached 99%. Combined school enrollment reached the high 1990s. The population is estimated to have reached 317,280 in 2010.
By April 2008, more than 70,000 foreign workers, together with 33,000 illegal immigrants, made up more than a third of the Maldivian population. There are 40,000 Bangladeshis in the Maldives, making them the largest group of foreigners working in the country.
Religion in Maldives
Following the very long Buddhist period of Maldivian history, Islamic traders first introduced Sunni Islam. The Maldives converted to Islam in the middle of the 12th century. The islands have a long history of Sufi orders, as can be seen from the history of the country, such as the construction of tombs. They were used until the 1980s to seek the help of buried saints. Today they can be seen next to some old mosques and are considered cultural heritage today.
Until recently, there were other aspects of the thassauf, such as the ritual ceremonies of the zikra, called mauludu (maulid), the liturgy of which included a recitation and certain prayers in a melodic tone. These Maulūdu celebrations took place in elaborate tents built especially for the occasion. Nowadays, Sunni Islam is considered the official religion of the whole population, since it is necessary to follow this religion to obtain citizenship.
According to the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta, the person responsible for this transformation was a Sunni Muslim visitor named Abu al-Barakat, who sailed from Morocco. He is also known as Tabrizugefaanu. His revered grave is now on the grounds of the Friday Mosque or Hukuru Miskiy in Malé. This mosque, built in 1656, is the oldest in the country.
Economy of Maldives
In ancient times, the Maldives was known for kauri shells, coconut rope, dried tuna (Maldivian fish), grey ambergris (Maawaharu) and coconut (Tawakkaashi). Domestic and foreign merchant ships loaded these products in Sri Lanka and transported them to other ports of the Indian Ocean.
Historically, the Maldives has supplied a huge number of kauri shells, the international currency of the early centuries. From the II century AD the islands were known to the Arabs as “Money Islands”. Monetaria moneta was used as the currency in Africa for centuries, and a large number of Maldivian kauri were brought to Africa by Western countries during the slave trade era. Kauri is now a symbol of Maldivian monetary power.
The Government of Maldives began its economic reform program in 1989, first increasing import quotas and opening some export opportunities for the private sector. As a result, the rules were liberalized to allow more foreign investment. Real GDP growth averaged more than 7.5 percent per year for over a decade. Today, tourism is the largest industry in the Maldives. It accounts for 28% of GDP and over 60% of foreign exchange earnings in the Maldives. Fishing is the second largest sector.
The economy of Maldives is largely based on tourism. At the end of December 2004, a strong tsunami killed more than 100 people, 12,000 displaced people and property damage worth more than 400 million USD. As a result of the tsunami, GDP fell by about 3.6% in 2005. Tourism recovery, reconstruction after the tsunami and the construction of new resorts contributed to a rapid economic recovery, up 18% from 2006. Estimates for 2013 show that Maldives has the highest per capita GDP (PPP) of $11,900 (2013 estimate) among South Asian countries.
Agriculture and manufacturing continue to play a smaller role in the economy, hampered by limited arable land and a shortage of domestic workers. Tourism has given the country’s young, traditional domestic industries such as mat weaving, varnishing, handicrafts and coconut rope a big boost. Since then, new industries have emerged including printing, PVC pipe manufacturing, brick manufacturing, ship engine repair, carbonated water bottling and clothing manufacturing.