The people of Maalhos buy their water in 1.5 litre disposable plastic bottles. On average, a household of four will go through 72 plastic bottles per month. That means that, incredibly, the island as a whole will use and discard around 151,000 plastic bottles per year. That’s a lot of plastic for a tiny island – and Maalhos is just one out of roughly 200 inhabited islands in the Maldives. The Soneva Foundation is calling for change.
Soneva Water is an NGO that has been set up to provide a safe and constant supply of drinking water for the inhabitants of these exposed islands. Set up on the island of Maalhos, Soneva Water aims to develop a sustainable model of fresh water supply that is free of single-use plastic water bottles.
Yesterday, Azhoora, Khadeeja and I left Soneva Fushi and skipped across the sea to check out the Soneva Water headquarters. Azhoora and Khadeeja, both from Malé, are inspirational. They met 14 years ago whilst volunteering for the American Red Cross during the clear-up operation that followed the 2004 tsunami when waves caused by the 3rd largest earthquake in recorded history swept over the world’s flattest country and rocked the Indian Ocean. In the Maldives, more than 12,000 people were left homeless and 82 lost their lives. The government reported that the development of the Maldives was set back by 2 decades.
However, Azhoora and Khadeeja’s dedication to developing these islands, improving the quality of life and safeguarding the isolated population has only strengthened. 14 years on and they are now in charge of Soneva Water’s remarkable new project.
Maalhos is a pocket-sized island about a 10 minute speedboat ride, northeast of Soneva Fushi. It has a population of only 700 and is barely a kilometre in length. As the boat pulls up in the harbour, handmade swings (known locally as joali) become visible hanging below the trees bathed in dappled sunlight. You could spend hours swinging in the shade, looking out at the sky blue sea and I almost did before I was dragged out of my reverie and reminded of the purpose of the trip.
Walking past the joali, down the sweeping paths towards the northern tip of the island, we soon arrive at an unassuming, whitewashed building beside a beachside guest house that’s under construction. It is inside this unassuming building that the magic happens.
“Within 24 hours we are able to desalinate, purify, mineralise and treat with ultraviolet light over 10,000 litres of sea water,” Khadeeja explains as I inspect the giant containers. On the wall beside me, a mosaic of dozens of re-usable polycarbonate containers sit ready to be filled with the newly mineralised water. The aim, to be fulfilled soon, is to supply every one of Maalhos’ 90 households with VITRIC fresh water.
The scheme is simple and sustainable. A household makes an account with Soneva Water and straightaway an 18.9 litre PET bottle of fresh mineralised water is delivered to the house. When the water is nearly finished, the household calls up the Soneva Water office, another fully sterilised container is delivered and the empty container is taken back to the plant to be sterilised and refilled. This service for the households runs in tandem with the glass bottle Soneva Water venture that will supply all the guesthouses, cafes and restaurants.
Adam, a Soneva Water employee, lives on the island with his wife and their 2 year old child. He tells me that they spend about 300 Rufiyaa (roughly $20) a month on bottled water. Signing up to the Soneva Water scheme will cut that cost by half.
And hopefully, on 12 December 2018, the process of signing up will begin, as the Soneva Water initiative sets up Soneva Water stalls on Maalhos to formerly introduce the scheme to the island. The promotional event will include taster sessions, question and answer sessions, speeches and more.
I ask Khadeeja how they are going to advertise the event. She points up towards a pair of rusted red megaphones attached to a telegraph pole.
“We’ll announce the event like we announce weddings,” she says with a smile, “everyone on the island can hear it.”
This wonderful spirit of inclusivity and togetherness does away with the need for invitations on Maalhos. This is the spirit that Soneva Water hopes to capture. Like weddings, everyone is invited.