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Republic of Maldives

Dhivehi Raajjeyge Jumhooriyyaa


FLAG: The national flag consists of a white crescent at the center of a green field which, in turn, is at the center of a red field.

ANTHEM: Gavmii mi ekuverikan matii tibegen kuriime salaam (In National Unity Do We Salute Our Nation).

MONETARY UNIT: The Maldivian rupee, or rufiyaa (mr), is a paper currency of 100 laris. There are notes of ½, 1, 2, 5, 10, 50, and 100 rufiyaa. The dollar circulates freely and is the only currency accepted at some resorts. mr1 = $0.07813 (or $1 = mr12.8) as of 2004.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system has been adopted, but some local units remain in use.

HOLIDAYS: National Day, 7 January; Independence Day, 26 July; Republic Day, 11 November; Fishermen's Day, 10 December. 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', and Milad an-Nabi are some of the Muslim religious holidays observed.

TIME: 5 pm = noon GMT.


The smallest country in Asia, the Republic of Maldives consists of an archipelago of nearly 1,200 coral islands and sand banks in the Indian Ocean, some 200 of which are inhabited. The chain of islands sits astride the equator, s of India and w of Sri Lanka, extending 823 km (511 mi) but occupying an area of just 300 sq km (116 sq mi). The area occupied by Maldives is slightly more than 1.5 times the size of Washington, DC. Grouped in 26 atolls, with a total coastline of 644 km (400 mi), the northernmost atoll lies some 110 km (70 mi) s of India's Minicoy Atoll, about 480 km (300 mi) se of India's Cape Comorin, and 649 km (400 mi) w of Sri Lanka.

Maldives' capital, Malé, is situated on a 2.5 sq km (1 sq mi) island, the largest in the entire chain, in the Malé Atoll. However, Hulhumale, a manmade island a short distance from Malé, is expected to be expanded to twice the size of Malé by about 2040.


The islands vary from tiny banks to real islets. Some of the islands are in process of formation and are constantly increasing in size; others are gradually washing away. The islands are level and extremely low-lying, with elevations rarely exceeding 1.8 m (6 ft) above sea level. Many contain freshwater lagoons.

In 1997, the nation initiated a massive land reclamation project which involved the construction of a manmade island, Hulhumale, a short distance away from Malé. In 2004, the new island was about the same size as Malé; developers hope that by about 2040 Hulhumale will be twice the size of Malé and provide housing for 153,000 people.

The disastrous tsunami that struck Indonesia on 26 December 2004 also impacted Maldives. The tsunami was caused by an underwater earthquake 324 km (180 mi) south of Indonesia's Sumatra island. Waves reaching 6 m (20 ft) were absorbed by Maldives' coral reefs before they could severely damage the atolls. The northernmost and southernmost islands suffered the brunt of the damage. More than 20,000 residents were left without homes in Maldives, and at least 55 were found dead.


The Maldives' equatorial climate is generally hot and humid, with a mean temperature of about 27°c (81°f). The weather during the northeast monsoon (NovemberMarch) is mild and pleasant; the southwest monsoon (JuneAugust) is violent and very rainy. The northern atolls are subject to more violent storms than those in the south. Annual rainfall in the south averages about 380 cm (150 in); in the north, 250 cm (100 in).


The islands are covered with a dense scrub. The northern and southern islands are more fertile than those in the central group, and the eastern islands generally are more fertile than the western. Coconut, breadfruit, plantain, papaya, mango, and banyan trees flourish. Shrubs and flowers are widespread. Rats, rabbits, and flying foxes are the only indigenous mammals. Birds include ducks, bitterns, crows, curlews, snipes, and various sea birds. Small scorpions, beetles, and land crabs are common. Inland lagoons and coastal reefs contain tropical ocean fish, crustaceans, and turtles; the surrounding waters contain sharks, swordfish, and porpoises.


Environmental issues in the Maldives include a dwindling freshwater supply and inadequate sewage treatment. Estimates indicated that the nation's water supply may be exhausted in the near future, and population increases have created a sanitation problem that threatens the waters surrounding this island nation. Another significant environmental problem is a rise in sea levels due to global warming. The islands are particularly susceptible to flooding.

The country has invested in several massive land reclamation projects in an attempt to resolve the land and housing shortages. One major project includes the construction of the manmade island, Hulhumale, a short distance from Malé. The project began in 1997 specifically to address the overcrowding of Malé. By 2004, the land area of the new island was nearly the same as that of Malé; land area is expected to double within the next 40 years or so, making housing lands available for a population of about 153,000. Land reclamation projects also have been used to expand the area of Malé, but further additions to the islands land area are not possible due the steep drops in the ocean floor surrounding the coast.

Environmental preservation is complicated by the unique problems of a nation consisting of 1,200 islands spread over 510 miles of the Indian Ocean. Preservation of the desert island ecology, protection of marine life and coral reefs, and coconut tree rehabilitation are additional environmental goals. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included two species of birds, two types of reptiles, and eight species of fish. The hawksbill turtle, green turtle, and blue whale are on the endangered list.


The population of Maldives in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 294,000, which placed it at number 169 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 4% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 36% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 106 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.4%. Despite a high fertility rate (5.1 births per woman), population growth is hampered by problems in health care and other areas of social and economic development. The projected population for the year 2025 was 398,000. The population density was 980 per sq km (2,538 per sq mi), concentrated on an island of only about 1.9 sq km (0.75 sq mi).

The UN estimated that 27% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 4.56%. The capital city, Malé, had a population of 83,000 in that year.


Inter-island migration is limited to settlement in Malé; between 1967 and 2000, population in the capital rose from one-tenth to nearly one-quarter of the national total. In 1999 and 2005, the net migration rate was zero. The total number of migrants in 2000 was 3,000. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


The original inhabitants of the Maldives are thought to have been of south Indian and Arab origin. The people of the northern atolls have, to some extent, intermarried with peoples from western India, Arabia, and North Africa. Inhabitants of the southern islands show stronger physical affinities with the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka. Black African slaves imported from Zanzibar and Arabia have intermarried with the Maldivians, and there are also some Caucasian and Malayan elements.


The Maldivian language, called Divehi, is similar to the old Sinhala (Elu) of Ceylon. It has contributed the word atoll to international terminology. In recent years, the language has been influenced by Arabic and Urdu. Thaana, developed during the 17th century, is the corresponding script, written from right to left. English is spoken by most government officials, but only by a small number of the Maldivian population.


Though there is evidence that the early Maldivians were Buddhists, their conversion to Islam dates from 1153. The 1997 constitution claimed Islam as the official religion. With few exceptions, the people are Sunni Muslims, and both land ownership and citizenship are limited to adherents to this faith. The president, who must be a Sunni Muslim, is also the supreme authority of the tenets of Islam. Non-Muslim foreigners working in or visiting the country are permitted to practice their own religion privately. There are no non-Muslim places of worship. Proselytizing for non-Muslim faiths is prohibited. The government's Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs regulates matters pertaining to religion.


Malé, the capital, and some other islands have fairly good streets. Most people travel by bicycle or on foot. Interatoll transportation still depends mostly on local sailing boats, called batheli and odi. Although some mechanized boats carry cargo and, occasionally, passengers between Malé and other atolls, interisland transport is mainly by means of dhonis (small boats). Only a few of the islands are big enough to support automobiles. As of 2005, the Maldives had a merchant fleet of 16 vessels with 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 57,118 GRT, serving worldwide destinations, and all controlled by Maldives Shipping Ltd., a public enterprise. In 2004, the Maldives had five airports, two of which had paved runways as of 2005. Hulule, Malé's international airport, 2 km (1 mi) away over water from the capital, was completed in 1966. Built with assistance by Sri Lanka under the Colombo Plan, it consists of two islands that were joined together to create a runway. It is served by Singapore Airlines, Air Lanka, various European tourist carriers, and Indian Airlines, the last also operating as Air Maldive on certain flights. Also in 2001 (the latest year for which data was available), 311,100 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.


The first inhabitants of the Maldives were probably Dravidian speakers from south India, followed by Indo-European speaking Sinhalese from Ceylon in the 4th and 5th centuries bc. The island chain first became known in the West through the writings of Ptolemy, during the 2nd century ad. The island chain may have been ruled in ancient times by the Chinese; later, its rulers paid an annual tribute to principalities of western India. Maldivians were converted to Sunni Islam from Buddhism by Arab traders from east Africa and the Middle East in the middle of the 12th century, and from 1153, an unbroken line of 92 sultans served as local rulers for 800 years until 1953. In 1343, Ibn Battutah, the Arab traveler and historian, visited the islands and served for a time as a qadi.

After their discovery by the Portuguese traveler Dom Lourenço de Alameida in 1507, the Maldives were occupied by the Portuguese and forced to pay a tribute to Goa, the center of Portugal's South Asian holdings. But the Portuguese were driven out in 1573 by Muhammad Thakurufaani al-Azam, who, after becoming sultan, introduced a monetary system, a new script, and a standing militia. In the 17th century, the Dutch, who controlled neighboring Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), made a treaty with the sultanate, which thereafter paid tribute to the rulers of Ceylon and claimed their protection.

The British completed their occupation of Ceylon in 1815 and British responsibility for the protection of the Maldives was formally recorded in 1887. By terms of the compact, the sultan recognized the suzerainty of the British sovereign and disclaimed all rights or intention to enter into any treaty or negotiations with any foreign state except through the (British) ruler of Ceylon. When Ceylon became independent in 1948, a new agreement was signed with the British government, providing for the Maldives to remain under the protection of the British crown, for external affairs to be conducted by or in accordance with the advice of the British government, for Britain to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of the islands, and for the sultan to afford such facilities for British forces as were necessary for the defense of the islands or the Commonwealth. No tribute was to be paid by Maldives. New agreements reaffirming these provisions were signed in 1953, 1956, and 1960.

The sultanate, dominated by the Didi family since 1759, was abolished in 1953, and the Maldives was declared a republic. The first president, Amin Didi, ordered the emancipation of women and other reforms that were resented by more conservative elements among the people, and nine months later he was overthrown. His cousins Muhammad Farid Didi and Ibrahim Ali Didi became co-presidents in September 1953, and a month later the National Assembly voted to restore the sultanate. The new sultan, Muhammad Didi, was installed at Malé on 7 March 1954, and Ibrahim Ali Didi, the prime minister, formed a new government.

The government's agreement in 1956 to permit Britain to maintain an air base on Gan Island in the southern Maldives produced a public reaction so strong that Prime Minister Ibrahim was forced to resign in December 1957. Ibrahim Nasir, who succeeded him, asserted that the British base would violate Maldivian neutrality, but when his government sent a representative to Gan to tell the islanders to stop working for the British, the islanders attacked him.

Early in 1959, the people of Addu Atoll, in which Gan Island is located, declared their independence. At the same time, a rebellion broke out in the three southernmost atolls (including Addu). The rebel headmen declared the formation of the United Suvadiva Republic (with a population of 20,000) and demanded recognition from London. The British refused to comply, but the Nasir government made public its suspicions that the coup had been engineered by the British. In the event, government forces crushed the rebels in two of the atolls but made no attempt to interfere on Gan or any of the other seven main islands in the Addu group. By March 1960, the Suvadiva Republic was declared dissolved, and a committee ruling under the sovereign control of the sultan was set up, including among its members Abdallah Afif, leader of the rebellion.

In February 1960, the Maldivian government made a free gift to the British government of the use of Gan Island and other facilities in Addu Atoll for 30 years, and a fresh agreement was drawn up between the governments. In return, the British agreed to assist in bringing about a reconciliation between the Maldivian government and the disaffected inhabitants of the southern islands. But by 1962, resentment had grown against the British owing to their lack of progress in implementing the agreement; in late 1962 a Royal Navy frigate was sent to the capital island of Malé to protect British citizens. Abdallah Afif was evacuated by the British to the Seychelles.

The Sultanate of the Maldive Islands achieved complete independence on 26 July 1965, with the British continuing to retain use of the facilities on Gan in return for the payment of $2,380,000, most to be spent over a period of years for economic development. In March 1968, a referendum resulted in an 81% vote to abolish the sultanate and to reestablish a republic. A new republican constitution came into force on 11 November 1968, establishing the Republic of Maldives, and Nasirthen prime ministerbecame president.

With the British secure in their control of facilities they shared with the United States outside the Maldives in Diego Garcia, 650 km (400 mi) east of Gan, Britain vacated the Gan air base on 31 December 1975, and the UK-Maldivian accord was formally terminated the following year.

Nasir declined re-nomination and was succeeded as president on 11 November 1978 by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was chosen by the Citizens' Majlis (parliament) in June and was confirmed in a popular referendum by a majority of 90% on 28 July. Reelected president by the Majlis in August 1983, Gayoom won confirmation in a national referendum on 30 September with a majority of 95.6%. Gayoom was reelected to a third term in August 1988. He successfully resisted a brief attempt to overthrow him by Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries in November 1988 with the help of an Indian military contingent flown to the Maldives at his request. In addition to the presidency, Gayoom is also minister of defense and minister for national security.

Gayoom was reelected for a fourth term as president in August 1993 and confirmed by popular referendum in September. He was reelected to a fifth term, unopposed, in 1998, and was reelected to a sixth term, again unopposed, in 2003. Gayoom's only principal rival for the presidency came in the 1993 election when his brother-in-law Ilyas Ibrahim ran against him. Ibrahim subsequently was tried in absentia for violation of the constitution, found guilty of treason, and sentenced to more than 15 years banishment from the islands. In June 2004, President Gayoom promised constitutional changes to limit the presidential term of office and to allow political parties to form. In June 2005, parliament voted to allow multiparty politics.

The Maldives has been concerned for two decades about the effects of global warming on the islands. At the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development held in August and September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa, President Gayoom warned that his country could be submerged if a rise in sea levels due to the melting of polar ice caps continued. "A mere one-meter rise would mean the death of a nation," he stated. As world temperatures rise, the effects on the Maldives would include coastal erosion, increasing salinity of fresh water sources, altered tidal ranges and patterns, and the gradual destruction of the coral reefs that form the islands and their breakwaters.

In 2003, the human rights organization Amnesty International accused the Maldives government of political repression and torture. It said arbitrary detentions, unfair trials, and long-term imprisonment of government critics are commonplace. That September, unprecedented antigovernment riots broke out in Malé; Amnesty International blamed the unrest on political repression and human rights abuses. In August 2004, a state of emergency was imposed after a pro-democracy demonstration became violent. Nearly 100 people were jailed.

On 26 December 2004, the Maldives suffered severe damage as a result of a massive tsunami triggered by a powerful underwater earthquake off the coast of Indonesia. Scores of people were killed, and the government said the disaster set back development work by 20 years.


The constitution of the Republic of Maldives that came into force in 1968 (and amended in 1970, 1972, and 1975) was repealed and replaced by a new constitution in 1997. It came into force on 1 January 1998. The Citizens' Majlis (parliament) nominates a single candidate for the presidency, who is confirmed in office thereafter by popular referendum. The president heads the executive branch and appoints the cabinet and is constitutionally permitted to have as many vice presidents as he desires. The president serves a five-year term of office.

The unicameral Majlis is a body of 50 members, 42 of whom are directly elected (2 from each of the 20 inhabited atolls and 2 from the capital island of Malé) by universal suffrage of citizens over 21. Eight members are appointed by the president. Members serve five-year terms. The Majlis drafts legislation that becomes law after ratification by the president. The Majlis also nominates the president by secret ballot. The candidate is then approved by referendum of the population.

Elections to the Majlis are held individually and do not necessarily coincide with its sessions. Elections were held in December 1994, December 1999, and January 2005.


There are no organized political parties. While not banned, they are officially discouraged. Candidates for office stand for election as independents and campaign on their family and personal stature.


The Maldives is divided administratively into 20 districts, each a discrete atoll headed by a government-appointed verin, or chief, who functions in the manner of a district officer. On each inhabited island a khatib, or headman, also appointed by the government, supervises and carries out the orders of the government under the supervision of the atoll chief. Malé and Hulhulé (the island of the international airport) are geographically in Kaafu Atoll, but are treated as a separate administrative entity.


Justice is meted out according to traditional Islamic law (Shariah) by the high court and lower courts appointed for that purpose by the president, and functioning under the Ministry of Justice. Civil law is also applied but remains subordinate to Shariah. Judges must be Muslims.

On the capital island, Malé, there is a high court which hears a range of cases as a court of first instance and also serves as a court of appeal. Lower courts each deal with a specific area such as theft, property, or family law issues. The 1995 presidential decree gives power to a five-member advisory council appointed by the president to review the high court's decisions. The president also has authority to affirm judgments of the high court, to order a second hearing, or to overturn the court's decision.

On the other islands, there is one all-purpose lower court in which cases are often adjudicated by traditional legal practitioners. Complex cases are referred to the appropriate specialized court in Malé. There are also general courts on the islands.

In criminal cases there is no jury trial. The accused may call witnesses and may be assisted by a lawyer. There are, however, few professionally trained lawyers in Maldives, and the court does not provide a lawyer to an indigent defendant. The judiciary is subject to executive influence. The president may grant pardons and amnesties.


The armed forces of the Maldives consist of a paramilitary national security service and a militia of a few hundred people. Armed boats patrol the territorial waters to protect the local fishing industry. Military expenditures amounted to $34.5 million in 2001, or 8.6% of GDP.


The Maldives, which joined the United Nations (UN) on 21 September 1965, is a member of ESCAP and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, ICAO, IFC, IMF, the World Bank, UNESCO, UNIDO, and the WHO. Maldives is also a member of the Asian Development Bank, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Colombo Plan, G-77, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the South Asia Cooperative Environment Program (SACEP), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and the 7-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

An active member of the Nonaligned Movement, Maldives has led efforts to declare an Indian Ocean Peace Zone, free of nuclear arms. Sri Lanka has traditionally served as the Maldives' focus in its external affairs. However, this has been broadened in the last few decades as the Maldives entered into diplomatic relations with more countries, and communication and transportation have opened up the outside world.

In environmental cooperation, the Maldives is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea and Climate Change.


As of 2003, the Maldives remains on the United Nations (UN) list of least developed countries, yet economic progress has been steady. The first tourist resort was opened in 1972. In 1989 the government lifted import quotas and liberalized some sectors of trade. Gross domestic product growth rates averaged about 10% in the 1980s and about 7% in the 1990s. In the 1990s, the peak was 16% (1990) and the low 4% (1993). In 1998 and 1999, real GDP growth reached 9.1% and 8.5%, respectively, but fell to 4.8% in 2000, following a decline of -2.3% in agriculture (including coral and sand mining) and of -0.5% in industry. Growth recovered to 5.7% in 2001.

Fishing, tourism, and shipping are the mainstays of the economy, employing over half of the work force. The tourism industry has become particularly important, accounting for about 20% of GDP, 31% of government revenues, and more than 60% of the country's foreign exchange earnings in 2002. The government is seeking to continue diversifying the economy through further promotion of tourism, processing industries, and garment production. Besides tourism, GDP is composed of distribution, 4.5%; construction, 3%; fisheries, 6%; agriculture, 3%; transportation and communication, 16%; government administration, 12%; and manufacturing and electricity, 8%.

The economy was on an upward surge in 2004, with a GDP growth rate of 8.8% (up from 8.4% in 2003, and 6.5% in 2002). In December 2004, a major tsunami devastated most of the country, killing 100, leaving 12,000 displaced, and causing damages of over $300 million. As a result, economic growth was expected to decrease to 1.0% in 2005. The inflation rate has been fluctuating, but it did not pose a problem to the economy; in 2004 it reached 6.4%.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Maldives's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $1.3 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $3,900. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 2.3%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 5.6%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 20% of GDP, industry 18%, and services 62%.


There were approximately 72,000 members of the Maldives workforce in 2002, one-third of whom were foreign workers. About 20% of the workforce in 1999 was employed in fishing; 15% in industry; 10% in tourism; and 55% in other sectors. The unemployment rate in 2003 was negligible.

Union organization is not prohibited, but the government does not recognize union organization or striking as a right. However, some associations have been formed to address workers' rights.

The minimum working age is 14 (16 for government work) and there were no reports of children working in the formal economic sector in 2001. However, children work in family agricultural and fishing enterprises. There are no specific statutory provisions regarding working hours, the workweek length, or overtime pay. Administrative orders from the president's office have set a seven-hour workday and a five-day workweek. There is no national minimum wage, but wage floors exist for certain kinds of work. Although no statutory provisions are in place, employers offer competitive pay and working conditions. Wages generally provide a family with a decent standard of living.


Only 10% of the land is estimated to be cultivable. Millet, corn, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, pineapples, sugarcane, almonds, and many kinds of tropical vegetables and fruits are successfully grown, largely in homestead gardens. Coconut palms provide copra and coir, the most important exports after fish. Virtually all rice, a staple food for the population, must be imported. Breadfruit, mangoes, papayas, limes, bananas, pumpkins, watermelon, taro, and chili peppers are also valuable crops. As of 2004, small amounts of corn, millet, and sorghum were cultivated. Production in 2004 included 35,000 tons of coconuts and 30,000 tons of vegetables and melons.


Fodder is insufficient for more than a few head of cattle, but there are many goats and chickens.


Fishing is the chief industry (accounting for 11% of GDP), with the main catch being skipjack and yellowfin tuna. About half the annual harvest is frozen, canned, or dried and exported to Thailand, Europe, and Sri Lanka. The Maldivian fisheries sector underwent a major transformation during the 1980s and became increasingly productive through modernization of catch collection and processing methods. Expansion of the canning industry and investment in fisheries diversification is ongoing. The fish catch in 2003 totaled 155,415 tons; exports of fish were valued at $76.4 million that year. Annual per capita consumption of fish and shellfish during 19992001 averaged 187.3 kg/412 lb (live-weight equivalent), greater than that of any other nation. Shell gathering is a relatively important activity in the Maldives, with large quantities of cowries exported for use as ornaments. Several rare shell species are also collected.


There are no forests as such. Coconut wood, however, is used for building boats and houses. Imports of forest products amounted to $4.2 million in 2004.


There were no known mineral resources.


The Maldives, as of 1 January 2004, had no known reserves of oil or natural gas, nor any crude oil refining capacity, and therefore, must rely upon imports to meet its oil and natural gas needs.

In 2002, imports of refined oil products averaged 5,600 barrels per day, with consumption averaging 4,190 barrels per day, leaving an average of 1,410 barrels per day to be exported.

In 2002, the country's electric power generating capacity came to 0.037 million kW, of which all was dedicated to fossil fuels. Electric output in that year came to 0.133 billion kWh, with consumption in that year placed at 0.124 billion kWh.


The manufacturing sector is small and limited by the shortage of domestic labor. Important traditional industries in the Maldives include boat building, the manufacture of coir, a rope made from dried coconut fibers, and lacemaking (handmade pillow lace), introduced by the Dutch in the 17th century. Maldivian lacquer-work and finely woven mats are famous for their quality and design. Coconuts, copra, shells, tortoiseshell, bone dust, red stone, ambergris, and handicrafts are also produced locally as well as exported. All fishing is done by the traditional line and pole method, as the use of nets is illegal. The country's fishing fleet of small, flat-bottomed boats have, however, shifted from using sails and oars to outboard motors. In May 2001, the government ended its monopoly on the export tuna sector, and in 2002 four Maldivian operations were licensed to buy and export fresh tuna. Modern industry is limited to tuna canneries and other fish-processing, several apparel factories, built during the past decade, a soft drink bottling plant, and small scale manufacturing enterprises that produce PVC pipe, soap, furniture, and food products. Tourism has been developing since the first resort was built in 1977. As of November 2000, there were 84 resorts in operation, and in 2001, the Ministry of Tourism introduced cruise tourism.

Manufacturing, together with agriculture, continued to play a decreasing role in the economy, as a result of domestic labor shortage and vanishing agriculture lands. Tourism continued to create capital needed for establishing additional industriesengine repairs, bottling of aerated water, and garment production are some of the latest additions to the Maldives' industrial base.


Mechanized fishing operations have been the focus of research and development efforts since the 1980s, with the help of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).


Malé Island is the chief commercial center. Sri Lankan and Indian merchants in Malé act as their own importers, exporters, and wholesalers. The importing of rice and exporting of ambergris are government monopolies. Tourism and its related services are a major portion of the economy. Most shops are open from 8 am to 1:30 pm and from 2:30 to 5 pm, Sunday through Thursday. Banks and government offices are open from 9 am to 1 pm on the same days. Most establishments are closed on Fridays.


In 1989, the government initiated an economic reform program that lifted import quotas and opened exports of some commodities to the private sector (until then, exports had been entirely controlled by a state trading organization). In 2000, exports consisted almost exclusively of fish products and apparel. Manufactured

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 113.0 470.8 -357.8
United States 36.5 5.9 30.6
Thailand 18.5 23.9 -5.4
Sri Lanka 15.3 64.7 -49.4
Japan 11.7 10.4 1.3
United Kingdom 11.0 8.3 2.7
Indonesia 4.8 12.4 -7.6
Germany 4.3 6.4 -2.1
Singapore 3.3 117.1 -113.8
China, Hong Kong SAR 2.1 9.6 -7.5
Malaysia 1.0 36.2 -35.2
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account -30.4
     Balance on goods -262.3
         Imports -414.3
         Exports 152.0
     Balance on services 311.1
     Balance on income -37.0
     Current transfers -42.2
Capital Account
Financial Account 56.3
     Direct investment abroad
     Direct investment in Maldives 13.5
     Portfolio investment assets
     Portfolio investment liabilities
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets 28.3
     Other investment liabilities 14.4
Net Errors and Omissions 0.3
Reserves and Related Items -26.2
() data not available or not significant.

goods, machinery, fuels, and food are the main imports.

In the late 1970s, Mauritius, Japan, and Pakistan comprised almost 90% of the country's export market. The vast majority of Maldives' commodity exports are fish (53%) and apparel (46%).

In 2004, exports totaled $123 million (FOBFree on Board), while imports grew to $645 million. Most of the exports went to the United States (26.5%), Thailand (23.5%), Sri Lanka (12.3%), Japan (11.7%), the United Kingdom (9.8%), and Germany (4.9%). Imports primarily came from Singapore (24.9%), Sri Lanka (10.6%), the United Arab Emirates (10.3%), India (10.2%), Malaysia (7.6%), and Bahrain (5.4%).


Balance of payments deficits during the first half of the 1980s were caused largely by the international shipping recession, the collapse of world tuna prices, and a brief downturn in tourism caused by the violence in nearby Sri Lanka. The government began an economic reform program in 1989, lifting import quotas and opening some exports to the private sector. In recent years, it has encouraged more foreign investment by liberalizing regulations.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2000 the purchasing power parity of Maldives' exports was $88 million while imports totaled $372 million, resulting in a trade deficit of $284 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Maldives had exports of goods totaling $110 million and imports totaling $348 million. The services credit totaled $354 million and debit $109 million.

Exports of goods and services totaled $686 million in 2004, up from $584 million in 2003. Imports grew from $535 million in 2003 to $681 million in 2004. The resource balance was consequently positive, but on a downward pathfrom $49 million in 2003 to $6 million in 2004. A similar trend was registered for the current account balance, which deteriorated from -$32 million in 2003 to -$90 million in 2004. Foreign exchange reserves (including gold) increased to $204 million in 2004, covering less than four months of imports.


The Maldives Monetary Authority, established 1 July 1981, issues currency, advises the government on banking and monetary matters, supervises commercial banks, and manages exchange rates and exchange assets. Other banking services are provided by the Bank of Maldives (created in 1982) and commercial banks with headquarters in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $135.3 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $271.6 million. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 6.8%.

There is no securities exchange.


No recent information was available.


Public enterprises, including the State Trading Organization, the state shipping line, and public utilities, account for nearly half of government revenues; customs and tourist receipts make up most of the rest.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2002 Maldives' central government took in revenues of approximately $224 million and had expenditures of $282 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$58 million. Total external debt was $281 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government

Revenue and Grants 2,940 100.0%
     Tax revenue 1,130.9 38.5%
     Social contributions
     Grants 113.4 3.9%
     Other revenue 1,695.7 57.7%
Expenditures 3,826.5 100.0%
     General public services 935.5 24.4%
     Defense 343.2 9.0%
     Public order and safety 123.4 3.2%
     Economic affairs 645.6 16.9%
     Environmental protection
     Housing and community amenities 560.6 14.7%
     Health 395.9 10.3%
     Recreational, culture, and religion
     Education 698.5 18.3%
     Social protection 123.8 3.2%
() data not available or not significant. f = forecasted or projected data.

revenues were mr2,940 million and expenditures were mr3,826.5 million. The value of revenues was us$230 million and expenditures us$299 million, based on a market exchange rate for 2003 of us$1 = mr12.8 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 24.4%; defense, 9.0%; public order and safety, 3.2%; economic affairs, 16.9%; housing and community amenities, 14.7%; health, 10.3%; education, 18.3%; and social protection, 3.2%.


Generally, there is no income or sales tax in the Maldives, although bank profits are subject to a 25% tax. Government revenues are generated by taxes on imports, tourism, lease rentals on resorts, and on earnings by state owned enterprises. License fees are charged for boats and motor vehicles. Uninhabited islands are leased for farming to individuals, who pay annual dues to the government. Over 90% of these absentee landlords reside in Malé, the capital city. As of 2005, 90% of revenues came from import duties and tourism taxes.

Given the growing wealth in the country, the government considered bolstering government development revenues in 2002 by instituting a personal income tax, though concerns remain that enforcement may prove difficult.


Customs duties are a primary source of government revenues and vary depending upon the type of import. A 10% duty is imposed on petrol, kerosene, and diesel oil. A 25% duty is placed on lubricating oils and textiles. Electricity generators are subject to a 20% duty. All imports and exports are subject to a 0.01% stamp duty. The primary importer is the State Trading Organization (STO), which imports 80% of the country's imported staple commodities such as rice, wheat, flour, sugar, and specified medicines. Import duties for luxury items, such as automobiles or goods considered to be environmentally dangerous, are subject to duties that can go as high as 200%.


Assistance has been received from IBRD, WHO, UNDP, UNICEF, the European Union, the Colombo Plan, CARE, and other international agencies, mostly in the form of grants and low-interest loans. In the 1990s, funds from donors averaged over 8% of GDP annually, although in 2000, when, according to UNCTAD, the Maldives received $13.3 million from donors, ODA (Official Development Assistance) was only 2.4% of GDP. Liberalized foreign investment policies have been adopted in recent years in order to attract needed development capital, especially for hotel and resort construction and other businesses related to the tourism industry.

Resort management is currently the main area of investment. Other attractive sectors include accounting services, banking, telecommunications, air transport, and manufacturing. Government projects to develop the island of Hulhumale and use it both as a residential settlement (meant to take the pressure of the overcrowded and neighboring Malé island) and a duty-free zone will likely attract more investments in the area.


The government has implemented a series of development programs to improve and expand fishing and related industries, textile manufacturing, food processing, tourism, communications, and health and education services. In 1986, Malé's new commercial harbor was opened, considerably speeding up cargo handling from 200300 tons to 1,500 tons a day. Also in the late 1980s, Malé's international airport was upgraded in the late 1980s, representing a critical factor in the growth of the country's tourism sector. Effective 1 July 1997, the Companies Act governed the formation, registration, and management of companies doing business in Maldives. Part of the economic thrust has been to lessen the reliance on fishing and to diversify the economy.

Continued expansion of tourism has been particularly targeted in government development plans for the immediate future, along with facilitating a spread of economic activity to outlying island groups. Water taxis and scheduled sea vessel and light aircraft transportation services were developed in the late 1990s for this purpose. The Foreign Investment Services Bureau (FISB), established in August 1986 as a "one-stop service" for investors, was encouraging investment projects in 2002 that were (1) capital intensive; (2) enhance technology transfer; (3)introduce new skills and offer training to local employees; and (4) are environmentally friendly.

The December 2004 tsunami created havoc in the Maldives, and it is expected that around $304 million will be needed to implement a recovery and reconstruction strategy. Tourism will continue to be the main economic driver even in the post-tsunami period, with 600,000 visitors expected to arrive annually.


The government has focused its spending on social services and preventive health services. There is no organized social welfare system. Assistance is traditionally provided through the extended family. Employees are entitled to medical and maternity leave.

In spite of traditional Islamic restrictions on the role of women, they have increased their participation in public life. Under the terms of the constitution, men and women are considered equal before the law. Women usually receive pay equal to men in similar positions. A Gender Equality Council was created to assist the government in strengthening the role of women in society. However, Islamic law discriminates against women in matters of divorce and inheritance. Women are less able to initiate and obtain a divorce. Few women choose to participate in politics, largely because of tradition and custom. Violence against women and domestic abuse were not widespread problems. Penalties for rape include flogging and banishment. Although children's rights are explicit in law and provisions are in place to protect children from abuse, education is not compulsory. Female children are much more likely to be withdrawn from school than boys.

Human rights violations by the government include arbitrary arrest and detention and infringement of the freedoms of assembly, association, the press, and religion.


As of 2004, there were an estimated 78 physicians, 123 nurses, and 185 midwives per 100,000 people. There is a relatively modern 86-bed hospital in Malé, backed by a 12-bed regional hospital and medical rescue services in the outlying atolls, and the new Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital.

In 2002 the estimated fertility rate was 5.4. It was estimated that 30% of children under five were underweight. The under five mortality rate has improved greatly during the last decades. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at 37.4 and 7.86 per 1,000 people, respectively. Life expectancy was estimated at 64.06 years, as of 2005, and the infant mortality rate was 56.52 per 1,000 live births. Around 96% of the country's children had been vaccinated against measles. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 100 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country.

Safe water is available to urban dwellers. Four desalination plants were completed by 1988 and a nationwide project is providing sewage systems to the atolls. Approximately 88% of the population had access to safe water and 40% had access to adequate sanitation. Malaria and diarrheal diseases have been drastically reduced. Water-borne disease epidemics have occurred, often caused by contamination of wells.


Some of the houses on Malé are built in imitation of those in Colombo. Most residential units throughout the country have brick walls, some of which are also plastered, and roofs of galvanized metal sheets. The poorest homes are made from thatch and sticks. According to a 2000 housing census, there were about 43,556 residential units nationwide. About 96% were detached dwellings and around 325 were apartments. The average dwelling size is from three to six rooms. About 48% of all dwellings were built from 19902000. Nearly 68% of the population relies on rain water as a primary source of water; 43% of all dwellings have septic tanks. About 84% of households have electric lighting, but firewood and oil are the primary heating and cooking fuels.


Primary level education is for seven years and secondary education is for five years. Education is compulsory for seven years. There are three streams of Maldivian education: traditional religious schools (makhtabs ), which teach the Koran (Quran), basic arithmetic, and the ability to read and write Divehi; modern Divehi-language primary schools; and modern English-language schools. Primary and secondary schooling is based on the British educational system. Distance educational courses and educational programs on the radio are also provided.

Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 92% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 51% of age-eligible students. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was about 20:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 15:1.

Maldivians must go abroad for higher education. In the 1990s, the government began making large investments in secondary, vocational, and postsecondary education. Currently the Science Education Center in Malé provides pre-university courses, and the center may evolve into a university. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 96.3%.

As of 2003, public expenditures on education were estimated at 3.7% of GDP, or 11.2% of total government expenditures.


A National Library, founded in 1945, is the only nationally funded public library in the country; it contains over 35,000 volumes. Most primary and secondary schools have small libraries; these facilities suffered major damage during the 2004 tsunami and reconstruction and restocking was underway in 2005. There are a few private libraries in the country, including two health libraries: one at the Institute of Health and another at the main hospital in the country. The Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Finance have small libraries as well. A National Museum was founded in 1952 in Malé to conserve and display historical items.


Inter-atoll communication is through a network of high-frequency transceivers; within atolls, communication between islands and with boats is by walkie-talkie. A satellite earth station was installed in 1977 to facilitate external communications. In 2002, there were 28,700 mainline phones and 41,900 mobile phones in use nationwide.

The Voice of Maldives has been transmitting radio broadcasts since 1962 in Divehi and English. Television Maldives is the country's only television station. As of 2005, there were two radio station and one television station, all government owned. In 1999, there were 35,000 radios and 10,00 television sets throughout the country. In 2002, there were 15,000 Internet subscribers.

There are two major daily newspapers, Aafathis (2002 circulation 300) and Haveeru Daily (circulation 4,500). Both papers are published in Divehi and English. As of 2001, there were about 200 other newspapers and periodicals in circulation.

The Penal Code prohibits speech against Islam or the government, though it is said that journalists are more self-confident than in the past and that self-censorship has abated. There are legal prohibitions on the import of foreign publications.


Several sport clubs and a Muslim religious organization operate in Malé. The Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry is also in Malé along with the Maldives Traders' Association. The Maldives National Youth Council was formed in 1984 to assist in organizing national programs for youth. Scouting programs are available for youth as well as through the Scout Association of Maldives and the Girl Guides. The Society for Health Education in Malé addresses concerns of health and social welfare.


The principal industry and leading foreign exchange earner, tourism, was damaged in 2004 when a tsunami hit some of the islands of Maldives. Although there was damage to various hotels and tourism facilities, much of the tourism infrastructure remains intact.

Natural attractions are crystal-clear lagoons and white sand beaches that are ideal for swimming, fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Modern, one- and two-story tourist facilities have been built on various otherwise uninhabited islands, mainly in the Malé atoll but also in neighboring atolls. Developed with European, Sri Lankan, and Indian assistance and part ownership, such resorts are confined to these individual islands, thus allowing the conservative Islamic government to profit from the presence of foreign tourists while shielding its citizens from the presence and consumption of alcoholic beverages and other un-Islamic holiday practices of tourists. Maldivian resort workers maintain their homes and families on other islands, and non-Maldiviansoften Sri Lankansare hired to serve the alcohol. Passports are required of all visitors, as are yellow fever vaccination certificates for those arriving from infected areas.

In 2003, there were 563,593 tourist arrivals. Hotel rooms numbered 8,557, with 17,114 beds and an occupancy rate of 77%. The average length of stay was eight nights.


Ibn Battutah (Muhammad bin 'Abdallah bin Battutah, b.Tangier, 130477), the remarkable Arab traveler and geographer, lived in the Maldives for several years, served as a quadi there, and married the daughter of a Maldivian vizier. Sultan Iskandar Ibrahim I, who reigned for nearly 40 years during the 17th century, had the Hukuru Miskit (the principal mosque on Malé Island) built in 1674. Modern-day leaders include Amir Ibrahim Nasir (b.1926) and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (b.1937).


Maldives has no territories or colonies.


Forbes, Andrew. Maldives: Kingdom of a Thousand Isles. Leicester, Eng.: Cordee, 2002.

Haq, Khadija. Crisis of Government in South Asia. New York: Mahbub ul Haq Foundation, 1999.

Reynolds, C. H. B. Maldives. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio Press, 1993.

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Republic of Maldives

Dhivehi Raajjeyge Jumhooriyyaa



A series of 1,190 coral islands grouped into 26 atolls (a ring-shaped coral reef enclosing a lagoon) located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has an area of less than 300 square kilometers (115 square miles) and a total coastline of 644 kilometers (400 miles). The islands form a narrow chain 820 kilometers (510 miles) in length and 130 kilometers (81 miles) in width within an area of 90,000 square kilometers (34,749 square miles) of ocean. Of these islands, around 200 are inhabited and 85 are tourist resorts. Comparatively, the area occupied by the Maldives is about 1.7 times the size of Washington, D.C. The capital city island, Malé, is located within Malé atoll, which is in the center of the strip of islands that makes up the Maldives. The Maldives is the smallest country in Asia.


From a 1980 level of 155,300, the population of the Maldives was estimated at 301,475 in July 2000. With the 2000 population growth rate at 3.06 percent per annum (one of the highest population growth rates in the world), by 2010 the Maldives population is expected to have almost doubled. In 2000, the birth rate stood at 38.96 per 1,000, while the death rate was 8.32 deaths per 1,000. With the continuation of a similar population growth rate, the population of the Maldives will fail to stabilize for at least another 50 years.

More than 200 of the 1,190 islands in the Maldives are inhabited, of which only 5 islands have a population of more than 3,000. The majority have a population of 500 or less. Nonetheless, the country has a very high population density of 916 people per square kilometer. Twenty-six percent of Maldivians live on the overcrowded capital island of Malé, with an average of 10 persons per household compared with a national average of 6.5. The implications of the country's high population growth and density are severe. The traditional construction material, coral, is near its point of full depletion. More importantly, the fresh water held beneath the soil surface is in rapid decline. This means that the Maldives faces the prospect of importing a large percentage of its water needs to support the growing population, unless there are fast developments in desalination services on the islands.


The Maldives government has followed a policy of free market economy, making it one of the most liberal in the developing world. This has had considerable benefits. The promotion of a favorable economic climate has assisted the economy's inflow of foreign direct investment . This doubled from an annual average inflow of $5 million between 1988 and 1993 to $10 million in 1999. But with the economy's high level of dependence on just 2 economic sectorsfisheries and tourismit is highly susceptible to constant fluctuations on world markets. Total dependence on imports to supply a number of its sectors, such as textile manufactures and tourist supplies, means that the rise and fall of the rufiyaa on international money markets can significantly affect the competitiveness of exports and cost of imports. The simultaneous decline of fisheries exports and influx of tourists in the early 1990s led to a serious deficit in the national balance of payments that required the government to introduce unpopular cuts in public spending.

Compared to the other Maldives, Malé is highly developed. Some of the other islands have benefited from the carry-over effects of the tourism sector, the availability of arable land, or from the collection service for fish catches provided by the government. However, the geographical isolation of a significant number of islands means that their access to the productive sectors of the economy and to social services is very limited. The government has initiated a set of policies to address these disparities and spent 28.7 percent of its 1999 budget on atoll development. This was done in part to take the strain off the high population density in Malé and also to allow more of the outlying population access to the strategic economic situation of the capital. One example is Villingili, a nearby former resort island, which was transformed into a residential island with a commercial harbor. It now supports around 15,000 Maldivians. A similar government policy is to provide infrastructure and facilities to regional centers throughout the atolls to encourage people to move from isolated islands to local commercial focal points and develop the economy in a more unified trajectory.

Although the Maldives has benefited considerably from growth over the past 20 years, there are a number of factors that act as considerable limitations on the continued sustainable development of the economy. For example, the exploitation of coral for construction purposes is at such a level that it is estimated that all of the reefs in the north Malé atoll will be depleted by 2014. National debt has risen considerably, from $13 million in 1979 to $203 million in 1999. Rising population growth and such factors as the rise of tourism and the mechanization of the fishing fleet has meant that imports have risen significantly, especially for such commodities as petroleum products. Consequently, whereas exports only rose from $8 million in 1980 to $64 million in 1999, imports expanded from $29 million to $402 million. Although the total national balance of payments remained at an annual average of $7 million in credit between 1994 and 1999, the serious drain of imported goods limits the potential of reinvestment and development on the islands.

The Maldives Ministry of Planning and National development emphasizes the government's "international reputation for its high-level commitment to environmental protection, demonstrating its readiness to subordinate short-term economic gain to environmental conservation." This progressive policy-orientation entails a number of factors of self-interest ranging from the desire to maintain the country's natural beauty to continue enticing tourists, to the more serious issue of 80 percent of the land elevation being less than 1 meter above sea level. This means that the islands will be even more susceptible to storms and rising sea levels if the projected consequences of the "greenhouse effect" are realized.


The formation of the Maldives as a political entity is generally dated from the period of conversion to Islam in the 1100s. This makes the Maldives one of the oldest surviving small states in the world. Unlike most other countries in the region, the Maldives was not subject to the overt domination of foreign powers. This is most likely due to the problems of navigating the sea around and within the islands as, without a high level of knowledge of the dangers of the reefs and shallow lagoons, ships would often be smashed or grounded. The Portuguese managed to rule the Maldives for a period of 17 years in the mid-1500s. They were soon thwarted in their dominance by a guerrilla war assisted by the Rajah of Cannanore in what is now India. Various sultans then ruled the Maldives unhindered, until Sultan Muhammad Muenuddin entered into an agreement with the British in 1887. The British, whose empire extended throughout South Asia, made the Maldives a British protectorate in return for the payment of tribute.

After a gradual rise in its level of sovereignty, the Maldives became fully independent of Britain on 26 July 1965. Three years after, a national referendum saw 80 percent of votes cast call for the abolition of the hereditary sultanate in favor of a republic, although the country's status as an Islamic state remained. This included civil law being subject to Sharia (Islamic law) which remained in place by mid-2001. Although the executive position of sultan was abolished, the office of the president wields similarly large powers. (The president is required to be a male Sunni Muslim.) The president is the head of state, the supreme authority defending the national faith of Islam, the chief executive, and commander-in-chief of the military. And not only does he have the power to appoint the prime minister and cabinet of ministers, but he can dismiss them too. Amir Ibrahim Nasir, formerly the prime minister under the sultan, was elected president in 1968. Nasir ruled until the 1978 elections, when he cited poor health and did not stand for office. He instead left for Singapore after the new president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, initiated investigations into Nasir's alleged misappropriation of government revenues.

President Gayoom was re-elected in 1998 for a fifth consecutive 5-year term with the support of 90.9 percent of votes cast. In each election, he ran unopposed presidential candidates are selected by the Citizens' Majlis (parliament) and posed to the people in a simple "for" or "against" referendum. The Majlis itself consists of 48 members, 8 of whom are selected by the president, while voters in the Maldives' 20 administrative atoll districts elect the rest (2 members per district). In November 1988, Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka, in collusion with some Maldivian nationals, attempted to overthrow the government. However, President Gayoom appealed to India for military assistance, which swiftly foiled the rebels.

The Maldives electoral system has received criticism for being limited, unfair, and unrepresentative. For example, Freedom House (the U.S. political liberties and civil rights advocacy group) classified the Maldives in 2000 as "Not Free." Amnesty International (a London-based human rights organization) has reported the detention of a number of politically motivated prisoners. Gayoom himself is often cited as authoritarian. In a country profile on the Maldives, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) suggested that Gayoom "has been accused of heading a small heredity elite which holds decisive power and which uses intimidation to discourage political activity." However, the government addresses these criticisms by maintaining that this limited style of democracy provides a stable and consistent form of rule that also acts to protect the basic tenets of the nation's Muslim faith. Maldives' brand of Islam is among the most emancipated of current Islamic states. This is exemplified by the Maldives' comparatively high rating in the Gender-related Development Index.

The Maldives government receives the majority of its revenues through direct taxation and the earnings of state-owned enterprise and property. There is no income tax . Import duties provided 63 percent of government tax revenues in 1997, while various taxes on the lucrative tourism sector accounted for 27 percent of tax revenues. Key non-tax revenue sources are government-owned property, such as resort islands which are leased to tour operators, and the profits from public enterprise, such as the regular collection of fisheries produce, which provided 46 percent of total government revenues in 1997.


The Maldives transportation infrastructure is very limited. The capital city island, Malé, has 9.6 kilometers (6 miles) of coral highways. Due to their small size and the tiny amount of cars throughout the rest of the islands, the total quantity of roads is not known. There are no railways in the Maldives. Since the tourism boom of the 1970s, the availability and frequency of inter-island transportation has considerably improved. While the cheapest and most common mode of transport used by Maldivians are dhonis (wooden all-purpose water taxis/fishing boats), tourists and the wealthy have the option of using private seaplanes, helicopters, and speedboats. When travelling on an island, the majority of people use bicycles or motorbikes, although there are a limited number of cars and taxis in use on the more populated and larger islands.

When Malé International Airport on Hulhule Island (2.5 miles from Malé) was opened in 1981, it caused a considerable rise in tourist arrivals. While improved air transportation has benefited the tourism sector, international sea cargo remains very important. Malé's port can intake around 200,000 tons of cargo per year and offers shipping services to and from Europe and a large portion of Asia. With its fleet of 7 cargo boats and 1 container vessel, Maldives National Shipping Ltd. handles about 60 percent of the country's imports.

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations a Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Maldives 21,000 (1999) 1,290 AM 1; FM 1; shortwave 1 35,000 (1999) 1 10,000 (1999) 1 2,000
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
India 27.7 M (October 2000) 2.93 M (2000) AM 153; FM 91; shortwave 68 116 M 562 63 M 43 4.5 M
Sri Lanka 494,509 (1998) 228,604 (1999) AM 26; FM 45; shortwave 1 3.85 M 21 1.53 M 5 65,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

The parastatals the Maldives Electricity Bureau and the State Electricity Company (STELCO) provide power throughout over 95 percent of the Maldives inhabited islands. Tourist resort islands are required by the government to supply independent energy supplies, this is generally via oil-fuelled generators. However, wood accounts for 55 percent of total domestic energy consumption and is mainly used in households for cooking purposes.

Telecommunications facilities are of an excellent quality in Malé and throughout most of the tourist islands. By 2001, the government had successfully extended the availability of telephones throughout the vast majority of inhabited islands. Telecommunications are provided through a joint venture between the government and the British company, Cable and Wireless. By 1999, there were 8.1 Internet hosts per 100,000 people.


The Republic of Maldives' economic sectors reflect the very small size of the population, a limited infrastructure principally caused by the country's division across hundreds of tiny islands, a low level of skilled labor, and the very limited level of agricultural potential and mineral resources. Consequently there are severe limits on domestic markets and the availability of land on those islands that are inhabited. Nonetheless, the country's situation as a series of small isolated islands works more positively as a strategic trading point, a tourist destination, and as an excellent base for tapping the Indian Ocean's abundant fish stocks.

The Maldives economy consists of 3 main sectors trade, tourism, and fisheries. Although the fisheries sector was historically the primary source of national employment and economic activity, the rise of tourism in the 1970s caused it to become the third most important economic sector by 2001.


Traditional agricultural production in the Maldives is limited by poor soil, a low level of arable land, and a geographically split landmass which disallows large-scale commercial farming. In 1995, only 3,000 hectares of arable land was under permanent crops. There are, however, a number of crops grown for domestic consumption. These include coconuts, bananas, breadfruit, other exotic fruits, betel, chiles, sweet potatoes, and onions.


Until the development of the tourist industry, the fisheries sector was the Maldives principle economic activity and source of export earnings. In 2000, the sector employed about 20 percent of the national workforce and acted as the main source of livelihood for a majority of Maldivians. In addition, it is the second largest source of foreign exchange and provides more than 10 percent of GDP. The government established the Maldives Fishing Corporation in 1979 to exploit the country's vast fisheries resource.

The use of fishing nets is illegal, and as a result, the more labor intensive traditional method of fishing by line and pole dominates. Nonetheless, the productivity of the fisheries sector has improved considerably during the 1990s. Although traditional small boats made of coconut wood remain in use, most are used in conjunction with outboard motors. The mechanization of the fishing fleet has been combined with the introduction of Fish Aggregating Devices (which allow the detection of shoals of fish). This meant that the nominal catch of fish in the Maldives expanded from 71,245 metric tons in 1989 to 118,183 tons in 1998. The opening of the Maldives Exclusive Economic Zone in the early 1990s meant that more Maldivian vessels were fishing in the sea around the islands. In fact, this zone allowed Maldivian fishermen to tap into a range of around 330 kilometers (200 miles). With the decline of fish stocks in the Atlantic Ocean, the price of fish on international markets seems likely to continue rising into the 21st century, although the subsequent increased pressure on Indian Ocean fish stocks threatens one of the foundations of the Maldives economy.


The Maldives industrial sector is small. Traditional industries are still in place. For example, women collect cowrie shells (the former national currency) for export. They weave the labor-intensive coir rope from coconut husks, which is a very strong, flexible and waterproof rope. Male carpenters build the traditional fishing boats (dhonis) from coconut trees, which can last up to 20 years. However, more modern developments have occurred in the Maldives industrial sector.


The Maldives' primary industry is the canning and processing of fish. In 1998, $19.06 million of canned fish, predominantly tuna, was exported. The development of the Felivaru Tuna Fish Cannery in the early 1990s was a key factor in the modernization of this industry. The export of dried, smoked, and salted fish constituted an additional $9.07 million of exports in 1998. This constitutes a significant enterprise for levels of employment and national income, although it remains a more traditional industry. The canning industry is expected to continue to thrive and replace more traditional fish exports with the opening of the Kooddoo Fisheries Complex, which included large refrigeration facilities.


The development of manufacturing is limited by the low level of domestic demand, limited skilled labor, and the lack of national resources. This means that many material and labor inputs into domestic goods rely heavily on imports. The economy has diversified into the production of clothing, both for domestic consumption and for export. In 1989, garment exports amounted to $10 million. Because of government initiatives, this had more than doubled to $25 million by 1999.

However, garment factories (some with U.S. investment) rely almost exclusively on the import of materials for the manufacture of their goods. The competitiveness of finished products is reduced due to the costs of passing through multiple tariff boundaries. In an attempt to address this problem, the government has granted duty-free status on the import of fabrics and similar materials essential in the production of clothing and apparel. The government is keen to follow this policy, as it wishes to improve the amount of foreign exchange earnings and, in a similar vein, to create jobs for an ever-expanding and very young population. Other low-level manufactures that have developed in the Maldives through the 1990s are the production of PVC piping, soap, and food products. Between 1989-2000, the average annual growth of the manufacturing sector was 9.4 percent.



The Maldives' principal assets are its beauty, geographical isolation, and rich marine resources. When an Italian entrepreneur set up some uninhabited islands as resorts for foreign visitors in the early 1970s, the tourism sector began to develop very rapidly. Tourists come to spend time relaxing in one of the Maldives' 85 idyllic resort islands. A key pastime for tourists is diving in the cleanest ocean in the world amongst more than 1,000 species of fish, constituting one of world's most species-rich marine areas.

The influx of tourists to the Maldives has been increasing steadily since the 1970s. In 1993, 241,020 tourists travelled to experience the beauty of the Maldives, and by 1997, this number had risen nearly 50 percent to 365,563. Of these, the vast majority came from Western Europe, Japan, and from nearby countries in South Asia. The increase in tourist arrivals has significantly improved the country's receipts from tourism, which increased from $146 million in 1993 to $286 million in 1997. The recent purchase of resorts by the multinational hotel groups, Hilton and Four Seasons, is a clear indication of the projected growth of the Maldives' tourism sector. Yet the cultural effect of foreign influences has been controlled by the government policy of restricting tourist access to resort islands, unless they specifically apply for permission. Also, no Maldivians have their permanent residence on resort islands. The purpose of this is to maintain the population's apparent cultural unity as based upon the Islamic faith.


The Maldives is increasingly relying upon imports. This is due to a lack of agricultural production and fossil fuel resources, a growing population and household incomes, and the high influx of tourists since the 1970s who demand certain foodstuffs and luxuries. In 1977, imports totalled $11.1 million, whereas by 1998 they had boomed to $354 million. The Maldives receives its imports from a wide range of countries. The European Union countries supplied $65 million in 1998, of which the 2 largest partners, the UK and the Netherlands, provided $18.5 million and $12.5 million, respectively. In the same year, Singapore

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Maldives
Exports Imports
1975 .003 .007
1980 .008 .029
1985 .023 .053
1990 .052 .138
1995 .050 .268
1998 .076 .354
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

supplied $40.9 million in imports, India $39.3 million, Malaysia $34.9 million, Sri Lanka $30.9 million, the United Arab Emirates $23.8 million, Japan $22.3 million, and the United States $19.1 million.

Maldivian exports totalled $76.2 million in 1998 a considerable growth from a 1977 level of $4.8 million. The main destination was the EU countries, which consumed $20.1 million. The UK was the primary partner here and purchased $14.7 million in Maldivian exports, Germany imported $5.1 million. Exports to the United States totalled $15.7 million, nearby Sri Lanka $13.1 million, Japan $10.9 million, and Thailand $9.8 million.

The Republic of Maldives is an active member of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), whose other members are Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Of these countries, the Maldives can boast the second highest GDP growth in the 1990s and the highest level of average individual incomes.


There is no stock market in the Maldives, although at times some of the larger parastatals issue shares. According to the CIA World Factbook 2001, the national currency has had a fixed exchange rate since 1995 when it was pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of Rf11.77:US$1. This contributed to a low inflation rate of 3 percent in 1998. As a result, the price of consumer goods has remained fairly consistent, and the cost of living is steady. The Maldives Monetary Authority regulates the banking system and the money supply. It also functions as the central bank.


Throughout the 1990s, nearly all of the available measures used to classify sustainable human development indicated that there had been considerable positive progression in the material and social conditions in the

Exchange rates: Maldives
rufiyaa (Rf) per US$1
2001 11.770
2000 11.770
1999 11.770
1998 11.770
1997 11.770
1996 11.770
Note: Currency has had a fixed rate since 1995.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Maldives N/A N/A 650 917 1,247
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
India 222 231 270 331 444
Sri Lanka 382 452 536 590 802
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

lives of Maldivians. The United Nations Development Program has marked the Maldives out as being one of just two countries in the South Asian region to be a medium human development country. Between 1977 and 1995, the life expectancy of the average Maldivian increased by 20 years to 71 years, which is a remarkable level for a developing country.

Despite that, it is estimated by the Maldives Ministry of Planning and National Development that almost 50 percent of children suffer, to different degrees, from stunting and wasting in their physical development. This is due to malnutrition in the more remote and less easily accessible islands. This is mainly caused by limited agricultural potential and the high cost of imports. Consequently, the majority of Maldivians consume a relatively restricted range of foodstuffs, with rice, fish, and coconut being the staples. A 1993 survey found that less than 30 percent of children ate fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, the annual average intake of protein rose from 69 grams (1980-82) to 94.6 grams (1995-97), and over the same period caloric intake improved from 2,194.3 to 2,505.1.


The Maldives is not a member of the International Labor Organisation. Although the national constitution does not explicitly bar the formation of trade unions, they do not exist in the Maldives. This is partly due to the lack of the legal right to stage strikes or engage in collective bargaining processes. Also, most workers are employed outside of the formal sector. In fact, due to the low recognition of workers' rights by the Maldives government, in 1995 the United States temporarily suspended the Maldives' tariff preferences within the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences.

While enrollment at primary schools is very high (98 percent in 1999), secondary school enrollment is only about 50 percent of the relevant age group. This results from having only 2 secondary schools outside of Malé (even though the government spent 17.6 percent of its 1999 budget on education). This not only has the effect of limiting secondary education to the more wealthy tiers of Maldivian society but acts against equal educational opportunities for girls. Girls are considerably more socially restricted in their movement than boys and have fewer employment opportunities. In addition, a recent UNDP survey found that there were only around 250 Maldivians with university degrees. The end result is that professional, skilled, and even semi-skilled workers are lacking in the Maldives. For example, 70 percent of primary and secondary school teachers are foreign workers. The total amount of imported labor grew from 2,000 in 1986 to 18,500 in 1995, which places an additional drain on already sparse foreign exchange reserves .


12TH CENTURY. The population adopts the Islamic faith.

1558. The Portuguese colonize the islands (only to be driven out in 1573).

17TH CENTURY. Maldives becomes a protectorate under the Dutch rulers of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon).

1887. The British officially declared the Maldives a protectorate.

1965. The Maldives become fully independent on 26 July.

1968. A national referendum votes in favor of the abolition of the sultanate in favor of a republic. Amir Ibrahim Nasir is elected president.

1978. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is elected president.

1981. Maldives Monetary Authority is established and Malé International Airport is opened.

1988. Coup attempt by Tamil mercenaries is successfully halted with the aid of Indian forces.

1998. Gayoom is re-elected as president for the fifth consecutive term.


In mid-2001, the two most important issues in the continued development of the Maldives are the partly linked factors of population growth and anticipated global environment problems. If projected population growth proves correct (a doubling of late 1990s levels by 2010), there will simply not be enough jobs in the country to employ the country's young people. Slightly less than 50 percent of the population are under 15 years old and the Maldives future will be dominated by the effects of a large proportion of young people entering the labor market, with estimated annual levels of 5,000 new job seekers looking for work. Similarly, population growth exerts considerable strain on already highly depleted reserves of potable water and building materials (particularly coral). Moreover, if pollution in the world's ecosystem continues to have the effect of raising the temperate of global climates thereby increasing sea-levels (a phenomenon know as the "greenhouse effect"), then the majority of the low-level land mass of the Maldives will simply disappear.

On a more positive note, the economy has consistently grown throughout the 1990s, and foreign investment is on the increase. With the decline of stocks of fish in most of the world's other oceans, the Maldives' access to the rich fish reserves of the Indian Ocean means that this industry will remain of significant importance, especially if the modernizing trend in the domestic canning and refrigeration of fish continues. In addition, except for some slight drops in tourism receipts during the financial crises of the late 1990s, the tourism sector is likely to continue to grow as is indicated by the recent investment of multinational hotel groups there.


Maldives has no territories or colonies.


Amnesty International. Amnesty International: Report 2000. London: Amnesty International, 2000.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Country Profile: The Maldives. <> Accessed May 2001.

Camerapix. Spectrum Guide to the Maldives, Nairobi: Camerapix,1993.

Ciment, J., and I. Ness, The Encyclopaedia of Global Population and Demographics, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999.

De Laroque, T., with R. Ellis. Toni The Maldive Lady: My Story. Singapore: Times Editions, 1999.

Ellis, K. Introduction to the Maldives. Hong Kong: Odyssey, 1991.

The Far East and Australasia 2001. 32nd edition. London: Europa Publications, 2001.

Freedom House. Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties 1999-2000. New York: Freedom House, 2000.

Foreign Investment Services Bureau, Ministry of Trade, Industries and Labor . <>. Accessed May 2001.

Food and Agriculture Organisation. FAO Yearbook: Trade: Vol.52, 1998. Rome: FAO, 1999.

. Fishery Statistics: Capture Production: Vol. 86/1, 1998. Rome: FAO, 2000.

. Fishery Statistics: Commodities: Vol. 87, 1998. Rome:FAO, 2000.

International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 2000. Washington D.C.: IMF, 2000

Ministry of Planning and National Development, Republic of Maldives. Country Strategy Note: A Strategy for the United Nations Development System in Maldives. (Malé: Republic of Maldives, November 1998). <>. Accessed May 2001.

Ministry of Tourism, Republic of Maldives. <>. Accessed May 2001.

United Nations. International Trade Statistics Yearbook, 1998. New York: United Nations, 1999.

United Nations. Statistical Yearbook Forty-Fourth Issue. NewYork: United Nations, 2000.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). World Investment Report 2000: Cross-border Mergers and Acquisitions and Development. Geneva: United Nations, 2000.

United Nations Development Programme. <>.Accessed May 2001.

United Nations Development Programme in the Republic of Maldives. <>. Accessed May 2001.

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Asia-Pacific in Figures, 14th edition. New York: United Nations, February 2001.

Upham, M. Trade Unions of the World. 4th edition. London: Cartermill, 1996.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook. <http://>. Accessed May 2001.

U.S. Energy Information Administration. <http://www.eia.doe .gov/emeu/cabs/maldives.html>. Accessed May 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Financial Year 2000 Country Commercial Guide: Maldives. <>. Accessed May 2001.

World Bank. Maldives Data Profile and Maldives at a Glance. <>. Accessed May 2001.

Liam Campling




Rufiyaa (Rf). One rufiyaa equals 100 laari. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, and 50 laari, and 1 and 2 rufiyaa. There are notes of 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 rufiyaa.


Fish products, clothing.


Consumer goods, intermediate and capital goods, petroleum products.


US$540 million (1999 est.).


Exports: US$92 million (1999 est.). Imports: US$402 million (1999 est.). [ CIA World Factbook indicates exports at US$98 million (1998) and imports at US$312 million (1998).]

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Republic of Maldives

Major City:

Other Cities:
Baa Atoll, Seenu Atoll


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report for Maldives. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


The Republic of MALDIVES , an independent chain of islands in the northern Indian Ocean about 417 miles southwest of Sri Lanka and 300 miles from the southernmost tip of India, was a sultanate under British protection until 1965. Its experience with foreign influences has been limited and, until recently, its principal economic link was through ties with Sri Lanka. During its years as a British protectorate, it was administered under the sovereignty of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). In June 1985, the Republic of Maldives became a full member of the Commonwealth.



Malé, the capital the Maldives, is an island about one-and-a-half square miles in total area, occupying a central position in the archipelago. Land is slowly being reclaimed on the island's north side. All government offices, the four main government schools, and the single hospital are also here. The commercial district has a wide variety of small shops selling curios, antiques, sea shells, and other goods. Many of the imported items are transported by the 40 vessel Maldivian merchant marine fleet. Malé also has an attractive park, Sultan Park, and a museum with artifacts from the Arab, Dravidian, and Sri Lankan cultures which have influenced the history of this island republic.

Malé's population is about 68,000 (2000 est.). The city is densely populated and there is very little public open space. It is feasible to walk to places within the small urban area. The city is a free port; no duties are levied on articles brought here by visitors, but certain items must be declared at customs. Since the Maldives is a Muslim country, no pork products or liquor may be imported. Tourist islands in the chain, however, often offer pork and liquor for sale to tourists only.

The Maldives international airportMalé Internationalis situated on Hululé Island, adjacent to the capital city; there also are three domestic airports.

Education in government-run schools is free in the republic, but is not compulsory. Western-style education based on the British Commonwealth curriculum exists in Malé only to the high school level; studies beyond high school must be pursued abroad. Most teachers are experienced Maldivian and Sri Lankan nationals. The medium of instruction is both Divehi and English.


Warm clothing is never required. Cotton dresses, trousers, skirts, and lightweight tropical suits are the most comfortable year-round attire. Some ready-made clothing, notably shirts, jeans, trousers, dresses and blouses, T-shirts, underwear, rubber sandals, and infants wear, are increasingly available, but only in small sizes and often expensive for the quality. A variety of high-quality synthetic materials is available and relatively inexpensive. Pure cotton cloth, which suits the climate best, is available.

The correct dress for men in offices is trousers with either a shirt and tie or a bush shirt; shoes are preferred to sandals. Women wear slacks, or dresses with knee-length hemlines and short sleeves to offices in Malé.


Most necessary items can be found on the market, although in varying degrees of availability. Many types of inexpensive fresh fish appear daily (except Friday), but the most common are tuna, bonito, and seer. It is possible to arrange occasional supplies of spiny lobster and turtle meat. Poultry and eggs are always available. Fresh meat is available, but dairy products are not.

Fruits such as papayas, limes, bananas, and coconuts are always on the market; one variety of mango is available in season. Tropical yellow vegetables usually can be obtained; potatoes and onions are found intermittently. Fresh green vegetables are imported and available year round.

Good-quality white loaf bread is baked daily. A variety of canned and bottled goods gradually is becoming more common in shops. Nespray powdered milk and tinned cheese, cream, and condensed milk are nearly always sold locally. Frozen meat is available, as is ice cream. Coca-Cola and 7-Up in cans and other soft drinks are available. Beer, wine, spirits, and other drinks containing alcohol are not sold commercially because of local religious customs.

Supplies & Services

The Maldives has a few laundries and no dry cleaning shops. Shoe repair facilities are fair. Imported, high-quality goods are expensive and scarce. Spare parts for household articles must be imported. Electricians' and plumbers' services are available and are of fair quality. Hairdressers and barbers charge moderate rates. Inexpensive domestic help is available, but experienced, well-qualified servants are scarce. Language and customs differences can create problems.


Maléhas one or two good restaurants. Four hotels, an Italian restaurant, and the tourist island restaurants provide some diversion in entertainment. Sports such as swimming, scuba diving, windsurfing, and sailing are readily available.

The Maldives are renowned for their beautiful beaches.

The Ministry of Tourism is located in the Ghaazee Building, Malé 20-05, Republic of Maldives.


BAA ATOLL is located north of Malé with a population of about 9,600 (2000 est.). The atoll is actually made up of about 50 different islands. At least five of them have major tourist resorts. The others are undeveloped, but open to visitors looking for a relaxing place to hike or swim. In fact, some of the resorts will organize day trips to the various islands. Divers and snorkellers will enjoy the pristine coral reefs around the islands and perhaps a chance see the mantas and whale sharks that share the waters. Several shops display and sell locally made laquerware and hand woven garments, particularly the "feyli," a traditional wraparound skirt. From the island of Goidhoo, history buffs can learn about the 1602 shipwreck of the French ship "Corbin." Leg-ends say that several castaways and exiles once made Goidhoo their homes.

SEENU ATOLL (also known as Addoo Atoll), is a small, heart-shaped island at the southernmost edge of the Maldives. Diving and snorkeling are popular in the area, where a long outer fringe of reefs are complimented by a number of caves and overhangs that provide homes for turtles and nurse sharks. Mantas may also be seen in the waters. Divers can also see the remains of the "British Royalty," a ship torpedoed by the Japanese in Addoo harbor and later sunk by the British. On land, there is one major resort and travelers can bike through the streets of Hithadhoo, the islands capital, or browse through the many shops located there.


Geography and Climate

A chain of 19 atolls with a total area of 115 square miles, the Maldives extends a distance of 500 miles north to south.

The atolls comprise 1,190 coral islands, 199 of which are inhabited. The islets are small (none larger than five square miles in area) and seldom exceed an elevation of five or six feet above sea level. The tropical vegetation varies from grass and scrub to dense woods of fruit trees or coconut palms.

The climate is hot and humid, with little daily variation; the average temperature is 80°F and the relative humidity 80%. Most of the area is subject to the southwest monsoon (June to August) and the northeast monsoon (November to March); the annual rainfall averages 100 inches in the north and 150 inches in the south. Living conditions are not healthful in this warm, wet environment.


The population of the Maldives is 310,400 (2000). Average annual growth rate is 3%. Approximately 200 of the Maldives' 1,200 islands are inhabited. The population is scattered throughout the islands, but most heavily concentrated in Malé. Almost 75% of Maldivians live in rural areas. The nation is ethnically divided into admixtures of Sinhalese, Dravidian, and Arab. The Islamic faith was adopted by the Maldivian people during the 12th century. It is now the official religion; nearly 100% of the population are Sunni Muslims. Divehi is the official language, with English as a second tongue. The literacy rate is 93%.


The Maldives has a republic form of government. A popularly-elected unicameral national legislature (Majlis ) consists of 50 members who serve five-year terms. There are two elected members from each atoll and the capital Malé and eight members who are appointed by the president. There are no political parties, so each candidate must run on the basis of personal qualifications.

The president is nominated for a five-year term by a secret ballot of the Majlis, which requires confirmation by national referendum. President Mumoon Abdul Gayoom was elected in 1978 and reconfirmed by referendum in 1983, 1988, 1993, and 1998.

The legal system is based on Islamic law, with English common law applied in commercial matters. An appointed chief justice is responsible for the administration of the former. No organized political parties exist.

The Maldives is a member of the United Nations, World Health Organization (WHO), and United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as well as the following international bodies: Asian Development Bank, Colombo Plan, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Islamic Development Bank, Nonaligned Movement, and the World Bank.

Three countries have diplomatic representation in Malé: India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The Maldives has representation abroad in more than 10 foreign cities, including Bangkok, Thailand; Brussels, Belgium; Tokyo, Japan; Vienna, Austria; and Washington, DC.

The flag of the Republic of Maldives is green with a white crescent, surrounded by a red border.

Arts, Science, Education

Education is free, but only 65% of school-age children are enrolled. Until 1976, all 16 existing schools were located in Malé; most were primary schools.

Three types of formal education are offered: traditional schools (makthabs ), which emphasize knowledge of the Koran (Qur'an); Divehi-language primary schools; and English-language primary and secondary schools, which teach a standard curriculum. The only higher education facility available is a teacher-training institute; most college-age students go abroad for schooling.

Commerce and Industry

The Maldives is one of the poorest and most undeveloped countries in the world. But in recent years, the economy of the Maldives has improved steadily. The gross domestic product (GDP) was $594 million in 2000, or about $2,000 per capita. Tourism and fishing are the most important sectors of the economy.

Tourism alone accounts for 20%-30% of GDP and over 60% of foreign exchange earnings. In 2000, there were 84 resorts in operation, with plans for expansion. Over 400,000 visitors were recorded in 2000.

The fishing industry employs 25% of the labor force and accounts for 60% of all exports. Considerable quantities of fish are exported to Japan. Dried fish is exported to Sri Lanka, where it is a delicacy. Canned tuna and dried fish exports accounted for about 53% of all marine product exports. This is quite an accomplishment considering that the use of nets is illegal. All fishing is done by line and pole. The fishing fleet usually consists of a number of small, flat-bottomed boats. Though, fishermen are now permitted to use outboard motors instead of just sails and oars.

The vegetation of the islands is coconut palms with some scrub. Cultivation of crops is virtually impossible, and nearly all food to supplement the basic fish diet has to be imported; Japan, the U.S., and Thailand are major trade partners.

One of the major problems facing the Maldives is a dwindling supply of fresh water and inadequate sewage treatment. Another environmental problem is associated with the reported rising of the world's sea level, which will gradually erode the coral foundation of the islands. Considering that none of the islands are more than six feet above sea level, the sea level is of great importance. Houses built from coral are now forbidden; cement must be imported for construction.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry is located in the Ghaazee Building, Malé 20-05, Republic of Maldives.


Five international airlines serve Malé International; also, charter flights are available from Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. Domestic flights are operated by Air Maldives Airways. Malé International is on Hululé Island and there is ferry service to all main islands.

There is little need for transportation on any of the islands since they are so small. All areas on Malé can be reached on foot. There are only a few hundred passenger cars in the Maldives. Limited taxi service is available in Malé; taxis cannot be hailed.

Transportation between the atolls depends mainly on local sailing boats.


International direct-dial phone calls and fax services are generally available and all 199 inhabited islands of the country have been provided with access to telephone services. Dhiraagu, the partially government owned telecommunications service provider, also provides Internet services. Mobile phone usage is increasing rapidly. There are over 10,000 mobile phone users in the Maldives with services available on 31 inhabited islands and 80 resorts islands.

Radio broadcasting on the Voice of Maldives began in 1962. Broadcasts are in Divehi and English. Television Maldives is the country's lone TV station. One Indian Ocean INTELSAT station serves the country.

There are two daily publications in Malé that are in Divehi and English: Aafathis and Haveeru. All publications must be approved by the government, those not sanctioned are banned.


Clinical medical care in Malé is available at the government hospital, which also has two national dental assistants, one trained in Britain and one in Sri Lanka. Although the hospital itself is a superior small facility with excellent nursing care, most surgery or serious illnesses cannot be handled. Singapore is the nearest place giving first-class specialized care.

Maléhas no piped public water supply or sewage network. Ensuring an adequate water supply is a continuing and growing problem for the government. Sweet water is obtained from household wells and rain catchment; the well water is for general use and the rain catchment is for drinking. Houses rented to foreigners have individual compound septic tanks.

As in other tropical countries, the main health problems of the population are infectious diseases. Malaria, tuberculosis, filariasis, and leprosy are found; gastroenteritis, ear infections, measles, and skin diseases are common. It is necessary to boil and filter drinking water, and wise to avoid eating raw vegetables and unpeeled fruits. The incidence of mosquito-borne diseases is high.

Cholera and yellow fever vaccinations are required of arrivals from affected areas. Immunization against tetanus, typhoid, and poliomyelitis is recommended.


Passage, Customs & Duties

A valid passport, along with an onward or return ticket and sufficient funds, is required for entry. A no-cost visit visa valid for 30 days is issued upon arrival. If a traveler stays in a resort or hotel, the Department of Immigration and Emigration routinely approves requests for extensions of stays up to 90 days with evidence of sufficient funds. Anyone staying over 60 days without proper authorization faces heavy fines and deportation. All travelers (except diplomats and certain exempted travelers) departing the Republic of the Maldives must pay an airport departure tax.

Arrival by Private Boat: Travelers arriving by private yacht or boat are granted no-cost visas, usually valid until the expected date of departure. Vessels anchoring in atolls other than Male must have prior clearance from the Ministry of Defense and National Security. The clearances can be obtained through local shipping agents in Male. Maldivian customs, police and/or representatives of Maldivian Immigration will meet all vessels, regardless of where they anchor. Vessels arriving with a dog on board will be permitted anchorage, but the dog will not be allowed off the vessel. Any firearms or ammunition on board will be held for bond until the vessel's departure.

Specific inquiries should be addressed to the Maldives High Commission in Sri Lanka at No. 23, Kaviratne Place, Colombo 6, telephone (94) (1) 586-762/500-943, or the Maldives Mission to the U.N. in New York, telephone (212) 599-6195.

Maldivian customs authorities prohibit the importation of non-Islamic religious materials, including religious statues. Personal Bibles are permitted. The importation of pork and pork by-products is restricted. Dogs are not permitted, but visitors may bring their cats. (Many hotels and resorts do not allow pets; travelers should confirm a particular hotel's policy prior to arrival.) Items such as alcohol and religious items will be kept and held for bond until the traveler departs. Pornographic materials are banned, and they will be destroyed upon arrival in the country. A complete summary of custom regulations is available at

There is no U.S. Embassy in Republic of Maldives, but the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka is also accredited to the Maldives. The former U.S. Consular Agency in Male closed on August 9, 1995. Americans living in or visiting the Maldives are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the Republic of Maldives. The U.S. Embassy is located at 210 Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka. The Embassy's telephone number during normal business hours Monday through Friday is (94) (1) 448-007. The Embassy's after-hours and emergency telephone number is (94)(1) 448-601. The Consular Section fax number is (94)(1) 436-943. The Internet address is The e-mail address for the Consular Section is

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The monetary unit used in the Maldives is the rufiyaa, which is equal to 100 laaris.

The Maldives operates on both the metric and imperial systems of weights and measures.

The time in the Maldives is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus five hours.

Special Circumstances

Public observance of any religion other than Islam is prohibited. All Maldivian citizens living in the Republic of Maldives are Moslem, and places of worship for adherents of other religions do not exist. Religious gatherings such as Bible study groups are prohibited; however, a family unit of foreigners may practice its religion, including Bible readings, privately within its residence. It is against the law to invite or encourage Maldivian citizens to attend these gatherings. Offenders may face jail sentences, expulsion and/or fines.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Jan. 7 National Day

July 26 & 27 Independence Day

Aug. 12 Huravee Day

Nov. 3 Victory Day

Nov. 11 & 12 Republic Day

Dec. 10 Fisheries Day


Id al-Fitr*

Id al-Adha*

Hijra New Year*

Mawlid an Nabi*



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country: Bell, H.C.P. The Maldive Islands:

An Account of the Physical Features, Climate, History, Inhabitants, Production and Trade. Colombo: Government Printer, 1883.

Gray, A., ed. The Voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas and Brazil. New York: B. Franklin, 1964.

Heyerdahl, Thor. The Maldive Mystery. Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler, 1986.

Maldives Ministry of External Affairs. The Maldive Islands. Colombo: Gunasena, 1952.

Maloney, C. People of the Maldive Islands. Bombay: Orient Long-man, 1980.

Maniku, Hassan Ahmed. Changes in the Topography of the Maldives. Maldives: Forum of Writers on the Environment, 1990.

. The Maldives: A Profile. Malé: Department of Information and Broadcasting, 1977.

Reynolds, C.H.B. The Maldive Islands. London: Royal Central Asian Society, 1974.

. Linguistic Strands in the Maldives. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1978.

Smallwood, C. A Visit to the Maldive Islands. London: Royal Central Asian Society, 1961.

Webb, Paul. Maldives: People and Environment. Malé: Department of Information and Broadcasting, 1989.

Young, I.A., and W. Christopher. Memoir on the Inhabitants of the Maldive Islands. Bombay: Bombay Geographical Society, 1844.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Maldives
Region: East & South Asia
Population: 301,475
Language(s): Maldivian Dhivehi, English
Literacy Rate: 93.2%

History & Background

The Republic of Maldives, or Dhivehi Jumhuriya, is situated in an archipelago of approximately 1,190 low-lying coral islands in the Indian Ocean about 300 miles southwest of India. The islands cluster into 24 natural atolls, grouped for administrative purposes into 19 atolls. The entire land-mass of the nation covers about 115 square miles, spanning an area of 500 miles north to south, and 80 miles east to west. The 197 inhabited islands afford sandy beaches, lagoons, and lush tropical vegetation, with an abundance of coconut palms and breadfruit trees as well as limited arable land. The climate is hot and humid, averaging 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and most of the sixty inches of annual rainfall comes between May and November. Male, the capital island, is in the central part of the archipelago, approximately 400 miles southwest of Sri Lanka. Maldives is one of the world's most economically disadvantaged and environmentally endangered countries. Its monetary unit is called a Maldivian Rufiya. Its economy relies on a fast growing tourism sector, alongside the more traditional activities of fishing and fishing-related industry, boat building and repair, handicrafts including coir products, fish products, lace, and lacquer work. The geographical characteristics of this island nation require the dispersion of educational facilities across inhabited atolls and islands and the use of boats for transportation between them.

The nearly 300,000 people in the Maldives have heterogeneous cultural roots based in their Indian, Sri Lankan, Arab, and African origins. The history of Maldivian settlement dates back to the fourth or fifth century B.C. when Southern Indian and Sri Lankan Buddhists first arrived there. In the twelfth century, with new migration from Malaya, Madagascar, Indonesia and China, Islam came to the Maldives and has been the official state religion since then. Between the sixteenth century and the present day, governance in the Maldives has gone through various Islamic and European phases. The seafaring Portuguese took control of the islands in 1558 till their ouster in 1573. The Dutch held the island Sultanate as a protectorate in the seventeenth century. The British took over this position from the Dutch in the nineteenth century (in 1887) following their takeover of Sri Lanka. In 1932 the first democratic constitution was proclaimed while the Sultanate remained. In 1953 a Republic was proclaimed which later reverted to a Sultanate in 1954. Eventually in 1965 full independence was gained from the British. Thereafter in 1968, a new Republic was inaugurated, the Sultanate was abolished, and the Maldives took membership in the United Nations. Later, in 1982 it became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. March 29, 1976, the day the last British troops left the Maldives, is celebrated as Maldives Independence Day. In 1988, an internal coup attempt aided by Tamil mercenaries was thwarted with the help of the Indian Armed forces. Today in this multicultural Republic, Dhivehi is the official language although Arabic, Hindi, and English are also spoken. Traditional education provided in Dhivehi and based on the teachings of the Quran as well as modern education provided in English guided by international curricular standards are both offered.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The Constitution of the Maldives, instituted in 1968, designates the President as Head of State elected to a five-year term by universal suffrage afforded to citizens aged 21 and above. A unicameral Citizens' Council or Majlis, also elected to a five-year term is comprised of 48 members, two of whom are from the capital Male, two from each of the nineteen atolls and eight appointed by the President. The Majlis nominates the presidential candidate and is the body to which the President's cabinet is accountable. The President appoints all judges who administer justice according to the tenets of Islamic Law. Women are not allowed under the current constitution to hold the apex political office, but all other political, administrative and other posts are open to them. The Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was elected to his fifth five-year term in 1998 with more than 80 percent of the vote in the national referendum. The government has placed priority on eradicating illiteracy, universalizing primary education, and expanding access to secondary education as well as improving the quality and career-based applicability of education.

Educational SystemOverview

Maldivian society is marked by a high growth rate (2.8 percent) and a declining mortality rate resulting in a youthful population with 46.5 percent of the people being under the age of 15. This creates a heavy dependency ratio of the young on the working, causing particular economic challenges for the nation in the provision of education. Double and in some cases triple shift schooling, maintaining large student-teacher ratios, hiring part-time staff, administering schools in clusters, inviting private sector partnerships and parent/community contributions (where possible) are some of the measures that are being used to deal with the situation.

In Maldives, education has had a long history starting with the traditional, home-based teaching of Dhivehi, the Arabic script, and the Holy Quran in home-based centers known as the edhuruge or kiyavaage. Since the early part of the twentieth century, government schools for boys and later for girls were created in Male and by mid-century in each inhabited atoll. These schools, called maktabs maintained the traditional curriculum along with mathematics. In the 1960s the introduction of English medium schools by the government had the effect of relegating traditional education to a second-class status. Since 1978, the government has pursued a unified education policy by establishing two government schools, Atoll Education Centers and an Atoll School in each atoll and a policy of equitable distribution of facilities and funds to them. These schools are also unified by a common curriculum for grades 1 to 7, in keeping with the national priority of providing universal basic education (defined as grades 1 to 7). The curriculum covers Dhivehi, mathematics, environmental studies, Islam, English, fine arts, physical education, handwriting, and study of the Quran. The school year runs from February through December and the net enrollment ratio in basic education is reported to be 95 percent. Literacy figures are reported to be over 98 percent and gender parity for basic education at 49 percent for females and 51 percent for males.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Preschool education is provided in a two-year cycle in Male and is gradually becoming available in the other atolls as well, reaching more than half of all preschool aged children. Primary prevention initiatives such as "First Steps," a UNICEF funded program, was being launched in 2001 to increase public awareness of early childhood development and early intervention and to promote knowledge-based child-rearing practices from the early years. Primary education consists of five years of education from grades 1 to 5 provided at the Atoll Schools and Atoll Education Centers.

Secondary Education

Middle school consists of two years of schooling (grades 6 and 7), and proceeds through three years of lower secondary (grades 8 to 10) and two years of upper secondary education (grades 11 and 12). Access to middle school for children in more remote areas continues to need attention. Lower secondary education, once available only in Male, is being extended through the expansion of existing schools and the creation of two regional secondary schools, one in the north and one in the south. Upper secondary education is limited to the Science Education Center and the Institute of Islamic Studies. At the tenth grade students sit for the O levels Examination (GCE, London) and at the twelfth grade they sit for the A level examination (GCE, London).

Higher Education

In 1998 the first and only college in Maldives was established. It is called the Maldives College of Higher Education (MCHE) and it offers 28 certificate and seven diploma programs. The subject areas covered include teacher education, health sciences, hotel management, Shariah and Law, management and education, vocational training, and technical education, among others. MCHE has entered into collaborations with Indira Gandhi National Open University in India and Open University in Sri Lanka to offer distance learning programs as well.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Government schools cover 51 percent of all available schools in the Maldives whereas increasing efforts at partnership result in the community (40 percent) and the private sector (9 percent) carrying the rest. Education has been a steadily rising cost to the public and is well over 15 percent of the total budgetary expenditure. Limited resources have restricted large-scale investment in educational technologies that would allow the use of the Internet and the development of distance-learning on a large scale. At the same time discussion on curriculum reform at the secondary school level to provide students with computer literacy and the possibility of technologically oriented careers is ongoing.

Nonformal Education

In the nonformal sector the government offers a Condensed Education Program called "Second Chance" to those youth and adults who have not had the opportunity to complete primary and secondary education. Short courses in areas such as early childhood care and development and languages are also provided.

Teaching Profession

The need for competent teachers who can provide relevant education besides the need for trained teachers in general continues to be acute as evidenced by the fact that in 1999, only 63 percent of primary school teachers were formally trained. Furthermore, trained local teachers are particularly needed to reduce the costs of hiring expatriate teachers and paying for teacher training abroad. In 2001 there were approximately 1,814 female and 1,086 male teachers serving the nation.


Education is a priority in the Maldives because it is seen as vital to the nation's participation in the international forum in this age of globalization. A key issue in educational planning and development in the Maldives is achieving a balance between the preservation of indigenous knowledge and local roots and scientific, technological knowledge and global perspective.


Asian Development Bank. "Social sector Profile: Maldives, Social development Issues for the Twenty-first Century." Asian Development Bank, 2000.

Gayoom, Maumoon Abdul. The Maldives: A Nation in Peril. Ministry of Planning Human Resources and Environment, 1998.

Ministry of Education. "Maldives. Education for a global era: challenges to equity, opportunities for diversity." Country paper for the 14th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers, 2000.

Robinson,Francis(Ed.). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India, Pakistan,Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives. Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Leena Banerjee

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Official name: Republic of Maldives

Area: 300 square kilometers (116 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Unnamed location on Wilingili Island in the Addu Atoll (2.4 meters/7.9 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Eastern, Northern, and Southern

Time zone: 5 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 823 kilometers (510 miles) from north to south; 133 kilometers (82 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 644 kilometers (400 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


The reh2blic of Maldives is located on the equator, south of India. It is the smallest country in Asia, and is about one-and-a-half times the size of Washington, D.C. Maldives has nineteen atolhu, or administrative divisions.


Maldives has no territories or dependencies.


Maldives's climate is equatorialusually hot and humid, with an average temperature of about 27°C (81°F). During the northeast monsoon season from November to March, the weather is mild and comfortable; the weather during the southwest monsoon season from June to August, on the other hand, is extremely rainy and violent. In the south, annual rainfall averages approximately 380 centimeters (150 inches), and in the north it averages 250 centimeters (100 inches).


Maldives consists of an archipelago of almost twelve hundred coral islands and sandy banks in the Indian Ocean. The level and low-lying islands are gradually washing away into the ocean; others are still forming, and these are constantly growing in size. Most islands have freshwater lagoons, and all have coastal reefs. The largest atoll group is the Malé Atoll, where the capital city, Malé is located.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Maldives is located in the Indian Ocean, about 645 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Sri Lanka. A protective, fringing coral reef surrounds each individual island. Small patch reefs and faroes (unusual ring-shaped reefs) are located in Malé Atoll's lagoon.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Four ocean channels cross through the archipelago from east to west. These are the Kardiva Channel, Veimandu Channel, One and a Half Degree Channel, and Equatorial Channel.

Islands and Archipelagos

Maldives is an archipelago made up of several atoll groups. From north to south, these groups are: Ihavandiffulu Atoll; Tiladummati Atoll; Miladummadulu Atoll; North Malosmadulu and South Malosmadulu Atolls; and Fadiffolu Atoll. Next, the Kardiva Channel separates these atolls from the following groups: Malé Atoll, South Malé Atoll, Ari Atoll, Felidu Atoll, Nilandu Atoll, Mulaku Atoll, and Kolumadulu Atoll. Even farther south are the Veimandu Channel and Haddummati Atoll; the One and a Half Degree Channel and the Suvadiva Atoll; and finally, the Equatorial Channel and the most southerly atoll, Addu Atoll.

All the islands of Maldives are small. The island of Malé, location of the capital city of the same name, is the most densely populated and developed. It is only 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long and just over one kilometer (0.6 miles) wide. Sea walls surrounded the island on all sides.

To the far south in Maldives lies Addu Atoll, where the town of Seenu is located.

Coastal Features

White coral sand covers Maldives's flat beaches. Unlike other beaches in the world, there is no trace of yellow or black coloring in the sand.


The islands of Maldives are too small to support inland lakes of any significant size.


The islands of Maldives are too small to support rivers of any significant size.


There are no significant deserts on Maldives.


Dense scrub covers the islands. The central islands are less fertile than the northern and southern groups, and the western islands are less fertile than the eastern ones.

There are no thick jungles on the islands because of the poor soil, but small areas of rainforest exist on the larger islands that experience more precipitation. Coconut, plantain, banyan, and mango trees thrive in the tropical climate, along with flowers and shrubs.

The Maldives islands are almost completely flat and have no significant hills or valleys.


Maldives's coral islands are almost completely flat.


Maldives has no significant canyons or caves.


Maldives does not have any notable plateaus.


There are no significant man-made features affecting the geography of Maldives.



Balla, Mark, and Robert Willox. Maldives & Islands of the East Indian Ocean. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: Lonely Planet, 1993.

Heyerdahl, Thor. The Maldives Mystery. Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler, 1986.

NgCheong-Lum, Roseline. Maldives. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2001.

Web Sites

Maldive Holidays. Maldives the Last Paradise. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Visit Maldives. (accessed April 24, 2003).

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Maldives (măl´dēvz, –dīvz), Divehi Divehi, officially Republic of Maldives, republic (2005 est. pop. 349,000), 115 sq mi (298 sq km), off the coast of S Asia in the N Indian Ocean. Malé is the capital and the largest island.

Land and People

The Maldives stretch c.500 mi (800 km) from north to south in the N Indian Ocean, SW of Sri Lanka. They consist of about 25 atolls made up of some 1,200 coral islands that are the exposed tops of a submarine ridge. They have a tropical monsoon climate modified by their marine location. The islands, which are mostly very low lying, are covered with tropical vegetation, particularly coconut palms. About 200 of the islands are inhabited, and some have freshwater lagoons. Maldivians are of mixed Dravidian, Sinhalese, Arab, and African stock, and nearly all are Sunni Muslims. The predominant language is Divehi, a Sinhala dialect.


Tourism and fishing are the chief sources of income. Coconuts and coconut products (especially copra) are also important. Corn, sweet potatoes, and tropical fruit are raised for local consumption, but most staple foods must be imported. Industry is limited, consisting primarily of fish and coconut processing, shipping, boat building, garment and handicraft production, and coral and sand mining. In recent years the government has encouraged more foreign investment. Fish is the largest export, while petroleum products, ships, foodstuffs, clothing, and capital goods are the main imports. Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Great Britain, and the United Arab Emirates are the major trading partners.


The Maldives are governed under the constitution of 2008. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is popularly elected to a five-year term. The unicameral legislature consists of the People's Council or Majlis; its 85 members are directly elected from single member constituencies. Legislators serve five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 19 atolls and the capital city.


The Maldives were originally settled by peoples who came from S Asia. Islam was brought to the islands in the 12th cent. Starting in the 16th cent., with the coming of the Portuguese, the Maldives were intermittently under European influence. In 1887 they became a British protectorate and military base but retained internal self-government. The Maldives obtained complete independence as a sultanate in 1965, but in 1968 the ad-Din dynasty, which had ruled the islands since the 14th cent., was ended and a republic was declared.

Following the British withdrawal from their base on the southernmost island of Gan in 1976, first the Soviet Union, then India and Sri Lanka courted Maldivian favor. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was first elected president in 1978 and retained power for three decades, ruled in an authoritarian manner. Indian troops landed in the Maldives in 1988 to foil one of several coup attempts. In the late 1980s the Maldives joined with a number of coral atoll nations to raise international awareness of the consequences of global warming, and in 1989 hosted an international conference to discuss this issue.

Beginning in 2003 the country experienced occasional antigovernment demonstrations that called for political reforms. The Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami caused severe damage to many of the country's low-lying islands, and hurt the important fishing and tourist industries. In the Jan., 2005, nonpartisan elections for the Majlis, candidates supported by the banned opposition party won 18 of the elected seats. President Gayoom subsequently called for the establishment of a multiparty democracy by the end of the year, and the Majlis approved the changes in June, but opposition party leader Mohamed Nasheed was arrested at a prodemocracy rally later in the year and charged with treason and terrorism. Opposition activists continued to face repressive government measures in 2006.

Following a bombing in Sept., 2007, that was linked to Islamic militants, the president issued a wide-ranging decree designed to promote moderate Islam and suppress Islamic extremism. In Aug., 2008, a new constitution was adopted that allowed for direct election of the president, multiparty elections, and other democratic reforms; two months later, Mohamed Nasheed was elected president, defeating Gayoom after a runoff. The May, 2009, Majlis elections were won by the opposition, however, and in mid-2010 increasing tensions between the government and Majlis, especially the refusal of the Majlis to confirm supreme court appointments, led the cabinet to resign en masse in protest. In Aug., 2010, the court members were confirmed, but relations between the government and Majlis remained difficult.

During 2011 poor economic conditions led to protests against the government. After the military arrested the top criminal court judge in Jan., 2012, several weeks of demonstrations by Gayoom supporters and others culminated in a police mutiny and the forced resignation of Nasheed (February). He was succeeded as president by Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Nasheed was later (July) charged with illegally ordering the arrest of the judge. In Aug., 2012, a report by a Commonwealth-backed Maldives commission called the succession constitutional; the report led to protests in the Maldives.

Nasheed placed first in the Sept., 2013, presidential election, but he failed to win a majority, forcing a runoff with Adbulla Yameen, Gayoom's half-brother. The vote, however, was annulled by the supreme court after the third-place candidate, businessman Qasim Ibrahim, alleged vote fraud. A new election in November led to similar results, and Yameen subsequently won the runoff. In the Mar., 2014, legislative elections, the president's party won a plurality; Nasheed's party placed second. Prior to the vote, the supreme court had convicted the election commission of contempt of court and dismissed the chairman of the commission, who had criticized the court's interference in the 2013 presidential election. In 2015 Nasheed convicted of terrorism in connection with the 2012 arrest of the top criminal court judge and imprisoned.

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Maldives
Region (Map name): East & South Asia
Population: 301,475
Language(s): Maldivian Dhivehi, English
Literacy rate: 93.2%

The Maldives is a nation of coral atolls scattered off the southwest coast of India in the Indian Ocean. Originally a sultanate, Maldivians fought for more than a century to stave off Western colonization, but eventually agreed to become a British protectorate in exchange for relative independence. The country declared independence in 1965 and is now a republic. Its estimated population is 301,475, and the literacy rate is approximately 93 percent. The official language is Dhivehi, a dialect of Sinhala that derives its script from Arabic. English also is widely spoken, especially in business and government. The president acts as both head of state and government, presiding over the 50-seat, unicameral People's Council. Tourism is by far the largest industry in the Maldives more than 90 percent of the government's tax revenues come from import duties and taxes on tourism. Fishing and boat building also contribute to the economy.

Maldivians do not have freedom of press or expression. Maldives' laws prohibit all speech and action that could incite citizens against the government or that could be construed as libelous, a national security threat, or critical of Islam. Authorities can shut down newspapers and sanction editors, leading most journalists to practice self-censorship. The situation is improving, however, and the media has begun to criticize specific government policies, though not the political system as a whole.

Haveeru is the leading daily newspaper. It began publishing in January 1979 and prints in Divehia and English, and is available online. Other dailies include Aafathis and the Miadhu News; both print in Divehia with a much smaller sections in English, and both appear online. The Monday Times is a popular, magazine-style newspaper that prints weekly in English and appears online. The Maldives News also prints in English, but appears bi-weekly. Dheenuge Magu, a Divehi-language religious publication, appears weekly.

There is one state-run radio station, and one television station, also state-run. There are 35,000 radios, 10,000 televisions, and one Internet service provider.


"About Haveeru." In Haveeru. 2002. Available from

"About us." In Aafathis. 2002. Available from

"Maldives." Central Intelligence Agency. World Fact Book 2001, 2002. Available from

"Maldives." Freedom House, 2001. Available from

Jenny B. Davis

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Maldives Republic in the Indian Ocean, c.640km (400mi) sw of Sri Lanka, consisting of c.1200 low-lying coral islands grouped into 26 atolls; the largest island and capital is Male. The islands (200 inhabited) are prone to flooding. The climate is tropical, and the monsoon season lasts from April to October. The chief religion is Sunni Muslim. From the 14th century, the ad-Din dynasty ruled the Maldives. In 1518, the Portuguese claimed the islands. From 1665 to 1886, the Maldives were a dependency of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). In 1887, they became a British protectorate. In 1965, they achieved independence as a sultanate. In 1968, the Sultan was deposed and a republic declared. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has served as president since 1978. In 1982, Maldives joined the Commonwealth. In 1988, Indian troops helped suppress an attempted coup. Coconuts and copra are the primary crops. Fishing is the major industry, and the leading export-earner is the bonito (Maldives tuna). Since 1972 the growth in tourism boosted foreign reserves, but the Maldives remain one of the world's poorest countries (2000 GDP per capita, US$2000). Area: 298sq km (115sq mi). Pop. (2000) 283,000.;

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Culture Name



Identification. The Maldives is one of the world's poorest developing countries. It is threatened by global warming because of its very low elevation. The main natural resources are fisheries and a marine environment conducive to tourism. The other constraints it faces are small and widely dispersed island communities, limited skilled human resources, and rapid population growth.

Location and Geography. The Republic of Maldives is an archipelago consisting of twenty-six coral atolls, in the northern Indian Ocean. The chain of islands extends 510 miles (820 kilometers), but occupies an area of just 116 square miles (300 square kilometers), roughly 1.5 times the size of Washington D.C. The closest neighbors are India and Sri Lanka. The capital is Malé.

The twenty-six coral atolls contain 1,190 very small islands of which 198 are inhabited. Most of the islands are close to the atoll enclosure reef, and some are still in the process of forming. The longest is Gan in Adu atoll. Because the islands are coral-based, they are flat and low-lying. As a result, the water table is high. However, the islands are protected from the elements by the reef and rarely have major storms. In the older islands a larger layer of topsoil has formed, and these islands are covered with coconut trees, breadfruit, and dense shrubs. Agricultural potential is limited by the high alkalinity of the soil and its poor water retention. However, people grow vegetables, fruits, and yams.

The climate is warm and tropical. Seasonal changes are determined by the two yearly monsoons. The season of the northeast monsoon is characterized by dry, mild winds, and generally extends from December to April. The southwest monsoon, although irregular, extends from May until August and brings heavy rains and wind. The northern atolls are drier, while the southern atolls are wetter. The humidity is fairly high throughout the year.

Demography. In 1996, the population was 256,157, compared with 195,000 in 1986; the estimated population for the year 2000 is 289,117. The annual rate of population growth is almost 3 percent. Almost most half the population is under fifteen years of age, and about 3 percent is sixty five years and older. About 25 percent of the population reside in Malé. The growth rate in Malé atoll has been high as a result of employment opportunities offered by growth in the service sector. Even though income in Malé is significantly higher than that in the atolls, the resulting rural-urban migration has led to increasing unemployment. Emigration from the republic is rare except for educational purposes or to work as a crew member on Maldivian ships.

Linguistic Affiliation. Dhivehi, which is spoken in all parts of the country, is not spoken in any other part of the world. It is considered an Indo-European language related to Singhala, the language spoken in Sri Lanka. The alphabets and writing system are similar to Arabic. English is the second language and is widely used in commerce and in many government schools.

Symbolism. The national flag is red with a large green rectangle in the center bearing a vertical white crescent on the hoist side. The country is associated with the "maldive fish" (boiled sun-dried tuna).

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The early settlers probably came before 500 b.c.e., from Sri Lanka and southern India. In the twelfth century, sailors from East Africa and Arab countries arrived. Originally, Maldivians were Buddhists, but in the twelfth century Islam was proclaimed the national religion. The Maldives has always been an independent political entity except when it was under Portuguese control from 1558 to 1573. In 1887, the Maldives agreed to become a protectorate of the British government, allowing the British to take responsibility for it defense and foreign relations while maintaining for itself internal control. The first constitution was ratified by the Sultan in 1932, and the sultanate became an elected rather than hereditary position.

National Identity. The Maldives regained full sovereignty in 1965 and joined the United Nations that year. In 1968, the sultanate was abolished and the republic was declared. On 11 November 1968, the Republic of Maldives was created with an elected president. The country joined the British Commonwealth in 1982.

Ethnic Relations. The population consists of a mix of people who trace their descent from Sri Lanka, India, Arab countries, and Africa. Because of religious and linguistic homogeneity, there is stability and unity.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Malé is the center of political and economic life. It has a maze of narrow streets with over twenty mosques and markets. Poor people live in houses built from thatched palm with tin roofs, and the more prosperous have houses made of crushed coral with tile roofs. The main attractions are the National Museum, which displays items from Arab, Sri Lankan, and Dravidian cultures; Sultan Park; the Islamic Centre; and the gold-painted Grand Friday mosque. The oldest mosque, Hukuru Miski, is known for its intricate stone carvings.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Rice and fish are the staple foods. Fish is the most important source of protein in the average diet. Very few vegetables are eaten. Betel leaf with arecanut, cloves, and lime, known as foh, is chewed after meals. Old people smoke guduguda, an elongated pipe that goes through a trough of water. Most food served in tourist resorts is imported.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Meat other than pork is eaten only on special occasions. Alcohol is not permitted except in tourist resorts. The local brew, raa, is a sweet toddy made from the crown of the coconut palm.

Basic Economy. All the fish that is consumed locally is from the domestic economy. Basic food commodities such as rice, sugar, and flour are imported. There are over seventy resort islands near the capital.

Land and Tenure and Property. Land belongs to the state and is given free to families in the island of their origin to build houses. The only exception is that public servants lease land where they work. In other islands, where tourist resorts, a cannery, the airport, and other small industries are located, employees are provided with temporary accommodations.

Commercial Activities. Because of the limited land mass, the main prospect for economic development is the country's marine resources. Fisheries, tourism, trade, and transport (shipping) constitute the principal economic base.

Major Industries. Fisheries and international tourism are the main industries. The economy has changed from a reliance on fisheries to a service-sector-based economy driven by international tourism. The main primary sector is fishing. The secondary sector consists of construction and manufacturing. In the tertiary sector, tourism, government administration, and transport are the dominant industries. Manufacturing output consists primarily of processed fish; apparel and clothing; cottage industries such as woven mats, coir rope, and handicrafts; and boat building industries.

Trade. In addition to food, the country imports manufactured goods such as petroleum products and various consumer goods. In 1997, these products were imported primarily from Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom. About 80 percent of exports consist of frozen, dried, and salted skipjack tuna; canned fish; dried shark fins; and fish meal. A small manufacturing export sector exports apparel and clothing accessories. In 1997, the leading destinations for exports were the United Kingdom, the United States, Sri Lanka, Japan, and Singapore.

Division of Labor. There were approximately sixty-four thousand members of the Maldives workforce in 1999, one-third of whom were foreign workers. About 20 percent of the workforce in 1999 worked in the fishing industry; 15 percent in industry; 10 percent in tourism, and 55 percent in other sectors. The minimum working age is fourteen (sixteen for government work).

Social Stratification

Class and Castes. A disproportionate share of government expenditures directly benefits Malé and ensures its residents a standard of living that is substantially higher than that in the atolls. Status is derived primarily from wealth rather than family, although family ties and connections are important in determining the availability of opportunities. One's position with the government also confers status, while education is less important.

Political Life

Government. The legislative assembly known as the Majlis is composed of fifty members: two from Malé, two from each of the twenty administrative atolls, and eight appointed by the president. The speaker of the Majlis is not a member of that body and is appointed by the president. Even though all the members have the right to attend sessions and speak at the Majlis, only elected members can vote. The right to vote is universal for those age twenty one years and over. The head of the government is the president who is nominated in a secret ballot by the Majlis, and then elected by a majority vote at a national referendum for a five-year term. The president appoints the ministers and all judges to the courts. The high court consists of a chief justice and four judges.

The executive branch is divided into the president's office, the attorney general's office, and seventeen ministries and associated entities that implement government programs. The ministries of government, the attorney general's office, and the high court all function under the president's office. The current president is also the governor of the central bank.

Leadership and Political Control. The government appoints an atoll chief who exercises the government power. Each island has an island chief appointed by the government who is the administrative head of the island. The atoll offices and the island offices come under the Ministry of Atoll Administration, which is responsible to the president.

Social Problems and Control. Historically, the society has been closely knit and disciplined as a result of unity of religion (Sunni Muslim) and language. Although there was civil unrest in the past, it was mostly related to power struggles within the government, and the stormy relationship between Maldives and the British government prior to the termination of Britain's military presence in the islands in 1976.

Military Activity. The country maintains only one security unit, the National Security Service. This organization has about 1,800 personnel who perform army, police, and maritime duties. Because of the geographic spread of the islands, it is impossible to have a military presence on every island and for the coast guards to protect the area. Since independence, the country has not faced any external threats.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The government has focused its spending on social services and preventive health services. There is no organized social welfare system. Assistance is traditionally provided through the extended family. Employees are entitled to medical and maternity leave.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Over 25 percent of women are employed, primarily by the government. The government sector employed 15,862 people in 1996, approximately 64 percent males and 36 percent females. Women in the atolls generally are employed only in domestic or selected duties within the family, such as tending crops and producing general handicraft items such as coir rope and woven coconut palm leaves for domestic use. Women also collect cowrie shells from the shores.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Women make a significant contribution to social, political and economic affairs. The economic sectors in which women are employed are education, health and welfare, services, tourism, transport, and communication.

Marriage, Family and Kinship

Marriage. The legal age for marriage is eighteen, although half of the women marry by age fifteen. Marriages are not arranged. In accordance with Islamic law, a man can have four wives at any time if he can support them financially, but polygamy is uncommon. Sex before marriage is a punishable offense. Marriages can take place only between Muslims. Maldives has one of the highest divorce rates in the world; according to a 1977 census, nearly half of the women over the age of thirty had been married four times or more.

Domestic Unit. Unlike households in many other Muslim countries, households in Maldives typically do not include extended family members. Nuclear families consisting of a married couple and their children comprise roughly 80 percent of the households, with the father typically recognized as the head of the family. Unmarried persons generally live with their families rather than by themselves.

Inheritance. Both men and women may inherit property.

Kin Groups. The island communities outside of Malé are generally close-knit, self-contained groups in which most everyone is related through generations of intermarriage.


Child Rearing and Education. Primary level education is for five years and secondary education is in two stages: five years at the lower level and two years at the higher level. Education is not compulsory. There are three streams of Maldivian education: traditional religious schools (makhtabs), which teach the Koran (Qur'an), basic arithmetic, and the ability to read and write Divehi; modern Divehi-language primary schools; and modern English-language schools. Primary and secondary schooling is based on the British educational system.

In 1998 there were 48,895 students enrolled in 228 primary schools, with 1,992 teachers. In the same year, secondary schools had a total of 36,905 students.

Higher Education. Maldivians must go abroad for higher education. Currently the Science Education Centre in Malé provides pre-university courses, and the Centre may evolve into a university.


Maldivians are brought up to respect elders and those who are educated while conforming to an Islamic code of conduct. Strong loyalties tie the individual to the extended family.


Religious Beliefs. Islam is the only national religion; no other religions are permitted. All Maldivians belong to the Sunni sect. Only Muslims may become citizens, marry, or own property in Maldives, and daily life is regulated according to the tenets of Islam. The widespread belief in jinns, or evil spirits, has resulted in a blending of Islam with traditional island beliefs into a magico-religious system known as fandita.

Religious Practitioners. The political, judicial, and religious systems in Maldives are so closely intertwined that the political leaders and judges are also the country's religious leaders. The president is considered the primary religious leader, and judges, known as gazis, are responsible for interpreting Islamic law in the courts.

Rituals and Holy Places. Most holidays are based on the Islamic lunar calendar. In addition to the Golden Grand Friday mosque, twenty other mosques are scattered around Malé. Mosques are also found in each of the islands. In Malé, a graveyard holds the tomb of Abu Al Barakat, a North African Arab who brought the Koran to the Maldives in the twelfth century. He later became the first sultan. Also located in this graveyard are tombstones of all the former sultans.

Death and the Afterlife. In accordance with the Islamic faith, the people of Maldives believe that people go to heaven or hell after death, depending on how faithfully they adhered to the five tenets of Islam while still alive. Believers are considered worthy to enter heaven if they were faithful to repeat the creed "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah"; fast during the month of Ramadan; pray five times every day; give alms to the poor; and, if possible, make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca sometime during their lifetime.

Medicine and Health Care

Improved health services have decreased the infant mortality rate and the general death rate. Life expectancy increased to seventy-one years, from sixty-one years between 1986 and 1996. The birth rate per thousand dropped from forty-five in 1986 to twenty-six in 1996.

Secular Celebrations

Kudaeid celebrates the sighting of the new moon at the end of Ramadan, and the Prophet Mohamed's birthday is also celebrated. National Day, the day Mohammed Thakurufaan overthrew the Portuguese in 1573, occurs on first day of the third month of the lunar calender. Victory Day on 3 November celebrates the defeat of the Sri Lankan mercenaries who tried to overthrow the government. Republic Day on 11 November commemorates the foundation of the current republic.


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Rajasundram Sathuendrakumar

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Maldives. The Maldive islands lie 400 miles south-west of Sri Lanka. Their population was converted to Islam in the 12th cent., and in the 14th cent. the sultanate was secured by the ad-Din family who ruled for the next 600 years. The Portuguese briefly established a settlement 1518–28 but the islands were left as a dependency of the prevailing power in Sri Lanka. In 1887 the British government placed them under a direct protectorate. The sultanate was overthrown for a republic in 1952 but restored in 1954. From 1956 to 1986 the RAF maintained an important air base at Gan.

David Anthony Washbrook

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