The Maldives (Dhivehi: ދިވެހިރާއްޖެ Dhivehi Raajje) are an archipelago of 1,192 coral islands grouped into 26 coral atolls (200 inhabited islands, plus 80 islands with tourist resorts) in the Indian Ocean. They lie south-southwest of India and are considered part of Southern Asia.
Maldives was for the most part unknown to tourists until the early 1970s. Just 185 of the islands are home to its 300,000 inhabitants. The other islands are used entirely for economic functions, of that tourism and agriculture are dominant. Tourism accounts for 28% of the GDP. Over 90% of the state government income comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes.
Formerly a Sultanate under Dutch and British protection, the Maldives are now a republic. Long ruled over with an iron fist by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who did not hesitate to jail dissidents and was re-elected five times in more or less rigged elections, resistance to his rule culminated in violent rioting in 2003 and 2004. Under international pressure, free and fair elections were finally held in 2008, and Gayoom gracefully conceded defeat to opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, “Anni”.
Following protests that started on 1 May 2011, Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign from office on 7 February 2012. Mohammed Waheed Hassan, supported by the former dictator, was appointed president of the Maldives. There have been reports of violence and human rights violations by the security forces against protesters backing Nasheed.
The Tsunami of 26 December 2004 caused extensive damage to the Maldives – of a population of only 290,000, over a third was directly affected by the tsunami and more than 15,000 people were left homeless. The economic damage alone was over 62% of the GDP or USD470 million.
The immediate response from international donors and agencies mobilized more than USD400 million in aid after the disaster, much of which was used to help misplaced persons rebuild their homes and infrastructure damaged by the waves. As of December 24, 2010, six years after the tsunami, the number of persons living in temporary shelters had fallen from 15,000 to only 1,600 people.
Tourism, Maldives largest industry, accounts for 20% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives’ foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. Over 600,000 tourists visited the islands in 2006. Fishing is a second leading sector. The Maldivian Government began an economic reform program in 1989 initially by lifting import quotas and opening some exports to the private sector. Subsequently, it has liberalized regulations to allow more foreign investment. Agriculture and manufacturing continue to play a minor role in the economy, constrained by the limited availability of cultivable land and the shortage of domestic labour. Most staple foods must be imported. Industry, which consists mainly of garment production, boat building, and handicrafts, accounts for about 18% of GDP. Maldivian authorities worry about the impact of erosion and global warming on their low-lying country; 80% of the area is one meter or less above sea level.
Maldivians are almost entirely Sunni Muslim, and the local culture is a mixture of South Indian, Sinhalese and Arab influences. While alcohol, pork, drugs and public observance of non-Muslim religions are banned on the inhabited islands, the resort islands are allowed to exist in a bubble where almost anything goes.
The weekend in the Maldives runs from Friday to Saturday, during which banks, government offices and many shops are closed. You won’t notice this at the resorts though, except that lunch hours may be shifted for Friday prayers.
The Maldives are tropical, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures around 30°C throughout the year. However, rainfall increases considerably during the April-October southwest monsoon, particularly from June to August.
The Maldives are formed of 26 atolls, or atholhu in Dhivehi — the source of the English word. These are not single islands, but giant ringlike coral formations hundreds of kilometres wide that have fragmented into countless islands.
Atoll naming is complex, as the atolls have both lengthy traditional Dhivehi names like Maalhosmadulu Dhekunuburi, and snappy code names like Baa that refer to administrative regions and may consist of more than one geographical atoll. The code names are actually just the letters of Dhivehi alphabet, but being easier for non-Maldivians to remember and pronounce, the code names are popular in the travel industry and are hence also used here. Of the 20 administrative atoll groups, only (parts of) 10 are open to tourism, and from north to south these are