Centralization; rise of congestion and other setbacks

On Saturday night, the incumbent president of Maldives Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had called an all out invitation to the youths of the nation to pack their bags and migrate to the 'main land' region of the country - capital city Male'.

He promised the youngsters affordable sheltering and a healthy livelihood for them as well as their families and relatives at the city of Hulhumale', which has been dubbed 'The City of Hope.' While the attendants of the ceremony whistled and cheered the head of state's promising statement, the opposition had jeered and panned this.

Following this sensational idea, a local parliamentarian had openly criticized the government while placing his skepticism over another attempt of urging centralization in Maldives.

It is not a hidden agenda anymore that the current government aims to populate the greater Male' region with the entire populace of Maldives - if that was conceivable. But many are concerned and horrified over the several social and economical setbacks it would enhance or rather catalyze.

According various reports and statistics, the capital city of Maldives houses approximately one-third of the country's population. This is rough figures would reach around 130,000 or more given the latest census figures place the nation's population count around 390,000. But according to World Bank the country's population has already reached beyond 400,000.

The capital is already infested with roughly another 100,000 of foreigners who had graced the country in search of career opportunities and outsource placements. This would mean that Male' alone would hold about 230,000 or more while the island of Hulhumale' is estimated to reach around 30,000 while Vilimale' holds around 7,000. That would mean that the greater Male' area holds roughly 167,000 locals and another 100,000 foreigners.

For years, Male' has been heavily congested with locals and foreigners with land vehicle count hiking year by year resulting in the city becoming the world's most congested city according to several statistics.

Although Hulhumale' is, as of now detached from Male' geographically, the situation is expected to change the next year with the completion of China-Maldives Friendship Bridge. The project has not completed yet but the real estate prices in the booming city of hope has already started bumping.

While one-third of the country's population is living in the capital city area on a hefty monthly spend on rents, the citizens had started growing vary of their predicament-laden lives. Scarcity of appropriate lodging or sheltering while rents breach affordable ranges.

One might wonder why so many are flocking to the capital area and basing their livelihood in a hustling and uneasy concrete jungle.

The answer is dangerously simple.

The geographical aspect of the country is a large factor when the 26 atolls scattered in Maldives have channels of water as natural barriers. Roughly 200 islands comprise of the country's population while some of the islands do not breach a population density beyond 1,000.

Urbanization of all these inhabited islands may be possible but heavily unfeasible and therefore a preposterous wastage of state funds and foreign aids, rather focusing on some focal points - mostly on islands which, through years of conduct has emerged as de facto hubs.

Years back, during the former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's era had a policy of transitioning scattered islands into a singular mainland, or such a similarly fashioned concept. However this vision did not come to fruition as people were unwilling to abandon their childhood abodes and shift to a 'foreign' island.

The grim reality is that centralization had begun long before the debut of Gayoom's regime back in '78 - although the concept became a text-book phrase during his regime which lasted for nearly 30 years.

Under this concept, one island was developed to peak. In the case of Maldives, it was the capital Male'. From educational academies to medical institutes and paving way for the inception of corporate industries, not to mention state owned corporations popped across venues in Male'.

It is proven fact that key islands, especially capitals of other atolls were given priority in infrastructure development - but not as considerably as the capital - they still lacked the desirable facilities and services.

Regional hospitals enacted in pivotal islands proved beneficial to certain limitations while education itself was secondary compared to the institutes in Male'. Most of the islands provided primary education while secondary education or higher secondary education were myths to such islands for a long period of time, resulting in several citizens 'temporarily' migrating to the capital to pursue their needs.

This had eventually led to them settling in the capital due to the ease of access to general facilities and services and the relatively high class medical and educational facilities which were only common to Male'.

For years, the country has been introduced to a vigorous internal migration and it had not receded in time, rather hiked in previous years.

Politicians and society elites had led the public to believe that 'installing' hospitality outlets in their atolls would create job opportunities which would reduce the amount of individuals visiting the capital. However this was not helpful since most of the corporate offices attached to these resorts graced Male' while several private sector and prominent public sector entities were only exclusive to the capital.

Some academics and intellectuals argue that instead of instilling a centralization concept to Maldives, the development of five hubs could have benefited the country with regards to economy and even societal aspects.

Most notable focal points include Haa Dhaal atoll Kulhudhuffushi, Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo, Laamu Gan, Addu/Fuvahmulah and Male' region. These regions could have been given the same consideration as Male' when it came to urbanization and introduction of contemporary corporate and industrial structure.

The job market would be evenly dispersed while it would also distribute the employment of private sector at feasible ratio throughout the country.

Even education, if institutes were constructed as mentioned above, the country would not have an internal migration directed solely to one island alone - which has resulted in an 'ugly' congestion.

While this is simply a concept, a thought brought to paper it may not have been viable or feasible when other contributing factors were keyed in. However if state funds and foreign aids were utilized proportionately to at least five hubs instead of centralizing, the situation may have been drastically different.

The past cannot be altered, but the future still remains and if the government of today considers the betterment of the country then perhaps urging for a surge of populace to one land may not be the most appropriate approach for a country that has so much natural resources and possible fresh industrial concepts at its disposal, to go.