Maldives comprises of 26 natural atolls made up of about 1190 islands of which 198 are inhabited. Over 80% of the land area of these islands is less than 1 meter above mean sea level. Most economic activities are centered around the capital Male’ and there is a tendency for people to migrate to the capital for better prospects, making the 2 sq km island one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
Maldives has enjoyed a long period of robust economic growth following the rapid growth of its tourism and fisheries sectors. In its advancement as a middle-income country, Maldives has made significant progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and is recognized as an MDG Plus country in South Asia.
While the country has made significant strides in democracy, the journey has not been without obstacles. The reform movement has dealt with tensions, and at times ,distrust among people. The past few years have seen remarkable changes in the socioeconomic and political landscape. Multi-party democracy was introduced for the first time in 2005 and a new Constitution embodying democratic principles was ratified in 2008, followed by the country’s first free elections. The democratic reform process has ensured separation of powers which has seen the country elect a new President, Parliament, an independent judiciary and other related independent institutions. But many challenges remain.
Maldives’ fragile democracy must still be nurtured. It has to confront and withstand rising food prices, fuel shortages, repercussions from the global financial crisis, and it has to combat climate change. It will also have to cope with changes that come with becoming a Middle Income Country. These obstacles present a challenge in formulating national policies, strategies, the development of effective legislation, as required in the new Constitution.
Maldives has made remarkable progress towards achieving the MDGs, making it a front-runner in South Asia. It has achieved five of the eight MDGs by 2010, with substantial progress in the areas of poverty, education and health. However, progress has been relatively slower in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment (MDG3), ensuring environmental sustainability (MDG7) and developing a global partnership for development (MDG8).
Maldives has performed remarkably well in the Human Development Index (HDI) in recent years, maintaining a consistently high ranking in South Asia.
Despite the global economic ups and downs over the last 20 years, the tsunami in 2004, and ongoing shortages, the average growth rate for real GDP between 2000 and 2009 was close to 6 percent - one of the highest in Asia. Maldives has also been extending the coverage of its social services, including education and health care, to most of its population.
Economic diversification is leading to higher incomes. Strategies such as public-private partnerships and decentralization are being pursued by the Government. This is expected to positively affect the social and economic situation of the people.
Maldives has pledged to protect and preserve the natural environment, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality. Tourism and fisheries, two key sectors of the economy, have already developed eco-friendly practices.
Gender equality and human rights have become a priority in Government policies and programmes. The democratic transition has raised expectations for better government, and new policies are emerging to restructure the socio-political and economic landscape of the country.