Ukulhas: an example of excellent waste management practices
As the speedboat neared the jetty of the island of Alif Alif Ukulhas, one could clearly see the excitement on the faces of Fathimath Zaeema and her colleagues from the Island of Laamu Atoll Fonadhoo.
Zaeema, a mother of three, is one of the twelve participants from Laamu Atoll Fonadhoo taking part in a three-day tour to the central atolls of Alif Alif and Alif Dhaalu as part of the knowledge exchange programmes carried under the joint-UN Low Emission Climate Resilient Development (LECReD) Programme.
“I’ve never travelled to this atoll before. But I always have wanted to,” Zaeema had reasons to be excited.
“When I first knew I was selected for the trip, it was very exciting for me,” she said. “I am an avid gardener. I saw this documentary about Ukulhas and how the islanders used natural waste to make compost for plants. Since seeing that video, I’ve been keen to learn about it and maybe do it myself back at home,”
Story of people of Ukulhas
Alif Alif Atoll Ukulhas is an island located approximately 44 miles from the capital Male’ City. The island, whose population stands around 900 people, is well known for its good practices of waste management and is now considered the ‘first systematically waste-managed’ island in the Maldives. A glory the whole community shares, a true reflection of dedication and commitment of each and every individual within the community.
“When we first started, we did not have any equipment, vehicles or let alone the financial means to establish a Waste Management Centre,” says Abdulla Firaaq, a leading figure at the time and currently the Vice President of the Island Council of Ukulhas.
But a grant from UNDP turned the table for the islanders.
“[The grant] provided us the necessary means to start the initiative. But you know, it was the commitment and dedication of the people of Ukulhas that has made this entire project a success,” Firaaq began recalling his memories.
“There was this one time, when we did not have a driver to operate the waste collection vehicle. So what we did was, one of the Island Councilors took the initiative to attend a driving school in Male’ and obtained the license. He then drove the waste collection truck around the island and collected waste from households after official working hours,” Firaaq laughed as he, and his fellow councilors, shared their experiences during the early days of the project.
Today, what started off as a small, small grants project is now a success story told not just within the atolls of the Maldives, but at international level too.
“I think the world has now accepted our work. I think they believe that, no matter how small we may be, we too can make a difference,” said Mohamed Husny, another Island Councilor of Ukulhas.
Both Husny and Firaaq wishes to see more islands adopt their techniques in managing their communal waste and to refrain from malpractices that result in both environmental and health hazards.
Issue of waste management
Solid waste management is a major environment challenge for the Maldives. Government, Local Authorities and environmental NGOs alike have been carrying out major initiatives to tackle the problem. One such initiative is the new Waste Management Regulation which now has made it mandatory for each island to have irs own waste management site that is approved by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA).
Today, the success story of Ukulhas is tempting local community leaders of other islands to reconsider their existing waste management practices. More islands are seeking to adopt the Ukulhas-model of waste management setup, and even more people from islands are travelling to Ukulhas to learn more about the system.
Zaeema and the team of fellow islanders from Laamu atoll, too, are here to learn about the good practices. Their hope is to replicate this concept back in their respective islands. But Laamu atoll will not be the first. The neighboring island of Fenfushi was the first to begin their replication efforts. Through support from a UNDP grant, Raa Atoll Ungoofaaru is also in the process of adopting the model and to that end, they have made significant progress.
“The waste dumping site in our island is a bit far away from the residential area, so women find it difficult to go there to throw the rubbish every day,” Zaeema explained.
“Currently, most households hire migrant workers to do the job for a small pay. But this isn’t monitored. So sometimes they just throw the garbage to an abandoned house or a beach instead of going long walk,” Zaeema added.
One of the key objectives of the flagship LECReD Programme, run in the islands of Laamu Atoll, is to import knowledge and experience of such good practices like Ukulhas to Laamu Atoll that will in turn help the atoll communities to adopt a more carbon friendly lifestyles.
Zaeema, too, believes that lessons which they had learnt during the study tour to Ukulhas would be of great help to her own community and other neighboring islands.
“Fonadhoo is an agricultural island. Having a system like that of Ukulhas would be extremely beneficial to us. It could save us from a lot of problems too,” Zaeema said. “Managing waste is everyone’s responsibility. We must understand that we all have a duty. If we fail to do so it endangers the entire community’s well-being,”
Having witnessed the good waste management practices adopted by the people of Ukulhas, Zaeema hopes to introduce the same model in her island. It would be a difficult job, she knows.
"but it is not impossible,” Zaeema insisted.