Of Seas & Skies: Storm Ready in the Equator

8 mins read

Even before the sun rises and warms the seas, 24-year-old Hassan Saajin and the crew of fishers amid ‘Kandu Roalhi’ are getting ready for work, to brave the elements.

Right before they leave in search of shoals of tuna in the ocean around Huvadhu Atoll in the South of Maldives – one of the largest natural atolls in the world, Saajin has a browse through the Maldives Meteorological Services (MET Office) website. The marine weather forecast for the day predicted scattered thunder showers, heavy at times, with possibility of winds gusting 35 miles per hour on moderate seas with waves at a height between 3 to 6 feet. Saajin informs his captain, and they call off work, choosing to stay ashore.  

“Being a fisherman has taught me many valuable life lessons: how to be brave, how to be patient, and how important it is to fully focus on safety,” said Saajin, better known as ‘Zuvaan Masveriya’ (Young Fisherman), who developed his love for fishing at a young age. 

Courtesy of Hassan Saajin

Saajin is unarguably the most well-known youth fisher in the country. He shares his work and spreads awareness about the industry on his popular social media channels – advocating against the challenges faced by the fishing community and encouraging younger generations to enter the field. He has also registered his own foundation ‘Dhivehi Masverin’ (Maldivian Fishermen), an NGO that aims to promote pole-and-line fishing together with all the related activities of fishing in the Maldives. For Saajin, being able to access the weather forecast on his phone via the Met Office website is a literal lifesaver – putting critical information he and his fellow crew need to prepare for concerning weather events right at his fingertips before they journey off to the seas. 

The upgraded website of the Met Office was officially launched at the event commemorating World Meteorological Day on 23 March. Supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Maldives, with the generous contribution of the Government of Japan, the website brings real-time climate updates and alerts to the public more accessibly in both English and the Maldivian language Dhivehi. The new user-friendly website has better-localized weather forecasts as well as accurate and crucial weather-related data and information that communities need for better, resilient, and climate-proof planning. 

Halfway across the isles from Saajin, in Raa Atoll Maduvvari Island in central Maldives, homemaker Sazna Abdul Rasheed, 38, was sweltering under the tropical sun. It was the hottest time of the year, with the March equinox having just passed. The dry spell they have been having has taken a toll on the community, who had exhausted community and household water tanks. She could barely contain her excitement as she gets ready to collect the rainwater that they are expecting to receive in abundance from the heavens this afternoon. Someone had mentioned they had seen this weather forecast on a new app. 

The Probable Area of Rainwater Harvesting (PARH) function is a new feature added to the ‘Moosun’ app of the Met Office, which sends real-time alerts on probable rainfall. “PARH sends notifications to the public on potential areas and possible volume of rain,” said Ahmed Rasheed, Director of Meteorology at the MET Office. Supported by the Green Climate Fund (GCF) through UNDP Maldives, the function will assist in rainwater harvesting and water management, helping improve water security in island communities.

Although Sazna’s island of Raa Maduvvari is one of the recent recipients of the water network under the GCF/UNDP project led by the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology (MECCT) and her home now gets a regular supply of water, Sazna is still adamant about collecting the rainwater today. 

“The water network in Raa Maduvvari Island will give 1,628 residents, including 790 women, access to safe drinking water, increase water security and help the people of the island to overcome water shortages caused due to climate change. But we would not want people to stop relying on time-tested methods of resilience that have worked for them through the ages and made better economic sense. I refer to the old adage ‘veheythaa fen nagaashey’ (collect water when it rains). Keep doing that. Keep being prepared. Build on your self-sufficiency and become resilient.”  

These were the remarks of Vera Hakim, Deputy Resident Representative at UNDP at the inauguration of the water system in Sazna’s island, and these are the words Sazna is inspired by, as she cleans out her roof with an ekle broom – made out of the midrib of coconut leaves – to harvest the rain. The rain will collect in her roof gutter, that will channel the water into downspouts and then into large household tanks ready for daily use; from drinking to cooking and washing.  The way it’s been done for generations. 

For the Maldives, its unique geographical attributes make its water resource situation complex and diverse. With more than 80% islands already experiencing drinking water shortages annually during the dry season, the country is faced with freshwater security problems resulting from climate change induced variable rainfall patterns, more frequent extreme weather events and sea-level rise induced salinity of groundwater. 

With climate change causing more extreme weather in the Maldives, while dry spells are prolonged on one side, storms are likely to increase on the other. Climate change and economic insecurity from lost catch create a ‘perfect storm’, putting ever-increasing pressure on communities that rely on fishery. Real-time and localized weather forecasts would be helpful in trying to predict levels of disruption to fishermen as a result of changing storminess and climates and would go a long way in ensuring safety of those out at sea. It would also ensure preparedness for communities who rely on rainwater harvesting as a source of life. 

Solutions such as the weather apps provide much needed tools for the people of Maldives to become resilient and prepare sustainably for an uncertain future.