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Poverty, Hunger, and Education in Maldives

Maldives has become one of the countries of South Asia that succeeded in meeting the aims of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals aimed at eradicating poverty, providing equality of people all over the world, and enabling socio-economic improvements in the countries. For instance, the country has achieved progress in the spheres of poverty eradication, improvement of education and health care. At the same time, there are still areas that require more progress, including gender equality, adherence to environmental sustainability, and global development. In addition, the country experiences some problems such as existence of poverty, hunger, and lack of education on remote atolls. Thus, there is the necessity for the analysis of the peculiarities of poverty, hunger, and education situation in the country in order to completely eliminate them.

Maldives is a country situated in South Asia. Maldives comprises 26 natural atolls and 1190 islands, 198 of which are inhabited (United Nations Development Program in Maldives). The majority of the economic activities are conducted in the capital of the country Male. As a result, there is a tendency toward the migration of the population to the city in search of better opportunities. During the 1980s, Maldives represented one of the poorest countries in the world (Department of National Planning 25). The population of the country was around 150,000 people. Nowadays, Maldives demonstrates steady economic growth and has become a middle-income country. After the crisis caused by the tsunami in 2004, the country still experienced annual growth of gross domestic product equal to almost 7 percent (Department of National Planning 25). The global financial crisis of 2008-2009 has influenced the economic development of the country by reducing the profits from the tourist sphere, which remains the main in Maldives (Department of National Planning 25). As a result, the country occupies leading positions in South Asia. At the same time, a narrow economic specialization on tourism as well as existence of poverty on remote atolls contributes to the vulnerability of the country to external tendencies.

Poverty in Maldives

In Maldives, poverty is different in comparison to other countries of the world. In particular, poverty is often caused by the remote location of the islands and lack of the development of basic services in the atolls. According to the United Nations Organization report, the percentage of population that lives on less than 1 dollar per day constitutes approximately 1 percent. At the same time, about 16 percent of population lives on less than 3 dollars per day (United Nations Development Program). In general, Maldives has one of the lowest poverty rates in South Asia (Asian Development Bank 1). The rapid economic growth can increase income inequality between different categories of the population of Maldives. Indeed, poverty distribution varies across regions of the country. For instance, poverty rates in atolls have reduced from 52 to 25 percent (Department of National Planning 25). However, most of the territory of Male experiences the reduction of poverty from 23 to 5 percent (Department of National Planning 25). The northern regions of the country traditionally have the largest concentration of poverty. In fact, the atolls, which have the highest poverty rates, include Faafu, Gaafu Alif, and Shaviyani (International Business Publications 148). Poverty still remains on many islands that specialize in fishing and farming. However, there are islands with low population density. As a result, the living costs are higher, and the delivery of basic goods and services is problematic. Apparently, women represent the most vulnerable category of the population that suffers from poverty. Despite the fact that women contribute to the fishery as well, their labor is often unpaid (Asian Development Bank 10). Moreover, there are limited opportunities to establish small-scale enterprises due to governmental policies and geographic locations of the atolls. As a result, Male traditionally attracts a lot of migrants from atolls as the city offers better employment opportunities and living conditions (Asian Development Bank 11). Therefore, at least one member of the households situated in the northern parts of the country migrates to Male.

There are numerous factors that contribute to the existence of poverty in the country. First, geographic peculiarities of Maldives have an impact on the spread of poverty. In particular, the population of the northern part of the country experiences more poverty than the rest of citizens. It is determined by the fact that the economic and social development of the region is lower compared to the rest of the country. Second, Maldivians who do not work due to health conditions traditionally remain in poverty as they do not have access to better living conditions. What is more, the population employed at small and medium enterprises is the most vulnerable to poverty. At the same time, the opportunities to increase the productivity, employment rates, and income are limited due to low investments, lack of skilled workers, and absence of the infrastructure. Third, Maldives is characterized by young household members. While younger citizens do not work, the overall household income decreases. Fourth, weaknesses in the health care system contribute to the existence of poverty in Maldives. The delivery of health care services between the islands is impeded by the absence of proper infrastructure. Finally, gender inequality aggravates the situation. Women experience low employment rates and cannot support their families. Furthermore, the remote atolls lack social services and infrastructure due to their location (De Kruijk and Rutten 2). The islands also experience lower economic development and scarcity of basic necessities, including food and water (International Business Publications 150).

Similarly to other island countries, Maldives experiences vulnerability to poverty due to limited environmental resource base, reliance on imported goods, remote location from main markets and economic centers, occurrence of natural disasters, and consequences of global warming. In addition, Maldives experiences external shocks. For instance, the economy of the country is dependent on the tourist sphere and fishery. Citizens from Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom constitute the biggest amount of tourists, who visit the country every year (International Business Publications 150). Thus, with the decrease in the tourists, the inequality rates in the country increase.

Hunger in Maldives

According to the United Nations reports, Maldives is among 38 countries that have succeeded in reducing hunger by half (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 46). At the beginning of the 1990s, the proportion of the undernourished population was 12.2 percent. In 2014, the figure declined to 5.2 percent (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 46).

Maldives still experiences problems with food security. It is determined by the fact that the population of the country is vulnerable to limited food availability as well as affordability and accessibility to food supplies. The country has the limited variety of produced agricultural products. As a result, food is mainly imported and has high prices. Due to their remote location, the atolls are even more dependent on the food supplies. The population of atolls has rare consumption of meat and vegetables (Department of National Planning 28). The dietary habits of the population also have an impact on the consumption of vitamins and minerals. For instance, according to the diet habits of the population, it is considered unsafe to give children younger than one year old eggs, chicken and beef. The nutritional challenges of the population are increased by the inadequate access to the health care services. According to the Department of National Planning, one in five persons lacks the access to food (32). Thus, approximately one in three households in Male has to reduce food stocks. Women traditionally experience poor nutrition conditions due to the existing gender inequality. In Maldives, children face three main indicators of hunger. The first indicator is general malnutrition that triggered low weight for a child’s age. The second category is chronic malnutrition described by stunting. Apparently, stunting is caused by the inadequate nutrient consumption. In fact, children before two years of age suffer from stunting. The problem is that the process is irreversible. The third type of malnutrition is acute one, which is characterized by low weight and height of kids. The children suffer from it till the age of five. Maldives demonstrates steady eradication of the child’s malnutrition. In particular, compared to the middle of the 1990s, the percentage of children who are underweight has declined from 43 percent to approximately 17 percent. Moreover, stunting has decreased from 30 to around 15 percent. The amount of children who suffer from the third type of malnutrition has reduced from 17 to 15 percent (Department of National Planning 32). However, the child’s malnutrition rates remain high and represent one of the most important health issues. As a result of hunger, the population lacks basic vitamins and minerals. In fact, this contributes to the spread of the diseases in the country, including anemia. Thus, approximately 30 percent of children suffer from anemia every year (The World Bank).

Education Situation in the Country

Maldives has managed to improve the educational system and expand the access to education for children. In order to provide equality of the access to education, the country introduced the policies in order to overcome geographic, income, and gender inequalities. In fact, the policies were focused on the adoption of the unified education system and establishment of new facilities on the atolls. As a result, the primary education has become available to every child in Maldives. Indeed, Maldives demonstrates 100 percent enrolment ratio in the primary schools. In addition, 99 percent of children reach the 5th grade in the primary school. Whereas the secondary education has lower enrolment and reaches 65 percent, only 7 percent of students continue education at the higher secondary educational establishments (UNICEF). There are primary schools that provide free education. However, education remains limited on the atolls.

In addition, the government of the country adopted the strategy aimed at developing schools for children with special needs. Thus, the first classes for children with special needs were opened in 2006 (UNICEF). Moreover, there is an intention to open at least one school for children with special needs in every atoll. Currently, there are 11 schools (Department of National Planning 39). The problem is that the process of opening new schools is costly and technically difficult.

The government has significantly increased the expenditures on education. For instance, in the middle of the 1990s, the expenditures reached around 20 million dollars. In 2009, the amount of money on education was 169.4 million dollars (Department of National Planning 37). As a result, the access to the primary education for children has significantly increased. At the same time, the percentage of children who attend secondary and higher secondary schools is lower (Department of National Planning 38). Furthermore, children from other islands schools tend to migrate.

At the same time, the educational system of the country experiences several problems. For example, there is a difference in the quality of provided education between the islands. Male traditionally provides better education than the rest of the country. Moreover, some of the schools lack proper infrastructure. Teachers’ personnel remain untrained. In general, one in four teachers in Maldives does not receive needed training. In addition, there is the lack of universities in the country. As a result, the population has to migrate abroad.

Among the priorities of educational improvement, there is a necessity to introduce vocational and technical education in order to meet the requirements of the labor market. Moreover, it is necessary to engage the private sector in the educational sphere. As a result, this will contribute to the increase in the amount of resources and make the authorities pay attention to the disadvantaged categories of the population and the poor. The country already has a high percentage of the non-governmental schools. Hereby, 77 percent of schools are private and supported by the island community, while approximately 56 percent of children attend island community schools (UNESCO).

Conclusion

Maldives has experienced significant economic growth during the last decades. As a result, Maldives succeeded in becoming a middle-income country and addressing the majority of the existing problems, including reduction of poverty, decrease in hunger prevalence, and improvement of the access to education. Indeed, the country reduced hunger by half. The amount of the population which lives on less than 1 dollar per day is approximately one percent, while 16 percent of citizens of the country live on less than 3 dollars per day. At the same time, poverty in Maldives has a number of peculiarities. For instance, poverty on atolls remains higher than in the capital of the country. It is determined by the geographic location and lack of economic development of the regions. The introduction of educational policies allowed the country to reach 100 percent enrolment ratio in the primary education. However, the attendance at the secondary and higher secondary institutions still can be improved. In particular, only 7 percent of students continue education at higher educational establishments. As a result, in order to eliminate poverty, decrease hunger, and improve educational system of the country, regional peculiarities of the development should be taken into account.