MALE, Maldives — Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen urged patience Saturday as discontent over a drinking water crisis simmered in parts of the island nation following a fire that crippled a major desalination plant. Much of the capital Male was still without drinking water on Saturday after a fire Thursday knocked out the desalination plant that supplies fresh to the densely populated capital. ��President Abdulla Yameen has appealed to the Maldivian public to remain patient and united, while working with the government to resolve the national crisis,�� the president’s office said in a statement, which quoted Yameen saying that he will assure a ��steady and adequate supply�� of water until the crisis is resolved. India and Sri Lanka began airlifting bottled water to the capital of the up-market honeymoon destination, Friday as taps ran dry. China and the United States were also rushing help, the government said. India had also sent ships with desalination capabilities to boost supplies. Street scuffles broke out Friday in Male at many places where authorities were distributing bottled water under a strict ration system.
The government said Saturday that it would distribute water free of charge to some 120,000 residents, including thousands of expatriate workers from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, following reports that the foreign laborers were being denied water at some distribution centers. Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom also urged Maldivians to remain calm. ��Govt working hard to solve Male water crisis asap. Let us keep calm till it is solved!�� tweeted Gayoom, who is the half brother of current president Yameen. Officials have said that it could take up to five days to repair the fire damage at the desalination plant and restore normal water supply. More than a third of the local population of 330,000 Sunni Muslims live in Male, which covers an area of just 1 square mile (2 square kilometers), putting huge pressure on resources such as drinking water and electricity. Many restaurants and shops remained closed and residents traveled to neighboring islands where there is water available for washing and drinking. The crisis has not affected the atoll nation’s upmarket tourist resorts, located on other islands, which by law have their own power generation and desalination plants. The low-lying island of Male has an efficient system of harvesting rain water, but the ground water cannot be used for drinking or washing, and residents rely heavily on treated sea water. Maldives is the smallest nation in South Asia, and over one million tourists are drawn to its turquoise seas and pristine white sandy beaches every year.