Hussain Alifulhu: A brighter future in Dhuvaafaru, Maldives

Published: 5 June 2009 0:00 CET

Ahmed Zahid/IFRC in Maldives

More than four years after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, 48-year-old Hussain Alifulhu vividly remembers the events of the fateful day when “the sea swallowed Kandholhudhoo”, an island in the Maldives’ Raa Atoll.

He had been asleep and was awakened by uncomfortable heat as his house’s cooling fan ground to a halt. There was a blackout. Being an electrician, he got up ready to rush to the island’s power house and fix the problem.

But when he stepped outside, Hussain was shocked to see flood water reaching the doorstep. After ensuring that his family was safe at the island’s mosque – where several other islanders had sought refuge – he rushed to the jetty to look for a boat that would evacuate them to another island. But by the time he got his family to the jetty, the boat was full.

Evacuation efforts

Boats from the nearby, lesser affected islands arrived a little while later, bolstering the evacuation efforts. Hussain and his family of ten were among the last to leave Kandholhudhoo.

They were taken to Ungoofaaru, also in Raa Atoll, where they would stay in temporary shelters for almost four years while the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) constructed a new island home for them on Dhuvaafaru.

Over that period, Hussain – like many other men – was at sea collecting sea cucumbers which he then sold to get an income. When he was not at sea, he would be fixing electrical problems at the temporary shelters. His skill and dedication led to him being of 13 community members selected and trained by the IFRC to operate and manage their future island’s utilities.

Happily settled

Following their relocation in December 2008, Hussain and his family are happily settled in two houses that they received from the IFRC and have started to rebuild their lives. He says: “We are grateful to the IFRC for the quality houses they have built for less fortunate people like us. I would never have been able to build such houses myself.”

As a trained operator, Hussain played a role in ensuring that the Dhuvaafaru island electricity supply system was in working condition before beneficiary families were moved in during December 2008. Initially they were employed by IFRC, but later he did the maintenance work on a voluntary basis.

He feels honoured to have worked as one of the electricity operators at the new island’s power station. “I could not think of a better way to repay back IFRC’s kindness than to work there for as long as they needed my services,” he says.

Lifelong occupation

He hopes that the government will turn the operators’ positions to full-time, salaried jobs so they can earn an income. But in the future he hopes to be able to open a workshop and restart his lifelong occupation as an electrician.

“I can’t open my own workshop as I don’t have any land, apart from the houses we got,” he explains. “The government is yet to set aside space for such use.”

Hussain sees a great future for Dhuvaafaru. He says: “I have a good feeling that this will be an ideal island, even better than it is now. But the new community needs to be patient because nothing will work as fast as the heart beats.”


Dhuvaafaru, the rebirth of a community in the middle of the ocean

In the middle of the Indian Ocean, far away from the motorways that could transport building materials for 600 houses and all the infrastructure that goes with it, the Red Cross Red Crescent took on the challenge of re-establishing a community from scratch.

When the tsunami swept across the Maldives on 26 December 2004 it completely destroyed the island of Kandholhudhoo, leaving more than 3,600 people homeless. It was immediately clear that these families needed to rebuild their lives in a new and safer environment.

Following an extensive study the Maldives’ National Disaster Management Centre identified the uninhabited island of Dhuvaafaru as the most suitable settlement location due to its topographical characteristics such as its comparatively high elevation, its size and its reef, which is essential for better protection against tidal surges.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) signed an agreement with the Government of Maldives in May 2005 to build a new community on Dhuvaafaru Island.

The IFRC has funded construction of 562 houses as well as other community infrastructure such as an administrative building, a pre-school, primary school and secondary school, an auditorium, water supply and sewage systems, a sports complex, roads, and a power supply system.

Discover more about this incredible project and the achievements of the Red Cross Red Crescent’s tsunami operation: