Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services reported on Monday that to-date 200 persons reported being either homeless or unable to pay rent, over the economic standstill caused by the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.
Speaking at the virtual press conference held daily at the National Emergency Operation Center, Gender Ministry’s Deputy Minister Fathmath Yumna revealed that the number of families struggling with severe income shortfalls was on the rise.
According to the deputy minister, several individuals have sought permits to return to their home islands, after employment failed to provide for basic needs to continue living in the city.
“People are coming forward saying they can no longer afford rent under these circumstances. Therefore, [they requested] to allow for a return to their home islands”.
Those requesting aid over financial difficulties include a number of constituents from Male’ city as well, said Yumna, indicating a slide that depicted statistics recorded by the ministry, of individuals presently facing unemployment.
According to the ministry’s data, during the first week after the first confirmed local transmission on April 15 and a city-wide lockdown was subsequently imposed, three individuals sought aid.
In the following week, the total figure climbed to 23 people. During the second week of May, 71 people filed for help, 75 in the week after and 45 over the last week.
Yumna also revealed that, despite the many requests to return to respective islands, the country’s Health Protection Agency had not granted permission to facilitate transfers for any such persons.
Noting the large number of homeless that had filed for aid at the ministry, far more than authorities previously estimated, Yumna said that the ministry was working to provide shelter for those in need.
“Many people have been forced out of their homes, either because they were not able to pay rent, or their families are no longer able to support them financially”, said the deputy minister.
“Over the last two days, our youth facility has taken care of 26 people from four families".
Yumna added that, in addition to exploring ways in which the ministry can further assist struggling families, the ministry was also working with councils to verify claims of homelessness that were lodged.
“We have shared the details of 97 persons from 12 families with the LGA [Local Government Authority]”, said Yumna.
Shortly after the lockdown was imposed, Male' City Council and the Ministry of Gender urged the homeless and forcefully evicted individuals in Male’ to report via the ministry hotline '1412', in an effort to assist those financially impacted by the local outbreak, as well as those displaced as a result of the inter-atoll travel ban.
By April 22, the ministry reported having placed over 80 stranded people in temporary state-provided shelters and that over 400 displaced individuals had applied for government assistance. HPA revealed that of the homeless, 25 people identified as being addicted to drugs were placed in temporary rehabilitation centres.
As with most parts of the world, living circumstances for numerous Maldivians are in decline following the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Last Friday, the Attorney General's Office submitted a 'Public Health Emergency Bill' to the parliament seeking protection for "individuals, families and businesses”. The proposed amendments include mandating state to provide food, shelter for homeless persons, barring property owners from sudden evictions and certain solutions for employers.
In order to assist those negatively affected, the government introduced an 'Income Support Allowance' relief scheme for individuals experiencing financial difficulties, which grants allowances of up to MVR 5,000 to eligible individuals.
However, reports of people being forced out on the street, not having access to loan applications or legal aid, being unfairly dismissed from work, having to abandon their lives in the capital city and so forth, are snowballing.
Earlier in April, the World Bank predicted Maldives will be South Asia's worst-hit country, in the economic regression brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
At present, Maldives now records total confirmed 1,829 and 1,334 active cases of COVID-19, with 488 recoveries and seven deaths.
WHO classified the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic on March 12. The new strain of novel coronavirus has now infected over 6.3 million people and claimed over 377,500 lives around the world. However, out of those infected, 2.9 million people have recovered.