This post is kind of a response/follow-up to “My island is bigger than yours“, so I suggest you have a look at that one before continuing. In that post, I compared the sizes of the inhabited islands of Maldives. In this post, I’m going to add another parameter into the mix – population.
So let’s see where this takes us…
Population of the Maldives
At the time of the 2014 census (from which I got all the population data for this post), there were 402,071 people living in the Maldives. Of those people, 157,935 or 39.3% were living in Malé. The remaining 60.7% were spread throughout 185 or so other islands, typically in communities of around 400 to 800 people. The following histogram gives a good visual representation of island populations. Note that the top 15% is not included.
While it seems that this graph only tells us that most Maldivian islands have a very small population (<1000), it is actually giving us an insight into why development is not reaching so many islands. The sad fact is that the government does not feel that it is worth the effort to invest in such small populations (there are more important things to spend money on). And this is not entirely their fault. Yes, they could do a bit more to make development more equitable, but it is very difficult (and costs a lot more) to bring this development to such small populations. This is why we have all this forced migration.
Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a rant about the failing political system. Back on topic:
The following islands which are not represented on the histogram above are the most populous in the country:
- K. Malé (Including Villingili and Hulhumale)* – 157,935
- Addu City – 21,275*
- S. Hithadhoo – 11,129
- Gn. Fuvahmulah – 8,510
- HDh. Kulhudhuffushi – 8,440
- GDh. Thinadhoo – 5,230
- Lh. Naifaru – 4,103
- S. Maradhoo – 3,602
- S. Feydhoo – 3,431
- S. Hulhumeedhoo – 3,113
- L. Gan – 3,080
- K. Maafushi – 3,025
- R. Dhuvaafaru – 3,016
- HA. Dhiddhoo – 2,854
- GA. Villingili – 2,834
*I don’t know why the census counts greater Malé as one island, but doesn’t do the same with Addu City. My estimate for the population of Villingili is around 6,950. I couldn’t find or calculate anything accurate for Hulhumale.
These islands have the smallest populations:
- V. Rakeedhoo – 106
- B. Fehendhoo – 107
- M. Raiymandhoo – 112
- V. Thinadhoo – 152
- ADh. Dhiddhoo – 153
- L. Gaadhoo – 178 (No longer inhabited)
- N. Foddhoo – 228
- HA. Mulhadhoo – 230
- L. Mundoo – 236
- N. Magoodhoo – 255
So if it wasn’t obvious before that the population of the Maldives is quite unevenly distributed, it should be now. And to make things even clearer, here’s a pretty picture showing the relative sizes of the population of each island. 15 pixels represent 1 person, but because that’s very small, I put in the black 500-people squares to show the scale.
I would suggest scrolling down slowly, just to make the Malé square more dramatic…
(click for full size)
The Hulhumale square represents 30,000 people, which I think is its phase 1 capacity. I feel that it is unlikely that so many people actually live there.
Population Density in the Maldives
Population density is calculated by dividing the number of people in a place by the area of that place. Before getting to that, I want to show you the relationship between the areas of islands and their populations:
Clearly there is none. But one thing I do notice is that there are several relatively large islands with relatively small populations, which is kind of the opposite of what one would expect. It would make more sense to have more people living where there is more space, but apparently that’s not how Maldivians do things.
Now let’s move on to the actual population density:
Once again, the majority of islands have population densities in the lower end of the spectrum. I’m not certain about this, but I think it has something to do with the fact that 39.3% of the population lives in Malé. What this graph also tells us is that there is plenty of space to accommodate more people as the population grows.
Another thing which may not be so obvious from the graph is that all of these densities are actually really low. So it would more correct to say that the majority of islands have population densities at the really low end of the spectrum. Just as an example, the population density of K. Villingili is around 21,000/km², but I have yet to hear anyone complain about how crowded it is (because it isn’t). I have a theory about why Malé is so crowded, but I’ll save that for another post.
Another Way to Measure Density
Although people per area is the standard way of doing it, I feel that it is a bit too impersonal (in the sense that it is beyond human proportions). We can’t really imagine what one square kilometre looks like, nor can we imagine exactly how big a group of 7000 people is. That is why I’m going to use area per person for this next part.
Area per person tells you how much space each person would have to themselves if everyone on each island were to spread themselves out evenly. With that in mind, here is another pretty picture comparing how much space people have on inhabited islands, with a 15m×15m square to show the scale, and the national average for comparison.
Space comes at a premium in the Maldives, so those who live on Islands with an abundance of space are kind of lucky. The islands where people have the most space are:
- HA. Mulhadhoo – 5140m²/person
- HA. Filladhoo – 4313m²/person
- GA. Kondey – 4302m²/person
- HA. Uligan – 2789m²/person
- HDh. Finey – 2786m²/person
(You know from the first picture that northern islands have small population, and you may remember that many of them are actually quite large)
I’m sure this will come as no surprise…
- K. Malé – 15m²/person
- K. Villingili – 46m²/person
- Sh. Komandoo – 92m²/person
- K. Guraidhoo – 120m²/person
- N. Holhudhoo – 122m²/person
Here are some of the areas with a satellite image of artificial beach for comparison. The pink square is the 15m² Malé people have, the black square is the 225m² (15×15) scale square, the grey square is the 396m² national average, and the red square is the 5140m² people in Mulhadhoo have.
So What Have We Learned?
We know that most islands have very few people but a lot of space. We also know that economic development happens where the people are, and not necessarily where the space is. And finally, we know that most islands can afford to give up some of their space to accommodate more people. Am I suggesting that more migration should happen? Not exactly, but it would help if it were done correctly.
I wasn’t exactly intending to talk about development and decentralisation issues in this post, but it ties in so well. Before I go off on another tangent, I will conclude by saying this:
Individuals can take from this what they will, but nothing will get better for the Maldives if no one puts whatever knowledge they have into practice.