In the early 1990s, Maldives was ranked by the UN as one of the
world's twenty-nine least developed countries. The World Bank estimated
Maldives' gross national product (GNP) in 1991 at US$101 million
and its per capita income at US$460. The 1993 estimated real growth
rate was 6 percent. Between 1980 and 1991, GNP was estimated to
increase at an average annual rate of 10.2 percent.
President Gayoom's development philosophy centers on increasing
Maldives' self-sufficiency and improving the standard of living
of residents of the outer islands. In 1994 a considerable gap continued
to exist between the general prosperity of the inhabitants of Male
and the limited resources and comparative isolation of those living
on the outer islands. The Third National Development Plan (1991-93)
reflected these objectives and aimed to improve overall living standards,
to reduce the imbalance in population density and socioeconomic
progress between Male and the atolls, and to achieve greater self-sufficiency
for purposes of future growth.
The fishing and tourist industries are the main contributors to
the gross domestic product (GDP). In 1992 the fishing industry provided
approximately 15 percent of total GDP. Revenues from tourism were
comparable to 80 percent of visible export receipts in 1992, contributing
approximately 17 percent of GDP. The country had no known mineral
resources, and its cropland--small and scattered over the approximately
200 inhabited islands--was inadequate to sustain a burgeoning population.
Agriculture employed a little more than 7 percent of the labor force
in 1990 in the limited production of coconuts, cassava, taro, corn,
sweet potatoes, and fruit, and accounted for almost 10 percent of
GDP. These basic foodstuffs represented only 10 percent of domestic
food needs with the remainder being imported.
The Maldives economy is based on fishing. One of the chief sources
of the government income is fish sales. Tourism is also important
for the government. About one-fifth of the income comes from tourism.
The people on the island of Maldives raise chili peppers, sweet
potatoes, coconuts and millet. The coconut is used to make husk
fiber, which is used to make yarn string.
The major export on the island of Maldives is fish, but there are
many other exports too. The others are cowrie shells, coir yarn,
fish meal, and copra. Some of their major imports are rice, sugar,
wheat flour, and other manufactured goods. In Maldives, the most
common way of traveling is the sailboat.
Because of its clear waters, distinctive corals, and sandy white
beaches, Maldives has many features to attract tourists. As a result,
tourism by 1989 had become the country's major source of foreign
exchange, surpassing fishing. In 1992 tourism income constituted
17 percent of GDP. Furthermore, tourism is expected to increase
as the government infrastructure improvement projects in the areas
of transportation, communications, sanitation, water supply, and
other support facilities are put into place.
Since the 1970s, approximately fifty resorts, mostly consisting
of thatched bungalows, have been built on many uninhabited islands
on Male Atoll. In 1990 a dozen new resorts were under construction
on Maldives. In the following year, 196,112 tourists visited Maldives,
primarily from Germany, Italy, Britain, and Japan in that order.
Tourist facilities have been developed by private companies and
in 1991 consisted of sixty-eight "island resorts" with
nearly 8,000 hotel beds. Tourists are not allowed to stay on Male
so as not to affect adversely the Muslim life-style of the indigenous
people. Wilingili Island has also been off limits for tourist accommodation
since 1990 to allow for population overflow from Male to settle
In 1992 the fishing industry employed about 22 percent of the labor
force, making it the largest single source of employment in Maldives.
However, a high level of disguised unemployment existed on a seasonal
basis as a result of climatic conditions.
Despite its importance as a source of government revenues, tourism
provides little meaningful employment opportunities to Maldivians.
Tourism accounts for only about 6 percent of the country's labor
force. Because most Maldivians have no education beyond primary
school, most lack the required knowledge of foreign languages to
cater to foreign tourists. As a result, nonMaldivians filled most
of the best jobs in the tourist industry. Indigenous employment
on the resort islands was also discouraged by the government's efforts
to limit contact between Maldivians and Westerners to prevent adverse
influence on local Islamic mores. Also, the low season for tourists,
the time for rainy monsoons from late April to late October, coincides
with the low season for the fishing industry.
After fishing, the largest source of employment is in the industrial
sector, including mining, manufacturing, power, and construction.
Although this sector also accounted for nearly 22 percent of the
labor force in 1990, most employment was in traditional small-scale
cottage industries. Women are mainly employed in these activities,
such as coir rope making from coconut husks, cadjan or thatch-weaving
from dried coconut palm leaves, and mat weaving from indigenous
reeds. The ancient task of cowrie-shell collecting for export is
another occupation in which only women participate. In the early
1990s, a small number of modern industries were operating, mostly
fish canning and garment making. The largest garment factories are
Hong Kongowned and occupy abandoned hangars and other maintenance
buildings at the former British air station on Gan. They employ
about 1,500 local women who are bused in and about 500 young Sri
Lankan women who reside at the site working nightshift.
Other forms of employment in 1990 were minor. Government administration
accounts for about 7 percent of workers; transportation and communications,
5 percent; trade, 3 percent; and mining of coral, 1 percent.