Addressing Urbanization and Climate Change in the Maldives Through Data-Driven Policy and Planning

The Challenge

The Maldives faces significant urbanization challenges. Resource and investment concentration in the capital, Male’, leads to unequal service access across the islands. This imbalance prompts migration to Male’, intensifying social inequalities. The country's vulnerability to climate change due to its predominantly low-lying terrain exacerbates these issues.

The Approach

UNDP Maldives, in partnership with Housing Development Corporation Ltd. (HDC), developed a citizen-centred liveability index for Hulhumalé (the artificial island developed next to the island of Male’ to accommodate the growth of the capital city) to assess and improve urban living conditions. This index, based on diverse data sources including citizen feedback, informs urban planning and policy decisions. The project’s focus is on promoting inclusive, sustainable urban growth by leveraging data for evidence-based governance.

The Benefits

The project demonstrates the value of local, citizen-generated data in urban planning and climate change adaptation. It enhances local decision-making and contributes to national strategies on disaster management and risk reduction. By integrating local insights with national data, the initiative promotes more effective and sustainable urban development across the Maldives.


The Maldives is made up of 99% water and only 1% land.

The context​

Despite rapid urbanization and digitalization, opportunities and resources are unevenly distributed in the Maldives. With the dense population and concentrated investment in the Greater Male’ region, infrastructure, public services and business development have been heavily skewed, leading to unequal access to quality services in education, healthcare, housing, transportation and economic opportunities on the other islands. The consequent domestic migration to Male’ creates a vicious cycle, further intensifying social inequalities and raising the demand for more public services in Male’, which in turn lead to more investment being redirected towards the capital. These accumulative factors have affected people’s quality of life and restricts sustained development in the areas of governance, the economy, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

The Maldives is made up of 99% water and 1% land – on average land is less than one metre above the mean sea level which makes climate change and rising sea levels an existential threat. The government of the Maldives has been investing in large scale reclamation projects to create new artificial island cities as safer residential hubs. Hulhumalé is the first model city that stemmed from this initiative. Since the city’s formation in the year 2004, the population has grown to over 65,000 people. Hulhumalé is further expanding in size and is being redesigned with the objective of being able to accommodate two-thirds of the entire population of the Maldives if needs be. To promote inclusive growth on Hulhumalé, it is important to understand people’s needs for a better quality of life and to design the built environment, public policies and services on that basis. Relevant data and actionable intelligence generated from data analysis can be used to develop better policies, improve public service delivery and make better decisions in the investment in and deployment of public services.


UNDP Maldives worked with HDC (the state-owned enterprise appointed as the master planner and developer of Hulhumalé) to design a citizen-centred local liveability index that links to the SDGs. This index can be used to assess the liveability of Hulhumalé from the perspective of social inclusion, economic sustainability, environmental sustainability, good governance and innovation and technology. The project also developed an interactive data platform to visualize the liveability index and create actionable insights which contribute to evidence-based decision making in the design and delivery of policies and services. The liveability index for Hulhumalé is a hybrid score derived from open data from the Google places API and Sentinel Hub, administrative (official) data and citizen perception survey data. These data feed into the specific indicators under each of the five pillars. A series of consultations in the form of meetings, focus group discussions and workshops were conducted from April to June 2023. They were attended by representatives of HDC, the government and local authorities and the community, and dedicated sessions were held for persons with disabilities and local industry experts. The interactive data platform was written in the R programming language and can be viewed at:

Source: Housing Development Corporation Ltd.

How did data contribute to better policy?

The liveability index and dashboard aim to provide reliable and consistent means for tracking meaningful concepts that define development on the ground. To this end, the UNDP team sought inputs from HDC (the client), local development experts and Hulhumalé residents and businesses. The overall liveability index has two components - a) the Administrative Data Score, which is modelled from official statistics from a variety of sources collected and developed for Hulhumalé, and b) the Citizen Perception Survey Score, which is a direct survey of residents, workers and business and property owners in Hulhumalé where they rate various aspects of liveability in the City.

The Liveability Index Dashboard:

To determine the Administrative Data Score, indicators for each of the five strategic pillars -- social inclusion, economic sustainability, environmental sustainability, good governance and innovation and technology – were carefully identified to best reflect the concepts and causal relationships that shape liveability outcomes. HDC was best positioned to inform the UNDP team on the availability of propriety information covering key aspects of development in Hulhumalé, and so they helped validate these indicators. These indicators were then combined with secondary administrative data sources, most significantly those of the Maldives Bureau of Statistics (MBS) and various ministries and State-owned Enterprises (SOEs).

Direct inputs from Hulhumalé residents, workers and businesses were obtained through a targeted Citizen Perception Survey (CPS) score, which was designed in June 2023 and implemented in July 2023. The purpose of the survey was to validate the modelled Administrative Data Index Score. The survey focused on key questions relating to availability, access, quality of services and opportunities contributing to quality of life. The survey questions were mapped to the same five strategic pillars for comparison.

This prototype study has raised awareness among HDC staff of the type of information required on an ongoing basis to update the liveability index as required to assist in effective urban management. The dashboard is used as a resource by HDC and other government stakeholders and investors to guide their decision making. Several government agencies, investors and businesses have found this dashboard beneficial in streamlining their strategic priorities. The extensive outreach conducted by UNDP Maldives and HDC for this project has also raised awareness among various government agencies on the liveability concept and the need for ongoing coordination with HDC on improving data dissemination, especially as the index could potentially be rolled out on other islands.

The Citizen Perception Survey has an ongoing value as an important tool to address current and future gaps in the data environment and support the calculation of reliable administrative data scores.

Where do we go from here?

The liveability index of Hulhumalé was officially launched in August 2023 and is currently in use. This is the first such project that has been undertaken for a city in the Maldives. Currently, HDC is creating development plans for the following year that are informed by the data dashboard. UNDP and HDC have recently convened central and local government partners and stakeholders to share learnings generated, both in terms of the process and the outcomes of the case study. During this event, UNDP conducted a working session with city council mayors from four island cities in regional atolls to explore the possibilities of adapting the index for use there. Through further resource mobilization and technical expertise, UNDP will support these island cities in doing so.



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