Guarding against disaster risk: Airport preparedness takes off in the Maldives

By Ioana Creitaru, Global GARD Manager, and Rebecca Smith, Global GARD Analyst, Crisis Bureau, UNDP Geneva

October 13, 2022
aerienne views of airport Velana International Airport on Hulhulé Island, North Malé Atoll, Maldives | Maldives Airports Company Limited

On this International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction 2022, we shine a spotlight on airport preparedness for disaster response in the Maldives, 5 years following Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD) programme.

Maldives Airports Company Limited

On this International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, we shine a spotlight on the pivotal Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD) programme – a partnership between UNDP, Deutsche Post DHL (DP DHL) and Airports Council International (ACI) to enhance airport preparedness and response capacities for disaster. Specifically, we champion our work in the Maldives to showcase best practices from GARD in action and lessons learned from its implementation, five years on from the GARD training at Velana International Airport in the capital city of Malé.  

In 2014, a state of emergency was declared after a fire at the only water treatment plant in Malé left some 100,000 residents without safe drinking water. “We had water on tap for about an hour this morning, but that is hardly adequate”, stated a resident at the time.  

Bottled water was delivered from nearby countries by air and sea, exposing insufficient capacities at critical points of entry in the Maldives to manage large influxes of humanitarian aid. “We realized then that we didn’t have adequate equipment to manage the humanitarian impact of crises” said Kashif Naseer, Director of Policy and Planning at the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Maldives.  

The limited readiness of airports and ports to respond to this technological failure was a call to action. Comprising over one thousand low-lying and dispersed islands in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is geographically isolated and highly exposed to the impacts of natural hazards, including those exacerbated by climate change like flooding and sea level rise. In this context, the GARD programme appealed to national authorities as an opportunity to reinforce airport capacities to effectively respond to emergency situations.   

“GARD has changed the way we look at risk” 


A picture containing person, indoor, preparing

Assessing airport surge capacity during the GARD workshop at Velana International Airport, August 2017



In August 2017, a GARD training workshop was held at Velana International Airport, the main airport of the Maldives, demonstrating strong engagement from its 36 participants and delivering a high-quality Action Plan. Since then, representatives of Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) and the NDMA have taken ownership of the Action Plan, coordinating to drive the implementation of actions and ensure the readiness of Velana International to respond to disasters.  

“GARD has changed the way we look at risk” said Kashif Naseer. “It brings together diverse stakeholders and has shifted the airport’s priorities for emergency planning”. In implementing the Action Plan, logistics at Velana International have drastically improved, and disaster risk has been integrated into the airport emergency plan.  

“It is important that airports shift away from a business mindset and instead consider the populations they serve” noted Kashif. “If an airport cannot manage the influx of goods and people, then it not only harms business continuity but could significantly impact individuals and communities reliant upon humanitarian assistance and aid”.  

GARD in action  

The benefits of GARD were more recently made evident during COVID-19 pandemic response in the Maldives. Whilst airport operations were significantly reduced at the height of the pandemic, the critical role of Velana International in receiving and distributing humanitarian aid became ever more apparent. When vaccines were made available, the cargo warehouse became a storage facility to house them at the right temperature.  

“The process was smooth because there was already an understanding that airport authorities and stakeholders in disaster management needed to collaborate, and these relationships had already been formed and strengthened through GARD” said Kashif. 

Agreements signed between the airport and key stakeholders after the GARD workshop allowed bureaucratic processes, that would have otherwise slowed COVID-19 response, to be fast-tracked. Here we see GARD in action, underlining the importance of effective and efficient coordination between diverse stakeholders for emergency response. 


Facilities group during the GARD workshop at Velana International Airport, August 2017 | DP DHL

Facilities group during the GARD workshop at Velana International Airport, August 2017


Partnering for airport readiness  

GARD is a unique public-private partnership that offers a capacity development programme to strengthen the role of airports as logistical hubs in disaster situations. During a five-day workshop which brings together airport operators, government authorities, and disaster management agencies, GARD participants are trained to assess the current level of airport preparedness and develop an Action Plan to ensure that airports are ready for future disasters.  

GARD Plus is a follow-up initiative offering GARD-trained airports the opportunity to refresh knowledge gained during the initial workshop, review the recommendations identified, and monitor progress in implementation. It aims to evaluate the readiness of GARD-trained airports to respond to disasters, typically through a simulation exercise, one to two years after the standard workshop.  

Better never stops: Scaling up success 

In UNDP’s words, “Better never stops” (UNDP Strategic Plan 2022-2025). In the Maldives, GARD Owners at the NDMA and MACL are working to institutionalize the programme to overcome challenges associated with changes in personnel. At the global level, UNDP, DP DHL and GARD Partners are driving forward the scale-up of the programme, including creating an ecosystem of GARD-trained facilitators and airports through the GARD Train the Facilitator programme. In so doing, GARD seeks to establish mutually reinforcing peer-to-peer support networks, strengthening partnerships and fostering collaboration for stronger collective action.  

Together we can achieve more. The increasing complexity and uncertainty of the challenges and risks that we face today and could face tomorrow require us to come together as a global community. We must approach risk and resilience from a systems perspective to build capacities and prepare systems and societies for any large-scale crises and unknown risks.  

Investment in preparedness pays off. The crucial part that Velana International played in COVID-19 response in the Maldives is just one example of how enhanced preparedness can ultimately save lives. UNDP has been championing preparedness to reduce or mitigate the impacts of disaster, conserve critical resources, and safeguard development progress. Better preparedness ultimately serves UNDP’s promise to support countries to reduce risk in all its dimensions and help steer them on their pathways to the Sustainable Development Goals.  

Since 2009, GARD has been implemented in 61 airports in 28 countries, and trained over 1,400 professionals including airport operations staff, civil aviation authorities, and national disaster management officials. Country results are accessible here.