The two-square-kilometre island has been without water for four days following a fire at the plant that supplies 120,000 city-dwellers, including thousands of expatriate workers.

Engineers need more time than expected to repair a desalination plant hit by fire last week that is the source of the problem, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Muaz Ali said.
    
"Technical experts say it will take another seven-to-10 days to restore normal supplies," Ali said.

"The damage is more than we feared at first," he said.
    
There was a scramble to buy drinking water last Thursday with scuffles reported in several areas, but residents said the situation has calmed down as foreign supplies have poured in.

An international relief effort has seen bottled water rushed in from nations including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, Ali said.

Indian and Chinese military ships are in the island capital, pumping potable water from onboard desalination plants.
    
Deluxe hotels in the capital have their own desalination plants and there are no supply problems at any of the upmarket establishments, Ali said.

Over one million tourists visit the pristine white-sand beaches of the Maldives annually, but most spend their holidays in secluded resorts on tiny coral islands scattered some 850 kilometres across the equator.     

President Abdulla Yameen cut short a trip to Malaysia and returned home Saturday night to deal with the crisis, ordering a two-day holiday.

Over one-third of the Maldives' 330,000-strong population live in Male, putting huge pressure on drinking water and electricity.

The 1,192 low-lying coral islands in the archipelago rely heavily on treated sea-water for drinking supplies.

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