Alifushi still without water as more islands request emergency water

Alifushi island in Raa atoll has still not received emergency water after the last batch was found unsuitable for drinking.

The council’s tests through the island health center indicated there were bacteria and dust in the water which is currently being tested by Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

Alifushi council President Abdul Latheef said that no water have been delivered to the island since the incident, and that people were depending on bottled mineral water bought from local shops.

While the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) stated the island authorities had not requested more water, Alifushi council said that they should receive a replacement for the contaminated batch without having to ask.

Seasonal water shortage

Meanwhile, the NDMC has said that 34 islands have requested a total of 2,639 tonnes of emergency water following water shortages this year. Water  has now been delivered to sixteen of these islands.

Water shortages have become a seasonal issue, with 53 islands requesting water  between February 3 and April 25 last year, with similar numbers in previous years.

While no research have been done as to what causes the water shortage, it has been suggested that it is due to the contamination of ground water following the 2004 tsunami.

Traditionally, rainwater when collected is used for drinking as well as water from ground wells. Ground water was also used for cleaning, cooking, and other purposes. Every year during the dry period – particularly from February to April – a number of islands request emergency water.

Stating that the impact of the tsunami on the island was relatively small, Latheef blamed a lack of effective sewage system and having to dispose sewage effluent into ground for the water contamination.

“The population is not small here. For years we have been given the good news of a sewage system. Eight times, I remember,” he said.

Lateef said that just last week a research team from Maldives Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) came to island.

“We have seen so many teams and research being done. But I have no hope that it could actually happen”.

Government response

According to NDMC, the water is bought from MWSC and is then collected from the nearest desalination plant and delivered to the islands by private companies on contract bases.

The councils then sign and approve the water before it is transferred to public water tanks.  The NDMC buys the water from special funds allocated by the Ministry of Finance, with no specific budget allocated for this purpose.

The Alifushi Council president said that the island has a desalination plant gifted to local NGO ‘Vadinge Ekuveri Jamiyyaa’ by the UNDP, though the plant was later handed over to the state-owned FENAKA utility corporation.

“If the council had that plant, we would be producing water right now. But FENAKA has not produced any water for the past two years,” Latheef said, adding that FENAKA produced and distributed forty litres of water daily for every household until they stopped.

When contacted by Minivan News, FENAKA explained that the only person authorised to talk to the media was the managing director who would require a written enquiry.


Emergency water supplied to Alifushi bacteria infested, says council

The emergency water supplied to Alifushi island contains bacteria and dust, the island’s council has said.

Vice President of the council Ibrahim Shuaib said that, following a water shortage,  the island requested 185 tonnes of drinking water from the government – the capacity of the council’s water tanks.

After the island was  presented with 40 tonnes of water, it was subsequently found to be bacteria infested.

“After we received complaints about the water, we tested a sample from the health center here. They found that there were bacteria and dust in it. So we have asked not to use that water,” Shuaib said.

He said that complaints have officially been filed with the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) and the Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

“The EPA asked to send an official letter – we sent that too. But we still haven’t got an answer. Some people are now using that water after boiling,” revealed Shuaib.

Speaking to Vnews NDMC denied the claims, saying that the water was produced at Dhuvaafaru water plant and that no complaints had been received from other islands that had received water from the same plant. Both the EPA and the NDMC are investigating the matter.

With a population of 2700, the council estimates there are approximately 1600 people currently residing on the island. According to the council, the island faces water shortages every year around this time.

Traditionally, Maldivians have depended on groundwater, supplemented by rainwater, for drinking and cleaning. However, the contamination of ground water following the tsunami, and the failure to harvest rainwater, means that water shortages during dry periods are increasingly common.

While every house in capital Malé city is supplied with desalinated water, there are no sustainable systems to supply water on most islands. Water shortages all around the country have become a regular occurrence in the past few years during the dry period – which falls between February and April.

According to the NDMC, during the dry seasons of 2009 and 2010, the Maldivian government supplied desalinated water to over 90 islands at a cost of Rf10 million (US$640,000).

Last year between 3 February and 25 April 2013, some 53 islands reported water shortages to the NDMC. Plans have been underway to find more sustainable solutions to the issue in the past few years.

Minister of State for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed has said that the government was emphasising integrated water management systems in order to make the best use of the resources currently available.

“Our policy is to use the available resources as much as possible,” said Matheen. “Just basically to reduce the water costs.”

Earlier this week he island of Gulhi, in Kaafu atoll, became the first place in the world to produce desalinated drinking water using waste heat from electricity generation.

The project – a joint venture between state electricity supplier STELCO and UK registered charity the Aquiva Foundation – can produce around 8000 litres of water for local consumption.

In January, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development chose the Maldives from amongst 80 applicants to receive concessionary loans worth US$6 million (MVR92 million) for a clean energy project which could produce up to 62 million litres of desalinated water per year.


Pioneering desalination project launched in the Maldives

The island of Gulhi, in Kaafu atoll, yesterday became the first place in the world to produce desalinated drinking water using waste heat from electricity generation.

The project – a joint venture between state electricity supplier STELCO and UK registered charity the Aquiva Foundation – will produce around 8000 litres of water for local consumption.

“We think this is a fantastic opportunity for the Maldives, but if it works in the Maldives the way we think it will, I think the world will look differently at desalinating water, because all of a sudden you can do it sustainably on a really large scale,” said Aquiva CEO Florian Bollen.

The lack of fresh drinking water in the country’s 190 inhabited islands – made worse with the contamination of groundwater following the 2004 tsunami – leaves most communities reliant on rainwater and vulnerable to shortages during the dry seasons.

However, the dispersed nature of the islands, and the lack of a national grid means that every inhabited island houses its own facilities for electricity generation.

Research carried out by Aquiva prior to the project suggeste that 95 percent of Gulhi’s inhabitants were unhappy with the water supply in the island, which leaves them reliant on impure rainwater for drinking and contaminated ground water for washing.

The UK charity has installed a membrane distillation unit behind the island’s generator which will use the excess heat produced by the cooling system to induce the distilling process.

Sustainable supply

Yesterday’s launch was attended by the Minister for Environment and Energy Dr Mariyam Shakeela, who noted that the improvement of water supply was one of the new government’s 100 day goals.

The ministry has recently inaugurated safe drinking water projects in both Haa Alif and Alif Dhaal as part of its drive to introduce integrated water resource management programmes across the country.

Minister of State for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed told Minivan News today that the government was emphasising integrated systems in order to make the best use of the resources currently available.

“Our policy is to use the available resources as much as possible,” said Matheen. “Just basically to reduce the water costs.”

“What we are doing in the existing islands is using reverse osmosis plants to desalinate the water, which is a very expensive method of getting fresh water. We have to find ways to reduce the water costs.”

In January, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development chose the Maldives from amongst 80 applicants to receive concessionary loans worth US$6 million (MVR92 million) for a clean energy project which could produce up to 62 million litres of desalinated water per year.

The ministry’s programmes also aim to raise local awareness on the protection, conservation, and use of water resources such as groundwater, rainwater, and desalinated water, explained Matheen.

He also noted that an integrated water approach  included the use of renewable energy sources, predominantly solar power, which reduce the need to use expensive diesel. Ministry figures for 2012 show that 27 percent of imported fuel was used for electricity generation.

Reverse osmosis systems require fuel which powers a high pressure pump to produce the clean drinking water, a process which Aquiva CEO Bollen also noted was “very high maintenance”.

“You have to have 24 hour engineers on site. With our system, we don’t have any of those pressures. It’s based on very low pressure, it’s very easy to maintain. The staff which usually look after the generators can actually look after the desalination plant. That makes it really applicable to remote small island locations.”

The project will also lead to a reduction of waste – a perennial problem in the Maldives inhabited islands – as reusable containers will be used to collect the distilled water and distribute it to households, before being returned to the desalination plant.

In order to sustain its projects, the Aquiva foundation will provide its services at cost price, with any profits made being reinvested into further projects.


Climate injustice an opportunity for more sustainable justice: Nasheed

“I see the injustice created by climate change as an opportunity,” said former President Mohamed Nasheed stated in his keynote address at the “Women Rising for Climate Justice – A Day of Action” event held in Male’ on Thursday night.

Women, poor women in particular, face greater hardships and challenges from climate change injustices, he noted, adding that Nasheed said that three women died for every man who died in the 2004 tsunami.

The event was organised by local NGO Voice of Women (VOW) with Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN). It was also in collaboration with ‘One Billion Rising for Justice‘ (a global campaign to end violence against women, calling for justice and gender equality).

Recalling his visits to temporary shelters for victims of the tsunami in Maldives, Nasheed said that hardships faced by women after such a disaster were also far greater. Commenting on the impact of climate change on health, he said the effects were also felt more strongly by women, as individuals and as caregivers.

Conflicts and wars that result from that scarcity of natural resources caused by climate change also have a greater impact on women, Nasheed said.

“We see that women stand up when they face hardships. When women stand up and take action, I believe things improve in a more sustainable manner,” he continued. “I have found their [women’s] work, courage, and willpower to be of an amazing level, especially because of how my life turned out to be in the past two or three years. I am sure you will work to find a solution for this issue. And I believe you can find those solutions. And I believe you can save this world.”

In addition to Nasheed, Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim also spoke at the event, pledging to raise his voice on behalf of women in climate change issues. He also said increasing women’s participation and protection of women’s rights in social and economic planning is very important to minimise the impacts of climate change.

A statements of encouragement and solidarity sent from female leaders involved in climate change justice was also delivered at the event.

Among those who sent the message were former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, the founder of WECAN Osprey Orielle Lake, and Director of Climate Wise Women Tracy Mann.

A song produced by VOW ‘Climate Justice, Vow with us’ was performed live at the event, before all attendees signed the WECAN declaration ‘Women of the World Call for Urgent Action on Climate Change & Sustainability Solutions’.

The declaration

The declaration was ratified at the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit held in New York in September 2012. Described as “the clarion call to the women and men of the world” – the declaration targets the global women’s movement for climate action and sustainable solutions “to put the world on notice that women will take action at all levels”.

Calling for the fulfilment of existing international agreements on women’s equality and climate change, the declaration makes a number of demands from governments and communities.

Notable demands of the declaration include the call for a binding climate treaty to reduce carbon emissions under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), demands to bring atmospheric CO2 concentrations to below 350ppm, to protect 20 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020, and 40 percent by 2040 in marine preserves and sanctuaries.

In terms of energy, it demands the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies and the introduction of carbon taxes, increasing investment in conservation, energy efficiency, and safe energy, divesting from “dangerous and dirty” fossil fuel developments (such as fracking and deep-water oil drilling) while also rejecting greenhouse gas emissions reductions through high-risk technologies (such as nuclear energy, and geo-engineering).

In climate funding, the declaration demands prioritising and increasing of adaptation funding to build community resilience for ‘”those most affected by climate change” and making them more accessible for community-based groups, including women’s groups.

The declaration also calls for “common but differentiated responsibilities” between the global north and global south in resolving the climate crisis and implementing new economic indicators and structures that encourage sustainability and abandon models for limitless economic growth.


Kulhudhuffushi airport unconstitutional and unfeasible, says Ecocare

Environmental NGO Ecocare Maldives has called on the government to honor and uphold the constitution with regards to the sate’s mandate to protect and preserve natural environments and to ensure development activities are ecologically balanced sustainable.

In a statement issued yesterday, the organisation said the government’s decision to reclaim a mangrove area for the development of an “economically less viable” airport on Kulhudhuffushi Island – approximately 16.6km from the Hanimaadhoo International Airport – is “dishonoring” the constitution and that it is “neither environment friendly nor economically sound”.

Article 22 of the constitution – on protection of the environment – states that the government should take necessary measures to prevent pollution, the extinction of any species, and ecological degradation when pursuing economic and social goals.

Asking the authorities to reconsider the decision, Ecocare proposed a focus on the development of a speedy sea transportation or ferry network between the two islands instead.

Minister of Transport Ameen Ibrahim has earlier confirmed that the mangrove will fall into the dredging area for building the airport, though he was unsure whether it would be the whole mangrove or just part of it.

Government accountability

Speaking to Haveeru, Minister of State for Environment Hassan Shah has said that the ministry’s policy is to refrain from obstructing the government’s development projects.

He said that environmental regulations have been amended in a way that ensures the “environment will not become challenge for development” and that the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) will have the full authority to protect the environment.

Responding to the minister’s statement, Ecocare’s Maeed M. Zahir said that the gist of the regulation was to protect such areas and the new amendment is a way of lifting what the government sees as a barrier to development.

“As for EPA, it is a government institution, it is very unlikely for EPA to stop a project that is important for the government. There should be an independent institution, such as the HRCM or CSC, mandated with the protection of environment,” he said.

Noting that previous administrations had similarly failed to protect the environment in various development projects, Maeed said that through the current system the government cannot be held properly accountable for such activity.

Environmentally sensitive areas

Established in 2009, the EPA functions under the supervision of a governing board within the Ministry of Environment and Energy. The agency has published a list of protected areas and a separate list of ‘environmentally sensitive areas’. According to the EPA, the areas listed as sensitive are not yet protected, but the agency is working towards that end.

Kulhudhuffushi has been included in the sensitive areas list – especially the mangrove area. An uninhabited island included in the list, Shaviyani atoll Farukolhu, has also been chosen for the development of a domestic airport.

According to the EPA, Farukolhu also has a number of mangroves and is a breeding island for a number of birds. The island’s bay is also frequented by sharks and rays – particularly sting rays – who come to breed in the area.

All development projects have to be approved by the Ministry of Environment through an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) which is reviewed by the EPA. While the Farukolhu project has already begun the EIA clearance process, Kuludhuffushi airport has not.

Director of EPA’s environment protection section Mohamed Mustafa said that the agency was very concerned about such issues: “Development projects should be shaped in an environment friendly way, selection of islands with such features should be avoided.”

Importance of wetlands

Environmental NGO Bluepeace said the organisation was closely monitoring the issue and will comment on it through the EPA’s assessment process.

“Wetlands are ecologically important, and they play an important role in climate change adaptation. And they protect the Islands against tidal surges just like the reefs. Here we are talking about the safety of the people living there, not protecting the island itself. This was observed during the 2004 tsunami,” said Bluepeace Executive Director Ali Rilwan.

Noting their economic benefits, Rilwan said that even today the mangrove in Kulhudhufushi was being used by locals to soak coconut husks in order to extract coir and for Kan’doo (bruguiera cylindrica).

He said that Bluepeace was currently in the process of studying wetlands, starting with four northern islands, as more information is needed for their protection.

“We still don’t know much about species that inhabit these places. They are all very different and have a rich biodiversity, there is still a lot to learn about them,” said Rilwan.

Kulhudhuffushi North constituency MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa has previously cited a failure to promote the environmental case for preserving the wetlands, and a strong desire for economic development which has resulted in popular support for the new airport among locals.


Environmental regulations amended to allow dredging for Kulhudhuffushi airport

The government of Maldives has amended environmental regulations to allow dredging in protected areas in order to facilitate the development of an airport in the protected mangrove site on Kulhudhuffushi island.

Speaking at a press conference today, Minister of Transport Ameen Ibrahim said the government would seek advice from environmental specialists to decide to dredge all or part of Kulhudhuffushi’s only remaining mangrove.

“We have to dredge the mangrove. We will determine whether it will be part or whole of the mangrove later,” he said.

Amendments to the regulations on dredging islands and lagoons will allow the government to dredge protected areas for development projects on the condition that an area with similar geographical characteristics is designated as protected.

The government must also determine if dredging in an environmentally protected area would cause flooding or damage underground fresh water aquifers – a critical water resource in inhabited islands.

Establishing an airport on the most populous island in the north was a key campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen, although with a regional airport on Hanimadhoo Island – just 16.5 km or a 30 minute dhoni ride from Kulhudhuffushi, critics have questioned the feasibility and economic viability of the venture.

The government has said airport developers will be given a contract of 25 years and will be awarded an island for resort development for 50 years in order to subsidise the airport.

“It may not be profitable to only serve Kulhudhuffushi residents. But it will become a profitable investment when islands nearby are developed as resorts,” Ameen told the media today.

Environmental NGO Ecocare has expressed concern over the government’s plans to abrogate its constitutional responsibility to protect the environment as long as the proposed plans are termed ‘development’.

“Though the constitution itself calls for sustainable development, it is sad and absurd when politicians care less about the vulnerability of the Maldives and its ecological diversity,” Ecocare has said.

The group pointed out that – following the complete reclamation of the island’s southern mangrove for the construction of housing -the northern mangrove had been designated to be an environmentally protected zone.

Marine biologist with local environmental consultancy Seamarc, Sylvia Jagerroos, has explained the importance of such wetlands, describing them as “one of the most threatened ecosystems on earth”.

“Mangrove support the seabed meaning they prevent erosion on beachline and also enhance protection of the island in case of storm and higher sea levels,” she said.

“They support a nursery for fish and marine fauna and aid and the reef and seagrass in the food chain. The mangrove mud flats are also very important in the turnover of minerals and recycling.”


Precious mangrove under threat as government plans airport in Kulhudhuffushi

Environmental NGO Ecocare has expressed concern that government proposals for an airport on Kulhudhuffushi island will result in the destruction of environmentally sensitive wetland areas.

“Though the constitution it self calls for sustainable development, it is sad and absurd when politicians care less about the vulnerability of Maldives and of its ecological diversity,” read an Ecocare press release.

Minister of State for Transport and Communication Mohamed Ibrahim today admitted that, should the proposed plan go ahead, there are few options but to encroach upon the island’s only remaining mangrove.

“We don’t have the details, but the new government plans to build an airport. We have prepared concept and have shared with the atoll council and the island council, and we are awaiting their comments,” said Ibrahim.

Ecocare stated that official enquiries into the specifics of the development had yet to yield any responses.

The group pointed out that – following the complete reclamation of the island’s southern mangrove for the construction of housing -the northern mangrove had been designated to be an environmentally protected zone.

Marine biologist with local environmental consultancy Seamarc, Sylvia Jagerroos, has explained the importance of such wetlands, describing them as “one of the most threatened ecosystems on earth”.

“Mangrove support the seabed meaning they prevent erosion on beachline and also enhance protection of the island in case of storm and higher sea levels,” she said.

“They support a nursery for fish and marine fauna and aid and the reef and seagrass in the food chain. The mangrove mud flats are also very important in the turnover of minerals and recycling.

Ecocare have also raised fears that the government plans to abrogate its constitutional responsibility to protect the environment as long as the proposed plans are termed ‘development’.

“Ecocare does not believe that this is a development proposal – this is just to honour a campaign pledge…it seems that he [President Abdulla Yameen] has asked authorities to get all of these promises done in 25 months,” said Ecocare’s Maeed M. Zahir.

State minister, Ibrahim, also referred to President Yameen’s August campaign pledge, in which he had suggested that the recently developed Hanimaadhoo airport – within the same area – was not enough for Kulhudhuffushi’s development.

At just just 16.6 km – or a thirty minute dhoni ride – from the new airport, Ecocare’s statement declared: “we cannot find reason whatsoever for the construction of an Airport in the Island of HDh. Kulhudhuffushi”.

Ibrahim declined to comment on the need for an additional regional airport.

Island divided

Ecocare’s Zahir suggested that most of Kulhudhuffushi’s residents were against the development, arguing that support for the proposal came largely from “party cadres” of President Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives.

“[Ecocare] has been made aware that there is a growing population of younger more environmentally sound locals who are opposing the idea of an airport,” Ecocare stated.

In contrast, however, Kulhudhuffushi North MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa explained that a strong desire for economic development, alongside the government’s failure to promote the environmental case for preserving the wetlands, had resulted in strong local support for the plan.

“There are many many people who want the airport…My [parliamentary] election is a month ahead – my priority is to all people. Some of the people, they want to have the airport, so how can I comment against the airport,” said the opposition MP.

Asked about the potential for reclamation of the mangrove, Ghafoor suggested that economic imperatives would outweigh environmental.

“People are looking for the jobs and people are looking for better options,” he said. “Their concern is the airport so I am am also willing to have the airport.”

Ecocare’s Zahir suggested, however, aviation regulations make the development of a second airport in the region untenable, arguing that local development would be better served by improvements to the ferry network.

Ghafoor argued that, without significant government efforts to maintain the area, the mangroves were currently acting as breeding grounds for mosquitoes – furthering local indifference to the wetlands’ fate.

“So far, the government hasn’t brought [environmental importance] to public notice – through this muddy land, a lot of mosquitoes are coming. The government is not providing control and these things so people are suffering – when there is low tide, there is a lot of smell, due to the heat and all.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party MP suggested that a newly developed airport may only require the reclamation of 10-15 percent of the mangrove.

“Without my people surviving, how can my concern be on the environment?”


Q&A: Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee

Following a feature article on the status of the fisheries industry – in which Minivan News spoke to local fishermen about their various concerns, an additional interview was conducted with the concerned cabinet minister about these issues.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee spoke to Minivan News about his political career, and the policies and plans of his ministry.

Shainee was appointed to his position on November 19, 2013 – two days after the new administration came to office. This is his first appointment to a cabinet position.

Mariyath Mohamed: With agriculture and fisheries being such a major component of our economy, what are the main achievements you seek to fulfill in this five year term as a minister overseeing these sectors?

Mohamed Shainee: I believe, as you rightly pointed out that fisheries and agriculture are a major part of the economy. But at this moment, I don’t believe it is well-represented in the economy as a vibrant sector. So, in these five years, what I would like to achieve is incorporating the fisheries and agriculture sector into the very vibrant economy of the Maldives. What I mean to say is that the fisheries and agriculture sectors should both be able to stand alone on its feet, without injecting any subsidies into them. It will be quite an achievement if I am able to do this. Five years is a very short time to change the way we’ve been doing things in these two sectors for a very long time. So I believe it will be a very good achievement if I can complete at least part of it in these five years.

MM: This being you first time serving in a cabinet, what are the main challenges you face?

MS: As a cabinet member, I don’t think there are any challenges. But the country has gone through many phases of instability and that is still present in the social fabric of the country. So I think it will be a challenge to get people’s trust built in the government, because we have passed through five years of lots of instability in the government or country. So it will be very difficult for the people to believe that the government will do something that is good and more solid for the people. So I believe that it will be a massive challenge to assure the public that we will really, sincerely do what we have promised to the public. So I guess, as a cabinet problem, there will not be a challenge.

And from what we have seen so far, I believe that the opposition is also willing to give the government, to prove whether we can or cannot do the promises in our manifesto. So I believe that we are now at a stage where we have a healthy government and a healthy opposition, which really is necessary for a country to move forward.

I don’t think there are any challenges within the cabinet, as all the cabinet ministers are well-educated and have the background, the knowledge, and the drive to pursue fulfillment of the manifesto we have put forward for the people.

MM: The government’s pledges include providing an allowance of MVR10,000 a month to fishermen during lean months. How will the government implement this and when?

MS: I have already announced that in the first quarter of this year I will reveal guidelines of how this will be done. It’s very simple: the system is an insurance scheme. If you take a look at PPM’s manifesto, you will see that the first pledge in the fisheries section is to provide fishermen with an installment or some form of payment in the lean months. And then after policy number two, we have policy number three. This is where we talk of introducing new people to the profession and increasing productivity of fisheries. There we talk about our aims and visions, one of which is that there won’t be a single perceived fisherman – I mean, when we talk about fishermen, there is skipjack fishery and yellowfin fishery, so not all fishermen – but on average, every fisherman will get about MVR 10,000 per month for their wages. This is where both of these combine together and becomes the slogan “10,000 regardless of catch”. In fact, we have already put together the forms to open up a registry for this particular scheme. We already know how many fishermen there are in this country, but for this particular insurance scheme we need to open up a new register.

It’s very simple. If you look at the skipjack fishing statistics for last year, you will see three or four months which are very difficult for the fishermen. The real goal of this is sustainability.

So the aim of the government is to ensure that even during these difficult months fishermen stay in the industry. For that reason, during those few months we want to give a payment so that they can do their basic necessities, so they can fulfill their daily obligations towards their family.

The MVR10,000 scheme is a top-up system. We actually do not want to inject subsidies into the industry. That is what I said in response to your first question – that I want the industry to work on its own in a vibrant, active manner. If we start giving subsidies, we will always remain dependent on subsidies. As you well know, subsidies are an injection of capital into an area where things have gone a little out of the ordinary. So, we needed that kind of subsidy from 2004 onwards as the catch amounts had gone down. So yes, in those days we needed a subsidy to make fishermen remain in the industry.

But it is slowly catching up. In 2013 we have seen productivity increasing. So now we need to make the industry stand alone and be more vibrant and shock-proof to absorb these shocks. We need to devise a way to get people’s minds set on the idea that they can work in the industry.

The real reason is the sustainability of the fishermen in the industry to keep them in the field during this low season. This is because what we don’t want is for fishermen to turn to other sectors in these difficult months because we need the fishing industry to run as it does now and get further developed. That is the main idea behind this.

MM: President Yameen has announced that the ministry is compiling a register of existing fishermen. According to your statistics of 2012, there were 10,264 registered fishermen at the time of the report. What is the need for a completely new register, and how much time do you estimate it will take for the completion of this register?

MS: We do have a register, but we are not sure they are inclusive of all the fishermen. This is because always a registry is maintained for a service. And we have the subsidy for which they are automatically registered, so we know exactly how many fishermen there are.

But for this specific purpose, we need to build a new registry. We need a new registry for the insurance scheme as this will be done by a second party.

We are considering for this purpose the government fund management agency NSPA, for example, to deliver this service to fishermen.

MM: Many fishermen I have interviewed have raised concerns about the decreasing price of fish. Does the ministry have any plans to address this?

MS: Yes, that is true. Every year in this time when the supply increases, the demand goes down and so prices go down. But one thing we did not say in the manifesto this time is that we will give a set price to the fishermen. But for the same reasons I said before – that we want an economically viable system to be in place – what we have said is we will give the best price to the fishermen.

And to assure that, what we have done is we have put in clauses or actions in the manifesto to make it transparent – to let fishermen know that the price they are getting is exactly the best maximum price that they can get.

So for that reason, in the first few months of the government we have made a Fisheries Promotion Board to diversify our business to various markets. Insha Allah, I have gotten four countries interested – I’m looking into the arab markets, the Russian markets, the Chinese market and the Pakistani market, who are also very interested in diversifying.

So in fact, there is a lot of work being done in all these fronts to diversify markets, because what we cannot do is to rely on one specific market – which is the European market. I mean, the European market still is the largest and the biggest and the most important market for the country. But still, if we rely on one single market, any shock to that market will be felt very badly in the country here. So we are trying to diversify, that is one action.

The other thing is in this promotion board, for the first time, we have a fisherman in the board. This is to show to other fishermen that we are working on their behalf and that the price that they are getting really is the best price they can get. On top of that, even in the ministry website, we are now publishing the yearly rates of skipjack in the market. This, as well, is for the reason that we want fishermen to know they are getting the best price. So that when they go to any buyer, they can’t fool the fishermen now.

MM: You have said there is a fisherman on the Fisheries Promotion Council itself. How was he appointed?

MS: Yes. What we are trying to advocate from the ministry is for the formation of associations or co-operatives to voice for other fishermen, or vessel owners, or other sectors – to voice out through one body.

If I listen to one individual, and go to another island and listen to another fisherman, it will be totally different. Even in the same island, there will be different views. One way of doing it is for the vehicle to make the co-operatives.

At this time, in this country we have only one running organisation, which is the Fishermen’s Association. So we requested them to give us a candidate from the fisheries who is an active fisherman to be on the board. So so far we have only one that is functioning, and that is where we selected the fisherman from.

The fisherman on the board is from Alif Dhaalu Atoll, I believe. He is a skipjack fisherman and has sat in the past three or four sittings of the board.

MM: Another concern of numerous fishermen is the rising cost of fuel and ice, which in turn raises their overhead fees and brings down the profit they earn. While you have already said that the government wants to cut down on subsidies, what other plans does the state have to assist fishermen facing this issue?

MS: Yes, of course we are increasing the number of ice plants. In fact, one of the ice plants which has been idle for a few years now will be up and running in a few months time when we [open bidding on] this plant located in Thaa [Atoll] Guraidhoo. Insha allah, this will be done in the next few months.

And the other ice plant which, again, has been idle for the past three or four months is in Haa Alif [Atoll] Ihavandhoo. This will probably be starting from January 22 onwards. There are certain areas where we can reduce the price and one of the ways is by increasing the number of ice plants. Three ice plants will come in operation, insha Allah, this year.

What it actually does is it allows the fishermen to sell the fish at a higher price.

And unfortunately – I have to say unfortunately – the culture of the fishermen is they are very passionate about what they are doing. So if one of the fishermen builds a boat, the next one wants to build a bigger and nicer boat. So that has been an issue. We have been advocating that the increasing of fishing vessels to over a certain limit is not economically feasible. And already the fishermen have realised that ‘yes, we have a 35 tonne fishing boat, but how many days in a year does a fisherman actually catch 35 tonnes of fish?’

I think people will realise in time that we cannot keep increasing the size of the vessel and that we need an economic size. And we have shown through our ministry’s research that 85 feet is a manageable and economical size.

But now the real issue is that fuel prices have gone up and it will be difficult for us to stop that. But indirectly, the government is also working to get fuel at a cheaper price. In fact, the President His Excellency Abdulla Yameen has in his last visit had some negotiations with the Indian government to get fuel at a cheaper price. We are looking at other ways to land projects in the Maldives which will help us get fuel, diesel at better prices.

I am also on this committee in the government which has already started to explore for oil in the Maldives. So, these are long term, but indirectly we are trying to bring down the consumption or price of fuel in the country.

MM: The Malé City Council has announced that fishermen will have to take a special licence to sell their catch in stalls at the fishmarket. Which institution holds the mandate for this and does the Fisheries Ministry have any involvement in this?

MS: Like yourself, I am also confused in this area. We have a sort of tug of war going on between the council and the ministry and other institutions. But recently – about two or three weeks back – the council met with the ministry asking for our help in managing the fishmarket.

The truth is that until then we did not know what was happening on the other side. But now, after the new government came into place the council met with us and we are giving colloboration to the government.

In fact, I think it is today or next week we are planning to have training for the council members so that they know what the hygiene standards should be, what the methods are… And so we have requested them to give us the plan for the fishmarket so that we can give them the technical backing and advise them on how to build a market so that it is more hygienic.

So, I think it is a collaborative effort between the council and the ministry. We have a bigger role to ascertain that the public is safe and getting the right fish, so that everything goes smoothly. On the other hand, the council has the municipal right over the market. I think we can do this hand in hand. I believe this will happen now much better as things are happening much better now than a few months before.

MM: Are you supportive of the council’s initiative to lease stalls at the fishmarket?

MS: What I heard from the council, which is the truth, is that there a lot of issues in the fishmarket. And one way of always managing is through licenses or some mechanism where you have power over whom you allow and whom you don’t allow. So that might be a good idea.

But I don’t think it should be at a rate which is difficult for the fishermen. It should be a nominal fee just for the registration. It should just be a management fee, and not for business purposes. I think the idea – I don’t know, I haven’t heard from the council – but I believe the idea is to create a managed system rather than an open system. I think it should be that way. So that it is well-managed and not just anyone can go and do unhygienic practices there.

MM: What are the main countries that fish are exported to, via the state enterprise MIFCO and otherwise? What are the challenges faced in exportation of fisheries products in recent days?

MS: The EU is by far the biggest market, especially for yellowfin tuna. But apart from that, the industry also exports to the US, as well as some to Canada, to Japan, and other markets as well. I don’t have all the details of it at the moment but the EU is the biggest market, as well as the US then. And Japan is also another market to which we export certain type and grade of fish.

On the other hand, skipjack tuna is mainly exported to Bangkok. But if they are value-added, processed, then the can again goes to Europe, so that remains our main market.

MM: The president has appealed to the British high commissioner to impress upon the EU the importance of extending GSP plus facilities to the Maldives again. What do you think the chances of this happening are?

MS: I think it can be done, because I think in the past EU and Maldives have had a good relationship as countries. So I don’t think it is impossible for this to happen. It’s just more about bilateral relations and understanding.

I mean, looking at one side, the European market or consumer will be affected from this as well. There will a lot of pressure from the consumer’s side, as when prices of fish go up, it’s not just us carrying the burden, but also the consumers. So I think there will be a lot of pressure.

I think there will be a lot of pressure because when you look at Europe, people are more educated and want these kinds of niche products.

Maldives is the only country that doesn’t catch by-catch fish. We are dolphin free. We are catching one by one. We are the most green fisheries industry in the world, in fact. So I am sure the consumers in the European market would like to get something from this side of the world which is more green and environmental friendly.

There is no reason why it can’t be done. I think as an Islamic country – a Muslim country – we have worked together well in the past. There’s no reason why we can’t.

MM: Being a low lying island state, the Maldives is vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change. What do you see as the threats of climate change to the fishing industry? Is the ministry taking any steps to counter them?

MS: I think what we have felt in the past is actually part of this changing of the climate. And for us, it would be the change in the temperature of the surface water. Because we are very environmentally friendly fishermen who catch fish from the surface waters.

If the surface water gets a bit hot, then the fish swims deeper. So we need to penetrate through that layer of the ocean to get access to the fish. That is why we have already introduced long line fishing. That is to diversify from just one way of fishing.

Again, we will be very vulnerable if we commit to just one form of fishery. It is a good sign that in terms of income, we are meeting expectations by value in yellowfin and skipjack fishery. So we already have diversified into two forms of fishing. This is one of the ideas.

Another idea or another front we are working on is mariculture and aquaculture, which also is a way to minimise the impacts on the natural fishery that we have. This is because, from what we have seen, it is more seasonal, – about a ten year cycle. But even in those times, to reduce the impact of climate related issues, we need to diversify fisheries. That is what they policy is.

MM: What are the main challenges besides environmental, faced by the fishing industry, as well as the ministry, and what are the state’s plans to deal with them?

MS: The biggest challenge is actually the budget. As you know, over the years, the government has acquired a lot of debt. And that is a challenge for the government and one of our pledges is that by the third year we will get rid of the debt.

So during these two years, it will be harder to fund any of the projects from the government’s side, so we have to find innovative ways to do so. And that we are already doing. I mean, the ministry’s plan has not decreased because we don’t have sufficient funds. But there are ways we can do this. And that’s why the government’s plan is to enable the industry to become a more vibrant industry rather than the government doing business.

So we have already given up on a lot of the businesses that we do, and we are promoting that the private partners should come and invest, and we will give them concessions so that we work in hand in hand to get what is required.

So the biggest challenge, I think, for the ministry, the government and the whole country, is the cash flow issue and the tightness of the budget.


Maldives awarded US$6 million loan for clean energy projects

The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) has pledged Dh22million (US$6 million) in concessionary loans for clean energy projects in the Maldives, Abu Dhabi media has reported.

The announcement came as Abu Dhabi hosted the Fourth Assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) – attended by a delegation from the Maldives.

“Maldives does not have the luxury of time to sit and wait for the rest of the world to act and that Maldives has started the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” Maldivian Minister for Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim told the assembly.

Local newspaper ‘The National’ has reported that the loans will provide half of the funds for a waste to energy project that will address both environmental and health issues in the Maldives.

The project will benefit 120,000 people, with a reduced need for landfills, the generation of 2MW of clean energy, and the production of 62 million litres of desalinated water per year.

The states selected to receive the ADFD loans were chosen upon the advice of IRENA – an intergovernmental organisation mandated by its 124 state members to promote the adoption of renewable energy.

Amongst the other states receiving a share of the Dh150 million (US$40.8 million) package of loans – selected from 80 applicants – were Mali, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Ecuador ,and Samoa.

“These projects show the real impact of Irena in the world,” ‘The National’ quoted Chairwoman of the IRENA Advisory Committee Ilona Antoniszyn-Klik as saying.

“The selection criteria used in the project review ensured that these six projects selected are representative of geographic spread of the agency membership and cover a variety of renewable-energy technologies,” said Antoniszyn-Klik.

“The criteria also ensured that the projects were technically sound, they had to be innovative, replicable and improve energy access and security.”

The Maldives – a member of the group since 2009 – was represented at the forum by a delegation including Minister Thoriq, Minister of State for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed, Ambassador to the UAE Dr Aishath Shahenaz Adam, and Director General of Ministry of Environment and Energy Ahmed Ali.

Addressing the the high level IRENA plenary session, Thoriq noted that despite being an insignificant contributor to climate change, the Maldives was taking bold steps to move towards renewable energies.

“He assured that Maldives stands and will continue to be at the frontline combating climate change,” reported the Ministry of Environment and Energy.

The delegation will be in attendance throughout Adu Dhabi Sustainablility Week, which features an array of exhibitions and conferences in the wings of the 7th World Future Energy Summit. The week is expected to be attended by over 30,000 people from 150 countries.

Last month, the European Union pledged a further €4million to address climate change in the Maldives, bringing its total contributions to €38million over the past four years.

December also saw the signing of a climate protection agreement between the Maldives and German governments. The agreement consists of a €3million grant to be split between a solar panel project and the development of low-carbon guidelines for local businesses.

In a recent report titled ‘Turn Down The Heat’, the World Bank reasserted the urgent need for concerted efforts to support the Maldives in adapting to climate change, due to a projected sea level rise of 115 centimetres by 2090.

In the document, a 4 degree Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) global temperature increase was predicted by the end of the 21st century unless concerted action is taken immediately.

Based on the report’s findings, the World Bank has highlighted the urgent need for concerted efforts to support the Maldives in adapting to climate change.