President Waheed must form new cabinet: DRP Vice President Mavota Shareef

Islam will not be at the center of the current National Unity government’s agenda in the coming months, however judicial reform should proceed in close alignment with the constitution, opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Mavota Shareef has said.

DRP has pledged to support President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who was sworn in today following Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation at 1:00 this afternoon under pressure from security forces. Opposition parties have formed the National Unity government under President Waheed.

While unable to provide details of the government’s plans, Shareef emphasised a need for cohesion.

“There is so much distrust among political parties, we cannot allow for further divisions,” Shareef said, adding however that the party does not expect any serious problems to arise as the new ‘national unity’ government moves forward. “We will have to heal these wounds.”

Shareef is also a member of the 23rd December Coalition’s steering committee, which organised a protest on that date in 2011 calling for the the defence of Islam in the Maldives. Although international media has reported today’s events – described by Nasheed’s party as a military coup – as a sign of growing fundamentalism, “those values [of 23 December] are not really a central concern right now,” Shareef told Minivan News.

Opposition-led protests began on January 16 when Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the military, after blocking his own police summons. Former President Mohamed Nasheed was criticised by the opposition for ordering the judges’ “unlawful” detention, while the government requested international legal assistance from the United Nations’ (UN) Human Rights Commission to resolve the growing judicial crisis.

That UN delegation was due to arrive in the Maldives on December 9, along with “technical expertise” from the Commonwealth. Representatives from the UK High Commission, the Commonwealth and the UN now due to arrive in the Maldives for related discussions this week.

However in a sudden shift, a detachment of police last night assisted opposition demonstrators in an attack on the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) camp. Police subsequently clashed with the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) early this morning, triggering violent riots, an assault on the MNDF military base in Male’, and an overthrow of the state broadcasting station.

By late morning the government had declared the situation a military coup.

Stating that he would have to use military force and possibly open the Maldives to international intervention in order to stay in power, Nasheed said those terms were against his values and resigned from office.

The MDP subsequently issued a statement this evening that the opposition had taken control of the police and army, and “offered an ultimatum to President Nasheed: step down or be faced with a bloodbath in the capital. President Nasheed thus resigned in order to protect the public from further violence. His resignation was involuntary in that he had no choice.

Shortly after his swearing-in, Dr Waheed addressed the nation saying he was grateful to the police and MNDF who had made “great sacrifices” to defend the constitution.

“Today is the day the rule of law has been established in the country perfectly,” Dr Waheed said.

“I will not order the police, military or any person to do anything against the law – I promise it to the public. Everyone will have the protection of constitution and laws.”

According to the constitution, Waheed must appoint a new Vice President to be approved by Parliament. Elections may be held within six months, or Waheed may complete the remaining two years of Nasheed’s term.

Shareef said he was confident that no elections would be held, and advocated that the new President “will have to form a cabinet as soon as possible.”

Although no members of Nasheed’s cabinet have resigned, Minivan News understands that the names of 57 individuals from the cabinet and the parliament, as well as the recently replaced chiefs of police and military forces Ahmed Faseeh and Moosa Ali Jaleel and former President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair, have been forwarded to immigration for no-travel restrictions. The list is said to be growing.

Shareef believes judicial reform will continue to be at the forefront of the government’s agenda, however he said it “should be done lawfully”. Nasheed, he said, “made several mistakes. The [MDP] party called for chaos and anarchy, using well-known gangs and thugs in Male’ to lead to armed forces’ frustration,” he alleged. The government at the time made similar claims against the opposition.

“If there is an issue with the judiciary, please use legal means- such as parliament and passing new laws- to reform it. For two years we have waited for a criminal justice policy, a penal code and other amendments to be passed but they haven’t been done. Instead we’ve had three attorney generals in the last three years, and none could get those things done,” he said.

“Since we changed to a new constitution, we need supporting laws to become functional,” he added.

Minivan News inquired whether the international legal delegations would be consulted in spite of the change of power.

“Foreign expertise is necessary to enact judicial reform,” he said, noting that many laws are pending Parliament’s approval.

Opposition leaders on January 30 met with the Vice President, pledging allegiance and urging him to assume control of the executive.

Following that meeting, Vice President of the PPM Umar Naseer said all the parties in the opposition alliance had agreed to “pledge support to the Vice President.”

“After these discussions we are now calling upon the nation’s security forces, on behalf of our ‘December 23 alliance’ of all the opposition parties in the country as well as the NGO coalition, to immediately pledge their allegiance to the VP,” Naseer said.

“I repeat, all members of the December 23 alliance are now calling on the security forces to immediately pledge allegiance to Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and, as Mohamed Nasheed has violated the constitution, to not obey any of his orders and to pledge allegiance to the Vice President.”

Members of PPM could not be reached at time of press.

Reaction

UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon has issued a statement expressing “his strong hope that this handover of power, which has been announced as a constitutional step to avoid further violence and instability, will lead to the peaceful resolution of the political crisis that has polarised the country in recent months.”

Ki-Moon “calls on all Maldivians to refrain from violence and engage constructively in addressing the challenges their country is facing and to protect and build upon the important gains the Maldives has made in recent years in establishing democracy and rule of law.”

The Secretary-General acknowledges the important contributions of President Nasheed, the country’s first democratically-elected president, to the establishment of democracy in the Maldives and his role in raising international awareness of the dangers of climate change and rising seas. The United Nations will remain a close partner of the Maldives and will continue to extend its support in the period ahead.”=Indian High Commissioner Dynaneshwar Mulay told Minivan News that India was “in dialogue with all stakeholders n the aftermath of the day’s events.”

“All parties are committed to peace,” he said, adding that he had been “assured things are handled in a mature fashion.”

He did not comment on whether Nasheed’s government had requested or been offered Indian intervention.

The Commonwealth said it was “gravely concerned about the political and constitutional developments in Maldives.  At the request of the Chief Justice and Government, a Commonwealth Secretariat team of five officials arrived in Maldives on 6 February, to explore how the Commonwealth can respond to the country’s urgent priorities, including strengthening the judiciary and the separation of powers. The Secretariat team includes political, legal and human rights officers.

“The Commonwealth team is consulting with the full spectrum of stakeholders to assess the current situation and the Commonwealth’s possible contributions in the short, medium and long-term.

“All Commonwealth member countries have committed themselves to the Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, including a commitment to constitutional democracy, peace, the rule of law, and human rights.

“The Commonwealth stands ready to continue to support Maldives to uphold its constitution, strengthen its institutions and reinforce the culture of democracy. We urge all to respect the rule of law and the constitution, and to refrain from acts of violence.”

Travel warnings

Several countries have issued travel warnings for Male’ after today’s surge in political turmoil.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth advised against “all but essential travel to Male’ island. There are political demonstrations in the capital Malé, which have resulted in violent clashes between government and opposition supporters, and later the police and defence forces. The situation remains uncertain. If you are in Malé, or choose to travel to Malé, you should exercise caution, avoid demonstrations and beware of spontaneous gatherings.”

There are currently no reports of social unrest or demonstrations at Malé International Airport, or at the tourist resorts and other islands, the FCO said, asking tourists to check the situation with travel and tour operators.

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Islamic Minister to investigate “Christian missionary” allegations against the State

Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has consulted with President Mohamed Nasheed on allegations that the government has cooperated with Christian missionaries in an effort “to wipe out Islam”.

“The President is now considering the best way forward,” said Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair. “He will either form an independent commission to address the issue, or allow the Islamic Minister to consult with his colleagues. The Islamic Minister will advise the President in the matter.”

The consultation is in keeping with the government’s commitment to share decisions of religious matters with Islamic scholars.

Speaking to local media today, Dr Bari said “The President called very late yesterday and said he would request the Ministry to look into the allegations to understand the truth.” At the time, Bari had not received a formal letter stating the request but said he would cooperate with the request upon receiving such a document.

The Minister and officials at the Islamic Ministry could not be reached at time of press.

Over the past week, members of minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Ibrahim Didi have accused the government of cooperating with “Christian missionaries” and “Jewish parties” against the state religion of Islam- Didi claimed the President was “a madman and a Christian”- and of spreading undue fear with the claim that the islands are sinking.

Both men have been repeatedly summoned for police interrogations, prompting protests outside police headquarters and the Presidential Palace.

Speaking today with Minivan News, Zuhair called the allegations “a big lie that has been repeated since 2003, when Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) began to work abroad.”

He added that the claims were also raised in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, in which currently ruling MDP won the election over the 30-year administration of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

“At that time Dr Hassan Saeed had made these allegations and the government carried out a full-scale, professional investigation in the United Kingdom. The ‘Operation Druid’ found no substance to any of the allegations. There was no evidence of any contact with Christian missionaries or priests. So it is surprising that members of Saeed’s party are again repeating these allegations,” Zuhair observed.

Operation Druid

In 2007, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government contracted UK security and private investigation firm Sion Resources for a surveillance operation dubbed ‘Operation Druid’. According to the former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Gayoom “had concerns” about the origins of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), exiles from which had fled to Salisbury where they had been sheltered by Nasheed’s high school alumni, David Hardingham.

Hardingham, founder of the Friends of Maldives NGO, and Sarah Mahir had previously ambushed Gayoom in the UN building in Geneva in May 2005, accusing him of complicity in human rights abuses.

“I think Gayoom was quite shaken by that, and afterwards he was not as complacent over the security given to him by his hosts, be that by the UK or UN,” Dr Shaheed told Minivan News, in an interview in June 2011.

Subsequently, “The government may have wanted to see what was going on [in Salisbury],” Dr Shaheed said.

“What these operations did was try to see who was who. And a lot of the operations the government felt were against it came from Salisbury, and I think the government of the day felt justified in engaging a firm to look into what was going on,” he said. “They felt they needed to check on that, and what came out was a clean bill of health. Nothing untoward was happening, and these people were by and large bone-fide.”

Back in the Maldives, Gayoom’s government released a leaflet accusing Hardingham and Salisbury Cathedral of conspiring to blow up the Islamic Centre and build a church.

It was just a mischievous suggestion, a very mischievous suggestion,” Dr Shaheed acknowledged. “At the time everyone was accusing each other of being non-Muslim, and this accusation that the MDP was non-Muslim was getting very loud.

“There is this very, very deep reaction to anything un-Islamic in this country, and you can use Islam as a political tool quite easily. Therefore these allegations become political charges.”

Former Conservative Party MP for Salisbury, Robert Key, who had been instrumental in getting Nasheed an audience in British parliament, told Minivan News in February 2011 that Salisbury Cathedral had taken the accusation “at face value” .

“It was not true, and therefore we had to say ‘It is not true,'” he said. “The Dean of Salisbury Cathedral understood the issue, she took it at face value, and we sought security advice as necessary. But it was never a serious threat. It was a juvenile political ploy.”

For his part, Hardingham has dismissed the allegations that he is a Christian missionary as “absolute nonsense – I have never been a priest or anything associated with any church, and I challenge the people making the allegations to provide a shred of evidence to support their case.

“I was refused entry into the Maldives in April 2005. Government spokesperson at the time, Mohamed Hussein ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, told Associated Press that this was due to my involvement with an Islamic extremist group. So I have been accused of being an Islamic extremist and a Christian missionary – probably the fastest and most radical conversion in history.”

Government respects religion

Citing the Maldives’ commitment to be an Islamic state, Zuhair today pointed out that it was the government’s public responsibility to clarify that the allegations against it were baseless.

“Not only do these statements refer to the government, they also refer to our members and supporters and their respect for our religion”, he said, adding that the allegations involving Jewish parties came close to anti-Semitism – “and we don’t want to spread that image.”

In its efforts to staunch DQP’s “hate speech”, the government has drawn criticism from main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) for “suppression of the constitutional right to free expression”.

Speaking previously at a press conference held in response to the allegations, which were broadcast on DhiTV news on January 8, Zuhair called “spreading baseless and demonstrably false claims” about the government a “criminal offence”, and the coverage of demonstrably false allegations of foreign religious influence a “violation of journalism ethics”–statements which drew prompt criticism from media associations and opposition parties.

“The government will not allow anybody to be influenced by the crime of incitement,” Zuhair clarified today, explaining that the opposition had put the media in a position of defending the general freedom of expression in order to promote their own agenda.

“It is very easy for any Maldivian or journalist to find out about the Druid operation or to see if we have been accepting payments from a Christian priest. Ask us. What is surprising is that this story has been going on for a week and yet none of the media have found out or reported what the grounds for the allegations are,” Zuhair said. “It’s part of journalistic integrity to at least get the five W’s right: who, what, where, when and why. Why are they being fooled?”

According to Zuhair, the findings of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the court will be necessary to resolve the matter.

The matter continues to be investigated by the police, who have now summoned Didi and Jameel for four consecutive nights. Meanwhile, a protest supporting the freedom of expression has been scheduled for the Artificial Beach this evening.

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Maldivian Islamic groups call for arrest of UN High Commissioner on Human Rights

Protestors gathered outside the United Nations Building in Male’ on Friday afternoon to condemn UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay for her criticism of the Maldivian constitution, namely its provisions endorsing flogging and mandating that every Maldivian be a Muslim.

The protestors carried signboards with angry slogans, including “Islam is not a toy”, “Ban UN” and “Flog Pillay”, and called on authorities to arrest the UN High Commisioner.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that the sizeable protest was contained and there were no confrontations.

“Police cordoned off the area so people could not enter the UN building or the roads leading to the building. The protest was pretty heated, but there were no confrontations or arrests,” he said.

After a break for Sunset Prayer, protesters renewed their efforts at the Tsunami Memorial.

Shiyam said police guarded the UN building during the evening protest, and kept appraised of its movements.

No concerns have been voiced to the police by the UN.

During a press conference on Thursday evening, Pillay again called for the government and the judiciary to issue a moratorium on flogging.

“Flogging is a form of punishment that is cruel and demeaning to women. I have as High Commissioner traveled to very many Islamic countries, and apart from the Maldives and one other country that practices stoning, flogging is not a practice that is condoned,” she said.

“The issue needs to be examined, and therefore I called for a countrywide discussion. It is much better if the issue is transparent and debated.”

Challenged by a local journalist that the Maldives was both obliged to protect the religion of Islam, she replied: “You have a constitution which conforms in many respects to universal human rights. Let me assure you that these human rights conform with Islam.”

She added that the Maldives had signed international treaties that are legally-binding obligations, “and such a practice conflicts with these obligations undertaken by the Maldives.”

Pillay said she had raised this matter with President Mohamed Nasheed and the judges during her visit, “and they are all looking into this matter. The President is sympathetic because each time he travels outside the Maldives the issue is raised with him. He says he can only look at it on a case by case basis, but if there is a judicial decision, that may apply to all cases.”

She renewed her call for a moratorium, and noted that the Maldives “has an excellent track record regarding the death penalty. The death penalty is unIslamic and is not practiced in the Maldives. When I travel to places where the death penalty is used, I hold up the Maldives as an example of that.”

Asked to comment on the requirement under the Maldivian constitution that all Maldivians be Muslim, Pillay respond that “Such a provision is discriminatory, and does not comply with international standards. I would urge a debate again on the issue to open up entrance of the constitution to all.”

Asked by another local journalist to respond to the religious groups criticising her requests, “my response is that as the UN High Commission of Human Rights I look at the norms and standards that all the governments of the world have drawn up.”

“It is not that I am plucking principles from the air. I point my critics to universally accepted standards on human rights are consistent with Islam. Many governments and scholars have told be there is no conflict between human rights and Islam.”

Pillay also highlighted the plight of expatriate labourers in the Maldives, who make up a third of the population and in many cases have been lured to the country by unscrupulous employment brokers.

“The Minister of Foreign Affairs [Ahmed Naseem] is very aware of the suffering of foreign workers, and agreed that something needs to be done for these people,” Pillay said.

“You can’t have 60,000 people suffering here while performing work for the benefit of Maldivians and the tourism industry, and pretend this is invisible. The media has a role to give these people a voice so they can explain their problems.

“Many of them are trafficked and the little money they earn is exploited. This is of grave concern to me, because people like this are are protected under the UN Convention on Migrant Workers and their Families. I have urged the Maldives to ratify this, and regularise the presence of 60,000 people

“I also call for an end to the stereotyping of these people as a threat and unwanted.”

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Maldives Game Fishing Association hosts awards presentation

The Maldives Game Fishing Association (MGFA) held an awards and presentation dinner at Bandos Island Resort on Saturday night.

Marlin, tuna, wahu and sailfish were weighed, tagged and released before points were awarded. One tuna was not weighed, because as crews were pulling it out of the water for weighing a shark came by and bit it in half. The head was brought to the weigh station, which ended in a clean crescent-shaped bite.

Samples of sailfish were sent off to be tested, some caught fish were used for DNA testing, other fish were donated to locals as food. The largest specimen was a 50 kilogram sailfish.

While fishing is a niche market in the Maldives, one travel operator noted that angling was one of the UK’s most popular sports and a potential drawcard for the Maldives.

Champion angler Ahmed Zamir, from the Meeru Team which earned 400 points, said the event was challenging because the allocated fishing area was very small.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to show the integrity and honesty of a fisherman. I had to show the class of line that I used to catch my fish. The whole point was honesty,” he said.

The champion team will be invited to the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA)’s World Championship

IGFA representative at the event, Mario Tagliante, said the event inaugural event showed promise in the Maldives, but said “We were expecting more international response, and response from resorts. But we started our planning process quite late. Next time we’ll be more prepared – we have a year. We’ll get a much better response in 2012.”

MGFA Committee Member Tiffany Bond said the event had helped train people to follow international regulations.

“The challenge also brings more research, there’s still a lot we don’t know about Maldivian fish. Many participants, especially locals, were not familiar with the processes, such as tag and release, and after training for this challenge they are now more familiar with the procedures,” she said.

Chief Judge Bob Lowe said the judging process went well, although he noted that it was difficult to get everyone to use the same criteria.

“This is the first step, I think the event will grow and grow, eventually become one of the world’s major game fishing tournaments,” he predicted.

He explained that the tag-and-release method was valuable because it allowed monitoring of stocks and fish movements: “We’ve found that fish are moving all over, to Mexico and Hawaii and around the Atlantic, and sometimes further north.”

During the reception Minivan News spoke to Larry Zurloff, a Canadian currently living in the Maldives, who explained how he had designed and built a boat several years ago in conjunction with a local fisherman from Thaa Atoll, Mustafa Mohamed.

The pair incorporated a traditional fishing dhoni design with sport fishing facilities. When it is not being used by Larry, Mustafa uses the vessel to fish for his family. Zurloff spent seven days on the boat as part of a team, but mostly caught only smaller fish and scored zero.

“It was great to see friends, meet new people, and for everybody to get together in one spot,” he said.

He also noted that it was good to use the event to raise awareness of tag and release methods, especially for large bill fish: “There’s so little known about fish here, and big fish are decreasing in number each year. I think this could build awareness for tag and release. And it’s a great way to also make some money for the tourism industry.”

He speculated that increasing boat traffic was affecting fish populations nearer to human population centers, and driving up prices since fishermen needed to go further to find fish.

Mustafa didn’t have a clear response to the tag and release practice, and seemed unconvinced of the idea of fishing in order to release the fish. and said it was new.

Larry said suggested that the money in game fishing could divert fishermen from commercial exploitation of stock.

During the launch ceremony in September, MGFA Vice President Ahmed Nazeer said that game fishing had the potential to attract a new tourism demographic.

“The competitors and fishermen we see are not likely to be the average romantic vacationers or honeymooners, but serious competitive sportsmen,” he said.

Nazeer said the specific nature of the sport would attract long-anglers from the United States, a country which is not highly represented in tourist arrivals.

He further indicated that the tournament was in line with global trends. “The approach to game fishing is increasingly popular abroad. If we see significant improvement with sustainable sports fishing, we will take steps to develop a long-term commitment to the sport in the Maldives.

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PG asks police to provide details of protest response

The Prosecutor General’s (PG) office has asked the police to provide details of its response to the protest held by ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) outside the Supreme Court on Thursday, which later spread to the residence of the former President.

Prosecutor General Ahmed Muiz told Minivan he was unable to comment on the matter at this time.

However Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said this was the first time the PG had made such a request.

“They are requesting details of what happened,” Shiyam confirmed, but said the PG had not notified police of a potential course of action or what it was looking for.

Shiyam pointed out that demonstrations in certain areas, including courts and army gates, are prohibited by the Regulation on Assembly.

“Members of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) have both gathered in these areas though, even though we have requested them not to. Some of them have gone to the army gates and the President’s gate as well, so occasionally we have to address the issue,” he said.

The police have been asked to provide the information before Wednesday this week.

On Thursday October 20 the MDP national council conducted an emergency meeting and approved a resolution to launch a protest against the judiciary, claiming judges were unduly influenced by the former President and his half-brother MP Abdulla Yameen.

The protesters gathered at the Supreme Court before marching towards the former President’s building Endherimaage, where violent clashes erupted between MDP activists and a few Gayoom supporters blocking the entrance to his residence.

Minivan News journalists at the scene also observed gravel, rocks, hot water and sharp metal raining down on protesters from the top floors or terrace of Endherimaage.

Several activists claimed they saw Gassan Maumoon, former President Gayoom’s son, throw stones and pour boiling hot water on the protesters. MDP activists meanwhile threw large stones at Endhirmaage and attempted to break down the door. Some windows of the house were smashed while a car parked outside was damaged.

A 17-year-old, identified as Hussein Hassan, was rushed to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) with critical injuries after a block of wood apparently thrown from the building hit his head. IGMH later confirmed that the boy was conscious and his condition stable.

Police summoned Gassan Maumoon, son of the former President, for questioning on Saturday after a number of MDP members alleged they had seen him throw the block of wood from the balcony. Police subsequently arrested Gassan and took him to the prison island of Dhoonidhoo, and presented him at court this afternoon. The hearing is currently ongoing.

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Australian medics donate boards, advice in honor of Huraa victims

Two rescue boards have been donated by an Australian paremedic and shire council in memory of the four Hiriya students and their principal who drowned on a September 10 school fisheries science excursion.

The long boards were arranged by a Lotus Special Casualty Access Team paramedic in cooperation with the New South Wales Sutherland Shire council. A report from Australian publication The Leader indicates that the boards were flown into Male’ on Wednesday, October 20 to support safety management practices on local beaches.

Australia is known globally for its surfing culture. Attached to that reputation is a savvy sense for water rescue. Australia’s own Surfers’ Medical Association (SMA) reportedly flies doctors and paramedics to Maldive islands twice each year, providing health workshops and medical equipment.

When four female students and the principal of Hiriya school drowned while on a fisheries science snorkeling trip off of Huraa island, awareness of the lack of school safety procedures and equipment was raised at the local and government levels.

The students were snorkeling in waters used by for national defense training, which are known for having very strong currents.

Although police and MNDF forces were called immediately to the site of the incident, they were criticised for being unable to reach the island until long after the critical moments.

Instead, the bodies of ninth grade students Nash-ath Saeed, Mariyam Naza, Aishath Saniha, Mariyam Shaiha and principal Ali Nazim were brought to Male’ on a speedboat from nearby Four Season Kuda Hura resort.

SMA member Paul Featherstone told The Leader that Huraa island had no rescue boards at the time of the Hiriya drowning, and he hoped the donation would make a difference in the future.

The SMA team is expected to deliver water safety and education advice from Sutherland Shire beach operation manager Brad Whittacker, along with the long boards. Paramedic Harry Gatt added that a meeting with the education minister has been scheduled to discuss risk management procedures.

“We really need to help educate them about water safety,” Mr Gatt was quoted as saying. “The community is just devastated by what happened.”

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US foots bill for better water on “climate-resilient islands”

The United States Government will provide US$7.1 million towards an integrated water resource system on Lhaviyani Hinnavaru and Haa alif Dhihdhoo islands, a project with an estimated total cost of US$7.5 million.

Ground water aquifers on these islands have deteriorated, and residents are experiencing water shortages due to salt water intrusion and poor sanitation practices.

“Funds from this project will prevent water shortages and ensure clean groundwater, reduce coastal erosion, improve sanitation and provide safe drinking water,” said US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Patricia Butenis, at a press conference held in the President’s Office today. “The people on the island will also receive training to take over the management and training of these projects.”

In addition to pooling all major water resources on the islands, the plan aims to strengthen institutional water distribution capacity and governance, particularly during dry spells.

In the dry seasons of 2009 and 2010, the Maldivian government supplied desalinated water to over 90 islands at a cost of Rf10 million. The average cost of this service is expected to rise with fuel prices.

Both islands have approximate populations of 4000. The Government of Maldives hopes to uphold the two islands as models of “climate-resilient islands.”

US Agency for International Development (USAID) has partnered with the Ministry of Housing and Environment, island councils and residents, and provincial utility companies to develop the household water distribution network.

The project, which is part of US President Barak Obama’s Global Climate Change Initiative, will improve clean water circulation, sewage systems, and waste management services. Project workers will also educate island residents on managing coastal erosion, land use, and the marine environment.

Lhaviyani Hinnavaru and Haa alif Dhihdhoo islands received assistance from USAID following the 2004 tsunami, which crippled much of the Maldives. A sewerage system was introduced on Dhidhoo and Hinnavaru received a desalinated water system.

“Climate change becomes a serious issue for us because of its implication on water, among other reasons,” said President Mohamed Nasheed, and the press conference today. “The water table is contaminated by salt water intrusion from sea level rise. We must find other solutions, and this is a substantial grant for our adaptation work.”

At the same time, Nasheed said, “we have to be able to stand on our own feet. We have to tax our economy and fend for ourselves. We are a middle income country and it is not always ethical to ask for donations while there are so many others who are much poorer.”

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Maldives appeals to world for technical help with carbon neutral plan

The Maldives has become the first country to crowdsource its renewable energy plan on the internet.

The current draft of the plan focuses on using solar energy to generate most of the country’s electricity and cut emissions by 60 percent before 2020.

The plan suggests that up to 80 percent of the electricity island communities use could be derived from renewable energy, without the cost of energy increasing.  The plan also proposes a shift to wind, batteries and biomass to complement solar power, retaining existing diesel generators for reserve power.

The Ministry of Economic Development revealed that economic modeling had shown that it was already cheaper to generate electricity from solar photovoltaic panels than from diesel on many Maldivian islands.

The direct cost of daytime solar PV is around US $0.21 per kilowatt hour, compared to $0.28 – $0.44 per kW/hour for existing diesel generators.

The cost of decarbonising the Maldives, which spends almost 25 percent of its GDP importing fuel, mostly on marine diesel, is estimated to be US$3-5 billion over the next 10 years.

“The investments will largely pay for themselves because the Maldives would save huge sums of money on oil imports,” the Ministry of Economic Development observed in a statement.

The Renewable Energy Investment Office, based in the Ministry of Economic Development, was established to help combat global warming. Last week it opened an internet forum for local and international groups and individuals to advise the Maldives’ plan to develop solar energy, which has been approved by the Cabinet.

“The government has limited experience working with renewable energies because these are relatively new technologies to the Maldives,” noted Minister for Economic Development, Mahmoud Razee.

“We have published our investment framework online and highlighted areas where we require feedback and help. We are crowd sourcing our energy plans and inviting the whole world to help us,” Razee said.

A more detailed plan will be submitted again in February, with details on investment strategies, explained Razee.

“Maldives is the first country to do this on a global scale and over the internet. This shows that we are innovative and willing to share by working with other countries on this issue, which affects everyone. Also, it shows that we are willing to be as transparent as we can,” Razee said.

Forum users must register with their real name and submit identification information before contributing, and they will be asked a series of questions to confirm that they are qualified to share their expertise. The forum rules encourage debate, but note that comments that “are deemed offensive or inappropriate, or don’t relate to the question” will not be published.

The forum rules further requests that “criticism of a proposal has to be supported by offering a better alternative, with a clear idea of cost and practicality,” in order to be useful.

The goals of the plan, Razee stated, were to free the country from the uncertainties and costs of its oil dependency, and to demonstrate global leadership in the fight against climate change.

“While we are working now on the initial production planning and development we will also be looking to use local and international expertise to develop storage capacity,” Razee said, acknowledging that storage was a primary concern.

While the Maldives has abundant sunlight during the day, the battery technology required for large-scale power generation at night is extremely expensive.

“Right now, we aren’t looking at storage because it would double the cost in this current economic environment. Technology is evolving reasonably rapidly though, and in five or ten years we think that providing storage will more affordable,” Razee said.

“Batteries are used at night, and as we know a lot of electricity is generated then. So we will need to address the issue of storage and how to provide energy at night within our larger goals.”

Forum topics in the comprehensive crowdsourcing project include solar and wind technology, energy storage, system control and demand management, novel technologies (including marine current and ocean thermal), biomass power generation, and finance.

Under each topic the Maldives appeals for expert assistance on several technical questions, around issues such as the use of solar panels in corrosive environments, the economics of tracking or fixed solar panel systems, and the viability of low velocity wind turbines.

Visit the forum (English)

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Maldives hosts networking event for Asian travel reps

The Maldives is currently hosting representatives from over 30 tour and travel companies from across Asia, as part of a ‘Discover Your Island’ campaign to increase tourism from these countries.

The representatives were flown to Male’ by Singapore Airlines, while airport developer GMR and the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) set up a networking event with local resort and tour operators at Nasandhura Palace Hotel.

Speaking at the launch of the event, MD of the MMPRC Simon Hawkins observed that tourism arrivals had grown 15 percent year on year, and Maldives was expecting to reach one million visitors a year by November 2012.

“We currently spend US$2 million to bring in one million visitors. By comparison Indonesia spends US$70 million to bring in seven million,” he said.

The Maldives had historically based its marketing strategy on the twin drawcards of sun and sand, but need to differentiate itself given increasing competition with other destinations offering the same attributes, he said.

“One island one resort means that in the Maldives you can have a three star resort within several hundred metres of a six star resort, and everyone is happy and satisfied,” he said, explaining that most other beach destinations had roads, hawkers and crowded beaches.

“In the Maldives [tour and travel] operators have a hundred islands to choose from.”

In spite of the jet-lag, representatives spent the better part of two hours exchanging business cards with local resorts and travel operators,, reviewing services and exploring new opportunities.

Several representatives expressed interest in Hawkin’s suggestions for Maldives tourism, such as an increased focus on the high quality dining offered by many resorts and safari operators, and emphaised that individualising the customer’s experience was a priority.

Marketing and communications managers at the event meanwhile said that growing interest from the Asian market was driving their plans for the future. But other resort representatives indicated that adapting to emerging markets had to be achieved without alienating existing, established markets.

“The new Asian demand is very important, but the resorts that were designed to suit European travelers are trying to find a balance,” said Reethi Rah Sales Executive, Stephen Cordebas. “We don’t want European guests, especially those who come regularly, to feel like the whole package is changing to suit a new market.”

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