Youth movement calls for change after Earth Hour axed

A movement representing Maldivian youth has raised the alarm over a lack of arts and creative opportunities after the government cancelled plans for Earth Hour celebrations.

“Without proper preventive measures, we would see a decline in creativity and expression, as well as freedom of assembly and celebration of global causes,” Dhi Youth Movement, a non-governmental organisation, said in a statement.

Young Maldivians had planned to mark Earth Hour, an annual environmental campaign, with a music show and other celebrations in Male’ on Saturday but the government banned the events on security grounds after a spate of stabbings in the capital.

“We would also like to express our disappointment with government’s decision to cancel the Earth Hour celebrations on perceived potential security concerns,” said DYM.

Despite the ban, a 29-year-old man died after being stabbed outside the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, one of the busiest hospitals in the city, on Saturday night, in the fourth murder so far this year. No one has so far been arrested over the crime.

“As witnessed by last night’s crime, we have reconfirmed that crime happens regardless of whether or not the lights are on, even in front of police stations and hospitals,”  DYM said.

People who had planned to attend the celebrations expressed their discontent online.

“Yesterday, government stopped a bunch of people from making a prayer for President Nasheed after the Friday congregational prayer. Today it prohibited holding Earth Hour events for ‘security reasons’. Tomorrow it’ll ban funerals,” one said.

Another commented: “Security concerns regarding violent crimes during the day time has led to the Home Ministry issuing a statement to enforce planetary laws to turn off the sun at 10am.”

A youth leader wrote: “This much crime in such a small place, is scary, but the only security threat I see is the fact that no proper proactive measures are being taken to combat them.”

Earth Hour is hosted by Earth Hour Maldives collaborating with Scouts Association of Maldives, who outsourced the event to Empire Events, a recently established event management company. Lights are traditionally turned off for Earth Hour, while those taking part celebrate by candlelight.

Despite the event’s official cancellation, some members of the public decided to celebrate anyway.

Concerned youth and artists turned up to enjoy the hour outdoors, while children drew in chalk in a co-ordinated event at the helipad.

Young people lit candles reading “60+”, which stands for the 60 minutes of the Earth Hour.

DYM said that a fall in numbers of students enrolling in the arts stream — students can choose between arts, business and science streams aged 13 or 14 — was a sign of the declining position of arts and creativity. They called for a community where expression and art can thrive, without it involving “knives and crime”.

The group called for the government and authorities to do their best to address the root causes of the current gang violence so that temporary curfews can be lifted.

However, Dhi Youth Movement also noted that they had not been consulted on policy level discussions about youth by government bodies, and said they hoped the government would consult civil society more in decision making.


Lighting the way: Youth and the environment

Last night (March 29), the Maldives took part in celebrating the international event, Earth Hour. In the press statement prior to the event, the Ministry of Environment and Energy confirmed that the activities planned around Earth Hour Maldives 2014 were to be “mainly focused on children and youths.”

As the next generation is invited to take responsibility for climate change, some still wonder if the young people of the Maldives are being equipped to tackle one of the biggest threats to the archipelago.

“There needs to be a lot more dialogue on climate change,” argues Ahmed Shaam from NGO Dhi Youth Movement, who helped organise a youth-led flash mob to promote Earth Hour Maldives. “Apathy comes from lack of understanding.”

According to its statement, Earth Hour’s mission is three-fold: to bring people together through a symbolic hour-long event, to galvanise people into taking action beyond the hour, and to create an interconnected global community sharing the mutual goal of creating a sustainable future for the planet.

From 8:30pm to 9:30pm local time on the last Saturday of March every year, Earth Hour is celebrated in all countries by encouraging people to turn off all the lights and electrical appliances in a “massive show of concern for the environment”, according to the event’s website.

Earth Hour 2014 in the Maldives was a joint venture by the Scout Association of Maldives, with support from the Ministry of Environment and the State Electric Company Limited (STELCO).

The activities included an impressive firework display followed by bands and DJs performing on the main stage – equipped with stage lighting and PA system. Organisers confirmed that they were expecting around 470 attendees, but estimate that the number was much higher than that.

However, while young people attended in their hundreds, the question remains as to whether people really engaged with the subject at the heart of the campaign – or were the bright lights of the stage the main attraction?

“I think people who work on Earth Hour have really good intentions and did a really good job,” said Project Co-ordinator for Dhi Youth Movement Shaam. He added, however, “I think Maldivians are not in the right place to take initiative on their own, the government needs to do a lot more work in terms of creating awareness.”

Youth-led action

Dhi Youth Movement is one of the Maldives most popular youth led NGOs, but also the newest – having only been officially established in 2012. In spite of this, the “new kids on the block” have an impressive resumé of events, including the Kittu Hivaaru Festival – a platform for aspiring young artists and musicians to showcase their talents.

Priding themselves on thinking outside the box, Dhi Youth Movement organised an alternative to the official Earth Hour activities, with an estimated 60-70 young people attending the Dhi Youth Earth Hour campaign called ‘Simon Says’ – an interactive ‘flash mob’ which took over the streets of Malé last night.

The pioneering event invited attendees to download a track from the internet via social media, and directed them to a central meeting point. Once there, participants play the audio track from their mobile phone at exactly 8pm. The activities are based on a mixture of fun, and environmental conscience – with one instruction being to go into a shop which has not turned off the lights for Earth Hour, and slow-dance with a mannequin. On leaving the shop, young people would inform the perplexed owners about Earth Hour, and some of the issues behind the project.

Speaking about why their event was a welcome supplement to the official activities, Dhi Youth’s Shaam explained that “people sometimes forget the actual reason why they are doing it, and there needs to be more emphasis on why we are doing it. In our event we make sure there is an environmental component to it.”

“I think there still needs to be a lot more of a dialogue when it comes to climate changes– people in the islands don’t see how climate change can affect us.”

Political Change vs Climate Change

Under the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives had pledged to become carbon neutral by 2020.

As one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, with an average elevation of 1.5 meters above sea level, the country is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise.

Based on the findings of a 2013 report on the effects of climate change, the World Bank highlighted the urgent need for concerted efforts to support the Maldives in adapting to climate change.

Nasheed sought to highlight the need for the Maldives to be a key model for other countries seeking to become more sustainable, and that an inability to meet the unilateral commitments would prove detrimental to wider arguments around the globe for adopting law carbon initiatives.

The government of Nasheed’s successor Dr Mohamed Waheed also said that it was committed to “not completely“ reversing the Nasheed administration’s zero carbon strategy: “What we are aiming to do is to elaborate more on individual sustainable issues and subject them to national debate,” said Waheed.

Speaking to Minivan News in October 2012, the government assured that they were adhering to their commitment to become carbon neutral by 2020 in spite of political uncertainty.

More recently in the news, the International Renewable Energy Investor’s conference, focusing on the development of solar energy in the Maldives, took place on March 26 at Bandos resort.

The one-day conference – organised by the Ministry of Environment and Energy with the World Bank – aimed to transform the Maldives’ energy sector by reducing the dependency on costly fossil fuels for power generation.

Meanwhile, further confirmation has come in recent weeks from President Abdulla Yameen that that the government will commence work on locating crude oil in the Maldives.

According to local media, Yameen had said that if the government is indeed successful in finding oil in the Maldives, the outlook for the entire country would change for the better.

“The previous government [Maldivian Democratic Party] had a lot of emphasis on environment and climate change, they tried a lot of advocacy and awareness, but I think the current government needs to do a lot more to create awareness,” said Shaam.

“They don’t understand why they need to do this. Apathy comes form lack of understanding – if the people involved can pass on information to the public there will be less apathy.”