Maldives ‘open for Japanese investment’

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said today that the Maldives is open for Japanese investments, as the east Asian country donated MVR 64 million (US $4m) of “disaster reduction equipment”.

“The Maldives is open for Japanese investment. Be it airport development, or tourist resort development, or transportation sector development, the Japanese investors will have the full guarantee that their investment will be fully protected,” Dunya said.

She was speaking at a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today for the signing of the Japanese aid deal.

The foreign ministry had not specified what the equipment consisted of at the time of going to press.

The government said in June last year it was in talks with the Japan Bank to secure a loan of US $200m to help redevelop the country’s main international airport, but this month it said it was looking to the Saudis for the cash.

In her remarks, Dunya expressed appreciation from the Maldives to Japan for nearly four decades of support, which have included providing the sea wall around Malé and constructing primary schools.


Government agrees to US$454,000 waste management funding; councillors warn situation a “disaster”

The Ministry of Finance has agreed to provide Male’ City Council (MCC) with an estimated MVR 7 million (US$454,000) in funding this month to try and alleviate a build up of waste in and around the capital that local councillors and MPs claim poses a “national disaster”.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told Minivan News today that amid concerns about a build-up of waste in the capital, funding was being granted to the MCC to deal with the situation following an ongoing dispute over responsibility for managing garbage.  The Finance Minister said he was unaware of the exact amount of funding provided to the municipal council at time of press.

The funding was announced as the MCC continues to accuse some state officials within the current government of having failed to provide it with a budget to deal with waste management for over a year in an attempt to discredit the work of its councillors. The majority of the MCC’s councillors are represented by members of the opposition Maldivan Democratic Party (MDP).

State funding

According to Jihad, funding will be provided to the MCC ahead of the expected signing over the next three weeks of a renegotiated waste management contract with India-based Tatva Global Renewable Energy. Once the deal is agreed, Tatva will take over handling of waste in the capital, as well as from nearby inhabited islands and resorts properties.

The previous government of former president Mohamed Nasheed had signed an agreement with Tatva in May 2011 as part of efforts to generate power from recycling waste gathered from Male’, as well as surrounding inhabited and resort islands.

By December last year, President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration had announced it was in the process of renegotiating Tatva’s agreement in a bid to replace the deal with what Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela at the time called a “mutually beneficial” agreement.

Minister Jihad has said that although the new agreement with Tatva has yet to be signed, a deal was expected to be finalised this week, while funding would also be given to the MCC to try and alleviate the waste issue in the meantime.

State Environment Minister Abdul Matheen Mohamed said that while his department was not directly involved with dealing with the waste management issue, it had tried to “help” find a solution by meeting with the MCC and the Finance Ministry.

Matheen added that the ministry had informed the MCC that if it was unable to handle the capital’s waste management, the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) could take responsibility for the matter until the new Tatva contract was expected to come into place on June 15 this year.

However, following discussions with the MCC, he claimed that a lack of finance has been identified as the key issue preventing processing of the waste.

According to Matheen, the Finance Ministry last week agreed to provide MVR 6.8 million (US$441,000) in funding to the MCC, with the council in return giving “confirmation” that a clean-up operation would be undertaken.

“The MCC have said they will be able to clean up the waste if we can provide finance. However, we are still seeing things are not going well,” he claimed.

Matheen also rejected allegations by the MCC that the government had sought to purposefully undermine the council and its work by not providing funding to oversee waste in the capital.

“The ministry respects local councils and we will help them when needed. So far we haven’t received any additional requests for help [from the MCC],” he said.

Clean up challenges

Male’ councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem today confirmed that the Finance Ministry had agreed to provide funding to cover the MCC’s outstanding debts for equipment hire and other costs related to handling waste.

However, he alleged that following the initial signing of the Tatva waste management deal under the previous government in May 2011, the MCC had not been provided with a budget for waste management – even after the deal was stalled by the present administration.

“As the MCC does not have its own bank account, we are required to deposit our revenue to the government’s own finances,” Kareem said. “While we are collecting revenue from resorts for dealing with waste, we are not directly receiving the funds.”

Kareem claimed that the issue of waste around the capital had become increasingly severe in the last three to four weeks as a result of both ongoing financial limitations and recent adverse weather that prevented barges being able to transport waste.

Kareem added that with the council’s waste areas filling up rapidly in the capital and a limited access to heavy equipment to process garbage, the situation had escalated into a “disaster”.

He said that following meetings with the finance ministry this month, funding had now been obtained, with the majority of the money expected to cover outstanding debts resulting from having to hire specialised equipment to process and transport the waste.

Kareem told Minivan New that efforts were now underway to secure the services of special dhotis to try and shift waste over to the nearby island of Thilafushi, which serves as the country’s key site for processing and burning garbage.

“We are discussing at present hiring a number of 100 foot-long dhonis to try and transfer the waste as it has been there so long, which makes things more difficult. Just last night we transferred 29 truck loads [of garbage] to Thilafushi.”

Councillor Kareem said he did accept that there were some parties within President Waheed’s coalition that had shown an interest in trying to resolve the waste management problem, but accused other representatives in the current administration of lacking sincerity in their commitments.

Kareem said the MCC presently understood that Tatva Global Renewable Energy was now expected to take over responsibility for waste management later next month at part of a deal with the government that would require the council to hand over all its facilities to the company “free of charge”.

“They will have to clean up the capital’s waste, though we will be expected to provide our facilities to them as part of the concession agreement,” he said. “It’s not an ideal situation, but we don’t have any other options at present.”


With funding now agreed, Ahmed Nihan, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP for Vili-Male’, said residents on the island remained concerned this week about the potential health implications of a build up of garbage on a barge near to the island.

Nihan joined an estimated 50 residents from the island on Friday to protest about a perceived lack of action from both the state and the MCC to try and resolve the issue.

Before leaving Male’ for campaigning purposes yesterday, he believed there had been little change in the situation, despite being informed of efforts by the MCC to try and secure the services of dhonis to try and ship the waste away from the island to Thilafushi.

“I have been asked to host a conference called between the finance Ministry and the MCC on my return to find a solution to the issue,” Nihan said. “It’s all a big mess.”


Maldivian students banding together in Christchurch after quake strikes New Zealand city

The Foreign Minister is in communication with Maldivians in Christchurch, New Zealand, after an earthquake measuring 6.3 of the Richter scale the city killing at least 65 people, toppling buildings, buckling roads and damaged cathedrals with further casualties likely.

CNN quoted New Zealand Prime Minister John Key saying “this may be New Zealand’s darkest day,” during a trip to the area to survey the damage from the quake.

”Frantic rescuers scrambled to reach those trapped in the rubble hours after the earthquake struck. Scores of dazed, bleeding residents wandered streets strewn with debris and chunks of concrete,” said CNN.

“Having experienced received the warm reception of the people of Christchurch at the Partnership Forum only hours before the earthquake struck makes this disaster all the more personal and poignant,” said delegate Donald Manzullo, chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, reported CNN.

New Zealand’s transit authority said it had been unable to reach its staff in Christchurch and at the Lyttleton Tunnel, which is near the epicenter.

A person who witnessed the incident told CNN “it felt like I was running on jelly, we saw a giant rock tumble to the ground from a cliff – a rock that had been there for millennia. It fell on the RSA (Returned Services Association, a veterans’ association) building — it was terrifying.”

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker told Radio New Zealand that the rumbling tossed him across the room. He said the streets were jammed as people tried to get out of the city, and urged people to avoid the water supply.

The New Zealand Police have said that ”Sixty five people are so far believed to have lost their lives in today’s 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch and officials warn this figure is likely to rise.”

Emergency services are continuing to search the central city, particularly the high rise buildings in the central business district, many of which have been extensively damaged, said New Zealand Police on their website.

The Lyttelton raod tunnel road that links the city Christchurch and its seaport, was immediately closed after the earthquake, but was opened later for emergency transportation.

Minivan News spoke to a Maldivian who was recently studying in New Zealand, who said that none of the approximately 30 Maldivians living in the city had been hurt.

”I checked today and no Maldivian was injured during the incident,” he told Minivan News.

A Maldivian studying at Christchurch Polytechnic in the middle of the city told newspaper Haveeru that she ran down the stairs from the fourth floor classroom she was about to enter when the earthquake struck.

“There was dust and smoke billowing from the buildings around, and I saw injured people running. In the midst of the devastation I had to walk back home, which took more than one and a half hours. I was so concerned about my son, as he was home alone,” she said.

Haveeru also reported that some Maldivian families are without water and power, “which would lead them to spend the night without heating, and in cold in a city where the temperature is constantly about 12 degree Celsius.”


Tropical storm hits Male’, sinks fishing boat

A tropical storm hit the capital city of Male’ yesterday causing severe damage, while other areas in the country’s middle region were also impacted by wind speeds of up to 62 miles per hour.

Deputy Director General for Meteorological Department (MET), Ali Shareef, said that yesterday the storm arrived at 2:50pm with strong westerly winds of up to 62 miles per hour.

“The wind speed deteriorated after 4:30pm to an average of 30 miles per hour,’’ said Shareef.

“Strong winds occur during the southwest monsoon every year. Last year wind speeds were recorded up to 50 miles per hour.’’

He said that weather would be unsteady at this time of year.

“The wind speed may rise that high within the next two days,’’ he added.

10 different incidents were reported to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) following the storm, which issued a warning not to travel by sea and to take safety measures if forced to do so.

The MNDF reported that roof of a shop was blown off by the strong wind and metal pipes on a 10th story building were also thrown to the street.

A tree fell on top of a house, and many other trees were uprooted, the MNDF reported.

The MNDF also said that minor injuries were caused to people and buildings during the incident.

Meanwhile, the MNDF Coast Guard reported that 15 incidents at sea were reported.

Yesterday when the storm arrived, a fishing boat with a crew of 11 men sank and the crew was rescued from the sea by the coast guard late afternoon.

In another incident, a cargo ship drifted onto a reef near Hulhule’.


Israel trains Maldives in mass casualty management

A team of experts from the Israeli Foreign Ministry are training 35 Maldivian officials in emergency preparedness, with a focus on the management of mass casualties.

The experts from the ministry’s Agency for International Development Cooperation arrived on 27 January to run a two week course drawing on Israel’s experience with emergency response.

“Israel is one of the best in the field when it comes to emergency response,” said Abdulla Shahid, chief coordinator of the Maldives’ National Disaster Management Centre.

Many aid agencies had conducted disaster-response training in the Maldives after the “wake up” call of the 2004 tsunami, Shahid said, “but much of it was ad hoc and it wasn’t run under a proper department until this government came into power.”

He acknowledged while that there was little the Maldives could do to prevent a tsunami, it was possible to prepare for them; “things such as monitoring how you alter the environment and construct buildings. Artificial – reclaimed – islands were the worst hit and suffered the most number of casualties. Male’ is more than half artificial,” he noted.

Earthquakes were also a concern, especially because of the country’s “very poor building and construction standards – God forbid if anything happened.”

“On 15 July 2003 there was an earthquake 270 miles southwest of Addu measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, which shook the whole of the southern Maldives. So we cannot say we are not an earthquake-prone country,” Shahid said.

“Since the earthquake in Haiti we’ve had to rethink [our approach]. A lot of warning was given by Haiti’s neighbours, particularly by the US Geological Survey. But they were not taken very seriously.”

Shahid also observed that “a quarter of the world’s crude oil travels within 20 miles of the north of the Maldives.”

Terrorist incidents, “especially given the state of the world at the moment”, were not being discounted either, Shahid said.

“In fact, mass casualty scenarios were the main focus of the Israeli training,” he said.


Working with Israel on aid projects was not politically difficult, Shahid said, despite parliament’s no-confidence motion against Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed after he said at a press conference on 15 September 2009 that the the government was in the process of establishing ties with Israel, and he did not see any reason not to pursue it.

Shaheed narrowly survived the no-confidence voting with 37 MPs voting in favour, two short of the majority needed to remove the foreign minister.

Vice president of the Adaalath party Asim Mohamed said the Maldives “should collaborate with anyone willing to help us in our development.”

Shahid meanwhile noted that “we were working with Israel throughout the no-confidence motion.” The issue, he said, “had nothing to do with Israel and 100 per cent with local politics.”

The Israeli trainers had travelled to 18 islands across the country without incident, he explained, “and received warm welcomes and typical island hospitality.”

The government was exploring further training projects with Israel around developing paramedics and agriculture, “two areas in which Israel is state of the art.”