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.


Police, MNDF launch joint security operation after fatal stabbing

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) have launched a joint security operation following the fatal stabbing of a 29-year-old man in Malé last night.

A police media official told Minivan News that the victim – identified as Nooru Adam Hassanfulhu – was stabbed near Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) at around 1:30am. He died while undergoing emergency treatment around 3:25am.

Local media reported eyewitnesses as saying that Adam was stabbed in the neck and ribs by two men who drove by on a motorcycle.

In a separate incident, a 23-year-old man was assaulted around 11:45pm near the Euro Store on Chandhanee Magu.

Police said the victim was released last night after treatment at IGMH.

“No arrests have been made so far related to last night’s stabbings. However, the investigation team has started investigating all of the stabbings,” said the media official.

The fatal stabbing last night follows a spike in violence against expatriates last week that saw two Bangladeshis murdered and four expatriates stabbed.

Adam’s death marked the fifth murder this year. A 23-year-old was stabbed to death outside his home in the Henveiru ward of Malé on February 21, whilst a 29-year-old was killed in Laamu Mundoo on March 20.

The MNDF meanwhile announced today that soldiers would be assisting the police in a special operation launched tonight to ensure peace and security in Malé and other regions across the country.

The security operation – launched at 6:00pm – involves checking vehicles at land, conducting inspections of vessels at sea, and stopping and searching individuals, MNDF said.

After expressing concern over the deteriorating security situation in capital Malé, the home ministry last night cancelled the annual Earth Hour activities.

The ministry asked the public not to switch off lights and cancelled two music shows.

The Ministry of Economic Development meanwhile changed the closing time of shops and restaurants to 10:00pm and 12:00am, respectively.


Don’t switch off lights for Earth Hour, says Home Ministry

The Ministry of Home Affairs today ordered residents of Malé City to keep their lights on during Earth Hour.

Expressing concern over a recent spike in violence in Malé, Home Ministry Spokesperson Thazmeel Abdul Samad said: “Switching off lights for this year’s Earth Hour is prohibited for the safety and security of Malé’s residents.”

Earth Hour, organized globally by the World Wide Fund for Nature, calls on citizens of the world to switch off their lights for one hour between 8:30 and 9:30 pm on the last Saturday in March as a symbol of commitment to the planet.

The Home Ministry also shut down a music show organized by the Scouts Association tonight, but said roads will be closed to traffic between 8 and 10 pm to celebrate Earth Hour.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile called for a march in Malé during Earth Hour in support of imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed, globally known for his advocacy against climate change.

Political tensions have been high in Malé following Nasheed’s and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim’s imprisonment. Many have speculated the Home Ministry shut down the Earth Hour event due to Nasheed’s popularity within the environmental movement.

Environmental campaigner and musician Ahmed Shiham said he was disappointed that a global event had “become politicized due to the government’s unfortunate decision.”

“It’s not a crime to switch off,” he said.

Environmental group Ecocare Maldives has also urged Malé residents to continue with the Switch Off event.

“Despite the government’s disapproval on celebrating Earth Hour in Malé, Ecocare Maldives would like to call all organizations, institutions and corporations to switch off your lights and participate in the hour! Be part of the global movement from 20:30 to 21:30. We encourage all individuals to take part and use your power to change climate change,” the NGO said in a statement today.

Fathimath Thanzeela, an organizer with Save the Beach in Malé’s suburb Villingili, said the group had called off a bonfire, an acoustic music show and a fire dancing performance on the Home Ministry’s orders.

“It’s very disappointing when the situation in the country deteriorates to the extent we are unable to hold an event for the environment,” she said.

The opposition alliance has been protesting nightly since February 10, initially over President Abdulla Yameen’s alleged breach of the Constitution, and later over Nazim and Nasheed’s arrest and convictions.

The Economic Development Ministry last week ordered all shops and cafes to be shut down an hour earlier, 10 pm and 12 am respectively following the spate of street violence and arson attacks.

A 25-year-old migrant worker, Shaheen Mia, was stabbed to death on March 22. At least four expatriate workers were stabbed in the following days. On March 19, a fire at a warehouse in Malé spread to neighboring residences driving hundreds from their homes temporarily.

Meanwhile, two vehicles were torched in Malé on Thursday night. The police have not made any arrests in any of these incidences so far.

The police have threatened to crack down on nightly protests, claiming protesters were disrupting local businesses and inciting violence. The opposition has denounced the threat as an attempt to silence dissent.


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.”


Beyond Earth Hour: Conservation efforts prove “challenging”, but vital for Maldives resorts

For 60 minutes on March 23 this year, resorts across the Maldives attempted, on a voluntary basis, to throw their guests into darkness – or at least dimness – for the high-profile Earth Hour event, reports Minivan News’ spin-off travel site, Dhonisaurus.

Earth Hour, established by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) NGO, aims to encourage cities, organisations and households all over the world to simultaneously turn off lights and other electrical appliances for a single hour in an attempt to raise the profile of energy conservation measures.

Public and private sector organisations were among those participating across the Maldives’ capital and other islands this year, which was celebrated afterwards, somewhat paradoxically, with a dance event complete with a large sound system in Male’.

However, attempts at cutting the use of artificial lighting at resorts across the Maldives to celebrate this year’s Earth Hour have been claimed by hospitality groups to be reflective of wider efforts across the country’s lucrative tourism industry to better balance sustainable operations with high-end luxury.

Starwood Hotels, which operates both the W Retreat and Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort and Spa, claim to have participated in Earth Hour for the last five years – commitments the company has claimed are well appreciated by guests.

“Year on year, we’ve seen positive responses from the guests regarding the various [sustainability] initiatives,” stated a spokesperson for the group. “Naming for example the ‘Coral Planting Project’ at Sheraton Maldives was very well received by some guests who found it very informative and rewarding as well to contribute back to the nature.”

“Quite challenging”

Beyond occasional, high-profile commitments such as Earth Hour, Starwood Hotels said that trying to balance more sustainable operations in the Maldives with consumer expectations of luxury and fine dining was not without its challenges.

“It’s quite challenging being in the Maldives due to its geographical nature, but being in the Maldives gives us an even greater meaning to work towards a more eco-friendly holiday experience and sustainability through efficiency and better use of resources in order to reach our goals by 2020,” stated a company spokesperson.

Read more.


Scouts lead Earth Hour events, Environment Ministry “facilitates”

Maldivian civil society is holding Earth Hour events today (March 23) to highlight the urgent need to take action against climate change and care for the environment, while the Ministry of Environment and Energy “facilitates”.

Earth Hour is the “single largest mass participation event in the world” aiming to mobilise people to take action on climate change by switching off their lights for one hour as a “massive show of concern for the environment”, according to the event’s website.

Earth Hour Maldives aims to “obtain the full cooperation of the community, non-government organizations, companies, tourist resorts, government ministries and agencies and the school community, to effectively make Earth Hour Maldives a success and to demonstrate to the world where the Maldives stands in the battle between Earth and Global Warming,” the site states.

The Scout Association of the Maldives has taken the lead organising Earth Hour events, particularly in the capital Male’, since the Maldives began participating five years ago.

“The WWF and Earth Hour Global event hosts prefer associations organise events, focus on youth involvement, and receive support from the government,” Earth Hour Maldives Marketing Manager Mujahid Abdulla told Minivan News.

“The Environment Ministry is making policies, such as the vehicle ban from 7:30 to 10:30 tonight.

“The presidential palace will be the first place to have its lights switched off, as well as the ‘front line’ of Male’. We expect 40 to 50 percent of buildings to shut down their lights,” according to Abdullah.

The Environment Ministry’s Earth Hour media focal point, Mohamed Mushaaid, explained to Minivan News that all government buildings have been requested to shut their lights off for the designated ‘earth hour’ between 8:30 and 9:30 pm, however compliance is voluntary.

“Earth Hour is organized by the Scout Association of the Maldives, while the Environment Ministry is facilitating the event by providing resources, coordinating help from other government ministries, and providing technical help.

“We are strongly suggesting island councils participate, but it’s not mandated,” stated Mushaaid.

He further explained that scouts have been going ‘door to door’ raising awareness and cooperation for ‘lights off’, while advertisements and announcements have been made on ‘variety shows’ providing information about the event and advertising people to avoid energy usage during the designated earth hour.

Updates of energy savings in ‘real time’ will be given on local television.

A vehicle ban will be implemented in Male’ from 7:30pm to 10:30pm, which the Environment Ministry arranged in conjunction with the scout association, Transportation Ministry and Male’ City Council, according to Mushaaid.

“It’s for the benefit of the public, activities will be taking place on the streets for people to join and have fun,” he stated.

“Plus, it will be difficult to capture the picture of Male’ from Funadhoo [island] during Earth Hour with vehicle lights,” Mushaaid added.

Funadhoo is a small island adjacent to the capital of Male’ where the Maldives’ State Trading Organisation (STO) operates its fuel and lubricants department, housing 15544 tons of diesel and 600 tons of kerosene.

Collaborating partners

Abdullah stated that activities have been organised nationwide, with larger events to be held on Kulhudhoofushi island in Haa Dhaal Atoll, Lhaviyani Atoll, Fuvahmulah Island, Addu City, other small islands as well as by resorts. Events in Male’ include an awareness walk, traditional music and activities.

A wide range of institutions are collaborating to implement Earth Hour activities. The Maldives Girl Guide Association, the Maldives Youth Climate Network (MYCN), and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are providing organisational and voluntary help. Supporting partner institutions include the Ministry of Environment and Energy, the State Electric Company Limited (STELCO), the Police Services, Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), as well as local media outlets.

The Ministry of Home Affairs is facing criticism for publicly announcing the dissolution of nearly 1300 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – 70 percent of organisations nationwide – without notification or supportive mechanisms.

According to STELCO data, Earth Hour events in 2012 saved 1590.5 kilowatt hours of energy, 418.55 liters of fuel, and carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 1.1 tonnes within an hour, as stated in the official Earth Hour Maldives report.

Earth Hour is organized globally in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), with millions of people worldwide, from 152 countries and territories, including 7001 cities and towns, participating in 2012.

Government-led environmental conservation

President Waheed Hassan Manik’s government pledged to ensure his government remained outspoken internationally in regards to the plight small nations faced from the potentially destructive impacts of climate change.

The government says it remains committed to pursuing the previous administration’s carbon neutral ambitions despite recent political tensions reportedly affecting investment potential for such schemes.

However, private companies and international actors are leading renewable energy implementation in the Maldives while the government “prepares” for various solar power projects.

Since early 2012, the Maldivian government has overseen the initial stages of a few new renewable energy projects.

Waheed launched the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Baa Atoll Conservation Fund in early 2012.

Later that year, a marine biologist working in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve has reported the discovery of the remains of a baby shark and endangered sea turtle barbecue on the uninhabited island of Funadhoo, one of the country’s 14 priority nesting beaches legally protected under Maldivian law.

Meanwhile, waste management remains a national human and environmental health dilemma. Establishing waste management systems on the islands has been an ongoing struggle.

Most islands have waste areas that vary in quality and have no means of processing or removing trash from the garbage areas.

“Thilafushi is not what we want. The current conditions there pose serious health and safety threats to Bangladeshi workers living there and those toxins spread to Male’ and Villingili as well,” Ahmed Nizam, Solid Waste Management Coordinator for the Environment Ministry previously told Minivan News.

Speaking to the Conde Nast Traveler publication in 2012 to promote “The Island President” film documentary, former President Mohamed Nasheed expressed hope that the country would continue to work towards becoming carbon neutral, but he also challenged the legitimacy of Waheed’s government.

“We were making real progress. I hope the government will continue our policies. But you can’t have good policies without democracy. And you won’t address the climate change crisis without good policies,” Nasheed told journalist Dorinda Elliott.

“All democratic movements must talk about both climate change and human rights.”


Minivan News team wins Earth Hour Quiz

Minivan News journalists won first place in the Earth Hour Quiz organised by the global logistics service provider Federal Express Corporation (FedEx), in collaboration with Maldives Youth Climate Action Network (MYCN).

“We were lucky enough to have a very diverse group of environmental enthusiasts from surfers to shippers, accountants, couriers, journalists, cameramen as participants,” said Grant Baxter, Sales and Marketing Manager of the Holidayland Maldives, the new FedEx Licensee in Maldives.

Nearly 30 participants were divided into groups of three, and asked questions relating to the local background, environment, history and entertainment.

Minivan News journalists Daniel Bosley, Zaheena Rasheed and Hawwa Lubna won the first round and achieved highest overall score, winning a surfing lesson and a sponsored fishing trip.

During the Earth Hour, 8:30pm and 9:30pm, the lights at FedEx office were switched off while inside the participants were briefed on the increasing menace of plastic waste in the country.

According to Baxter, the event marks the relaunch of FedEx services in the Maldives under the new local partner Holidayland, which replaced Universal Enterprises as the local FedEx agent on February 15.

Baxter observed that the company aims to be more localised and sensitive to the needs of the local market while it promotes the brand through events such as the Earth Hour quiz gathering, boat trips and community upliftment projects.


Maldives marks Earth Hour

Many shops along Male’s main street of Majeedee Magu, as well as houses and even television stations turned the power off for an hour last night to mark Earth Hour.

At the Bangladesh independence day celebrations held yesterday at Dharubaaruge, attended by President Mohamed Nasheed, the lights were ceremoniously dimmed then restored.

The international event, organised by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was first held in Sydney in 2007 when 2.2 million residents turned off the electricity. Power utilities estimated that electricity consumption dropped 10 percent.

Earth Hour 2011 took place across the world at 8:30pm-9:30pm local time.


Vehicle-free zone planned for Male’

Transport Authorities are said to have announced that as of later this month, the use of vehicles will be restricted in the Lonuziyaaraikolhu area of Male’ – situated in the southeast corner of the capital – following cabinet consultation on the issue.

According to Haveeru, Mohamed Latheef, Permanent Secretary of the Transport Authority of the Maldives, said that the vehicle-free zone is expected to come into force on 26 March and incorporate Raiyvilla Hingun in the northeastern corner of Henveiru Park and Ameenee Magu to the southwest of the area.

Latheef said that vehicles will still be able to travel around Moonlight Hingun and Hithigas Magu even after the restrictions are put in place.

According to the report, the decision was made in collaboration with Male’ City Council and is tentatively scheduled to launch in order to coincide with the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Earth Hour initiative. The scheme attempts to encourage citizens and organisations around the world to turn all their lights off for an hour to try and drastically cut global energy usage and the planet’s combined environmental footprint.