Tourism head pledges action on waste management over fears for Maldives holiday image

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has pledged to take the “lead” in addressing waste management issues in Male’ should the city’s council and the Ministry of Environment and Energy fail to effectively deal with concerns about garbage.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb this week said that the issue of waste management posed an immense threat to tourism in the country, adding that his department would look to actively address the problem should other authorities fail to resolve ongoing concerns by next month.

The comments have been dismissed today as irresponsible by the Ministry of Environment, which favours greater levels of cooperation from Adheeb’s department and the wider tourism industry in how waste was dealt with in Male’ and the nearby island of Thilafushi.

Thilafushi, where the vast majority of waste from the country’s resorts and inhabited islands is deposed of, has become more commonly known ‘garbage island‘ by both local and international media.

Meanwhile, Male’ City Council (MCC) has alleged that it is not being provided sufficient funding from the 2013 state budget to deal with garbage levels in the capital.  This funding has been identified by the council as exacerbating the challenges it claims to be facing due to growing amounts of waste and outdated machinery used at the capital’s refuge sites.

This week, the council claimed it had been forced to shut one of the capital’s two waste disposal sites due to machinery at the site being inoperable – limiting the amount of garbage that can be handled at the site in recent days.

Taking the lead

On Monday (December 31, 2012) Tourism Minister Adheeb spoke of the present challenges facing waste management in the country, maintaining that a failure to try and solve current problems with the capital’s garbage would require his ministry to “take the lead” in clean up efforts.

Adheeb added that waste management was therefore expected to be a main focus of the Fourth Tourism Master Plan – scheduled at present to be released within the first quarter of 2013.

“One of the main issues which have a negative impact on the tourism industry at present is the issue of garbage: the sight of garbage floating in the sea, the sight of smoke from burning garbage as the flights descend to land. This has a very detrimental impact on value addition,” he stated.

According to Adheeb, user generated reviews on popular travel sites like TripAdvisor were now cautioning tourists to choose resorts where “smoke is not visible”, causing a loss to the many high-end resorts located near Male’ and Thilafushi.

“There is no way we can sustain tourism without solving the issue of waste management. We will wait till the end of February. If by then the Environment Ministry and the MCC are unable to deal with the issue, then we will take the lead, even if it means we will need to spend on it on a voluntary basis,” Adheeb said.

Waste management deal

The previous government of former President Mohamed Nasheed had signed a waste management agreement with India-based Tatva Global Renewable Energy back in May 2011 to implement a system designed to generate power from recycling waste.

The contract has been undergoing renegotiation with the current government as part of efforts to provide what it has called a more “mutually beneficial” agreement – a move slammed by the MCC, which had accused authorities of trying to “sabotage” the deal.

However, Adheeb this week was said he was critical of the effectiveness of previous methods of waste management being sought in the Maldives, as well as the attitudes of certain environmental activists.

“We need to learn to make do with taking just the basic steps. For example, when it comes to dealing with waste management, we aspire to turn it into gas or electricity immediately upon being burned, and then for it to be connected to Male’ and Hulhumale’ via submarine cables,” he said.

“Now if we are to have expectations as high as this, we will never be able to deal with the issue practically.”

Adheeb added that if people were concerned about the environment, they should equally consider the issue of waste management, claiming a failure to solve the issue would make it very difficult for the tourism industry to survive.

“Why not just take the basic steps and get rid of the waste?  Previous leaders have tried to make Maldives a leading name whenever the topic of environment comes up. But no real solutions were found in the past three or four years,” he said.

Adheeb also contended that the present focus of environmental activism within the country was proving detrimental to tourism development, as well as ignoring advances in construction techniques being used by the industry.

“From what we have seen, if we try to get an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) done for the purpose of beginning construction of a resort, the environmentalists suddenly get very concerned. Or if we try to reclaim land, then again the environment becomes so very important. But Hulhumale’ and Reethi Rah Resort are very good examples. In Maldives, even through reclamation, we can make things natural,” he said.


State Minister for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed stated today that while waste management issues could pose problems for the tourism sector, he believed it could be better managed and solved faster if the Tourism Ministry would provide more cooperation on related work.

“I don’t think Adheeb’s statement on taking initiative in waste management is a very responsible one. Since a lot of resorts take garbage to Thilafushi and end up dumping it into the sea,” he claimed.  “We have approached the Tourism Ministry with plans to place Environment Officers in resorts to monitor this. It would be good if that ministry would cooperate a bit more than they do now.”

Matheen confirmed that the negotiations with Tatva over a new deal on the previously agreed waste management project had now been concluded. He said that a final decision would be reached after it is submitted for the Economic Committee’s approval this coming week.

Aside from future projects to better manage waste, Male’ City Councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem today claimed that the municipal council has not been allocated sufficient funds for waste management work in the 2013 budget passed last month by parliament.

Karrem claimed that the council had this week already been temporarily forced to facilitate alternative methods of shifting large amounts of garbage after Waste Disposal Site Number 2 in the capital was closed owing to machinery failure.

“We have managed to reopen the site today, after having cleared up the place again. One of our biggest concerns for this year ahead of us is that the state has not provided our council with any funds to deal with this issue of waste management,” Kareem stated.


In a direct response today to Adheeb’s comments, Male’ City Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik alleged that the waste management issue had been delayed owing to negligence on the part of the current government.

“Adheeb belongs to the group of people who are extremely good at ‘taking over’ everything, so there is not much we can do if he ends up taking over waste management work. However, if all goes accordingly, Tatva will commence work in March,” he said.

Manik further stated that although it was MCC that had initially signed the contract with Tatva, the Ministry of Environment had now taken over and was proceeding with discussions with the company without involving the council.

Manik said that the council had had some discussions with the Ministry previously, where they had pledged support to the project.


Decision on future of waste management project expected within a week: State Minister Matheen

A decision over whether to cancel a contract with India-based Tatva Global Renewable Energy for the provision of a waste management system in the Male’ area will be taken by the Environment Ministry this week, according to local media.

A final decision on the contract – which was last month in the process of renegotiation between the current government and Tatva Global Renewable Energy – is expected to be taken within the next five days, State Minister for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed has reportedly confirmed.

Matheen claimed Monday (December 25) that final discussions with the company were set to take place over whether the ministry would seek to scrap the contract, Local newspaper Haveeru has reported.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration signed the original waste management agreement with Tatva in May 2011 in a deal that was supposed to have generated power from recycling waste. The scheme was also said to be part of attempts to improve the overall standards of waste management in Male’ and the nearby “garbage island”, Thilafushi.

The deal, like the airport development agreement with India-based GMR declared void by the government last month, was been backed by International Finance Corporation (IFC), an affiliate organisation of the World Bank, according to the Inter Press Service news agency.

However, parts of the agreement were ordered halted by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in August this year over alleged concerns about the contract approved by the former government.

The ACC received concerns that the project would lead to an anticipated loss of MVR 1 billion (US$64.8 million) in government finances over a 20 year operating period, according to local news reports at the time.

“Mutually beneficial”

Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela announced earlier this month that discussions were taking place as to whether the previous contract agreed with Tatva could be replaced with a more “mutually beneficial” agreement.

“Provided they perform within the time frame given, the contract will remain with Tatva,” she said in response to whether the company would retain its role on the waste management project.

However, Male’ City Council (MCC) has criticised the renegotiation attempts, accusing the state of trying to sabotage the agreement outright for political gain.


Bluepeace cautious over government’s Baa Atoll preservation plans

Local environmental NGO Bluepeace has said government action to establish and extend several protected ecological preserves in Baa Atoll is an “encouraging development”, despite its concerns about the efficiency of collaboration between different ministerial branches over eco-protection.

Ali Rilwan from Bluepeace said that he supported the government’s action in regard to environmental protection across the southerly atoll, yet insisted the measures were more of a “first step” towards a comprehensive national preservation system rather than a finalised commitment to conservation.

The comments were made as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday that it had signed a declaration with the Ministry of Housing and Environment to protect several different habitats within Baa Atoll in honour of World Environment Day.

Protected areas in the atoll, which has been described by Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam as having one of the country’s most diverse eco-systems, will now include Maahuruvalhi Faru and the islands of Bathalaahura and Gaaganduhura along with their house reefs, as well as the island of Goidhoo and its swamp land.

Previously protected areas in the atoll, including Dhigalihaa and the island of Hanifaru along with its adjoining bay – already popular spots for divers trying to see whale sharks – were also extended to become larger preserves.

The Environment Ministry also yesterday expressed interest in working with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to additionally register the atoll as a biosphere reserve to further protect indigenous wildlife and plant life.

Taking the example of previous declarations of protected eco-systems back in 2009, Rilwan said he remained concerned about the wider effectiveness of implementing and maintaining preserves in the Maldives.

He alleged that government bodies such as the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture had previously allowed timber permits for logging in certain protected areas, even after protected zones had been established.

Rilwan claimed that in order for the government to provide an efficient national strategy for environmental protection, various ministerial bodies dealing with the environment, agriculture and trade all needed stronger methods for collaboration.

“We’re not seeing the agriculture ministry work directly with the country’s trade ministry.  Each one seems to exist like they are their own government,” he claimed.  “We don’t see any national collaboration between [the different ministries].

Rilwan said that he believed this lack of collaboration had led to confusion and occasional contradiction in policies between individual ministries in regards to protecting a specific area or species.

“For instance, you have species such as turtles and whale sharks being the responsibility of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, while the places they inhabit are being dealt with by the Environment Ministry,” he said.

Rilwan claimed that this confusion had been seen to cause problems in the past such as imposing a ban on shark hunting last year.

While some ministries had at the time been working on schemes to offer compensation to fishermen affected by the ban, Rilwan alleged other agencies such the country’s customs authorities were not always doing enough to ensure products derived from shark were not finding their way out of the country.

Spokesperson for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, was not responding to calls at time of press.

In terms of possible future work with groups like UNESCO in outlining protected zones in Baa Atoll, Rilwan said he believed that the environmentally protected designations imposed on the area would also allow for a increased research into the region’s habitats.

“We do not have a lot of research on these areas commonly available for local people.  Hopefully this protection will hope create awareness about the areas and their inhabitants such as plant life and fungus,” he said.


“Careless contractors” to blame for cracked buildings, says government

Carelessness on behalf of contractors was to blame for large cracks that appeared in several high profile shops in Male’ on Thursday, a investigation by the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) and Housing Ministry has found.

On Thursday evening the foundations of the Seylam building, adjacent to the Agora supermarket on Male’s main road Majeedee Magu, slid due to the construction of Jambuge next door.

Residents living in the building abandoned it and were forced to move to other areas that evening, while police cordoned off the area as people gathered to see the cracks.

Speaking after the incident, Deputy Minister for Environment Dr Mohamed Shareef said that shallow foundations of both buildings had structural weaknesses that caused them to slide when nearby contractors pumped water from underground.

‘’We found out that the Checkmark building [a prominent garment shop next to Agora] had a shallow foundation of 1.3 metres and building next to it had a foundation of 2.5 meters, and when the Jambuge contractors evacuated the water from the foundations, it caused the foundation of the Checkmark building to slide,’’ said Dr Shareef. “The Checkmark building was also constructed very weakly and carelessly.’’

Dr Shareef said although similar incidents could lead buildings to fall, “there was no serious damage caused this time.’’

‘’The government can introduce sophisticated laws, but if people are not implementing it won’t do any good,” he said. “Police and the ministry can’t always observe whenever a building is constructed, and contractors should pay more attention to nearby buildings when constructing take the safety precautions.’’

He suggested that it would be more helpful if the contractors “gained some knowledge about engineering.”

The dense construction of high concrete buildings around Male’ on often shallow poorly-constructed foundations has occasionally led to fears that parts of the city could collapse if too much pressure is placed on the brittle reef.

State Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Ali revealed in May this year that cracks had been discovered in Male’ reef that could potentially cause the reef to collapse.

The cracks in the Malé reef were “serious problems because it is the reef on which we are building this infrastructure.”

In January sheet piles near Nasandura Palace Hotel slid and created a hole on the street outside. Some experts suggested that the cause of the cracks were heavy structures on the reef such as buildings, and warned there would be consequences if heavy structures were built in these sensitive areas.


Maldives to cut net carbon emissions ‘100%’ by 2020, pledges president

The Maldives has informed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that it will reduce its net carbon emissions by 100% before 2020.

This is not a total reduction of emissions but rather a statement of carbon neutrality. The president’s pledge to the UNFCCC following the Copenhagen Accord is currently the most ambitious emissions reduction target to be submitted by any country.

Deputy Environment Minister Dr Mohamed Shareef acknowledged that the promise to reduce net emissions by 100% was misleading.

“That would seem that a country would not produce any CO2 at all. This is possible in the long term, but at a great cost,” he said.

“Airplanes will land, sea vessels will use diesel; what the government actually means is that they will offset their carbon emissions.”

Dr Shareef explained that carbon neutrality meant a country offsetting at least half its emissions by using renewable energy sources.

The president said the country was working with renewable energy providers to install wind turbines and solar panels, and would request technological and financial support to implement its ambitions to become carbon neutral.

“New technologies allow us to both develop and maintain a healthy environment. It is time mankind moves into the Green Age,” the president urged.

“Climate change threatens us all. If we don’t act now, we will lose the rainforests, lose the coral reefs and, potentially, lose human civilization itself.”