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identified by the council as exacerbating the challenges it claims to be facing due to growing amounts of waste and outdated machinery used at the capital’s refuge sites.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.