Comment: Urgent appeal from a deeply concerned community

The Velidhoo Future Foundation (VFF) was founded on March 2010 to develop the island of Velidhoo in Noonu Atoll and for the progression of its youth, whilst looking at environmental sustainability for the community, an issue which has emerged as vital the past few years.

Since its establishment, the VFF has developed many initiatives, and as the name indicates, they were all effectively undertaken for the future of the island of Velidhoo. This is done working with the society at grass root level, encouraging participation from everyone, be it local, national or international. Many successful projects have been jointly executed. The advantages of the combination of knowledge and skills of international volunteers together with local expertise and enthusiasm were realised and used to the benefit of the community in Velidhoo.

We are proud of our contribution to the development of our island, disseminating good practice and experience outside our own community too. Our aim is to make Velidhoo an example to be emulated in the field of effective household waste disposal, clean and usable beaches and enlightened, progressive citizens. We were well on our way of doing this, and the co-operation from local businesses, resorts, international volunteers, and particularly from the Velidhoo residents themselves has been over-whelming, very encouraging and definite steps in the right direction.

However, very sadly, the recent developments in both our country and our local community have abruptly halted our ongoing projects. Our community has now become deeply divided. Where before there was unity, solidarity and a real sense of working together for the good of all, now there is hate, suspicion and discontentment.

We are extremely worried that our common religion will be used as a means of sowing hate. We are already facing threats (like SMS and speeches) towards the European volunteers in our region, who are accused of preaching Christianity and therefore “should be thrown out of the country”. These accusations have no base and are completely unjustified, as the volunteers have done nothing but genuinely care for communities without religion ever coming in the context.

An ongoing cooperation with the State of Limburg (Belgium) has put been on hold. We were supposed to have hosted them in February. This project would have given the area a huge impetus for progress and growth, and ultimately it is the communities who will lose out and suffer from this delay.

We are extremely worried that the many NGOs and international organisations in Maldives would be considered “unwanted foreigners”. We desperately need international aid and projects for development. The influence of our volunteers has been positive and far-reaching – in education, training, tourism, environmental issues, marine conservation, even giving local enterprises more business through their activities. We are concerned that these partners will not be wanted.

So far, because of the good nature of these international bodies and volunteers, they have kept the true Maldivian situation to themselves, and tourism has not been affected much yet. But if this situation is allowed to continue, then the repercussions would be horrific. The main body of international tourists would start pulling out. Why would western societies wish to patronise a country where foreigners are generally regarded with hostility and malign ill-will and tolerated through gritted teeth only because of the dollars they bring in?

Furthermore, having had discussions with our members and people in different areas and regions, we can have only one conclusion: “what has happened” was a coup d’état – independent bodies, various local communities and organisations and the international press have confirmed it.

Being a grass roots organisation, I speak not only for my organisation, but also for most of the common Maldivian citizens: A new government should be decided by the ballot box. I am sure you will agree that this is the only way to resolve the current unrest and feelings of discontent and frustration which is draining our nation and giving us a negative image globally.

No one will be able to dispute the outcome of the ballot box.

Prompt elections will bring a solution which ensures a free, democratic and prosperous future for youth, people and our nation. Only fresh elections – for both Parliament and the President’s position can bring a peaceful solution for our now deeply divided nation.

Ibrahim ‘Shoppe’ Mohamed is the Chairperson of the Velidhoo Future Foundation.

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Holhudhoo prepares for beach erosion

Residents of Noonu atoll Holhudhoo have sent a letter to their island councillor expressing concern over the escalation in beach erosion, especially as monsoon season approaches.

Councillor Ishaq Rasheed told Minivan News that erosion was particularly bad on the north-east corner of the island where land had been reclaimed and plots given out to islanders to build houses.

“It happens every year during the north-east monsoon but it was worse last year than before,” said Ishaq, adding that he feared a repeat in late December or early January.

“One house owned by Badeeu was almost built. He just had the foundations. But luckily he didn’t built it otherwise it would have been completely in the sea,” he said.

In another example, Ishaq said the occupants of Saraamanzil were forced to leave their house on several occasions “because the sea is almost up to its walls”.

He said that although the President had pledged to build a sea wall, the government was still awaiting loan assistance for the Rf2 million (US$156,000) project.

For now, he continued, residents with homes on the north-eastern corner of the island would have to be relocated when the weather worsened.

As one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, the Maldives is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and its corollary, beach erosion.

In 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted sea level rise of between 18cm and 59cm within the next century would submerge many of the Indian Ocean nation’s islands.

Speaking to Minivan News, Abdulla Shahid, chief coordinator at the disaster management centre, said that no action had been taken to tackle Holhudhoo’s erosion problem yet.

“The main reason is budget difficulties,” said Shahid, who added that over 70 per cent of islands in the Maldives experienced beach erosion.

If budget was not a question, Shahid said he would like to acquire the technical know-how and assistance to build bespoke harbours for each of the islands.

“This is what’s causing these problems. There might be other issues related to climate change but most of these erosion problems are related to harbours,” he said.

The Maldives’ “cut and paste” harbours have been criticised for not taking an island’s specific attributes, such as sand movement, into consideration, resulting in erosion.

Although islands in the Maldives are dynamic and coastal erosion is counterbalanced by subsequent sand accretion, erosion is worsened by man-made activity such as ill-conceived harbours.

Shahid said he was seeking cooperation with other countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, which had experience of designing and building harbours.

Until then, he said, sandbags provided a temporary measure, adding that the disaster management centre had recently sent 1,200 sandbags to Raa atoll Dhuvafaaru to help with the problem.

“We have got our work cut out and we have got nothing but empty coffers,” he said.