Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen has lambasted the country’s current presidential candidates for resorting to a “divide and rule policy” to stay in power, rather than focusing on issues such as “population consolidation” which he claimed would help sustainable development.
Speaking on May 13 during the launch of the UN’s 2013 human development report, Deen argued that it was extremely difficult for presidential candidates to discuss relocating and consolidating island populations due to fears “islanders will be angry”.
However, the vice president said he believed there were ulterior motives to avoid addressing population consolidation – the practice of relocating geographically isolated, small island communities to larger landmasses.
“The other reason – which is worse – is the divide and rule policy that has been in the Maldives for hundreds of years. I hope those who are going to be on the list of presidential candidates, and politicians, will seriously think about the development of this nation and not be thinking ‘how long can I stay in power?’,” he told Minivan News.
“The whole idea of population consolidation is for the government, or the leaders whoever they are, not to control Maldivian citizens, so if they want to be free and independent they should do it.”
Vice President Deen highlighted a number of development issues and interrelated democratisation challenges he believed were vital to development, during his speech at Sunday’s UN report launch.
These issues included included the need for improving freedom of expression and democratic education to reduce inequalities. Deen emphasised “population consolidation” as an important way of ensuring this.
“It is easier to control votes if you are on small, small little islands, but it’s difficult when the population is consolidated,” stated Deen. “I strongly believe that the Maldives must have a population consolidation method.”
“Unless populations are consolidated, economically viable solutions – healthcare, education and other services and facilities – required for development cannot be sustained,” he added.
Deen claimed there were also numerous economic and social service benefits that would come from relocating people living on small islands, whom he said faced “lots of difficulties” due to limited healthcare and educational opportunities. Restricted transportation options were another concern he identified.
“Population consolidation would also reduce income and gender inequality. They would find it easier to find jobs and things like that,” he said. “I strongly believe that’s the key to a successful Maldives.”
Voter buy-offs, other corrupt practices, political polarisation and a lack of civil education were identified by Transparency Maldives, the Elections Commission of the Maldives (ECM), and the Elections Commission of India (ECI) as threatening free and fair democratic elections from taking place in September.
Additionally, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) released a joint human rights brief this April accusing the Maldivian government of failing to create conditions conducive to free and fair elections.
Relocation gone wrong
Population consolidation is a controversial issue for many islanders, given the unique cultural characteristics and strong inter-relationships each island community in the Maldives possesses.
The displacement and subsequent relocation of the entire Kan’dholhudhoo Island community in Raa Atoll following the 2004 tsunami is one example of the development challenges posed by relocating entire island communities.
“The community is still suffering tremendously,” Island Council Vice President Amir Ahmed told Minivan News.
“Kan’dholhudhoo is our motherland, however, the whole island was fully damaged [in the tsunami]. Four years after our community was split and living on different islands in Raa Atoll – Alifushi, Ungoofaru, Meedhoo, Maduvvari – or in Male’,” Ahmed explained.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – in partnership with other nation-state donors – provided temporary shelter and food for the internally displaced in the aftermath of the tsunami, Ahmed continued.
In 2008, the bulk of Kan’dholhudhoo’s nearly 4,000 community members were eventually relocated to Dhuvaafaru Island. However, administratively the community remains under Kan’dholhudhoo, which poses a problem for voting, explained Ahmed.
The IFRC transformed the previously uninhabited island with the construction of 600 new houses, office buildings, a health centre, playgrounds, roads, and a garbage area, Ahmed added.
Unfortunately the government’s lack of community consultations, inadequate infrastructure development, and political opposition leading to local “administrative problems” has greatly degraded quality of life for the Kan’dholhudhoo community, lamented Ahmed.
He explained that the combination of too few island-level civil servants – the government mandates one per every 500 people, but only four represent Kan’dholhudhoo – and the stanch allegiance of island office employees to former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom created huge development-related problems and a lack of basic services.
“Maumoon’s people were working in the island office and they still supported him,” said Ahmed. He claims that the island office staff requested too few homes from the IFRC after the tsunami.
“They don’t know how the people suffer,” said Ahmed. “This is no ‘safe island’, there are many problems.”
“Day by day things get worse”
Currently 75 families still need homes, according to Ahmed. He explained the homes which have been constructed were meant to house a single six person family in a 2000 square foot area with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
“Instead, three or four families are living in one house. Many people are not coming back because they have no place to live, or because the living conditions are so uncomfortable,” Ahmed said.
“The constitution should provide one area of land per family, but this has not happened for our community,” he added.
Overcrowding due to the lack of adequate housing has caused a variety of societal problems, including property disputes, rising divorce rates, and children “don’t learn the responsibilities of how to live… additionally they see what’s happening to the community. Disputes are increasing,” said Ahmed.
Many of the homes were constructed near a “pond area” on the island, explained Ahmed.
“The land is not good for people to live on because the well water is bad. It has a bad smell and causes skin problems, especially for children and old people,” he explained. “Maumoon decided where to build the houses, we were not consulted.”
Although a pipeline has since been built to supply safe drinking water to the 40 families living in the area, given the overcrowding problem the water supplied is not sufficient. Thus, “a lot” of well water continues to be used.
Ahmed further explained that there is a waste management shortfall also posing a serious threat to community’s health.
“The garbage [problem] is terrible here. A garbage area was made but we cannot use it because there is not enough budget. So islanders have been dumping waste in the beach area, which is now full, so garbage is all over the road blocking vehicles from driving,” Ahmed said.
“There are also diseases spreading, such as viral fever, as well as mosquitoes and flies. And there are people living nearby this [garbage] area,” he added.
Despite these human health threats, Dhuvaafaru still lacks medicine and adequate medical facilities.
“There is no pharmacy or medicine [available]. We tried to establish one, but it is still not open,” said Ahmed.
“We have a health centre but it is without medicine. It lacks basic necessities and cannot even perform blood tests or give injections. We have to go to Ungoofaru [for medical treatment] which is 10 or 15 minutes away by speedboat,” he added.
Education and economic opportunities are also very limited, according to Ahmed.
“I am reluctant to say this, but the community is not very aware. Educated community [members] are very rare and if anyone is educated they will move to some other island because they want their children to have a quality education and standard of living,” Ahmed said.
“The community’s living standard is very dependent on the fishing industry. There are no administrative jobs, so fishing is the only way to make a living,” he continued.
“Day by day things get worse and worse,” he lamented.
“Government doesn’t listen”
Successive government administrations have failed to address the development problems and threats to the Dhuvaafaru community.
“Maumoon provided us no choices. We informed the government [of these issues], but nothing changed,” said Ahmed.
Although former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration provided the community with sandbags to thwart coastal erosion, “now the erosion has spread to another side” of the island and the ongoing development problems went unresolved, he continued.
The island office was controlled by the former opposition who did not cooperate with Nasheed’s administration to improve quality of life for the Dhuvaafaru community, claims Ahmed.
“We informed the coup government, but they don’t listen. [President Mohamed] Waheed makes many promises, but has taken no action,” he added.
Regarding whether island relocation and “population consolidation” are beneficial for island communities, Ahmed believes that if the government will actually provide the proper infrastructure for communities then the policy would be beneficial.
“I think most people would follow that, especially the younger generation. If there are good facilities I’ll go there for sure,” Ahmed declared.
“I’m happy now because everything is new [on Dhuvaafaru], but when I enter the house I want to leave immediately [due to the overcrowding],” he added.
In March 2012, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) sent a corruption case involving MVR 24 million (US$1.55 million) to the Prosecutor General’s Office concerning the Disaster Management Centre and a housing project carried out on Gan in Laamu Atoll, following damage suffered in the 2004 tsunami.
The Maldivian government is obligated under national and international law to guarantee the human rights and protections enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which include access to adequate housing, water, healthcare, and political participation.