Foreign Minister calls for greater resilience to climate change impacts

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon has called on the Maldives to build individual and collective resilience to face rising seas and extreme weather events associated with climate change.

In a statement issued on Friday commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Dunya said: “Floods and rising sea levels threaten the loss of our livelihoods, our homes, our cultures and our very existence.”

“The words of scientists that have for years warned of frequent natural disasters due to climate change, are undoubtedly proving to be true.”

The Maldives must take action at home to build resilience, and continue to urge other countries to do their part to combat climate change, Dunya said.

Although the Maldives has urged the international community to reach a strong and legally binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions, President Abdulla Yameen’s administration has begun exploring for oil in the Maldives.

In October, Fisheries Minister Mohamed Shainee said a research vessel has found hydrocarbon source rock in the Maldives.

December 26 is marked in the Maldives as National Day of Unity to celebrate the collective tsunami relief effort.

“What we saw that day was the true spirit of oneness, our common history and the bonds that bind us together like no other,” Dunya said.

At a ceremony to mark the tenth anniversary of the tsunami on Thursday, Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizz admitted government negligence in the delays in constructing permanent housing.

Muizz said the government has now completed a majority of the 338 remaining houses for families made homeless by the tsunami. He claimed there are no families living in temporary shelters at present.

The 338 houses include 41 on Thaa Atoll Madifushi, 87 on Gaaf Alif Dhaandhoo, 50 on Gaaf Alif Nilandhoo, 76 on Gaaf Alif Vilingili and 84 on Gaaf Alif Maamendhoo.

Only 51 houses remain unfinished. These include one house on Dhaandhoo, five on Nilandhoo, 12 on Villingili, and 33 on Maamendhoo.

Muizz said the government hopes to complete all houses by the end of 2014.

The housing projects in Thaa and Gaaf Alif atolls were initially commissioned to Maldivian company Vimla and an unnamed foreign company.

The government this year handed over the projects to the Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF), state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company, the Maldives Road Development Company, and several local companies.

The government is to give these families a grant of MVR 25,000 to buy furniture as they move into their new homes.

In his speech, Muizz also claimed the opposition had obstructed the construction of the permanent housing by vandalising buildings. He did not provide additional details.

President Yameen at the National Day of Unity function urged Maldivians to control negative emotions such as anger, hatred and envy in order to work towards sustainable unity.

Related to this story

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Comment: A decade after the 2004 Tsunami – recalling the turning point for disaster management

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh is WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia. As Deputy Regional Director (2002-2012)-she was overall lead in the Tsunami 2004 response. She is a staunch advocate and practitioner of emergency risk management in the health sector.

Documentation and publications of the tsunami 2004 and its lessons available at

There is debate among language scholars on the two Chinese language characters for the word crisis; one represents danger and the other possibility or opportunity. This has led to the often quoted cliché that “In every crisis, there is opportunity” when in fact these two characters define a crisis: the opportunity or the possibility of danger.

Recalling that late morning of 26 December 2004, when the Asian tsunami hit some countries of WHO’s South-East Asia Region, I remember receiving phone calls from our country offices in the Region describing the emergency as water entering the office compound in Maldives to waves rising as high as 40 meters lashing Sumatra, Indonesia, Andaman, sea coast area of Thailand, Myanmar, the eastern shoreline of Sri Lanka and South India.

What was common about their stories was that the water receded from the shores till as far as the eye could see before it all struck back with a vengeance. From all the reports, it seemed only Indonesia felt an earthquake. The story evolved quickly for the world to see – the final death toll reached close to 200 000; around 800 primary and secondary health facilities were destroyed; coastal villages and people’s livelihoods were wiped out; the tourism sector suffered a major blow in Maldives and Thailand.  The total damage was estimated at US$11 billion.

The response to the health needs was overwhelming—there was no recollection of a tsunami in recent times so there was no preparation. Coordination of response was rushed. For many countries systems were built as we responded. Donations in cash and in kind from individuals to governments became an event in itself and hard to manage. The WHO Regional Office for South East Asia deployed over 160 people over a period of three months to respond to the initial health needs. Every essential public health function – surveillance, maternal child health services, immunization, psychosocial support, management of dead bodies – was conducted on a massive scale tailored to the needs of each of the affected countries.  Field offices were set-up, logistic requirements put in place and technical experts were deployed wherever needed.  It was a response and recovery operation WHO had not seen or committed to in its history.

Today, a decade later, the important question before us is: how do we prepare ourselves for such an event? More importantly, how prepared is prepared? Measuring preparedness should be the basis for addressing risks, no matter what the cause. A series of lessons learnt meetings, evaluations, review of responses, culminated in 2005 with a set of Benchmarks for Emergency Preparedness and Response which includes standards, indicators and guide questions.

This tool intended to measure in detail what is in place for legal frameworks, plans, finance, coordination mechanisms, community capacities, and early warning for health events. The rest of the humanitarian and development actors were also looking to advance in this direction. The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) was developed in 2005 along with the UN Humanitarian Reform. This brought about a better approach to coordination in response, accountability and rapid predictable funding.

Indeed, we can do better and we can measure our actions so we can objectively identify gaps and address them.  Countries have used the WHO South-East Asia benchmarks for capacity assessments and development for better risk management in the health sector.

Tsunami monument, Malé

This also helped countries that were not affected by the tsunami. The tsunami was the turning point for countries to see that risk management is an essential public health function and crucial for protecting people’s health and investments. Countries also use HFA targets across sectors. Humanitarian reform has been applied in several emergencies with varying success but with systematic documentation of gains and gaps providing a clearer way for corrective action. Even with all these tools, investments, new plans and building back better – the only proof of effective preparedness would be another event.

On 11 April 2012 an earthquake of 8.7 on the Richter scale rocked Aceh in Indonesia for four minutes. Tremors were also felt in neighbouring countries. It seemed like a repeat of 2004. But certain specific actions of that day clearly demonstrated that we had learned since then. There was evacuation to higher ground by all coastal communities from Aceh, Nias Island, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Thailand.

The clear link of the tsunami warning system (now in place in the Indian Ocean) and community relay of the communication was seen in many coastal areas such as Chennai where loudspeakers from local government representatives informed everyone to move to safer locations and heed the warning. Eight were reported dead and those injured were treated promptly and were accounted for. Hospitals in Banda Aceh evacuated their patients in an orderly manner- a result of their preparedness plans and drills. Although some health posts were damaged, the city infrastructure did not suffer from major destruction, in fact very few were damaged. The tourism sector in Sri Lanka was very organized in moving resort guests to higher ground.

Those initial 6 hours of response on 11 April proved that we have learnt what our risks are and know how to manage and continue confidently to live with them. Indeed, it pays to invest in making risk management capacities pervasive in all levels of society – in all sectors. We have seen India, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand continue to improve systems they set-up with knowledge and tools developed through the lessons of the tsunami. Other countries have also done so using the same knowledge. The death tolls in various events have decreased over the past years as preparedness and response capacities have increased phenomenally. Today, as we look back at the devastating tsunami, we can say that it taught us valuable lessons. .

To further build on these lessons, we must remain insightful of the linkages of hazards, risks and capacities. Reducing our vulnerabilities require an iterative, honest process of correction in what we invest in, where we invest and what we do to further decrease the risks to our people.  Why? Because, even though our capacities increase, so do our risks. We are facing new risks today. Cities are sprouting unplanned, extreme weather events due to climate change are occurring with regularity; people are moving globally with much more ease – all of which contribute to another “perfect storm”.

Maybe our current capacities will not be enough for the next event so we need to keep questioning our status in order to improve. Global tools and mechanisms like the WHO South-East Asia Benchmarks will undergo regular use and review, the HFA will be updated in March 2015 and humanitarian reform has given way to the transformative agenda for the UN and partners to respond to mega-disasters.

It seems though that no effort is ever enough, the world is facing another global health emergency requiring resources from everywhere –Ebola is an old disease in new places.  An event where there is no obvious physical proof of destruction but it is just as destructive to individuals, families, societies and nations. The Ebola outbreak is another event we need to learn from. We must continue to invest in prevention and preparedness to save more lives. This will eventually decrease the resources needed for the response and recovery in a future event.

Meanwhile, what is clear is that both statements are true- we live in a world where there is always a possibility for danger; and in every crisis there is an opportunity. Knowing what we know now, we must look ahead and use that knowledge as an opportunity to keep getting better in saving lives, preventing diseases, and protecting health.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Project for 100 houses in Vilifushi initiated

The Housing Ministry has begun a project to build 100 houses for the people of Vilifushi in Thaa atoll who were displaced by the 2004 tsunami.

Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muizzu told Sun Online today that this first phase of the project will be started within the next two weeks and should be completed in 12 months.

The houses, for which all residents of the island are welcome to apply, will cost MVR2,500 per month over a 15 year period, said Muizzu.

After being devastated by the tsunami, with the entire community – over 1,800 people – displaced, Vilifushi was later reclaimed using donor aid before resettlement began in 2009.

Last December, President Abdulla Yameen noted that 427 families throughout the country still required permanent housing after the tsunami, pledging to rehouse all those in need.

The Human Rights Commission also noted that it continued to receive complaints from survivors, largely regarding lack of permanent shelter, compensation for damages caused to houses  and delays in housing projects.

The 2004 tsunami resulted in 82 deaths and 26 missing persons in the Maldives. Figures from the UN show that the disaster displaced nearly 10 percent of the Maldives’ population, severely damaging a quarter of inhabited islands with 14 completely evacuated.

Noomadi Resorts Private Limited has been commissioned to carry out the resort, reported Sun.


Tsunami survivors still without permanent housing

President Abdulla Yameen has said 427 families who survived the devastating 2004 tsunami still require permanent housing.

During a speech on the occasion of the National Unity Day – commemorating the impact of the tsunami –  Yameen pledged to provide all families with housing in the next year.

“This government will provide housing for all those who were deprived of it with the tsunami, we will do it in 2014 according to the government’s manifesto” Yameen said.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM)  has said that a number of complaints were submitted to the commission by victims of the disaster in 2013. Among these were twelve cases related to damages to houses, of which five cases have been resolved.

Among them was a case involving the government asking people of Meemu Atoll Kolhufushi Island to repay the funds given for repairing damages to their houses.

The commission had also received complaints regarding lack of permanent shelter, compensation for damages caused to houses  and delays in housing projects.

HRCM President  Mariyam Azra has requested the government to take initiative in providing permanent shelter for those currently living in temporary shelters as soon as possible.

Speaking to the media today, commission member Dr Aly Shameem said he hopes the government works towards consolidating democracy and human rights by formulating an action plan as soon a possible.

“We haven’t seen the new government announcing any major policies to consolidate democracy and human rights yet, but the government have assured their full cooperation to the human rights commission,” Shameem said.

According to the Disaster Management Center, 242 individual victims of the disaster are still living in temporary shelters.


Home Ministry announces events to commemorate 2004 tsunami

The government has announced it will mark “Unity Day” to commemorate the tsunami disaster of 2004 and to strengthen bonds between citizens. As in the past 8 years, the Home Ministry has announced that one minute of silence will be observed on the streets on Thursday morning at 9:20am.

The official state event will be held in the Islamic Centre at 10:30am.

The Home Ministry has also revealed that it will be organising a nationwide cleaning program to mark the Unity Day which falls on December 26.

According to the Home Ministry, the cleaning program will be conducted on Saturday from 7:30am to 12:30pm in both Male’ and the atolls. It has extended invitations to clubs and organisations to join the event.

Clean up will be focused on specific locations selected by the island councils.

The 2004 tsunami resulted in 82 deaths and 26 missing persons in the Maldives.


Maldives facing widespread child prostitution, sexual abuse: clinical psychologist

Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish

Child prostitution in Laamu Atoll has become so “common” the underage victims of such crimes consider it “normal”, a private clinical psychologist has revealed to Minivan News.

The practice, believed by multiple sources interviewed by Minivan News to be prevalent across the Maldives, ranges from male benefactors grooming children with ‘gifts’ to parents actively selling the sexual services of their children – some as young as 12.

Acknowledgement of “systemic” child sexual abuse in the Maldives, particularly prostitution, remains highly taboo, with few government institutions willing to confront the problem.

Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights Azima Shukoor made the first official acknowledgement of the practice in a statement to mark Children’s Day on May 10.

“The abuse of children is on the rise. Children being used as sex workers, where the children are sent to places as a means to pleasure people and to gain an income from such a trade. This is being practiced in the Maldives today. Both boys and girls are being used in this trade,” she stated.

Consultant Clinical Psychologist Maldives Institute for Psychological Services, Training & Research (MIPSTAR), Dr Aishath Ali Naaz, conducts psychological profiling of sexual abuse victims, as well as preventative awareness workshops, and recently completed a study focusing on Laamu Atoll.

She explained that child prostitution has become so common among minors that it is considered a normal activity, with victims even boasting about their sexual exploits at school.

“When many people do something it’s not [considered] wrong anymore. In some atolls I’ve seen this, especially in Laamu Atoll. It’s not accepted by the whole population but [it is] among the young people,” she told Minivan News.

“The children say in class ‘So you do it, you do it too, and so on, so what’s the big deal?’” Dr Naaz explained. “Some children have accepted this as something normal and as a way of life.”

Child prostitution is considered a type of sexual abuse because victims are minors under 18 years-old.

“It’s not just incest, which is happening, because in my practice I have come across cases of close relatives [who] have pushed children into prostitution,” Dr Naaz said. “Children as young as 12 or 13 years-old have been forced to partake in sexual activities,” explained Dr Naaz.

“This is sexual abuse, but people are not aware that there is sometimes monetary gain for somebody,” she added.

“Child prostitution is happening in a very subtle way. Most of the time there is an adult who is pushing the child; it may be a parent or a relative who is pimping the child,” said Dr Naaz.

Hidden in plain sight

Two cases of child prostitution in Laamu Atoll have been reported to police so far in 2012, a police source familiar with the incidents told Minivan News, on condition of anonymity.

The cases were “isolated, very difficult to [investigate]”, and there did not appear to be gang involvement or organised child prostitution ‘rings’, the source explained. The victims of child prostitution in the atoll were “typically 16 or 17 years-old”.

An island council official in Laamu Atoll told Minivan News child prostitution was resorted to by the “poorest of the poor” as a means to earn money to “fulfill basic needs of living.”

Child sexual abuse and incest occurring within some families has led to the practice being passed down through multiple generations, a civil society source researching the matter explained to Minivan News.

This history of sexual abuse has been exacerbated by overcrowding in homes following relocations after the 2004 tsunami, which in combination with severe economic hardship has led to the exploitation of children via prostitution.

During a visit to Laamu Atoll, Minivan News spoke to 51 year-old former atoll chief Abdul Wahhab Abdulla about the practice in the atoll.

Wahhab served as island chief of Gan for 25 years, atoll chief from 2008 to 2010, and was director general at the national administrative office of the South Central Province from 2011 to March 2012. He was subsequently demoted to island council director after March 2012.

Reported cases of child prostitution in the atoll were “very rare”, Wahhab said, “perhaps one case a year.”

There have been cases of middle aged or elderly men providing financial support to young girls for basic necessities “and then taking advantage of the position [of benefactor],” he explained.

“It is less child prostitution than sexual abuse,” he  continued. “I think it started after the tsunami after affected people from Mundhoo and Kalaidhoo [islands] migrated here.”

There were about four such cases of sexual abuse reported a year, he said.

In the past, Wahhab explained, island communities were smaller and people knew each other very well, making it difficult to hide crimes such as prostitution.

Reported cases typically involved low income families “with four or five children”, he said, with adolescent girls aged 16-17 often targeted.

“The children have basic needs that are not being fulfilled, so the elderly man will first gain the child’s trust with small gifts,” he explained.

“At that point he becomes her benefactor. Then he gets closer and tries to take advantage of the girl. And the girl does not have the capacity or courage to resist,” he said.

The gender department and police child and family protection services had attended to reported cases promptly, he added.

Atoll sex behaviour survey suppressed

In 2010, the gender department conducted a biological behaviour survey in Laamu Atoll focusing on child sexual abuse, homosexuality and drug use, explained the former atoll chief.

The results of the survey – which were never made public – suggested that the incidence of child abuse and homosexuality were much higher than previously expected, according to Wahhab.

The survey did not distinguish that child prostitution was occurring in Laamu Atoll at the time, he added.

Systemic exploitation nationwide

While children prostitution is more pronounced in some atolls than others, it is “a systemic problem” across the country and remains “a very, very hidden activity,” Dr Naaz explained.

The almost 10,000 participants of her sexual abuse and violence prevention workshops over the past two years had expressed particular concern that child sexual abuse, including child prostitution – is “a common problem”.

Communities from the far north to the south of the Maldives – including Male’, Haa Dhaal, Raa, Lhaviyani, and Addu Atolls – have also been affected, she said.

“People quite frequently talk about child sexual abuse, but we are not comfortable facing the finer details of this reality,” said Dr Naaz.

It was a misconception to think that Maldivians were not involved in the child sex trade, as it was “hidden and difficult to capture,” she said.

“There are people who are using young Maldivian girls in this trade, but it may not be happening at a guest house,” she explained.

Instead, this sexual exploitation occurs “more on [the victim’s] own familiar ground, in rooms and houses”, making it difficult for the authorities to identify cases, collect evidence and intervene.

The involvement of young boys in child prostitution “cannot be ruled out”, however the practice “may be even more hidden”, she added.

Children are being forced to cater to both Maldivians and expatriate workers, she said, however the rates varied with Maldivians paying upwards of MVR 700 (US$45.60) while foreigners such as Bangladeshi labourers paid MVR 150 (US$9.77) “for sexual everything”, explained Dr Naaz.

“These girls have described that the people who pay for sex with them are often very young – 21 to 25 years-old – but sometimes include elderly people,” she continued, noting that the practice had increased in the past decade.

Sophisticated industry in Male’

In the capital Male’, child prostitution has reached a “sophisticated level” and encompasses different types of sexual abuse, explained Dr Naaz, with an even split between families pimping out their children for economic gain versus gangs facilitating the trade for girls suffering from substance abuse problems.

Rather than being gang-led phenomenon, families struggling to make ends meet and economic hardship had led to the rise of a generally ad hoc child sex industry.

“There are instances where family members may hire a room for rent, keep the children in there, and then use them to generate money through sexual activity so they can support their stay in Male’,” explained Dr Naaz.

“Many times the parent, uncle or sibling may be involved in drug abuse and in order to get money they introduce the children to the trade,” said Dr Naaz. “On the other hand, you have people deliberately using and recruiting young girls into this and involving them in sex.”

“Sometimes – and I don’t want to put the on blame them, because it’s not every gang – there are youth groups who may keep a few girls whom they pimp.”

She also highlighted instances of mentally disabled children being abused for sexual activities by adults.

“They’re vulnerable so they’re not able to protect themselves,” she said.

Other cases were said to involve groups of women renting rooms in Male’ and “recruiting vulnerable young people who may not have their parents [in the city],” she explained. In some cases,  young girls with intellectual impairments “are taken in by these groups of women.”

She identified a “gradual process” of minors being “groomed” by adults via the internet and/or social media, with children taken to known “spots” and introduced to those involved in the sex trade.

In other instances, the minors are pushed to provide nude photos, and then emotionally blackmailed with threats that the pictures will be posted on the web, and ultimately recruited into prostitution.

“In Male’, there have [also] been instances where a parent gets angry and tells the child to get out on the street, with the child picked up by somebody [because they are] in a helpless state,” said Dr Naaz. “Then they are taken to a guest house and used for prostitution, group sex and things like that.”

A school health counselor in Male’, who claimed to have encountered numerous cases of child prostitution, said poverty was one of the root causes of the abuse in Male.

“Mostly cases involve single parents – mums and dads – who come from the islands and try to survive in Male’,” said the counselor. “Cases where the mom lives in a guest house and facilitates prostitution for the whole family are common in Male’.”

In one specific instance, a student in Grade 7 (aged 12-13) and her sister were earning money from prostitution and giving the earnings to the family, with the parent’s knowledge, the source said.

“Children are [also] trafficked to the islands from Male’. The gender ministry cannot do anything regarding the kids because this happens at the family level and at the school level. They have no authority to say anything and are neglecting the issue,” the source alleged.

A civil society source currently investigating the practice told Minivan News that underage girls were being “groomed” by “benefactors” in Male’ and then sexually abused by the same men, which included both Maldivians and foreign nationals. The source said it is common to see teenage or adolescent girls with older men who were trying to buy sexual favors at particular shops in Male’ at the beginning of the month, around payday.

After being lured into prostitution, the children were then taken by some men to neighboring countries to engage in sexual acts, added the source.

Generations of damage

Some of the children exploited by the sex trade seek help, but the condition they are in is “very very sad”, lamented Dr Naaz. “It’s unbelievable for the Maldives.”

“Sometimes they are psychotic, mentally retarded, and they are the victims of rape, gang rape, group sex… and the child feels ‘I have no choice but to be there’ because their intellectual capacity is not [developed enough] to address that. They don’t have the skills [to get out of the situation],” she explained.

Some children also showed symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases and were being advised to seek testing and treatment, she added.

A comprehensive study is needed to determine exactly how many children are affected by this type of sexual abuse, emphasised Dr Naaz.

“I don’t think we would be different from most other societies, but the exact percentage we should determine from good research that determines the root causes,” she said.

While the exact root causes behind child prostitution – and other forms of sexual abuse – in the Maldives still need to be determined, there are some factors in addition to economic hardship that may be contributing to the practice.

“Many times Maldivians are living in very crowded environments in households where they are exposed to adult sexual activities and children learn, children get to know,” Dr Naaz speculated. “So the environment in which we are living could be one factor.”

Furthermore, “in the Maldives girls start having boyfriends at a very young age, grade 5 or 6, which is quite early. It seems more like people are indulging in sexual activities at a very young age,” she explained. “Sometimes these boyfriends may be on drugs and these boys may also be recruiting the girls into sexual activities. Young girls need to be very careful so they don’t get pushed into this.”

Children’s rights violated

Children are not aware of their rights and are not being taught or given opportunities to develop the proper social skills to protect themselves from attempted sexual abuse, including child prostitution, multiple sources emphasised to Minivan News.

“Young people should know their body is theirs and that nobody has a right to violate it. No one – no one – can violate it and there are other ways to earn money,” said Dr Naaz.

“We have to tell young people it’s not alright if your aunt [or anyone] says ‘go to that room with this boy’. Children need to be taught that this is wrong, that these are their rights that are being violated,” she emphasised. “Sometimes children don’t know this, or that they have the right to report [abuse].”

“Parents have a huge role to play, we have to monitor where our children are going. If they’re missing for long hours, we need to know where they are, and whether someone is abusing the freedom their parents have given them,” she continued.

“The child is a minor, so they may not be able to say no if they get pushed into this,” she added.

A ‘Happy Star’ program, created by Dr Naaz, details how parents can communicate to their children – in a language appropriate to children – to improve awareness about the dangers of being lured or forced into child prostitution.

She emphasised that relevant programs must be developed to protect children and teach them about their rights.

“There is a general erosion of values. People don’t seem to know where to set their limits or draw the line. We need to get back to our old values,” she said.

“When a young boy is going to school saying ‘I can’t even say my mum is not doing it, my mum is sleeping with my friend’, that reflects an erosion of values,” she said.

The civil society source investigating the practice of prostitution among young people emphasised that parents and children are “not prepared to deal with these things”.

In addition to no effective sexual education taking place, “There is also no social education occurring and when children get older they rebel because they are not given the chance to be children – instead they are forced to take tuition from age four instead of having play time,” said the source.

“There are parents trying to bring up good kids, but the victims drag other children into their bad behavior,” the source continued.

“We are neglecting the issue, making it worse because no one is dealing with these things. Hiding the issue encourages the practice to continue,” the source declared.

“This has to come out and we have to think ‘out of the box’ to stop the root causes – not just do the same things over and over,” the source added.

Authorities, government uncooperative

The Maldives Police Service had not responded to an emailed series of questions at time of press.

Meanwhile, despite stating earlier this year that the abuse and neglect of children had reached “alarming levels“, the Gender Ministry failed to respond to multiple enquiries from Minivan News regarding child prostitution over the course of this investigation.

Further interviews arranged with relevant authorities in Laamu Atoll were curtailed by the Ministry in Male, with Minivan News ordered to submit a formal letter of enquiry to the office in Male’ requesting authorisation for its staff to speak.

Minivan News submitted such a letter to the Ministry on June 16 seeking “all relevant information regarding the occurrence of child prostitution” in Laamu Atoll and nationwide, as well as a copy of the Laamu Atoll survey conducted in 2010. At time of press, the Ministry had made no response.

Minivan News also contacted Minister of Gender, Family, and Human Rights Azima Shukoor, who did not respond to calls or text messages.

State Minister Dr Aishath Rameela was also not responding to calls at time of press. Minivan News attended her office to set up an appointment directly on Wednesday (June 19), but was informed by Dr Rameela’s secretary that she was unavailable for interview because she was “very busy”.

Victims or suspected victims of sexual abuse, including child prostitution, in Laamu Atoll, can reach the Hadhdhunmathi Family and Children Service Centre on Fonadhoo Island via 771-1721 ,or by calling the Maldives Police Services at 119.

Additionally, a 24 hour toll-free Maldives Child Helpline is available on 1412.


Auditor General’s Office to verify disputed figures in finance ministry audit report

The Auditor General’s Office has said it is verifying whether Vimla Construction Pvt Ltd was in fact given an advance payment of MVR 198.1 million (US$12.8 million) in February 2009 as flagged in the finance ministry’s 2011 audit report.

In a press release last week, the Auditor General’s Office said it was in the process of “further checking and verifying” the disputed figure stated in the audit report (Dhivehi) released earlier this month following questions raised in the media over its authenticity.

The case highlighted in the report concerned a large advance payment for delivery of construction materials for a tsunami-related housing project in Gaaf Alif Atoll.

Vimla has claimed in local media that the company received MVR 5 million (US$324,254).

“The audit report did not state that the advance payment to Vimla Construction for the Gaaf Alif housing project was made in violation of the law and regulations,” the press release stressed, adding that the audit office did not make any recommendations concerning the advance payment.

The case was uncovered during auditing of the finance ministry records, the press release added, and the figures were based on information collected from the ministry for its 2011 audit.

Auditors met with senior officials of the finance ministry on February 24, 2013 to verify the figures stated in the audit report and invited feedback from the ministry in a letter sent on March 19, 2013, the press release revealed.

“However, as a result of not receiving comments for the Ministry of Finance and Treasury’s 2011 audit report as of its publication date, this office believes that errors in the figures concerning the cases highlighted in the report are possible,” the Auditor General’s Office conceded.

The press release added that the Auditor General’s Office regretted “any difficulties” or “diminished name or reputation” caused by inaccuracies contained in its audit reports.

The press statement concluded by providing assurances to the public on the professionalism and impartiality of the audits conducted by the office.

The case flagged in the finance ministry’s audit report for 2011 concerned payments made on February 18, 2009 – just over three months after the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) administration took office.

However, following the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, 2012, President Dr Mohamed Waheed appointed members of then-opposition parties to cabinet and senior government posts.

Current Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad was also the finance minister during the last year of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year reign.

Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru last week that the office has uncovered a number of issues in the tsunami-related reconstruction projects commenced by the Gayoom government in Gaaf Alif atoll.

Niyaz told the local daily that the finance ministry’s audit report for 2011 was published after a long period awaiting comments from the ministry.

“There could be a mistake since they have not said whether there is anything they object to or not,” he was quoted as saying.

Tsunami reconstruction

Niyaz also revealed that the Auditor General’s Office was in the process of completing a special audit of the tsunami reconstruction projects, which would also shed light on the disputed advance payment made to Vimla Construction.

According to the section of the audit report dealing with the advance payment, the “Reconstruction and Development of Gaaf Alif Atoll Project” was to be undertaken with loan assistance from the Saudi Fund.

However, in 2011, the finance ministry spent MVR 17.6 million (US$1.1 million) out of its special budget to transport material needed for the project from the Hithadhoo Regional Port in Addu City to Gaaf Alif atoll.

While Vimla was contracted for the project and given an advance payment, the report explained that a foreign company named Performance Builders was contracted under a “deeds of assignment” on March 25, 2010 to replace Vimla on the project as the local company had been unable to complete the contracted work.

According to local media, the project was eventually awarded to the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) after Performance Builders also failed to complete the work. The government-owned company reportedly faced a loss of MVR 17 million (US$1 million) due to nonpayment.

The case is currently the subject of an inquiry by parliament’s Finance Committee.


Vice President calls for “population consolidation”

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.


Woman sentenced to exile over misappropriation of tsunami relief funds

A woman has been sentenced to exile for three years and seven months by the Criminal Court for misappropriation of tsunami relief funds.

Criminal Court said that Sharmeela Sharaeef of Oivaru, Meedhoo in Dhaalu Atoll, had been initially been handed MVR 266,888 (US$17,307) by the government on September 16, 2009, local media reported.

However, only MVR 89,572 (US$5800) was distributed to 49 households and the remaining MVR 177,316  (US$11,500) had been kept in her desk drawer, according to local media.

The money was provided by the government to be distributed to farmers on the island of Meedhoo in Dhaalu Atoll, who suffered losses during the 2004 tsunami.

The Criminal Court ruling stated that one day after she had been handed the relief funds, MVR 13,200 kept in Sharmeela’s care had gone missing.

The ruling stated that it could not be proven in court that a copy of the drawer key was held by anyone else other than Sharmeela.

According to the Public Finance Act, money kept in an office on a temporary basis should only be kept in a safe, local media reported.