EC maintains impossibility of expedited election after government request

Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek has told Minivan News he does not believe it is possible to expedite the fresh round of presidential elections – currently scheduled for November 9 – despite requests to do so from the government and the three presidential candidates.

The candidates held a meeting on Sunday evening, agreeing to ask the EC for a November 2 poll. The EC, however, rejected the request stating that the commission does not have the facilities to do so in such a short period of time.

Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen held discussions with the EC today (October 29), requesting – on behalf of the government – that the election date be brought forward.

Meeting at the EC offices, in addition to asking for an expedited poll, Waheed Deen enquired as to whether the EC needed further support to go forward with early elections.

“I have come here today to ask the EC what the government can do for them, whether we need to empty out some state institutions and give the EC extra space, or find more staff members for them,” Waheed Deen is quoted as saying to local media.

The Vice President is further quoted as saying that the commission members came across as being “very positive” in today’s meeting, and that they would get back to the government “very soon” with a list of what they require.

Waheed Deen further said that although he understands that there are some difficulties in bringing the polling date ahead from November 9th to the 2nd, he believed that it is possible to hold elections “somewhere around the 5th”.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News today that he has not received any information on the matter.

Earlier this afternoon, he was quoted in local media as confirming that the government had decided to give all possible assistance to the EC to speed up the preparations.

Masood was further quoted as saying that the government would like elections to be held in a manner which is in the best interests of the nation and to elect a president by November 11.

Earlier poll impossible, regardless of additional resources: Thowfeek

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek, however, feels that there is no possibility of bringing the date forward regardless of the support promised.

“In today’s meeting, we did provide them with all possible information that they requested for. However, since this is something we do together with the citizens, I do not believe it will be possible to bring the polling date forward, despite the offer to provide us with more resources, funds, equipment or manpower,” Fuwad told Minivan News today.

The EC announced November 9 as the date for a fresh first round of elections after the police forcibly brought a Supreme Court ordered re-vote to a halt on October 19.

The commission said then at the timea that if a second round was necessary, it would be held on November 16, 5 days after the date constitutionally mandated date for the swearing in of a new elected president.

At the time, EC President Fuwad Thowfeek said that the commission had held discussions with the president, the cabinet, and political parties on the earliest possible date for a new election before deciding on the date.

“We have said, when we get to a certain point, when a certain party doesn’t do what they must do, it should not affect the entire election. If that is the case, we will never be able to hold an election,” he said then, referring to the police obstruction of polls after Progressive Party of Maldives candidate Abdulla Yameen and Jumhooree coalition candidate Gasim Ibrahim failed to sign on the voters’ registry as mandated by the Supreme Court’s 16 point guideline.

“They assured us that they will not allow for these kind of obstructions in the upcoming election. Ministers have given us commitment that they will find a solution and facilitate this. That is why we have started work again.”

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Tourist facilities to be developed on local picnic island Kuda Bandos

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett

Tourist facilities are to be developed on Kuda Bandos, the only picnic island located near Male’ accessible to for Maldivians, following the island’s owner Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen submitting the sole bid for its development.

Vice President Waheed Deen, also the owner of Bandos Island Resort, previously leased Kuda Bandos for US$6000 annually. However, the after the island was opened for bids on November 16, 2012  Deen submitted the sole proposal and won Kuda Bandos again for a rent of US $180,582, according to local media.

A joint venture company will be established with the Government of Maldives to develop the island, including “certain tourist facilities”, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb told local media.

The new facilities will “modernise the island” and increase government revenue, according to Adheeb.

“We don’t want to renew the agreement every two years. Now it is to be handed over through the Tourism Act and the rent will be paid just the same as the resorts,” said Adheeb.

Currently Maldivians have exclusive access to Kuda Bandos, which is located next to Bandos Island Resort, on Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays, when local families are able to travel to the picnic island for a day of relaxation on the beach.

Adheeb claimed that even after Kuda Bandos is developed Maldivians will have full, unrestricted access to the picnic island.

“After development, safari boats can go there with tourists. It will be developed so that everyone will have the opportunity,” said Adheeb. “The tourist facilities will be established to make it easier for the tourists who visit.”

Maldivian picnic island access

Despite Adheeb’s claims that Maldivians will have “unrestricted access” to Kuda Bandos, the former Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim, believes that developing the picnic island for foreign tourists will still limit locals’ ability to enjoy the island.

“There are less places for Maldivians to go. The problem would be solved if Mr Deen created a small island in front of Kuda Bandos [for locals]. It’s not ideal but it should serve the purpose,” Ibrahim told Minivan News today (July 18).

Whether Maldivians will have unfettered access to the sole remaining picnic island near Male’ once it is developed remains to be seen, Ibrahim does not think Maldivians enjoying the island together with tourists should be an issue.

Specifically, safari boats coming to Kuda Bandos with alcohol or foreigners sunbathing in bikinis “is a grey area”, according to Ibrahim.

“It is up to a person to decide what he wants to do or not, I don’t understand why this would be a problem,” he said.

“The question of [drinking] alcohol is not a problem, the issue doesn’t arise, because Maldivians as Muslims don’t drink,” he continued.

“[And] why would there be a problem with foreigners sunbathing in bikinis, if a lot of Maldivians are working on and visiting resorts [every] day?” he asked.

“It happens on Bandos [Island Resort] or any other resort for that matter,” he added. “As it is there is nothing to prevent Maldivians from going to resorts or accessing their facilities.”

Picnic island development

A new tourism regulation entitled the “Procedure to Follow Where the Government Undertakes Joint Venture Investment in Islands or Land”, allows a company with at least a 10 percent share held by the state to develop a resort from land set aside for tourism use, such as a picnic island like Kuda Bandos.

Land used for water sports or diving would also be included once the lease for the area is acquired by a joint venture company.

Published in the Government Gazette Volume 42, number 17 – dated January 28, 2013 – the regulation requires any joint venture partner working with the state on a tourism projects to have a minimum financial worth of US$300 million and make a minimum initial capital investment of at least US$100 million.

Tourism Minister Adheeb told Minivan News in April that the regulations applied to land such picnic islands that were effectively being used “almost as a resort”, such as areas licensed to serve alcohol to tourists, something not allowed on islands designated as “inhabited”.

“The only difference [to these islands] is that tourists cannot sleep there for the night,” he said. “Now they can stay there the night, but [operators] have to pay land rent. It is to stop the concept from being abused.”

However, an island owner involved in the country’s burgeoning mid-market holiday sector has slammed new regulations imposing financial restrictions on tourism joint venture projects with the government, claiming the legislation outright excludes small and medium-scale investors.

These recently implemented amendments to the Tourism Act served to “shut the door” on small and medium-sized investors, alleged the island owner, speaking to Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

“The real issue here would be that only those with very high net worth can be venture partners with government. Very, very few tycoons are in that wealth bracket,” the source said.

“[Former President] Nasheed’s government tried to be inclusive in offering business opportunities. This regulation is exclusive and shuts the door for medium to small-size investors to partner with the government,” the source added.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has announced a public tender to lease several other islands across the country for development as resort properties.

Through the tender, applicants will bid for a 50 year lease to develop one of several islands including, Kunnamala in Noonu Atoll, Kudafushi and Fasmendhoo in Raa Atoll, Vanabadhi and Kani in Thaa Atoll, Dhigudhoo in Gaafu Alifu, and Ismehela Hera in Seenu Atoll.

Additionally, seven parties have expressed interest to develop tourist resorts on the islands of Madifushi in Meemu Atoll, Keradhdhoo in Gaafu Alifu Atoll, and Ismehela Hera in Seenu Atoll.

While Ismehela Hera was also included as one of the three islands the Tourism Ministry invited bids for in April, the ministry did not clarify why the island was listed twice, according to local media.

Bidding documents will be made available to Maldivian nationals for a non-refundable payment of MVR 2000 (US$130) or US$300 for foreign nationals, until July 28.

All bids must then be submitted before 1:00pm on August 1, 2013 to the ministry, where they will be opened at a ceremony held later the same day.

Former MATI Secretary General Ibrahim said the process for tenders was “pretty much standard” for obtaining an island lease.

“The investment climate is better than a year ago and source markets are improving,” said Ibrahim.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb was not responding to calls at time of press.

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Vice President Waheed Deen meets Nigerian counterpart during INIA stopover

Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen met with his Nigerian counterpart Namadi Sambo at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) on Thursday (May 30).

During a stopover en route to China, Sambo held discussions with Deen on issues including extending cooperation in addressing concerns over piracy, security and terrorism, according to the President’s Office website.

As part of wider talks on bilateral relations between the two countries, the two vice presidents also spoke on issues of tourism, agriculture and energy. Vice President Sambo departed for China the same day following the meeting.

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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.

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Inequality and climate change threaten Maldives’ human development improvements

The UN’s 2013 global human development report has highlighted inequality and climate change vulnerabilities as major concerns for the Maldives, despite the country’s “significant economic growth” in recent years.

“Although the Maldives’ performance in human development in the South Asian region is quite commendable, the country continues to face a number of risks and vulnerabilities,” said UN Resident Coordinator Tony Lisle during the report’s launch on Sunday (May 12).

The 2013 UN human development report is entitled: “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World”.

The findings have positioned the Maldives in the medium human development category, where it was ranked 104 out of 186 countries and territories.  The ranking is based on the human development index – a composite measurement of life expectancy, education, and income.

According to Lisle, the country’s human development index value increased 30 percent between 1995 and 2012, an average annual increase of about 1.6 percent.

The Maldives graduated to the status of a middle income country in Jan 2011.

However, when inequalities are factored into the Maldives’ human development index ranking, the country’s “value falls to 25.2 percent indicating that addressing inequalities continues to warrant significant national attention in the years ahead,” he added.

“Risks and vulnerabilities faced by the Maldives include effects due to climate change and of course the financial global crisis, which is still with us,” said Lisle.

“The nation has also been maturing in its democratic processes, including the creation of independent bodies, the establishment of a multi-party political system, and rolling out of decentralised governance.”

The 2013’s human development report focused on issues such as increasing access to schools, improving access and quality of health services, promoting inclusive growth and putting an emphasis on improving conditions for women globally.

“These are also qualities espoused by the government of Maldives, which deserve our vigorous support,” said Lisle.

To ensure this support, he explained that the Maldivian government was currently collaborating with the UNDP and UN country team to formulate the second national human development report for the Maldives, which will focus on inequality and vulnerability.

“We must go beyond GDP to measure development. The UNDP defines development as a process of enlarging people’s choices to realise their potential and enjoy the freedom to lead lives they value. Some will do better than others with the choices they have, but the challenge is to ensure everyone has a fair and equal chance, equal opportunity to improve quality of life,” said Lisle.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen, also speaking at the launch, criticised government policy failures for failing to correct numerous development challenges in the Maldives.

Deen therefore emphasised the need to learn from the UN’s latest human development report to address the sustainable development challenges posed by geographically isolated, small island populations.

Women and children suffer

Although Deen proposed “population consolidation” – relocating small island communities to larger landmasses – as a means to improve democratic practices, he also emphasised the benefits of sustainable development.

He also highlighted the need to listen to communities and young people, while providing them opportunities to express themselves in “forums and different platforms” to utilise their ideas for development and to prevent “wilder activities” from occurring.

“The best method is to let a person express himself or herself and not to hide the real problems of the country, domestic violence, child abuse, and many other issues related to gender. Unless we accept that we have these problems, we cannot bring changes,” Deen said.

“Quite unfortunately we pretended we did not have these problems. We pretended these things never existed in our society. ‘What a wonderful clean society we have’, but the truth is we have these problems and people suffered, children suffered, women suffered,” he lamented.

Deen explained that “sadly” many presidents and politicians have not directly addressed problems within island communities or Maldivian society generally to bring about change. As a result, the recent democratisation process, including the related constitutional changes, have led to protests protests regarding development and human rights issues.

“The only way for our country to progress is to listen to the people. We have learned that the voice of the people must be heard,” Deen stated.

The vice president also discussed the “very important need” to educate the populace about democracy. He stated that it was “almost impossible” to run a democratic nation with “changing constitutions and presidents”.

“The mindset the people must understand what democracy is and how we can sustain it. Unless we do that we won’t be able to sustain a democratic system,” said Deen. “Educating the people is extremely important, more than building harbours.”

Vice President Deen added that economic inequalities have been perpetuated by the lack of planning, job creation for youth, and and a proper tax system.

“We didn’t plan ahead. what has happened to us today, our situation, is not something that has happened overnight. It took time, many years,” he said.

He emphasised the need to establish a “proper tax system” to reduce economic inequalities and bridge the disparity between the wealthy and less fortunate.

“The huge level of discrepancy can create social unrest, misunderstandings, hatred, anger, and frustration and these are bad for any nation,” noted Deen.

“I’m not a believer of expecting donations and support all the time. These funds must be utilized in a context as a catalyst for sustainable development,” he added.

“Please understand the Maldives will never never go back, we will go forward,” Deen declared.

“I hope the presidential candidates seriously consider these [human development] reports when they are deciding their manifestos and bringing changes to our beautiful country,” he added.

UN human development recommendations

Giving her own summary on the 2013 human development report, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Azusa Kubota said there were four key areas needing to be addressed by governments to facilitate sustainable human development.  She said these factors included enhancing equity; enabling voice and participation, managing demographic change and confronting environmental challenges.

“We all know environmental threats such as climate change, air and water pollution, natural disasters, deforestation affect everyone globally, but they hurt poor countries the most,” Kubota added.

Sustaining human development gains is difficult in the face of “natural disasters which are increasing in frequency and intensity that cause enormous economic damage and loss of human capacities,” she said.

“International governance structures can be held to account, not only by member states but governance by global civil society which is on the rise.”

At the national level, Kuota explained that human development required support by a “developmental state” with an activist government and a political elite that sees record economic growth as their primary aim.  She added that job creation and investing in people’s capacities to sustain the gains of economic growth via health, education and other public services were also key elements. Additionally, governments need to actively nurture sectors that would not otherwise emerge to do global competitions and incomplete markets.

Kubota further emphasised that to sustain human development “substantial public investment, in [social services] not just infrastructure, as well as bold proactive, targeted social policies are required. It is not just economic growth alone.

“Human development doesn’t come without targeted policy interventions and carefully crafted national visions,” said Kubota.

The developed north and developing south are connected “more than ever”.

“The challenges faced by the multilateral system in response to the rise of the south [do not pose] a false choice between globalism, regionalism, and sovereignty. We all have to work together. Human development is not a zero sum game, we all benefit equally,” Kubota concluded.

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Maldives launches US$3.38 million eco-tourism wetland conservation project

With the launch of a US$ 3.83 million eco-tourism wetland conservation project, the Maldives continues to push forward with climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives, aiming to serve as a model for small island states.

The Environment Ministry eco-tourism initiative will create wetland conservation areas and enhance drainage systems on Hithadhoo Island – an administrative district of Addu City – and on Fuvahmulah Island, in the far south of the Maldives.

The project aims to address climate change impacts by mitigating flooding and erosion due to storm surge, enhance fresh water security, as well as create economic benefits from these sustainable conservation initiatives. Additional mitigation and adaptation components of this Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF) supported project include coral reef monitoring in Kaafu Atoll, and rainwater harvesting on Ukulhas Island in Ari Atoll.

“This is the first such project in the Maldives with a conservation plan to develop eco-tourism on an inhabited island. Developing a firm and systematic plan to manage and gain economic benefits from these wetland areas could play a vital role in changing the interpretation of the people regarding them,” Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela told local media during the project’s inauguration ceremony yesterday (May 7).

“We strongly believe that the environment is the only asset that the Maldives has to market ourselves to the international community,” Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen said while speaking at the project launch.

“Our beauty, whether it is underwater, above water, or wetlands, these are all God’s blessings, nature’s blessings. Unless we know how to look after God’s blessings they will disappear,” he added.

The Vice President also thanked the international community and project donors for recognising that the Maldives has been a minor contributor to global pollution, particularly greenhouse gas emissions, but has “quite unfortunately become a victim” of the resulting climate change impacts.

“I sincerely support the world community for lending support to the Maldives because we believe this is the only way we can make our land, our assets economically viable, and sustainable,” stated Deen.

He emphasised that once the environment has been degraded, it is not possible to restore to its original pristine state, therefore properly implemented environmental conservation can also develop the Maldives’ economy.

Deen noted that the Maldives’ environmental policies have “never changed” and the current government are also “strong environmentalists”, akin to former President Maumoon Gayoom and former President Mohamed Nasheed.

“The Government of Maldives will assure you that the environmental policy maintained by the last two presidents is still maintained,” he stated.

Community-based conservation

The Wetlands Conservation and Coral Reef Monitoring for Adaptation to Climate Change (WCCM) project will be implemented in three phases over 18 months, to be completed in September 2014.

Phase one consists of developing a conservation plan, designing an eco-tourism methodology, and improving water drainage systems. During phase two, eco-tourism facilities will be established in addition to continued water drainage “system rehabilitation”. Phase three includes commissioning a RAMSAR (convention) wetland and national park with eco-tourism.

“The idea is that these are terrestrial wetlands, in the vicinity of the community, so we are trying to manage these protected areas with the help of the community,” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Environment and Social Safeguards Coordinator Ibrahim Mohamed told Minivan News yesterday.

Mohamed explained that the nearby communities will be the main implementing partners managing the wetland areas and local NGOs are hoped to contribute as well. A “pool of people” will be trained to manage the areas and act as tour guides.

“There will be a visitor centre and a fee and go into the area accompanied by tour guides, it’s going to be like a national park,” said Mohamed.

“These are very beautiful places, that you will immediately sense are very different from the rest of the Maldives, given the [large] size of the islands and the unique way they are connected.

“In Fuvahmulah there are huge fresh water bodies, swampy areas in the depressions of the islands. While the Hithadhoo wetlands are a huge area with mangroves. There are so many birds here, you will always see so many,” he added.

Spanish company Hidra has been hired to prepare the phase one components over the next five months, including the community-based wetland management plan, for which extensive public consultations – including students – are being conducted.

“Then we will start the civil works, such as making the nature trails, visitors center, and bird watching areas,” said Mohamed.

Public private partnerships

The coral reef monitoring component of this conservation project will involve partnering with resorts in Kaafu Atoll, explained Mohamed. They will be trained by the Environment Ministry to monitor water surface temperatures, erosion, biodiversity, bleaching, impacts on fish, as well as “fish landings” to determine where fish being brought to the resorts are caught.

The goal is long-term monitoring of reefs nationwide, however this project will begin by looking atfive. Currently coral reef monitoring is limited, because it primarily focuses on bleaching and is only conducted twice annually, in accordance with the monsoon and dry seasons, according to Mohamed.

“We have started developing the database and the [monitoring] protocols, which have been peerreviewed by international reef ecologists,” said Mohamed.

“The idea is that over 10 to 15 years we will know what is happening to the coral reefs, so that we can determine the impacts from climate change,” he added.

“Exemplary example for small island states”

Mohamed stated that the overall goal is for these wetland and coral reef areas – and the entire nation – to be protected and developed sustainably to become biosphere reserves.

He further explained that the idea behind this CCTF project is for the Maldives to become an exemplary example for other small island states.

“This project can be replicated anywhere in the world, all small island countries can utilize [what the Maldives has developed],” he added.

The holistic approach to wetland and coral reef conservation is necessary because the components are “so interrelated”.

“If you don’t properly manage waste there will be impacts on coral reefs, etc.,” noted Mohamed.

The CCTF serves as the “main umbrella” under which there are three projects in the Maldives: the WCCM, clean energy for climate mitigation, and solid waste management. The WCCM in particular is supported with donated funds from the European Union and Australian Aid, and managed by the World Bank.

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Vice president travels to UK for Margaret Thatcher funeral

Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen will represent the Maldives government at the funeral of former UK Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher that will be held tomorrow (April 17) in London, England.

According to the President’s Office website, the vice president left for the UK yesterday (April 15).

Thatcher, Britain’s first and only female prime minister, died last week. She was 87.

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Finance Ministry causes “crisis situation” for Care Society NGO

Lack of government support has caused a “crisis situation” for Care Society, the only institution providing schooling for a diversity of special needs individuals of any age and type of disability.

The Care Society was given a government-owned building in Male’s Heniveru neighborhood with a five-year lease agreement under former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government. The NGO has said it has been seeking a 20-year lease extension from President Waheed Hassan Manik’s government, to no avail.

The lease extension is necessary to secure private funds to rebuild the structure and expand services, but the Care Society has not received a definitive response from the Ministry of Finance and Treasury, despite the Ministry of Housing and Environment granting their approval, Care Society Director Shidhatha Shareef told Minivan News.

“Currently the Care Society works from a private residence donated by a Saudi Prince, but our lease is up at the end of May and we might have to shut down because we have no place to go. It will be a real loss for the children,” stated Shidhatha.

“We have not received any response from the government. The Housing Ministry approved the 20-year lease extension for the new building in writing, but the Finance Ministry has final approval and they still have not provided a definite response. We just want a yes or no answer.”

Shidhatha explained the Care Society has been seeking a “sustainable long term premises” since 2006 and has spent the last four years continually talking to and meeting with government officials. In addition to the Housing and Finance Ministries, they have been in contact with the President’s Office, Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), and the National Disability Council.

“When we spoke to Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad about approving the lease extension he said he would ‘work on it’. Additionally, the Vice President Waheed Deen visited the premises and ‘expressed concern’ because the building is so old.

“Meanwhile, the engineers we’ve spoken to said the structure will have to be rebuilt, even the walls are not worth reusing. Care Society has a number of private investors interested in developing the building, however they are not willing to invest if the lease term expires in 2015.

“Ultimately, the government has an obligation to facilitate the process. They are mandated by the constitution and Disability Act to provide educational services to the disabled,” said Shidhatha.

Care Society has been working for the rights of the disabled for 14 years and established the Care Development Centre in 2001, a ‘special school’ for special needs individuals with all sorts of disabilities, including down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, physical disabilities, as well as the hearing and vision impaired.

This school provides services for any age, ranging from early intervention programs for one year-olds all the way to elderly individuals.

“Care Society runs the only school that caters to a diversity of special needs disorders and any age group,” Shidhatha explained.

“We work with 600 children and people with disabilities regularly, our school currently has 43 students and another 20 children on the waiting list, however we lack the space to accommodate them at this time,” she added.

Currently there are two government schools, Jamaluddin which only caters to the hearing impaired and Imaduddin which offers classes for the intellectually impaired. The problem is their age limitations, as once students exceed age 18 they are sent out of the school, Shidhatha said.

Additionally, the handful of other NGOs working with the disabled persons in the Maldives only address one type of disability or limit their target group age, Shidhatha added.

Care Society’s objectives include promoting rights of disabled people, rights of children and women, capacity building of CBOs and NGOs and assisting victims of natural disasters.

“Responsibility for ensuring disabled rights first falls on government”: Waheed

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) began a “National Inquiry on Access to Education for Children with Disabilities” in January 2013.

The study was launched in November 2012 to “look into the practices, policies and laws related to the education for children with disabilities. HRCM will also inquire into the States role in providing for people with disabilities in a non-discriminatory manner, with a special focus on the educational needs of children with disabilities”.

According to the most recent study on the disabled conducted by the HRCM in 2010, there are 2250 children with disabilities in the Maldives that are registered with the government, while only 230 of these children attend school. Overall, 14,100 persons, about 4.7 percent of the population, were found to have permanent disabilities.

In July 2012, the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights and the national Disability Council conferred the Disability Award 2012 to “individuals and organizations working for the rights of the disabled”.

Care Society received an award, which was presented by President Waheed.

Waheed “noted that the responsibility of ensuring the rights of the disabled first falls on the government, and assured that the government was always carrying out that responsibility as best as possible.”

Recent studies by the HRCM – primarily a women’s rights study and children’s participation study – found that lack of access to services were the primary issues discussed by the disabled.

Inadequate special needs schools for children and facilities within existing schools for them, as well as education and mental health service opportunities are of particular concern.

The Finance Ministry, President’s Office, and Housing Ministry were not responding to calls at the time of press.

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Contraception use in the Maldives still too low: UN Representative Andrew Cox

Contraception prevalence rates in the Maldives are still “too low”, United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Representative Andrew Cox has claimed.

Speaking at the launch of UNFPA’s State of World Population 2012 (SWOP) report, Cox said that while many aspects of family planning have greatly improved in the Maldives, contraceptive prevalence rates are lower in comparison to other countries of similar development rate and culture.

Figures revealed by Cox show that infant mortality in the Maldives has dropped from 63 deaths per 1000 births in 1986 to 11 per 1000 in 2009, and that a baby born in the Maldives today can expect to live for 74 years – more than 20 years older than a child born in 1980.

However, according to Cox contraceptive prevalence in the Maldives is considerably low in comparison to other comparable countries.

“The prevalence rate of contraception is too low, especially for a country like the Maldives. It is definitely something we need to work with the government on,” Cox told Minivan News.

Further figures revealed by Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen – who attended the launch to release the SWOP report – show that one in every four pregnancies in the Maldives were unplanned, while 16 percent were unwanted and a further ten percent mistimed.

Deen further stated that the family production unit at Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital’s (IGMH) records show 33 percent of women aged 23 had ‘out of wedlock’ pregnancies.

Deen gave his assurance that the government will be part of the development of family planning, adding that “[family planning] is a must”.

“Very often this type of information is easier for non-government organisations (NGOs) to pass on. We support the gender ministry and the health ministry, and if it comes to financial support we would help them.

“Family planning affects the whole economy in a positive way, so we would definitely be willing to help out,” Deen said.

The SWOP report, entitled ‘By Choice, Not by Chance: Family Planning, Human Rights and Development’, focuses on the need for family planning both globally and in the Maldives.

UNFPA’s role in Maldives began in the early 1980s with the launch of national programmes on family planning and population. Since then, four country programmes have been launched addressing issues around family planning.

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