Investment in waste management solutions in the Maldives had produced very little outcome due to a lack of community involvement, Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam said today following a meeting with the German government.
Visiting Parliamentary Secretary at the German Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Katherina Reiche, said that Germany would provide technical assistance to the Maldives on waste management, but was unwilling to invest in a project.
Germany would “rather provide technical assistance, guidance and support towards managing a long term waste management system,” Reiche said, noting that the Maldives’ ambitions towards carbon neutrality were “very ambitious”.
“Equipment and machinery has been sent to various islands but with little effect and outcome. What we need is a plan with more community participation,” Haveeru reported Aslam as saying. “Waste management is an issue for which we don’t have a solution.”
“The environmental support program was too ambitiously planned and had to be scaled down to solid waste management only,” the report stated. “Constructed island waste management systems are, with few exceptions, not operational, and waste management centres are unequipped.”
The failings of this project were due in part to “technical” problems, including design weaknesses and missing equipment, “and insufficient involvement of communities in general, notably the Island Women Development committees.”
Male’ City Council has banned waste dumping at Thilafushi, commonly known as ‘garbage island’, until the current overflow has been cleaned up and boats can access the appropriate dumping areas.
“We decided to ban all the parties from dumping waste until we draft regulations and devise policies on dumping waste,” Councillor Ibrahim Shujau told Haveeru News yesterday.
He explained that parties bringing waste from place other than Male’ would be allowed to dump in designated areas only after a cleaning operation had been carried out and new regulations published.
Minivan News was unable to reach Shujau at time of press.
Tourism Ministry Deputy Director General Moosa Zameer Hassan said the temporary closure “can’t go on for long,” and hopes to re-open the area by the weekend. “But boats will be monitored to ensure they follow procedures,” he added.
Hassan said “waste being brought to the site is not properly put into the collection area–many boats are impatient so they dump their waste outside of the designated area. Now boats cannot access the collection area.”
Thilafushi accommodates only a few boats at a time for dumping. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director Ibrahim Naeem earlier said that limited capacity was pushing boats to break the rules.
“The mechanism for waste collection and disposal needs to be improved,” he said previously. “The EPA has to do some work on the matter, and the people who are bringing in the garbage and contributing to its buildup also need to take responsibility.”
Naeem today reiterated that the solution lay with management.
“The City Council has to be more active in getting the necessary equipment and budget to manage waste disposal,” said, adding that boats should also be more patient even in queues one to two hours long.
This is the third time in three months that reports of free-flowing waste have come out of Thilafushi, Naeem notes. Hassan said transferring Thilafushi management to the City Council as per the Decentralisation Act has affected operations.
While City Council does not have sufficient capacity to fully support Thilafushi operations, solutions including splitting the cost of waste operations and utilities among users have been agreed upon. They will be implemented at a later date.
Naeem said an Indian company had been contracted to manage waste disposal, and had submitted its Environmental Impact Assessment. “But we don’t know when that will start. There are deadlines, but I think [the council] is a bit behind,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Council is trying to manage the situation effectively in the short-term.
Among the parties implicated for the waste overflow were resorts, which lean heavily on Thilafushi’s services.
“Right now the issue is about management at Thilafushi,” said Hassan. “Of course there are issues with resorts but they are indirect, such as with transfer boats from outsourced parties.”
Hassan said that tourism regulations require resorts to have an Insinkerator system, a bottle crusher and compactor, and a long-term oil storage system. “Most resorts have the mechanisms but few use them,” he said. “Up until lately Thilafushi has worked well, so there was less incentive to operate their own machinery.”
Incinerators create smoke, and operating the machines is high-cost and highly specialised, Hassan explained. Resorts generally crush and condense waste, but “it’s not a total solution, it’s a step towards on-site management. Thilafushi is the ultimate destination,” he said.
The ministry today met with concerned parties, and enacted plans for immediate clean-up and to re-start operations. The EPA and the Environmental Ministry have agreed on the need to restore waste management operations as as soon as possible.
The clean-up operations will be overseen by Thilafushi Corporation and the city council.
Traders Hotel Male’ employees welcomed World Tourism Day by cleaning jetties six and seven and surrounding areas last Tuesday, September 22.
The fifty employees who participated used brooms, gloves and bags to accomplish their mission. The team collected ten bags of litter from the streets and marine areas.
Traders Hotel said the activity “aimed to increase the awareness of the employees and local community about the importance of protecting the environment for a better quality of life. It also reinforced the hotel commitment to serve as a good steward of the environment.”
Although the MNDF has been drafted in to help combat the problem of dengue fever that is affecting Male and several other atolls, it is important that people don’t stand back and think that this action alone will solve the problem.
Experience in many other countries has shown that a ‘top-down’ or vertical campaign against dengue fever is only part of the solution to preventing outbreaks of the virus from getting worse.
Most people know that dengue fever is spread by a mosquito that takes the blood of an infected person. The blood contains a virus that causes dengue fever and this is passed on to a new person when they are bitten in turn by the mosquito. The mosquito seems fine – but people infected by the virus may become very seriously ill and a small proportion may die.
Most action to prevent the spread of dengue fever is aimed at the mosquito itself. If the mosquitoes are stopped from breeding then the transmission of the dengue virus from person to person will be interrupted and no new cases will occur. Often the strategy against the mosquito relies on spraying chemicals and treating water storage containers. But without having fully integrated community involvement, this strategy has failed almost everywhere in the world that it has been tried. The mosquitoes will always find ways to outwit their human adversaries unless locally tailored eradication programmes are implemented.
Community involvement is key to the success of the eradication programme and every member of the community should be involved in understanding the problem of controlling the mosquitoes (vector control). Within each community the local community leaders should be involved in forming a dedicated steering committee that can create formal task forces or community working groups that will undertake environmental management. The working groups will need to know in detail exactly what they are supposed to be doing and precise training sessions need to be organised. Every locality is different so each community task force needs to identify the exact local conditions in which their mosquitoes will be breeding. Precise local knowledge is the most important resource for beating the disease. In particular waste water needs to be evacuated efficiently; water pipelines and water storage containers must be protected and communal waste collection improved.
A research programme in Cuba compared the usual ‘top down’ ways of combating dengue fever with a community activist approach as described above. They found that the community based environmental strategy was much more effective that the usual eradication programme. You can read more about this research on:
Garbage: a special problem throughout the Maldives
The mosquitoes love little collections of water. When I was in the Maldives as a volunteer for the Friends of Maldives health programme I noticed that outside almost every house there is a little collection of garbage. This includes plastic drink containers, tins, discarded tyres, containers and invariably a pile of half coconuts. These are ideals breeding sites for the mosquitoes that carry dengue fever. Unless each and every one of these piles is cleaned up, dengue fever will continue to be a problem throughout the Maldives in urban and rural areas.
Mosquitoes love the little collections of water that form in garbage piles.
Dr Tom Heller is a Senior Lecturer in the Open University’s Faculty of Health and Social Welfare. He has previously visited the country as a medical volunteer for the UK-based NGO, Friends of Maldives.
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]
A developer of commercial properties across the Maldives is hoping a new cleanup scheme launched this week on the island of Hulhumale’ will not just put a positive shine on its corporate social responsibility, but also provide bins and a boost to waste management in the country.
As part of a joint property development venture between Pruska and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) on the North Male’ Atoll island, 40 public bins have been donated as part of a promotional cleanup programme called I Love Hulhumale’.
The programme saw a number of public and private groups working together alongside Pruska–HDC on Sunday (December 5) to attempt to clean the island of waste discarded onto the surrounding streets and beaches.
Although only six of the donated bins have as yet been placed around Hulhumale’s commercial units in the neighbourhood one area, Ahmed Varish, Senior Marketing Officer for the HDC, said that the joint venture hopes to pursue further possible waste management and recycling schemes around the island alongside its future construction developments.
While some local environmental organisations have praised the joint venture’s work to try and set up a network of bins for public use, they claimed that there is generally insufficient local management knowhow and expertise to deal with refuse in a sustainable and environmental manner.
With President Mohamed Nasheed having committed to the much publicised goal of making the Maldives a carbon neutral nation by 2020, waste management is one potential key focus of a national master plan set to be unveiled early next year focused on becoming a sustainable economy.
Varish told Minivan News that Pruska-HDC accepted that the wider national impacts of supplying bins was not a complete solution for preventing litter; yet the company said it hoped to ensure cleaner streets for current and future residents of the island at the very least.
“We don’t believe bins alone are enough [to clean up Hulhumale’]”, he said. “We need to educate more and get the message out to the population to take responsibility for the environment.”
However, Varish said that the bins were an attempt by the joint-venture company to try and ensure the all round environment looked cleaner for both its future customers and the public at large.
According to the HDC, the six public bins that have been donated are emptied and sent to the island’s waste dump everyday. The full 40 units will eventually be spread across Hulhumale’ in the future.
Varish claimed that previous attempts to try and establish public bins on Hulhumale’ two and a half years ago had resulted in their theft by members of the public. Nonetheless, the company said it had planned to “fix each of the bins to the ground” to prevent similar setbacks to its own green commitments, which may include similar clean up campaigns being launched alongside the opening of a number of its new property developments during the next few months.
Varish said that HDC, which is currently constructing commercial residences on six islands in the Maldives, had no plans to extend the donation of public bins to any of these other destinations. He added that the group was looking at the possibilities in the future of extending into recycling schemes though planned collaborations that were currently being considered.
Ali Rilwan, Executive Director of local environmental NGO Bluepeace, told Minivan News that he believed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives being carried out in the Maldives, which were generally being conducted by resorts, “were more for publicity.”
Rilwan said that he was nonetheless generally “very encouraged” by schemes to provide public bins in the Maldives by groups such as the Pruska–HDC joint venture in Hulhumale’. Yet despite this encouragement, he said that a greater need for authorities to spend more on litter collection and street cleaning in the country needed to be matched by business, particularly among some soft drink and bottle water groups that operate there.
“Government funds alone will not help with the country’s waste management issues,” Rilwan added.
When questioned whether there was a need and demand for public bins in Maldivian society, Bluepeace’s Executive Director claimed that in certain areas of the capital of Male’, there were indications of public concern about a lack of amenities to store waste beyond just discarding them in the streets.
“If you look at Male’ there aren’t any bins, yet people can be seen putting their cans near trees as authorities have not come up with preferable facilities,” he said.
With upcoming local council elections now scheduled for February, Rilwan stressed hope that issues of littering, waste handling and environmental legislation may become important points of discussion for candidates looking to secure votes.
Yet amidst hopes of a publically-driven political consensus on stepping up action and investment in more sustainable waste management within the Maldives, Rilwan said he believes that awareness and management were just as vital a resource in dealing with trash efficiently.
“After the tsunami, we had groups like the Canadian and Australian Red Cross spending millions of dollars on building waste management centres,” he said. “There are now 80 centres on 74 island, but very few of these are functioning, the awareness of how to use them has to be there.”
He carefully loads the garbage into the boot of his car: it’s a mix of household waste.
“My mother composts all the food items in the backyard,” says Ahmed Ali, 30.
He drives to the dump site.
It is hard to miss; both sides of the road leading to it are lined with garbage, cans, plastic water bottles, paper waste, discarded household items, even a toilet seat. The entrance to the dump site is blocked by piles of garbage and overgrown bushes.
“I don’t want to dump garbage outside like this, but do I have a choice?” says a dejected Ali.
Sure enough, all three roads that lead to the dump site are lined with garbage on both sides.
A municipality worker comes by shortly with a rake, and carefully makes sure that no garbage spills onto the middle of the road.
Surveying the strewn garbage, it is easy to feel Ali’s dejection, after all this is Fuvahmulah; one of the most beautiful and fertile islands in the Maldives, and its unique ecosystem is being destroyed by waste.
Garbage dump or airport
“The 10,000 square feet dump site was built in 2003,” says Ahmed Mujthaba, councilor in charge of the Fuvamulah office. He adds that in 2006 the then government decided the same area of land was ideal to build an airport.
“It was decided that the dump site would have to be relocated and Mf600,000 was given as compensation by the government.”
It took one and half years for public consultation and to get an Environment Assessment Report (EIA) and approval from the housing ministry for the new location.
But no work has been carried out in the newly allocated dump site, located 200 meters from the existing dump.
Hassan Saeed, the atoll councilor, says a team from Environmental Research Center (now the Environment Protection Agency, or EPA) came to do a study in April 2008.
“They had a public consultation with the stakeholders and promised a ‘total waste management solution’ project that would take off in 2009.”
With no news from the EPA, Saeed contacted them in 2009 to be told that they didn’t have the necessary funds.
“We were told that the budget for it had been transferred to the newly created Waste Management Corporation (WMC) by the finance ministry.”
The WMC informed him that they hadn’t received any money for Fuvamulah.
Mohamed Zuhair, director general of EPA, says a study was done in Fuvamulah to try and develop energy from the waste but it was considered not feasible due to the small size of the population.
“We did have a budget under PSIP but that was taken from us and we can’t say for sure where it was transferred.”
Saeed says islanders who live in the vicinity of the proposed dump area also have concerns.
“They say how we can be sure people won’t dump garbage all over the place like they do now.”
They have agreed to the dump being built if the walls are 12 feet in height, the garbage is be segregated and if the latest equipment such as incinerators are brought in.
“Our funds are only enough to build a wall of three feet in height,” says Saeed.
He adds that a total waste solution is the answer and not just another dump site.
“There has to be household level sorting, ward collection points, a drive to re-use, re-cycle, and a way to export things that can’t be destroyed.”
The Women’s Development Committee is already sorting out garbage in their area, but it is proving to be futile as everything has to be dumped in the same area. Another NGO has proposed to provide bins in the famed beach areas in Fuvamulah, “but all that is useless, if all we are going to do is dump it at some site.”
“It is not only Fuvamulah, almost all the islands of Maldives have a waste management problem,” says Ali Rilwan, executive director of NGO Blue Peace. He says it’s a serious issue and the lagoons of the Maldives are getting destroyed day by day.
“Does the environment ministry know what is happening in the islands? Do the councilors in the islands know that an EIA report has to be done for each project?” he asks.
He takes as an example the announcement by a councilor in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll Thinadhoo that they are going to build a dump site in the sea.
Zuhair says the EPA is working towards a national waste management solution.
“We are not only developing waste management centres with the WMC and Province Utilities Companies, we are working to find solutions – we also want to do public awareness campaigns and have regional waste management sites.”
However no project is planned in Fuvamulah at the moment. Zuhair says most islands do contact them and know that they have to abide by their regulations.
“We found out about the Thinadhoo proposal through the TV and are contacting them to talk about it.”
Rilwan says a drive to reduce waste also has to be done “to reduce garbage, lessen PET bottles, plastic waste, all of these non bio-degradable items.”
He calls upon the government to do more, saying all he has seen so far is the creation of two corporations and the president and environment minister participating in a garbage collection day.
While the relevant authorities search for solutions, the garbage in Fuvamulah and other islands continue to pile up and pose safety, health and social issues to the islanders.