Tagged: Maldives environment

Forced migration around the corner: time to act

by Salma Fikry*

For several years, we in the Maldives have accepted that we are a country with few natural resources. Our development policies were formulated and implemented with the underlying justification that the biggest challenge to our development was the highly dispersed nature of sparsely populated communities, over a vast spread of the ocean.  

This being the case, it was seen as unfeasible to provide services and opportunities to every inhabited island. Priority was given to develop the capital island Male’ and subsequently, Vilingili or ViliMale’ (a resort island in the vicinity of Male’ changed to an inhabited island). Since then, we saw a huge stretch of land reclaimed near Male’, that is HulhuMale’, and the efforts to develop and relocate Maldivians to the artificial island of HulhuMale’. In recent years, we also witnessed a grand project to develop “GulhiMale’’ in the lagoon of Gulhi nearby Male’. And today we witness the reclamation of land for HulhuMale’ Phase II.

These projects at creating artificial islands took place while there remained already existing natural land, undeveloped and underdeveloped, in the north, mid and south of Maldives. Development policies were formulated and implemented such that Maldivians were forced to abandon their land/homes and migrate to one corner of the country. The trend continues even today and at a much more alarming pace.

While we Maldivians accepted ours as a country with few natural resources and understood this factor as the most challenging to our development as a nation; the truth is that a select few individuals became powerful, wealthy oligarchs using the same “few” natural resources. It is also a reality that the gap between the rich and the poor continued to widen through the years. It is also an undeniable fact that the development disparity in income, services and opportunities are glaringly obvious between the capital Male’ and the atolls of Maldives.

Maldivians are paying a high social and economic cost for development policies that enforce atoll populations to migrate to Male’ – the capital island, which today, is among the most congested places on earth. A place, burdened with environmental degradation, societal problems and ever increasing crimes. Regardless, our development policies are still geared in that very same direction that has brought us to the present unsustainable, inequitable development. We are still pursuing policies and investing our finances to congest all Maldivians into one little corner of our archipelago, while abandoning the rest.

Today, we should ask ourselves what will happen to our birthright, i.e the land we leave behind and its natural capital, as we migrate to one corner of the country, in the perusal of better development opportunities and services. Today, we should question who will gain the benefits of the land, the lagoons, the reefs, the seas and other natural resources that we as Maldivians proudly thought belonged to us.


 

* Salma Fikry is a recipient of the National Award for services to decentralisation in the Maldives, and is an advocate of sustainable development through community empowerment.

The above article is a translation of the Foreword Salma wrote for Falhu Aliran Muiy, a book by Muna Mohamed on the inhabited islands of Maldives, including the islands being abandoned to pursue a relentless corporate agenda; and on the history, present and future of forced migration in the Maldives.

Muna Mohamed, Falhu Aliran Muiy, Published: Novelty Bookshop, June 2016, MVR240

Maldives Inc.

HulhuMaleDredging

by Azra Naseem

We are gathered here today at a time of potential crisis confronting our planet and its population, the crisis of environmental destruction man has invoked upon himself. Man’s action over many centuries have transmuted the natural order of his environment to the point where the whole world is ensnared in the consequences. As the scale of man’s intervention in nature increased, the scope of nature’s repercussions have multiplied. Consequences of the actions of individual nations have reverberated globally, and all mankind’s present and future generations may suffer the penalties for the errors of a few. - President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, 42nd Session of the UN General Assembly, 19 October 1987

Twenty years on from Gayoom’s landmark speech at the UN, the scale of ‘man’s intervention in nature’ has risen to unprecedented levels in the Maldives. The present and future generations of the Maldives will, without a doubt, suffer what Gayoom described as the ‘errors of the few’, now led by his brother Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Maldives today is a capitalist dream. Mega development projects that aspire to ‘change the very map of the country’ are underway across the length and breadth of the 1200 islands spread across roughly 90,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean. No less than ten dredging projects are ongoing, reclaiming land at the expense of the coral.

Addu 2006/2016 Photo: @ahmedzahid

A bridge is being built to connect Male’ the capital with the island of Hulhule’, home to the country’s main Ibrahim Nasir International Airport. It matters not that the island is only a 10 minute boat ride away, five minutes on a speed boat. Already connected to Hulhule’ is the aritifical island of Hulhumale’, two square kilometres of land dredged from the ocean to alleviate the extreme overcrowding in Male’ which is home to over 150,000 people. Recently, Hulhumale’ has been expanded further to connect it to the island of Farukolhufushi, once a small tourist resort.

There is talk that once the ‘China-Maldives Friendship Bridge’ is completed, the construction of a new bridge may begin, connecting Male’ to Villingili, another ‘suburb’ of Male’ where close to 7000 people live on 0.3 square kilometres, unable to find accommodation on the capital. Together, Male’, Hulhumale’, and Villingili is to become The Greater Male’ Area where at least 70 per cent of the population is to live.

The Nasir Airport will be developed to cater to at least 7 million tourists by 2018, the government has said. Contracts to develop new terminals have been awarded to two state-aligned foreign companies: the Binladin Group of Saudi Arabia and China’s Beijing Urban Construction Group. The Beijing company will build a new 3.2 kilometre runway, a fuel farm, and a cargo complex for which the Maldives government secured a US$373 million concessionary loan from the Chinese EXIM Bank. The Binladin Group, which will build a new passenger terminal for an undisclosed amount, was recently suspended by Saudi Arabia for the Mecca crane disaster.

Meanwhile, the Chinese company building the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, CCCC Second Harbour Engineering Company for US$210 million, is blacklisted by the World Bank for fraudulent practices elsewhere. Almost all workers on the bridge are Chinese. The north eastern corner of Male’ from where the bridge starts is now occupied by Chinese workers.  What was once the most popular recreation area for the people of congested Male’ is now off limits to them, reserved for prefab housing for the Chinese workers who have moved in with entire families. The nearby Artificial Beach has become a popular spot for their leisure, leaving little room for locals who have found themselves crowded out of yet another rare open space.

Where big red ugly platforms for the new bridge now rise from the sea once rose majestic waves, which had earned the area its name: Varunulaa Raalhugan’du – Uninterrupted Waves. Raalhugan’du was a popular surf spot where international award winning surfers rode the waves or spent the day watching them in an area of the beach they cleaned, grew a garden in, and enjoyed the beauty of nature Maldives has to offer. Today surfers get arrested for surfing, protests lead to jail and the government’s promise that it will arrange free transport to alternative surfing spots has turned out to be empty. Waveless and ‘homeless’, the surfers despair of ever getting back their way of life.

 

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Consciousness and the Development Paradigm

Leftover Illustration

Illustration by Ahmed Fauzan

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created It. ” - Albert Einstein 

by Salma Fikry

Here I am traveling in Denmark, in a rickety van, cramped together with people from all around the world trying to learn about sustainable development. From the Freetown of Christiania in Copenhagen to the remote island of Samsoe to the appropriately entitled Friland (Freeland) near Arhus, I found people trying to return to the very roots that they came from.

I try to understand why Pia and Johan have chosen to live in a caravan with their two children for the past three years while their ‘home’ is being built on “The Self-Sufficient Village”, using second-hand material. I try to understand the purposefulness in Mai, the gentle but strong woman with whom I cooked a meal for 70 people for the dinner they have as a community four days a week. She chose to build her own house with her bare hands when she could have got hired help or a construction company to do it. I try to understand why Christiania (Freetown) functions with its community rules and community spirit, even while not having any elected body to oversee those rules or foster that community spirit. I try to comprehend why Soren and Anna, the sophisticated and obviously wealthy couple, chose to built their own home, with recycled material and live in the remoteness of Halingelille. I am amazed at the leadership of Soren Hermanson, an Environment Teacher who mobilized the Samsingers to turn the island of Samso into a model of Renewable Energy, no longer dependant on fuel from the mainland.

Sadly, they are just a few. They are just a handful of people in the Global North, seeking to reverse the harm done. The majority is still driven by ideologies of capitalism and democracy, propagated by institutions and powerful nations that brought ruin to many of our life-systems in the Global South.

In the search for superiority and certainty, the Global North taught us to split subject from object – res cogitans – thinking substance, consciousness was separated from res extensa – matter, the physical universe. Monotheistic religions taught us that Man was superior to all else in the world and everything in the universe was there to satisfy Man. Devoid of soul, the material world was investigated like a machine, vivisected and exploited through colonialism, Newtonian physics, the industrial revolution and more recently through vehicles of globalization. Thus developed our contemporary development paradigm.

We were given engineering and mechanization plans and money for capital-intensive infrastructure development as the key to alleviating poverty. In doing so, we pushed ourselves into the concrete jungles of cities, where clean air and water became a commodity to be bought and sold. We were forced to give up traditional livelihoods and millions were made jobless. In doing so our self-sufficiency was converted to the laws of demand and supply, driven by market forces. We were told that norms should be prescribed into Constitutions and Laws in order to ensure participation of people. In doing so, millions of years of traditions, social norms and social contracts that were sacred and unwritten in the Global South, were eroded.

And here we are now. We now regard the environment and our communities as a problem to be solved. We look for technological and institutional innovations. Few of us stop to ponder that it is neither the environment nor the lack of institutions that is the problem. The problem was and is Us. It is our individual mindsets and habits that have contributed to Collective Ruin. Our level of consciousness is such that we have moved from exploiting resources for human comfort, to trying to develop systems where technology and democracy can revert the degradation that we ourselves have brought to our environment and our once thriving participatory communities. We fail to realize that the environment has its secrets and it will outlast us; it is the fittest in the great scheme of things where we are the weakest link, especially when we are not united by the bonds that make us a community.

As I sit in the community dinners with old and young alike, who come from varied backgrounds, talking about their vision and plans for the community, talking about the chores for the next day, I become nostalgic. I remember how I used to belong to and live under one roof with an extended family. I remember how the neighborhood got together to mark festivals, clean the road, celebrate a birth or mourn a death. It was not so long ago. Life has changed now, although there are a few remnants of what it was like before. I remember how inspired I was working in small communities when people came whole-heartedly to participate in community projects to renovate their school, to build their sea-wall, to clean their roads, to build their water tanks, to do a lot of things that were deemed as ‘collective’– for the service and enjoyment of everyone and not a few. There were no laws subscribed, they did it voluntarily. Ironical that I, who found it so beautiful had wanted to and worked to ‘institutionalize’ this aspect of social capital not knowing that I would be contributing to consolidating ‘power and politics’ into the hands of a few.

I realize painfully, that our mindsets, mine included, and our development paradigm remains at the same level of consciousness as those that crafted this vicious cycle of rootless growth, a few thousand years ago.

It is the level of consciousness that we have made many mistakes, that we need to rectify the harm done and rise above our individual mindsets to develop a new paradigm, a new life system for our world that strikes me in the eco-villages. Perhaps, Pia , Johan, Mai, Soren, Anna and Hermanson reached a new level of consciousness in order to do what they are doing now. Sadly, I have not reached that level of consciousness yet. My mindset is changing but it is not totally there yet…


Salma Fikry advocates decentralised governance and sustainable development through community empowerment. She wrote the above in November 2010, while on a study trip to Denmark. She has a Master’s in Development Management. She is a recipient of the National Award of Recognition for her services towards improving good governance in the Maldives.

If you are worried about the government’s plans to concentrate all development in the ‘Greater Male’ Area’ while ignoring all other parts of the country, sign the Avaaz petition and lobby the government for more sustainable ways that would decrease rather than increase the inequalities that currently exist among the Maldivian population.