Open letter to the people of The Netherlands, from the environmentally endangered Maldives

This letter, penned by Humay Abdulghafoor, volunteer for the Save Maldives campaign, addresses the people of The Netherlands with a story little-told: how their nation’s business enterprise has produced another’s destruction and demise, through dredging, reclamation, and port development.
This letter, penned by Humay Abdulghafoor, volunteer for the Save Maldives campaign, addresses the people of The Netherlands with a story little-told: how their nation’s business enterprise has produced another’s destruction and demise, through dredging, reclamation, and port development.

January, 2023 

Dear Netherlands,

New Year’s greetings from the Maldives. You may have heard about our country: an earthly “paradise” that is home to luxury tourism. That’s the marketed image, representing a “sunny side of life”. We also have several, less sunny stories. This particular one is about the endangered and finite ecosystems of the Maldives that have an unhappy connection to your country, the Netherlands.

You and us – we are all in the same predicament, even if we are not in the same hemisphere. We are all experiencing a great earth-heating climate crisis that is breaking down global climate systems. Scientists tell us that we humans are causing this Earth crisis. The United Nations tells us the situation is “code red for humanity.” Our actions and inaction have been creating an existential and extinction crisis.

Of course, the Dutch people would be very familiar with what this means.

You will no doubt remember the landmark decision of the Dutch Supreme Court on 20 December 2019, the Urgenda Climate Case, which decided that the Dutch government had obligations to “urgently and significantly reduce emissions in line with its human rights obligations”.  All governments have these obligations, although most choose to do little or nothing. The Netherlands is very lucky to have a judicial system where redress is available in court for serious grievances raised by concerned people, against unlawful and irresponsible decisions of the government, in our time of catastrophic climate crisis.

The Urgenda decision seeks to protect not just yourselves, but all of us inhabiting the Earth.

While we in the Maldives may be thousands of miles away, this decision in the Dutch courts is a big deal.

The whole world knows today that politicians around the world have consistently failed to address the climate crisis with decades of failed and farcical international conferences. This is why the Dutch Supreme Court’s decision in Urgenda stands out.

As you know, global climate breakdown is an existential crisis for many of us living in coastal nations, especially low lying small islands like the Maldives. Most of our 1,200 or so islands are less than one metre above sea-level. Our islands are made of coral and sand. Every island is an organic, living entity, protected by a living reef-defence-system, sometimes with the additional security of seagrass meadows and mangrove ecosystems which, when healthy, are teeming with marine life and biodiversity. We are just beginning to understand the richness of this biodiversity, which remains poorly studied.

Less than a year ago, a species of fish new to science was discovered in the Maldives. Who knows how many more are waiting to be discovered?

But our life-giving ocean, marine life, and biodiversity which collectively make up our critical natural reef defence systems have been under increasing threats due to many factors involving destructive and unsustainable development practices. Many of our reefs and lagoons have been completely and irreversibly destroyed. You may wonder who or what is destroying the reefs of the Maldives? The simple answer is that, primarily, it is the government and political decision-makers of the Maldives. But the government has been able to do this with the help of global dredging corporations and banks, although today, Maldives also has its own state-owned company, MTCC Plc also doing enormous damage.

The leading giants of the trade are two notable companies, Royal Boskalis and Van Oord, from the Netherlands. They are the expensive and profitable tools deployed to destroy our living environment, irreversibly and permanently. This story is mainly about the activities of Boskalis.

Royal Boskalis has over a decade-long history of reclamation that has destroyed community reefs and livelihood assets in several islands of the Maldives.  Some of these activities are labeled as ‘climate adaptation projects’. The cost of that destruction is enormous, running into millions of US dollars of public debt, often loaned from the ING Bank of Netherlands. In 2010, Royal Boskalis and MT- Hojgaard of Netherlands engaged in reclaiming five islands in the Maldives at an estimated US$43 million, borrowed from the ING Bank of Netherlands. These are the kinds of funds that are not available locally to develop community-based initiatives that improve people’s lives. You may be surprised to learn that this reclaimed land from over a decade ago remains unused and unavailable to local people.

This is, of course, a problem of the Maldives government. The point is that the big reclamation contracts to big companies, paid with large amounts of public debt, continue with relative ease, while no funds are available to do anything with the reclaimed land. Reclamation destroys sustainable livelihood resources and undermines the basic security functions of the living island reef systems irreversibly. Once an ancient reef is lost, it cannot be brought back. The partial or complete destruction of the natural reef defenses exposes islands to erosion and climate change disasters.

More recently in 2019, Royal Boskalis was contracted to undertake the largest and deepest reclamation project thus far in the Maldives: the Gulhifalhu Port Development project, which is estimated to cost Maldivian taxpayers US$120 million just for the reclamation.  Notably, the project was contracted to Boskalis before an environmental impact assessment (EIA) was produced to understand its impacts. It was also contracted without a bid, which media reported was being probed by the Maldives Anti-Corruption Commission. Whether anyone has been held to account about such irregularities is not known in the murky governance environment of the Maldives.

Boskalis Beef

The Gulhifalhu project will dredge an area of 13.75 sq/km in northern Malé Atoll, extracting 24.5 million cubic metres of naturally formed biogenic sand from the ocean to reclaim the Gulhifalhu lagoon. The environmental and eco-systemic loss and damage of this project was poorly evaluated, and the loss and damage have not been properly costed environmentally or financially. This may be because the project’s initial EIA noted that the project was a foregone conclusion even before the EIA was commissioned. It is also a sad fact that the EIA processes in the Maldives are deeply flawed and do not serve the public interest.

What is also a foregone conclusion is that the project will destroy a marine protected area (MPA) in Gulhifalhu lagoon, called the Hans Haas Place and designated in 1995. It is also accepted that the project will negatively impact approximately 30 dive sites in the area, having significantly damaging impacts on reef ecosystems, including the reefs of several resorts in the area. The project is expected to destroy the last remaining natural reef freely accessible to local people in the area, located in Villimale island a few hundred metres from the Gulhifalhu lagoon. It will also negatively impact small businesses and fisherfolk.

In June 2020, when Boskalis first began dredging the lagoon, a significant sediment plume damaged the Villimale reef. However, concerns expressed by local people and civil society stakeholders about the project, which was submitted for parliamentary scrutiny, was largely ignored by the Maldives government and the parliament. Instead of protecting Gulhifalhu and its threatened surrounding marine ecosystems, the parliament’s Environment and Climate Change Committee instead chose to justify the project.

A few months prior to this, the Maldives parliament had passed a motion to declare a Climate Emergency in the Maldives. At the same time, the Maldives suffers deeply from political instability, poor governance, policy poverty, endemic corruption and even poorer environmental protections of its own finite natural resources and assets. This may be a surprise to anyone reading about the Maldives’ leading role at climate conferences and global victim-status from impending climate catastrophe. The story on the ground is far removed from that politically manufactured image of the ‘sinking Maldives’ with ‘no higher ground’ to climb. That political rhetoric is disseminated around the world by the international media, on behalf of well-connected politicians who receive copious amounts of column inches and broadcast coverage.

In June 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic while the country was in lockdown, Boskalis arrived on site and engaged in a greenwash initiative to “relocate corals” from the Gulhifalhu reef. The company said this was conducted as a CSR (corporate social responsibility) activity!

Is it really so noble of a global corporation taking on a multi-million dollar project financed with foreign loans that must be covered by public debt to offer CSR to that same foreign state? It is evident that this is part of the company’s marketing strategy of presenting an image of ‘eco-friendly’ credentials.

The notion suggesting that a reef can be ‘relocated’ is unintelligible, with no scientific credibility as any Maldivian or visitor to the Maldives who has seen our natural reefs would know. This idea is absolutely untenable, has no substance and is nothing but a corporate smokescreen. Coral gardening, involving the removal of coral fragments to grow elsewhere, is an experimental tourist attraction in some resorts in the Maldives, which is also a type of corporate greenwashing.  However, the project’s official website considers “coral relocation” a triumph of the project!

Billionaire Coral Migration

Due to the enormity of the destruction planned by the Gulhifalhu reclamation project, civil litigation action to stop it was lodged at the Civil Court of Maldives in September 2021, which remains pending to date. Sadly, the Maldives courts do not have a good history of protecting the country’s fragile environment or holding the government accountable for environmental crimes. This is so even if some of our laws on environmental protection are reasonably progressive. Unlike the Netherlands, the courts in the Maldives are yet to be tested to address environmental destruction and our common climate crisis. This is the case despite the country’s extreme vulnerability and position at the forefront of global climate breakdown. This is in spite of the Maldives’ political pleas to the world at international fora to act on the climate, through its projected image internationally as a ‘climate champion’.

A significant amount of inconsistent, opposing and opportunistic narratives are created by Maldivian politicians with short-term goals who willfully risk the health and life of entire ecosystems, people’s lives and sources of livelihood. But they cannot do this without the active support of global corporations like Boskalis and the ING Bank of Netherlands. As the European Union strengthens its laws and law enforcement to do due diligence on climate change related matters, European corporations are finding poorly governed nations like the Maldives to exploit.

In June 2022, undeterred by its  people’s concerns, the government of Maldives took out a loan of €101 million from three European banks, including the ING Bank of Netherlands, to continue with the second phase of the Gulhifalhu reclamation project. Boskalis is expected to be back in the Maldives in 2023 to inflict extreme damage to the north Malé region with the next and most destructive phase of the reclamation project. Since its initial estimate of 20 million cubic metres of sand use, the project has increased this to 24.5 million cubic metres using an addendum to the EIA in November 2021. What the project will eventually extract is anyone’s guess.

Gulhifalhu

This is a situation where information is withheld from the public and Boskalis’ sand-search survey for the Gulhifalhu project is considered a ‘trade secret’, even from the Maldives parliament!  We do not know the scope of damage this project will cause to the region when a massive dredging vessel deploys its destructive forces into a marine environment rich with life from the seabed to the surface. The after-effects of a string of expensive, historical reclamation projects under Royal Boskalis’ belt in the Maldives have never been studied. There are no funds to study the loss and damage. There is never enough funds to obtain accurate baseline data for these projects either. The funds are instead available from corporate banks for corporations like Boskalis to inflict permanent irreversible and unstudied damage at great financial and debt costs to the people of Maldives.

These are highly lucrative multi-million dollar projects, taking just a few short months for the contractor to impose untold ecological harm. The direct and collateral damage inflicted by Boskalis will be suffered by present and future generations of Maldivians. This will happen after the vessel has made its money and safely left our shores, leaving us to deal with the debt, destruction and damage as the climate crisis unfolds before us.

As the new year breaks in 2023, the news breaking in the Maldives is that two of the most damaging marine contractors from the Netherlands will be actively destroying critical marine ecosystems with unknown losses and damage to communities and people in the Maldives. Van Oord is planning to dredge Addu Atoll Biosphere Reserve, endangering multiple MPAs, marine habitats of mega-fauna such as manta rays and undermining the climate resilience of the entire atoll. Royal Boskalis will be preparing to destroy Gulhifalhu reef and lagoon.

These are the untold stories of Maldives on the frontline of the global climate crisis. As we become increasingly conscious of our interconnectedness on earth, it is necessary to tell the story of how one nation’s business enterprise has become another’s destruction and demise.

If you have come this far, thank you for reading. And thank you for Urgenda.

That decision carries with it a spark of hope for many.

Sincerely,

The Maldives, Indian Ocean

#savemaldives is a citizen-led environmental campaign by concerned individuals from diverse backgrounds who are extremely worried about irreversible environmental destruction in the Maldives.

This open letter was first published on Contested Ports. Re-posted here with author’s permission.

    Modern Maldives and the necessary virtue of homophobia

    Azra Naseem

    Homosexuality is spreading across the Maldives like a plague. This lewd, dirty and haram behaviour, which defies belief and defiles humanity, is being promoted to young Maldivian minds, especially children and adolescents through the online platforms which the young use with such enthusiasm today. It is part of a deep dark propaganda, pre-planned long-term, disseminated under the labels of ‘human rights’ and ‘civil rights’ that seeks to spread this filthy ideology across the entire world. It is a way of thinking that accepts abnormal ideas, such as same sex relations and gender transition, as normal and reasonable. 

    The threat from messages shared across the Internet with young Maldivians are making them homosexual. A nationwide battle—with parents, teachers, schools, government and of course religious clerics and law enforcement, on the frontlines—is required to police the awakening of sexual feelings for people of the same sex among the young people. Everybody must be vigilant for homosexual tendencies within their communities, and every citizen must take on the role of being the guardian of the other’s sexual orientation and experiences. 

    I didn’t make that stuff up. The Religious Council of the Adhaalath Party did. The Home Minister, Imran Abdulla, is the  leader of Adhaalath. This is a party which has no electoral representation but has won political power through top jobs in the coalition government awarded to them for entirely political reasons. 

    Adhaalath views are, of course, Imran’s views. It was always on the cards that as Home Minister in the coalition government, he would push the Adhaalath agenda. Imran came under criticism from his clerical tribe for not taking tougher action against gays, so he confirmed his commitment to the homophobic cause by issuing a statement that promised to crackdown on any lurid behaviour. 

    To prevent the wrath of Allah, and for the general well-being and security of the community, such acts must be absolutely forbidden, so the clerics keep shouting from every available platform.

    Thing is, homosexuality is already very much forbidden in the Maldives. The penal code prohibits sexual intercourse between same sex couples and prohibits same sex marriage. The Qur’an itself does not specify a punishment for homosexuality but The Maldives Penal Code does: up to eight years in prison, lashings and/or fines. According to the Penal Code, whenever the Quran is silent on a specific punishment, what the Penal Code says will apply. 

    As the country’s laws show, tolerance of homosexuality is nowhere on the agenda. The Maldives is already one of the worst places in the world to be gay in this century, but the punishment is insufficiently spectacular or brutal to satisfy the homophobia of Maldivian clerics and religious leaders.

    So this is what they say should happen:

    Under the circumstances, we call upon relevant authorities to identify those who commit such filthy acts, those who are involved in the commission of such acts, those who spread such acts amongst the people, and to judge them under Islamic Sharia and to punish the guilty according to Sharia. Additionally, we call upon the relevant authorities to identify those who engage in human trafficking and to also punish them according to the just punishments specified in Islam. We also advice all citizens to fear Allah and to distance themselves from such filthy and lurid acts.

    Homophobia as a campaign platform

    Maldivian Islamists really fancy a spot in the upcoming Presidential election of 2023. Homophobia has presented them with the perfect platform. 

    The Maldivian population, of course, has its share of same sex couples and other sexual minorties. Unlike countries where ‘western notions’ of civil and human rights have taken hold and States are finally opting to stay out of people’s sex lives, Maldivian political and religious leaders are very firmly ensconced in Dhivehi bedrooms, strictly regulating whom consenting adults can have sex with. 

    The clerics have carved themselves an especially comfortable space among bedroom furniture in the last decade. Dressed to perform with swishing robes and long beards and prayer-scarred foreheads, they have been relentlessly dispensing marriage and sex advice to the Maldivian public—how many of his four wives must a man pleasure in one night, and how often; how should a girl’s clitoris be trimmed for optimal male sexual pleasure; how many times a man can be reasonably expected to tolerate a wife’s No to his sexual needs before he can justifiably hit her; what sexual position does the Sunnah say best satisfies the husband, etc etc—through every Internet platform available to them. And their followers have lapped it all up, every Like, every Thumbs Up, every Fist Bump validating clerical power over Maldivian sex lives and the power of Islamist patriarchy. 

    Given the position which the coalition government, and the public, have willingly handed over to the clerics in deciding what Maldivians do in private, it is not surprising that Islamists are almost fighting each other over who can be more homophobic. 

    The Islamists probably did not have a hand in setting up the ‘honey trap’ for several politically prominent gays in which they have been secretly recorded having sexual relations with a foreign male sex worker. But, the footage, which was leaked on social media over the past few weeks, has given Maldivian clerics the airtime and the column inches they so desperately needed to become an indispensable player in the coming elections. 

    Vote for me, I hate Gays

    Ali Rameez, a SILF for many, has already tested the presidential waters. The Sheikh on a Bike has always been quite the narcissist (the last time I criticised him, he and his tribe accused me of mocking Prophet Muhammad). 

    “So many people want me to become president”, he gushed to a reporter recently. Nobody has publicly admitted to asking any such thing of him; but, they would be sorry to know, Rameez presumptuously continued, he has not yet decided to run. 

    He was simply doing his duty as a good Muslim touring the islands during Eid to rain some homophobia on everyone’s parade. 

    Gays, he said, cannot be allowed to set foot on a Maldivian island. They must be turned away, shamed, hated, ostracised and punished. Welcoming them to your islands, he said to his followers, is welcoming sin itself. His holiness could not contain his disappointment with people of an island who had welcomed an alleged lesbian on their shores.

    Should they have thrown the harlot to sea? He left that part for between the lines.

    Wish as you may, Ali Rameez is not an aberration, he is the norm. He has been the most successful catch of the early Salafi recruitment drive in the Maldives. He dropped his love-mic, rocked the Da’wah, and has ever since dedicated his entire post-popstar life to spreading the Salafi word. 

    Ali Rameez no longer sings to please the female heart and no longer earns his money serenading the female body. He now only sings to praise God and if he speaks of the female body today it is as its male owner. He speaks as a man who considers a girl to be a woman once she reaches puberty, as one who can rightly marry four of them, as a man who can have sex with them as their husband even if they don’t want it. He now only speaks of woman as someone with whom he can do as he pleases because he is male, and therefore, superior. 

    Ali Rameez will not allow a society in which two consenting adults have sex outside of marriage but wholeheartedly supports one in which sex with a girl child is fine as long as the man marries the child first. 

    If anyone is putting filth into the minds of young Maldivian children it is not the deeply closeted Maldivian sexual minorities but the so-called ‘scholars’ who want Maldivians to embrace an intolerant, aggressive and punitive Islam in which society is not only forbidden from any acts not allowed in the first three centuries of Islam, it must also embrace the barbaric punishments of those ancient times.

    Watch as the network that Salaf and Adhaalath actors have in mind kick into action and they declare a Gay Hunt across society, spreading fear, inciting hatred, and imposing brutal punishments on Maldivian minorities that all citizens must enjoy and applaud to prove their own virtue and Muslimness.

    Don’t be surprised if society goes along with it. Ali Rameez is probably right. Most Maldivians today would love him to be president.

      Maldives wants the pink dollar but hates gays

      Azra Naseem

      The multi-billion-dollar Maldivian tourism industry courts the global pink dollar and arranges symbolic same sex wedding ceremonies on its turquoise blue waters and beautiful sandy beaches. But, Maldivian society hates gays, and doesn’t want them to exist. There is no room in the Maldives for its homosexuals, and anyone on any arch of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow. They are to be exposed, thrown to a well-mobilised religious mob, walked through the streets of Male’ naked, lynched, then hung in the Republic Square for everyone to see, while they all chant ‘Allah Akbar’ before decapitating them. This is the ideal scenario. One Friday after prayers would be a good time. Or must they be thrown from one of the newly built high-rises, so they experience what the ISIS claimed as the most Islamic punishment for homosexuals?

      Gay Maldivians exist. They always have. And they always will. As long as Maldivians exist. As ‘100 percent Muslim’ as every citizen must be, and as uniquely Dhivehi as they may be, they are also human. Officially being gay has been forbidden ever since recorded history began but unofficially homosexuality has, of course, existed on these isolated island communities as it does in the rest of the world. Muslim Maldives never openly tolerated “deviant” sex, but nor was it openly discussed or made the centrepiece in political and social affairs. Gay relationships happened between those who wanted it to happen, often between men who were married to women and bore children with them. Nobody spoke about it not only because it is illegal but also because learning of such a double life would hurt people around them, not just their wives and children but also the extended family. 

      Only a few Maldivians through history have dared to be openly gay. Until quite recently society opted to treat the most camp among gay Maldivians as “weird”, mentally imbalanced, or the village eccentric. They were laughed at for being too effeminate or too manly, and ridiculed for the difference in their mannerisms to the ‘normal’ man or woman. Hanee, for example, was an excellent, popular and celebrated tailor, and was openly trans in the Maldives of the 1990s. As society grew more intolerant, Hanee’s troubles multiplied until their previously well-ordered self-sufficient life became unliveable, and they were jailed for crimes not directly related to gender and sexuality. I cannot imagine life would have been easy for any gay Maldivian in any time in history, as children laughed and adults sniggered or worse. But compared to how today’s society treats Maldivian homosexuals and any other sexual minority, the cruelty that gays of previous generations suffered seems less visceral, less driven by unadulterated hatred. 

      The first violent attack on a gay man in recent history occurred in 2011, when Hilath Rasheed was almost decapitated outside his home. Hilath was a former journalist who was ‘too open’ about being gay. The attacker was never punished. Hilath was successfully hounded out of the Maldives, just escaping with his life. Religious conservatives have promoted homophobia openly and unabatedly ever since. Recently Eman was run out of society for dressing as a man. Having sought refuge in Australia they are now undergoing gender transition. Before that Medula Oblongata became a drag queen in New Zealand after he was run out of the Maldives for being queer. Despite the thousands of miles between these Maldivians and their home country, they still get harassed online, the calls to have them brought home and be punished grow louder with each wave of homophobia.

      Gay Maldivians who have to remain in the country, meanwhile, are forced to lead a double life. Most remain silent, but many are also on social media, being homophobic themselves, or being bashed for promoting gay rights. Dhiyares newspaper recently hounded a young man out of the country for his Tweets which it found to be too gay friendly and offensive to Islam. The 23-year-old was using a fake name. Not only did the newspaper find out his true identity under what it calls investigative journalism, it also ‘exposed’ him as gay. The paper is now trying to point out who is to blame for letting the man get away safely. How dare a homosexual escape with their lives intact after such transgression? That cannot be. 

      Maldivians want the spectacle of death to the sinner, a la Shari’a. They are baying for punishment. Arrest the dirty gays. Arrest the apostates. Arrest the yogis and the dancers and the lovers. Arrest those who are laughing too loud; arrest those who wish their mothers well on a particular day; arrest those who think. Maldivian society is no longer satisfied extending even the lowest possible level of compassion, that of mere tolerance, to its homosexuals and other sexual minorities. Instead, it lays traps for them, deliberately entices them into what is considered sinful behaviour and waits for them to fall. When they do, it is the religious duty of every ‘justifiably and suitably angry’ Maldivian Muslim to see these ‘dirty’ mududhaaru sinners punished. Society must see and enjoy their pain, in their death is the satisfaction of the righteous living.

      Mind you, this is the same society which believes firmly in afterlife and Judgement Day. Aren’t they usurping the very powers they have vested in God alone?