Category: Environment

Death of a nation: toxic politics is sinking Maldives

by Ibrahim Mohamed

Maldives is among only six nations entirely made of coral atolls; composed of 1192 islands grouped into 26 natural atolls over 90 thousand kilometres, making it one of the most dispersed countries in the world. The population of 407,660 inhabit 188 islands with an area of 227 km making it also one of the most densely populated nations in the world (Duvat and Magnan, 2019). Magnan and Duvat (2019) in their study of 107 inhabited islands found that about 60 percent of them have a population growth rate exceeding 5 percent, while on 18 percent of those islands this rate is above 25 percent. They also found that anthropogenic drivers have caused rapid changes on the islands over the last decade. Consequently, the adaptive capacity of most of the inhabited and exploited islands to cope and adjust with climate change induced oceanic pressures has been highly undermined. The anthropogenic changes Magnan and Duvat highlighted as causing major destruction to the reef island system includes artificial island expansion with reclamation; hard engineered shoreline armouring; and sand mining. For instance, in the last decade islands with reclaimed areas increased by 51 percent, and the number of islands with hard engineered coastal protection more than doubled. These developments have direct impact on island coastal geomorphology, such as the destruction of reef flats, resulting in changes in sediment budget around islands and disruption of currents around the islands (Duvat and Magnan, 2019). The desire for fixed, sedentarised rapid infrastructure development with inevitable hard engineering solutions undermines the dynamic biogeophysical system’s capacity to adjust and cope with climate change induced pressures. Consequently, the biogeophysical system is pushed in to positive entropy resulting in the shifting of thresholds and tipping points to undesired states. 

Environmental interventions as a trade off 

The sedentarisation, permanent fixtures and hard engineering development projects involving the terraforming of the natural island systems annihilate their natural ability to repair and maintain themselves. It is an alien ontology to islandness, devaluing it as a cheap commodity to be exploited for short term benefits. Islandness is far from cheap – it is a culture and a way of life. Theoretically, islandness has been explained as a unique system of relationships underpinned by an array of sensory engagements of islanders, pertaining to their interactions with their environment (Mohamed 2020),. A major aspect of the Theory of Islandness is the non-representational dwellings perspective where the sociocultural dynamics within islands are essential for their adaptation to climate change (Mohamed, 2020). Islandness, synonymous with the local term “jazeeraa vanthakan”, is not just a way of life, but also a campaign slogan promoted by the incumbent government which pledged to make development more sustainable and environmentally sound. However, consecutive governments with their short-term planning for a five-year political term have set a trend of indulging in patronage and biopolitics with no regard to sustainable development as envisaged in Article 22 of the Maldivian Constitution which tasks the State with the responsibility to prevent destruction of natural resources. It requires development to be affected in ways that ensure intergenerational equity and environmental sustainability. 

Owing to patronage politics and biopolitics at the local level, the rapid human driven anthropogenic impacts related to unsustainable development are also being shaped by a new brand of politics driven by government’s desire to demonstrate visible achievements within their short five-year term.  Additionally, where the problem of island vulnerability to climate change induced impacts and absolute land scarcity is concerned, politicians view it from the perspective of patronage politics. These permanent fixtures and sedentarisation of islands at the cost of their natural dynamics is politically attractive given that the politicians can use it as an electoral incentive, and they can be displayed as symbols of development.  However, the costs of undertaking dredging and reclamation as well as hard engineered armouring of coast lines is prohibitively expensive and hard to reverse. For instance, in the last decade a staggering USD 18.5 million has been spent on shore line protection of 17 islands covering 10.3 kilometers. In addition, the cost of reclamation before COVID19 Pandemic was at a rate of USD 275,000 per hectare including the cost of coastal protection of the reclaimed area, and various surveys and EIA processes. Owing to budget constraints, the government has sought development loans and contractor financing in addition to pleading with donors to cover the costs of these projects, all of which have the potential to make their political standing strong. Recently the government secured a loan of USD 71 million from the EXIM Bank of India for such a reclamation project while also securing more money through contractor finance for the same project, according to the EIA report of the project.

Flirting with the geopolitical order 

Turning to donors for money and flirting with them according to domestic political interests, combined with its geopolitically strategic location, has made the Maldives relevant to the emerging new world order. The competition between China and India to increase their influence on the small island nations of the Indian Ocean, has placed these same countries in a precarious situation, while domestic politics become subjected to foreign policy divides looking to the East and the West. Owing to the maritime security interests of India in the Central and Western Indian Ocean and China’s Belt and Road initiative across the Indian Ocean, both nuclear powers are now at loggerheads on who gets to control the Indian Ocean. While China has already put Sri Lanka into a debt trap with huge loans for infrastructure, India has secured an important island of Mauritius as their foothold in the southern Indian Ocean. President Yameen, who led the Maldives from 2013 to 2018 formed close ties with his Chinese counterpart, securing financial assistance from China for various infrastructure projects including the now famous China Maldives Friendship Bridge which cost USD 220 million. The EXIM bank of China provided a loan of USD 68 million while the Chinese government granted another USD 126 million toward the bridge project. In addition, Chinese State Companies have also lent USD 421 million for upgrading Velana International Airport, the main gateway into the country. While ties with India frayed during Yameen’s leadership, the new government which defeated him came with India’s blessings in 2018 and speedily renewed the old India First foreign policy. India was eager to invest and increase trade with the Maldives. Currently, bilateral trade amounts to USD 290.27 million where the trade balance greatly favours India as of 2020 (Vashist, 2021). EXIM Bank of India also has given various loans including USD 40 million for sports infrastructure, while a staggering USD1.33 billion has been loaned for various development projects including in Addu and towards building the Greater Male’ Connectivity Bridge (Vashist, 2021). For India, ties with Maldives is critical given that 50 percent of India’s exports and 80 percent of its energy imports are transported through maritime routes within the Maldives. Moreover, the Indian foreign and military vision for an inclusive Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) requires a strong alliance with the Maldives. Consequently, the current government has abandoned romancing with China and is sinking inexorably into a sea of Indian debt. Opposition politicians have begun their dog whistling against the incumbent regime consistently, using the slogan of “India Out” to mobilize opposition supporters against the government. 

Debt bounty of economic warfare

Colonization and conquest of nations in the 21st century has unfolded under a new brand of war. War on terror or war for democracy, depending on where you stand. Most recent wars, while waged under such banners, have also exploited wealth and resources. For instance, crude oil, rare earth metals and other resources of victim nations become the bounty of their “saviors” to be pillaged and exploited with the western world view of nature as a cheap commodity. Such wars have caused huge losses to natural resources and transformed environments rapidly. On a par with such wars is the debt fed to incumbent regimes by larger economic powers, allowing them to strengthen their political competitiveness. The debt money is often used to make visible infrastructure for patronage politics. The huge undertakings of such infrastructure in the guise of development often results in maladaptation and destruction of natural resources, trapping the local communities in a vicious cycle of dependency for politicians. When the common pool of resources available for all, such as coral reefs, are destroyed for development, people lose their economic freedom and have to depend on predatory capitalism and political patronage for survival. It is precisely this type of capitalism that underpins the 50-year-old tourism industry of the Maldives where local communities benefit little from the billions of dollars generated by high end resorts. 

Neocolonial geopolitics and predatory capitalism versus biopolitics. 

The land reclamation of Addu is a major concern, and scientific wisdom puts it under the precautionary principle. The only decision tool for the environmental consideration of such developments is the Environmental Impact Assessment report which, despite being heavily watered down, shows clearly the inevitable loss of our environmental inheritance were the project to go ahead. The sheer scale of dredging it requires in a relatively small atoll will have devastating consequences on the environment, with rapid transformation of the entire atoll’s biogeophysical system. 

Addu has always been the sacrificial lamb for the elitist ruling class of the Maldives. The atoll is critically positioned at the very southern end of Maldives, making it invaluable in the event of warfare in the east and middle east. This makes Aduu attractive to any international actor with intentions of war or other maritime security interests. The biggest achievement of the incumbent regime has been the large cash windfall from India for allowing Maldives to become a part of India’s SAGAR vision. Given how much Maldives is in debt to China, the influx in cash from India has allowed the Maldives to avoid the same conditions that have hit neighboring Sri Lanka once China called in the debts. Crucially, this has also allowed the current government to stay in power. India has moved rapidly to establish itself in the strategic Addu, pushing the government to undertake large development projects in the atoll that strengthens Indian presence in the area. One such project is the land reclamation for Addu. Despite having the potential to become maladaptive, this project is being driven forward partly due to the availability of a huge loan from India and Indian political pressure on the incumbent regime. The biopolitics used as such a destructive means to an end may be tenable in the short term, but the irreversible damage done to the environment will have major consequences for generations to come. In a contemporary world on the precipice of great conflict, climate induced disasters and being caught in a debt trap, will not only create political chaos, it will also set the Maldives on the path to a dire future. 

(Un)Doing Development

Development in the Maldives is often about the un: unbalanced, uncertain, undesirable, unfit, unjust, unhealthy, unplanned, unrepresented, unsustainable and unsystematic. This tendency for (un)doing appears soon after major infrastructure projects are commissioned. An example are the social housing towers recently constructed on the island of Hulhumale’ . What was envisaged as a remedy for crowding has also come with the seemingly unexpected ‘side effects’ such as ghettoization and a sharp rise in social inequity. The focus on patronage politics in the development agenda means gaps remain in both legal and planning aspects. .Given the partisan environment of Maldivian politics and the tendency to put party before nation, the sustainable development envisaged in Article 22 of the Constitution becomes impossible within a five-year term. For sustainable development, envisaged in the Article 22 of the Constitution of the Maldives, a political term of five years is insufficient. What political parties and elected leaders aim for is to make development as visible as possible within those five years. Concrete thus becomes their favored choice to showcase their achievements. . For instance, paved roads, airports, hospital buildings, land reclamations, harbor development and many other concrete based infrastructures are erected to display as achievements against rival politicians. Consequently, scientific wisdom, nature and economics is often undermined or traded off to favor the most politically attractive options. For instance, development criterions are invented and manufactured as electoral incentives during elections, often with no regard to island needs and necessities or context. For instance, the majority of lands reclaimed in the past decade remain barren and unused, even though a land use plan is approved before the reclamations. 

For centuries, Maldivians relied on the sea for their sustenance. Fishing and seafaring is still considered as the primary economic activity. Until tourism became the major driver of economic growth, trading among islands was also common among the dispersed islands.  The vulnerability and exposure and the low biogeophysical thresholds in the natural system of the tiny islands of the Maldives makes it senseless  to create human settlements akin to mini-Dubais in the Maldives. However, short sighted politicians with five-year targets sell Maldivians the vision of development as epitomized by  Dubai, that Mecca to capitalism once alien to the island culture and environment of the Maldives. The Maldives does have poor soil and scarce freshwater in common with Dubai, but that’s where the similarities end. For one thing, it does not have the financial capacity to transform into a real estate haven for international markets. From a sustainability point of view, especially with climate change projections related to coastal hazards, making human settlements and tourism products with reclamations is untenable. 

Utopian dreams of climate smart islands

The dredging company which won the contract to protrude more land in to the reef edge of Addu Atoll by burying coastal ecosystems, envisions transforming Addu city into a utopian climate smart economic hub to attract a particular type of traveler.  This illusory comprehensibility of predatory capitalism which undervalues environment and ecosystem services as cheap by separating humans from the rest of the interconnected web of life is a western ideology alien to centuries old culture and islandness of the Maldivians. The spatiality of islands is a lure for “on-and off-island power holders” to manipulate them economically, socially and politically (Baldacchino, 2010 and Grydehøj, & Kelman, 2016), especially when the geopolitical stakes are high. Consequently, for predatory capitalists, islands are suitable spaces for political and economic maneuvering and environmental exploitation (Grydehøj, & Kelman, 2016). Terms such as “climate smart”, and “economically viable” are often coined by governments and investors for reaping economic benefits, while neglecting various social issues such as equal and equitable accessibility, social justice and economic freedom as well as ghettoization and widening of gaps between rich and poor (Grydehøj, & Kelman, 2016). The creation of land by filling coastal regions adjacent to islands also opens up the possibility to create exceptional regulatory spaces like special tourism zones which may favour the corporate elite while adjacent island communities may lose their economic freedom due to over-dependency on rich investors who will own the spaces for over 50 years. Consequently, reclaiming land through debt money is a freebie for global corporate elitists to take advantage and grab land at the behest of current and future generations who will pay for these debts.  

Conclusion

With the looming threats of climate change impacts and frequency of cyclones and storms developing in the Indian ocean, as well as food insecurity where ship to mouth is the norm, Maldives needs a respite. Even though climate change induced coastal hazards have increased, the impact is yet to become severe. Hence innovative ideas which enhance sustainability of islands are essential. The coastal and marine systems and the socio ecological systems of most inhabited and exploited islands are gradually reaching their tipping points. Hence, we need transformative innovations where technology is fully utilized. We must create hybrid solutions by working with nature-based solutions and hard and soft engineering. Instead of reclaiming and fortifying with hard armoring, we need to explore how we can enhance our islands’ ability to retrieve and accommodate for climate change induced hazards. We need to create and recreate edge conditions and explore the possibilities of developing over the water structures with minimal impacts on coastal geomorphology and ecology. It is time our policy makers accept that tradeoffs for politically attractive options have already undermined the capacity of most inhabited islands to cope and adjust with climate change. Consequently, we have to fight a constant battle against nature, which results in a huge financial burden. We can transform our islands by safe, small-scale hybrid, nature-based solutions and garner adaptation finance for such projects. We must become more flexible to building adaptive pathways instead of relying solely on hard engineered fixtures against the natural dynamics of our islands. 


References

Baldacchino, G. (2010). Island enclaves: Offshoring strategies, creative governance, and subnational island jurisdictions (Vol. 14). McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.

Duvat, V. K., & Magnan, A. K. (2019). Rapid human-driven undermining of atoll island capacity to adjust to ocean climate-related pressures. Scientific reports, 9(1), 1-16.

Grydehøj, A., & Kelman, I. (2016). Island smart eco-cities: innovation, secessionary enclaves, and the selling of sustainability. Urban Island Studies, 2, 1-24.

Mohamed, I., King, D., & Cottrell, A. (2020). Adaptive Capacity for Climate Change in Maldivian Rural Communities. International Journal of Social Research & Innovation, 4(1).

Vasisht, C. (2021). India-Maldives Policy Brief. Vivekanda International Foundation. New Delhi. [accessed from: https://www.vifindia.org/sites/default/files/India-Maldives-Policy-Brief.pdf].

[photo credits and renders: Margret Ikeda and Evan Jones and the author]


Ibrahim Mohamed has a doctorate in Environmental Science and Management from James Cook University, Australia. He is a specialist in environmental social science related to climate change adaptation focused on small low-lying islands. He has a research interest in climate change impacts on small island communities and adaptation for post sea-level rise scenarios. He has published in various aspects related to climate change adaptation and mitigation in small island nations.

Maldives : Climate Doublespeak and The Great Deformation

Humay Abdulghafoor

Maldives is sinking – a nation in peril!

Maldives is climate vulnerable – fighting for survival on the frontline of climate change!

Maldives faces climate disaster dangerously on the brink of an existential crisis!

Maldives has no higher ground to climb to save its people!

Maldives has declared a national climate emergency!

Maldives calls to make ecocide a crime at the international criminal court!

Maldives enacts a climate emergency law!

Maldives represents climate ambition at the Climate Vulnerability Forum!

Maldives pleads to be “saved” at the UN FCCC COP, vociferously and incessantly every year without fail, trying “to be heard” by the world.

Maldives is a leading voice of the at risk AOSIS and the sinking SIDS!!

Maldives continues to tell the world about its existential crisis, a situation not of its own making, but created by “developed” nations and the great carbon emitters of the world, declaring : “We are paying with our lives for the carbon someone else emitted.”[1]

Make no mistake, stated “climate champion” of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed: “If we do not act now we will lose our coral reefs, we will lose our beaches, and I’m sure tomorrow it will be you.”[2] 

One would imagine that the Maldives, this unique earthly paradise pleading to the world to be saved from climate disaster will join any effort to save itself. 

That would be the logical action of anyone teetering on the brink of an existential threat.

But not the Maldives.

Self-identifying as unique in every way, including its millennia long history, culture, identity and its centuries old 100% Muslimness and great sense of absolute piety, Maldives finds itself unable to tell the glaring truth about itself, to itself. Instead, the country indulges in climate doublespeak internationally while dredging itself into its own early grave.

The leadership of Maldives, starting with the country’s apparently immortal leader Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom, with his style of “development” of the country has always left a trail of irreparable damage to natural heritage and  ecosystems. His successors have followed him.  Each as destructive as the other, at the same time imploring the international community to take urgent action to save the Maldives.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in October 1987, a few months after a devastating wave surge caused significant damage to the Maldives in April that year, Gayyoom said, “we in the Maldives have seen and lived through grim experiences which could be the indicators of the dire consequences of global environmental change provoked and aggravated by man.[3]  In his wisdom, Gayyoom left a legacy of reclamation and destruction of pristine reefs and lagoons, destroying these natural defences as development solutions in his imperiled nation.  Seventeen years later, the December 2004 Asian Tsunami provided ample proof of the power of the Maldives reefs, mangroves and other natural coastal ecosystems to protect the country from climate events. These ecosystems effectively took the full force of the tsunami that blasted at its shores without warning at 500km/hour at “the speed of a jet plane” that December morning, saving countless lives and reducing the death toll.

Gayyoom is the great leader that “developed” Male’, the world’s most congested city slum to the ocean edges of its reef, exposing this low-lying capital city to climate disaster.  He is also the leader that created several other zones of ecocide, including the now infamous Thilafushi apocalyptic waste dump and toxic bomb on a once pristine reef, off the south-western coast of Male’.  Thilafushi is a disaster that has been oozing pollution, contaminating the ocean and its associated marine and human food-chains for decades. He also embarked on an allegedly “safe island” created by destroying another large pristine living coral reef system north-east of Male’, gobbling up nearby Farukolhufushi island in its wake.  Gayyoom, dubbed “a man for all islands” is the indisputable forebearer of the great deformation and distortion of the natural environment of the Maldives.

In 2008, President Nasheed replaced Gayyoom. The Island President outperformed Gayyoom’s rhetoric and doublespeak to tell the world about the Maldives’ vulnerability to global climate change disaster.  He rapidly rose to “climate champion” fame by holding an under-water cabinet meeting, to visually explain how Maldives could well become the next Atlantis.  He too became a leader of the great deformation, embarking on reclamation projects that made Gayyoom’s look like “sixth form projects”.[4]  Across the country, Nasheed launched a campaign of ecosystem degradation and decimation fueled by a political rhetoric of housing need and grand infrastructure developments that left communities bereft of their natural coastal defences.  Global dredging companies were handed multi-million dollar contracts from public debt, and mobilised quickly for “development”.  These trans-national companies happily destroyed the natural reefs and other coastal defences of communities. The communities, led by their saviour-politicians, seemingly unaware of the role these ecosystems played in their survival in the Indian Ocean. The two-millennia long historical indigenous knowledge of human settlement and survival in the ocean archipelago had become forgotten history.

Yameen Abdul Gayyoom arrived in 2013, embarking on an even grander scale of ecosystem degradation – simply because he was the President and he can, so he did. This particular Gayyoom enjoyed the services of trans-national dredging company Van Oord that decimated Maldives during the global coral bleaching peak year of 2016, “with care”, and impunity.  While the coral reefs bleached to near complete loss across the country, dredgers conducted funeral rites by allegedly conducting reclamation over a 600km project footprint, giving the reefs no chance, let alone to recover.  President Yameen is globally known for his involvement in Stealing Paradise, a corruption scandal of a magnitude thus far not documented in such detail in the Maldives. This Theft of Maldives is reported to have involved the liberal, generous – and criminal – distribution of reefs and lagoons to the easiest bidder who wanted a piece of paradise, intent to create money selling paradise, mostly by creating artificial islands requiring intensive reclamation, loss and damage.  Examples of these abound in North Male’ Atoll, with the involvement of global names such as the Waldorf Astoria. This wave of deformation of Maldives has transformed the visual natural beauty of the country to something unrecognisably ugly and unworthy of the label, “paradise”. The erased marine biodiversity and habitat loss is out of sight and out of mind, while resort developers busily green-washed their artificial dead zones.

Not satisfied with the nationwide acts of ecocide by global dredging companies like BoskalisMT Højgaard and Van Oord, President Yameen chose to invest in the country’s very own wrecking machine, a suction hopper dredger baptised “Mahaa Jarraafaa”, received from China in 2017 with great fanfare.  Its first victim was the island of Kulhudhuffushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll which is one of the largest such ecosystems in the country. The island lost its climate resilience to an airstrip, dispossessing sustainable community livelihoods of hundreds of families in the project’s wake.  The tarmac was laid in the middle of its ancient white-mud wetland and mangroves which made up the island’s groundwater recharge, flood-water drainage and climate defence systems. The island just happens to be the largest urban centre in the north of the country, located in a “tsunami high risk” zone.[5]  Kulhudhuffushi now experiences increased flooding and damage to property on a regular basis.  Civil society calls to conserve the wetland’s remaining part continue to be ignored. This case exemplifies the depth of (dis)regard for the Maldives’ climate vulnerability expressed by its climate-champion leadership over the decades. As reef systems were blasted and macerated by machines, the Maldives trembled under the pressures of dredging developments.  Young Maldivian blogger Yameen Rasheed (brutally murdered for his courage to express his thoughts) left us this satirical yet apt observation in his blog The Daily Panic in 2016. “Deriving perverse pleasure from blowing up a ten-thousand year old coral reef may seem excessively pornographic. But when accompanied by tea and refreshments, it is a downright adventure.”  

The impunity with which ecological damage was done in Yameen Gayyoom’s administration continued unhindered, following the election of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in 2018.  This latest island president is content with the ecosystem degradation inflicted by unchecked reclamation.  The administration engages in patchy public relations activities at opportune moments to ‘protect the environment’.  Declarations are made protecting specific areas, while advocating a policy of protecting “one island, one reef and one mangrove” in each of the 20 atolls in the country, which is closer to public mockery than public policy!  Not to be outdone by his climate champion predecessors, President Solih is yet another saviour who gives his own ghost-written speeches about the government’s desire to save the country’s natural beauty.  Speaking at the opening of the parliament in 2019, he said:  “To preserve the tropical beauty of the Maldives and safeguard the archipelagic nature of our island nation, the Government will give special priority to protecting our natural environment.”[6]

Exhibiting his definition of environmental protection, President Solih’s 3+ year administration has engaged the services of the long-established Maldives State owned enterprise (SoE) MTCC Plc to wreak havoc on the country’s natural environment.  The company celebrates its business of irreversibly undermining the climate resilience of communities as a matter of national pride.  Like other disaster-capitalist ventures, MTCC boasted record profits at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, a trend which continues in 2022, making the President giddy with a sense of achievement and calling the company a “role model”.  What the narrative conveniently sets aside is the inconvenient truths of the irreparable harm MTCC has been consistently unleashing on the country, the actual cost of which is never counted or accounted.  These projects generate repeat business, as they leave the people of Maldives wide open and exposed to climate disasters that have to be rectified with more unsustainable remedial projects from public debt.  President Solih is the current climate-champion of the Maldives giving his full commitment to the great deformation of the Maldives.   His government is forging ahead with another record-breaking project that threatens to destroy over 2km of coral reef ecosystems impacting marine wildlife and habitat including several marine protected areas.  This is the government’s wonder-project, the Gulhifalhu Port Development project, contracted to Boskalis Westminster without a bid in 2019. The project is facing civil litigation in court at the moment.  The latest in the continuing acts of State sponsored ecocide is the sudden and ad-hoc initiation of a multi-million-dollar reclamation project to join Shaviyani Atoll Komandoo with its neighbouring island Mathikomandoo, on the eve of a parliamentary bi-election.  The climate resilience of this already destroyed island and its people is the last thing on the leader’s mind if at all, the priority being the parliamentary seat at stake.

A notable attribute of successive Presidents at the helm of the Maldives’ great deformation is the complete lack of interest to assess the damage they inflict on the country’s finite coral reef ecosystems, as they indulge in their doublespeak at international fora.  Maldives shows no interest to study its own ecosystem degradation, loss and damage, but stand eager to lead the call for others to act and provide funds to climate vulnerable nations, notably to itself.  Maldivian governments act entitled to such funds, with no semblance of accountability for its own self-inflicted destruction, evidence of which is collected and studied mostly by those outside the country.  This complete disregard to the realities of science is the real death-knell to the Maldives.

As the UN Secretary General announced “Code Red for humanity” and the UN IPCC heralds a bleak future for nations on the frontline of climate change, the Maldives is set to arrive at that place of irreparable environmental doom by expediting that horror on itself before the global climate systems do.  The Maldives is wilfully tipping itself into the climate crisis.  The climate champions of the Maldives are in fact, irreverent self-harmers, killing the nation’s own lifelines and immune system to sustain their immediate political and business greed, at the expense of the country and people they are elected to govern.

Maldives is being sunk by its “climate-champion” politicians.


[1] Comments by former Maldives’ President, Mohamed Nasheed, the CVF’s Ambassador for Ambition, following the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report, The Climate Vulnerability Forum, [undated – circa August 2021], https://thecvf.org/our-voice/statements/president-nasheed-remarks-on-ipcc-ar6-wg1-report/

[2] Lecture by His Excellency President Mohamed Nasheed, at Freie Universiate [sic] Berlin, The President’s Office – Maldives, 11 March 2010, https://presidency.gov.mv/Press/Article/22422

[3] Address by His Excellency Mr Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, President of the Republic of Maldives, before the Forty Second Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the Special Debate on Environment and Development, 19 October 1987, Friends of Maldives (web archive), http://papers.risingsea.net/Maldives/Gayoom_speech.html

[4] Words used by President Nasheed at a stakeholder function in Male’ describing coral regeneration projects in Maldives 

[5] Detailed Island Risk and Vulnerability Assessment, HDh Kulhudhuffushi, Ryan Pvt Ltd / Ministry of Energey and Environment, November 2013

[6] Unofficial translation of the presidential address, 2019, The President’s Office – Maldives, 7 February 2019, https://presidency.gov.mv/Press/Article/20617


About the author: Humay is a concerned citizen trying to raise awareness about unchecked environmental degradation in the Maldives. She is a volunteer for the Save Maldives Campaign www.savemaldives.net @SaveMaldivesMV

Getting away with Maldives

by Azra Naseem

On 22 July 2015, the Maldives Parliament voted to change the Constitution to allow, for the first time in its history, the sale of Maldivian property to foreigners. The consequences of this monumental decision—taken without any public consultation or even debate within the parliament itself—has been devastating for the people of the Maldives. 

The 1200 islands, the hundreds of beautiful blue lagoons, the underwater coral gardens teeming with thousands of species of marine life that comprises this archipelago, are the people’s only natural resources.  Selling them off to rich foreign owners who then close them off to all Maldivians and create new semi-feudal extra-legal entities within the country where Maldivian laws do not apply, is a calamity on its own. 

The Maldivian people were screwed over a million times more by the corruption of all of its leaders who either pocketed their own cuts from selling off the people’s property for peanuts, or have kept—and are continuing to keep—quiet about who robbed us blind, and are still doing so.

Everybody knows who stole over US$70 million from the state, how they stole it and what they did with it. There is a list of the alleged beneficiaries. There is always a list. 

Well over a year ago, in October 2019, authorities told the public of The List’s existence. But we, who owned the property that was sold without so much as a by your leave, are not allowed to know who it names. Investigators upped the suspense ante (a regular practice by Maldives Police) by withholding the names on the list but giving us a breakdown of what positions some of the people in the list occupy now or occupied when they sold us out. They include 44 former members of parliament; 16 current members of parliament; 30 senior officials of the former government; five former members of independent institutions; five judges; and five law enforcement officers. 

44 Members in a Majlis of 87 accepted bribes.  

16 people who accepted the dirty money are in the current Majlis.

Those people in government, in independent institutions, in the judiciary, in law enforcement—they were all there to act on our behalf.

They all put themselves first.

They betrayed us. 

The authorities have the evidence to prove it. 

Yet, they remain in positions of power, and/or luxuriate in the comforts funded by their ill-gotten gains.

Who did not know the cash that Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb was suddenly so flush with was linked to corruption? Who did not know that hundreds of thousands of US Dollars transported in cash in black leather sports bags by a guy on a moped, compliments of the Tourism Minister, would have to have come from a dodgy source?

Yameen and Adeeb, thick as thieves

Adeeb has admitted clearly that he spent millions of dollars persuading MPs to vote the way he, acting as the president’s proxy, wanted them to vote. So they voted in favour of changing the Constitution to allow Adeeb to be president, and to ban Qasim Ibrahim from becoming president. They voted to narrow our civil and political rights; they voted in favour of harsher police action against peaceful protesters; they changed the law to restrict free speech; and they voted in favour of selling our natural resources for a fraction of their value. They knowingly allowed the openly corrupt Bro Government to do whatever they wanted to our islands, lagoons, reefs, coconut palms, vegetation; hell, the entire fragile ecosystem was theirs to sell, dredge, reclaim, ‘develop’ and destroy as they liked. 

It is infuriating to watch as the consequences and the products of this corruption appear on the Internet as luxury resort islands catering to the world’s super rich while the executive, the parliament, the prosecutorial system and all other political leaders in the Maldives drag their feet over punishing those who sold our beautiful and scarce land from under our feet while purporting to govern on behalf of us, for us. They sold our bath water along with our babies, putting up for sale our lagoons and our reefs too. They also allow the exportation of our sand, the cutting down of our coconut palms, the blasting of our reefs, the reclamation of our seas. Almost everything–bar the 200 or so islands on which Maldivians live–are now for sale; and almost no Maldivian can afford to buy any of it.

Meanwhile, luxury real estate agents advertise the availability of Maldivian islands with airports, seaplane platforms, picnic islands and many other perks included in the multi-million dollar price tags.

Today the MDP—with a super majority in parliament and one of its veteran members, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, as president)—nor its coalition partners have been able to even raise the veil of secrecy over the guilty, let alone prosecute them. Speaker Mohamed Nasheed’s attempts have been ineffectual, and with MPs sitting in Majlis who have robbed the people, his bid to woo the public into voting for a transition from democratic to a parliamentary system seems futile and ill-timed. We can change the name of the system, but as long it’s the same people out to game it for their own benefit while screwing the public over, what’s the point?  

For a country that purports to be a democracy, the amount of secrecy and cover-ups within successive ‘democratic’ governments has been incredible. Evidence given to the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) has been deemed too dangerous for the public to know; people involved in high profile murders have been protected “for the public good”; defence and military agreements made with egoistic right-wing populists like Trump and Modi have been classified, also for the public good; and the people who have sold our islands and the rest of our environment from under us—these are all secrets the leaders who we elect, appoint and pay to represent us, hide from us.

The people in power had no right to take the decision on our behalf to turn our country into a playground for the world’s filthy rich and their unchecked neoliberal agendas that have made almost the entire Maldivian population wage-slaves to international hoteliers, waiting with their hands out for the ‘trickle down effect’ to reach them, the only portion of the billion-dollar industry to which they are allowed to feel entitled to. 

Thirty-three-year old Adeeb at the helm of the Tourism Ministry was a sickening spectacle to behold. He revelled in the Gangstar image, posing endlessly for selfies on one of his three gold iPhones with carefully gelled and slicked back hair, a beard trimmed with military precision in the fashion of the US rap artists he is so enamoured with, fingers and neck dripping with bling, there he was, wallowing in corruption, his body ballooning as if in tune with his vastly inflated ego. The ex-footballer-turned-gangster politician took pride in being known as The ATM, or the bank machine, of Maldivian politics. Anyone who took money from him—be it the Supreme Court Judge Hameed who accepted cash and funds for his children’s education abroad or the member of parliament who agreed to sell his vote in favour of whatever legal change Adeeb was paying them to affect, or the Salafi Jihadist who took his money to get him to Syria or Iraq—all of them knew Adeeb’s money was dirty. They all took it.

The benefit of the corruption for Bro and his lackeys and minions was on display for everyone to see, their egos too big for discretion. By that I mean the sycophants we all know: the Nihans who were flashing their Rolexes and gifting their progeny with designer sports cars; the Muizzes who opened the door even wider to unsustainable and corrupt mega development projects at the cost of our fragile natural environment; the First Lady only too thrilled to have been singled out for a gift of a BMW sports car from Adeeb; or the Gayooms who benefited from Yameen’s rule until they didn’t.

It was not just the people we know to have betrayed us again and again in the last forty years or so that allowed the sale of our natural resources and pocketed the proceeds. 

It was also the people who spoke the democracy speak; those who wooed the public to get into parliament with the promises of a government for the people; those who promised Another Maldives that would bring equality to the tourism industry, those who pledged to put tourism dollars into Maldivian pockets instead of foreign bank accounts. Their promises to fight for the rights of the people, too, were only as strong as the lock on Adeeb’s black leather sports bags stuffed with millions of US dollars in cash. 

The MMPRC scandal involved major crimes against the public. No political party, state institution, government body or any other entity has the right to keep the names of the perpetrators secret.

It is not your secret to keep. Publish the list, punish the guilty.