Maldives : Climate Doublespeak and The Great Deformation
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.”
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.”
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.“ 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”. 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 Boskalis, MT 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. 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.”
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.
 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/
 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
 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
 Words used by President Nasheed at a stakeholder function in Male’ describing coral regeneration projects in Maldives
 Detailed Island Risk and Vulnerability Assessment, HDh Kulhudhuffushi, Ryan Pvt Ltd / Ministry of Energey and Environment, November 2013
 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