World Environment Day – 5 June 2019
As Maldives marks WED-2019 with the rest of the world, we call on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the Government of Maldives and the Ministry of Environment to make substantive and tangible efforts to address the multiple environmental issues that negatively affect the country due to legal and policy level inefficiencies.
We urge the government to uphold its Constitutional mandate to sustainably protect, preserve, conserve our finite natural resources and environment, to safeguard lives and livelihoods of present and future generations. We call on global environmental advocate, former President and incumbent Speaker of the People’s Majlis Mohamed Nasheed, to make government accountable to align nationally with global calls for action he endorses.
1 – Air Pollution
This year’s focus area on beating air-pollution affects the Maldives due to the global, regional and national scope of this serious public health issue which kills 7 million people worldwide of which 4 million are in the Asia-Pacific according to UN Environment. Malé City is an increasingly congested and polluted city which has yet to achieve reasonable measures to address its air pollution problem. We call on the government and all relevant authorities to :
- regularly and reliably disclose air-pollution levels in Malé City and elsewhere in the country to inform the public about this health hazard
- regularly and reliably disclose data on respiratory diseases affecting people’s health due to air pollution
- respond effectively to continuing public calls to significantly reduce vehicle numbers and traffic in Malé City, and urgently address uncontrolled vehicle congestion and air pollution
- initiate immediate policy level action to transition from fossil fuel powered land-based vehicles to clean and renewable energy options across the country, to address and prevent the mistakes made in Malé City
- take immediate measures to cease open-burning of waste at Thilafushi, and establish alternative means of waste management that do not involve mixed-waste incineration which is not a solution to address air-pollution.
2 – Reef Destruction, Sand-mining, Coral Bleaching, Loss of Habitat and Biodiversity
Unsustainable development practices continue unabated in the Maldives, involving the complete and irreversible destruction of entire lagoons and reef ecosystems, with unchecked/unknown damage to marine habitat and biodiversity. Global heating and consequent rise in ocean temperatures are causing increasing coral-bleaching events. At the same time, it recently came to public attention that large-scale illegal sand‑mining by international corporations is happening in parts of the country. The tourism industry is allowed to operate unregulated and with impunity at the detriment of local communities and livelihood resources.
We are deeply concerned by the government’s ineffectiveness and inability to implement laws, policies and regulations to protect the natural resources of the country from irreversible loss, damage and destruction caused by unsustainable transnational and national business activities. We remind the government to heed the urgent warnings issued by scientists for policy makers to take decisive action on the current global climate emergency and to immediately stop business-as-usual environmental degradation. We call on the government to robustly uphold Article 22 of the Maldives Constitution and implement laws, policies and regulations to stop ongoing environmental destruction in the country. We reiterate our joint-policy recommendation to the new government in September 2018 to :
- establish an independent EPA with a board of credible professionals that are representative of the diversity of environmental issues in the country
- immediately cease all reef and lagoon destruction activities, including those of the MTCC dredger Mahaa Jarraafu, until such projects are re-evaluated by an independent EPA.
3 – Deforestation and Loss of Rural Women’s Livelihoods
There is no officially published data on the long-established connection of rural women to the natural resources available in their home islands. However, it is a well-known lived reality that a significant population of women in Maldives earn sustainable livelihoods from the coconut palm and other natural resources available to them at community level. The ongoing widespread business of removing mature palm trees from communities by resort developers to landscape reclaimed reefs is an assault on livelihood resources of communities at a time of alarming national level income inequality.
We call on the government to immediately stop the environmentally, socially, culturally and economically damaging practice of #MVTreeGrab on rural communities. We remind the government that this practice is driven by long-established malpractice by environmental consultants working in the interest of wealthy businesses. We believe the prevalence of this malpractice is primarily due to the absence of an independent and accountable EPA, which fail to protect natural livelihood resources of the most vulnerable. We call on the government to :
- immediately stop the practice of tree-removal to landscape reclaimed (or irreversibly lost reefs) resorts, to protect the income source of the poorest and most vulnerable to poverty in rural communities
- prioritise mass tree planting, especially coconut palms, in local islands and communities that have been subjected to reef reclamation and permanent loss, to increase land (eg. Lh. Hinnavaru, B. Eydhafushi)
- take immediate, robust policy measures for the short and long-term, to protect sustainable livelihood resources of rural women and others who depend on access to public resources to generate income to sustain dignified living
- expedite the implementation of the Rahfehi planting programme under the government’s 100-day pledge, scaling it nationwide as a priority with public engagement, and publicise progress to keep public informed.
4 – Wetland and Mangroves Conservation at Kulhudhuffushi
The administration of President Yameen Abdul Gayyoom destroyed the national natural asset – the white clay wetland and mangroves at H. Dh. Kulhudhuffushi amid civil society protestations in 2017. Today, this ecosystem has been irreversibly destroyed with yet to be studied detrimental impacts on the community, as well as the surrounding reef ecosystem due also to the failure of the contractor to observe the environmental decision statement of the project. The air-strip built on this wetland is yet to be functional.
The Save Maldives Campaign acknowledges the present government’s announcement to restore the remaining part of Kulhudhuffushi Kulhi, following our advocacy to conserve what is left of this national asset. We appreciate the Minister of Environment’s efforts to engage with Mangrove Action Project (MAP) to find ways to restore the remaining part of the wetland and mangroves. The Save Maldives Campaign also engaged to facilitate the visit of experts from MAP in April 2019, with the assistance of local sponsors. We understand that the experts have now submitted their final assessment report to the Ministry of Environment. We take this opportunity to call on the Minister of Environment Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan to :
- share the recommendations of the experts with the public on next steps to conserve the remaining part of Kulhudhuffushi Kulhi
- share the full report with the public by publishing it on the Ministry of Environment’s website
- commission a professional translation of the report in Dhivehi and publish it, to ensure the contents can be accessed by everyone, especially the community of Kulhudhuffushi
- take immediate action on the experts’ recommendations to conserve Kulhudhuffushi Kulhi for present and future generations of both Kulhudhuffushi and the Maldives.
5 – Plastic Pollution
On this WED, it is particularly important to highlight the issue of the proliferation of plastic waste in the Maldives and the solid waste management crisis in the country. We are deeply concerned about the superficial nature of initiatives taken by the government to address the serious problem of plastics that permeate most aspects of living with serious negative impacts on the environment and public health. The urgent need to reduce the importation of plastic goods, especially single use plastics and particularly plastic bags, cannot be over-stated.
We are deeply concerned about continued production of large quantities of single use plastic bottles by State owned and private companies, and the absence of substantive, functional policies and plans to drastically reduce the supply of plastic to households. We join others in this effort, and support the continued calls by advocates for the EPA to withdraw its misleading and inaccurate endorsement and promotion of plastic bags and bottled water packaging as environmentally friendly, with its logo labelled “oxo-biodegradable”. It is now a well-known fact that oxo-biodegradable plastic produces harmful micro-plastics which enter the food chain of wildlife and humans. Recognising the vulnerability of the Maldives’ marine and terrestrial ecosystems to the long-lasting and damaging impacts of plastics and poor solid waste management, we call on relevant authorities to :
- immediately stop the endorsement and promotion of plastic bags and packaging labelled “biodegradable” with the EPA logo on it, and withdraw any in circulation
- establish the enabling structural environment to limit plastic use, providing alternative waste disposal mechanisms, methods and means to achieve plastic-free alternatives that are environmentally safe
- impose a national ban on plastic bags consistent with the steps taken elsewhere in the world, to meaningfully deal with the scourge of plastic pollution.