When on Lesvos for the ISISA Islands of the World Conference in may, I met with Muna Mohamed from the Maldives. Her book “Falhu Alira Muiy” was just about to be published on forced migration and atoll development in her native island world.
Yes, the Maldives are not in the ESIN part of the world – but sometimes we may need to look beyond our own horizon. Since 1965, they are the republic Dhivehi Raa’jeyge Jumhooriyya with 342.00 islanders living on some 200 of their 1.192 islands, which are grouped in 26 atolls. It is one of the world’s most dispersed countries with an area of 90,000 square kilometres which would stretch from Orkney to Isle of Wight if transferred to Europe.
Munas book is in Dhivehi (Maldivian) but the following is a translation of a foreword written by Salma Fikry:
“For several years, we in the Maldives have accepted that we are a country with few natural resources. Our development policies were formulated and implemented with the underlying justification that the biggest challenge to our development was the highly dispersed nature of sparsely populated communities, over a vast spread of the ocean.
This being the case, it was seen as unfeasible to provide services and opportunities to every inhabited island. Priority was given to develop the capital island Male’ and subsequently, Vilingili or ViliMale’ (a resort island in the vicinity of Male’ changed to an inhabited island). Since then, we saw a huge stretch of land reclaimed near Male’, that is HulhuMale’, and the efforts to develop and relocate Maldivians to the artificial island of HulhuMale’. In recent years, we also witnessed a grand project in the lagoon of Gulhi nearby Male’. And today we witness the reclamation of land for HulhuMale Phase II.
These projects at creating artificial islands took place while there remained already existing natural land, undeveloped and underdeveloped, in the north, mid and south of Maldives. Development policies were formulated and implemented such that Maldivians were forced to abandon their land/homes and migrate to one corner of the country. The trend continues even today and at a much more alarming pace.
While we Maldivians accepted ours as a country with few natural resources and understood this factor as the most challenging to our development as a nation; the truth is that a select few individuals became powerful, wealthy oligarchs using the same “few” natural resources. It is also a reality that the gap between the rich and the poor continued to widen through the years. It is also an undeniable fact that the development disparity in income, services and opportunities are glaringly obvious between the capital and the atolls of he Maldives.
Maldivians are paying a high social and economic cost for development policies that enforce atoll populations to migrate to Male’ – the capital island, which today, is among the most congested places on earth.A place, burdened with environmental degradation and ever increasing crimes. Regardless, our development policies are still geared in that very same direction that has brought us to the present unsustainable, inequitable development. We are still pursuing policies and investing our finances to congest all Maldivians into one little corner of our archipelago, while abandoning the rest.
Today, we should ask ourselves what will happen to our birthright, i.e the land we leave behind and its natural capital, as we migrate to one corner of the country, in the perusal of better development opportunities and services. Today, we should question who will gain the benefits of the land, the lagoons, the reefs, the seas and other natural resources that we as Maldivians proudly thought belonged to us.”
Bengalese workers at the dump on Thilafushi island, the so-called “rubbish island” created to collect and burn all the garbage coming from the capital island Male and all the tourists resorts © Giulio Paletta