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Little big country

Sunday, June 13th, 2010
HIS EXCELLENCY: President Nasheed queues up for tea with other participants after announcing his plan to phase out ozone-depleting substances by 2020.

HIS EXCELLENCY: President Nasheed queues up for tea with other participants after announcing his plan to phase out ozone-depleting substances by 2020.

Last week, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed announced that his country would phase out all ozone-depleting chemicals by 2020, ten years ahead of what is required of his country under the Montreal Protocol. In his speech, he thanked his predecessor President Gayoom for having taken the lead in climate change issues and putting the Maldives on the map.

This would be unheard of in Nepal: a leader complimenting a bitter political rival, especially someone who imprisoned and tortured and hounded him into exile.

But everything about ‘Anni’, as Maldivians affectionately call their president, shows that he is probably the only leader in our part of the world who hasn’t let the trappings of office get to him.

After giving his speech on Thursday in the resort island of Bandos, Nasheed stepped out for refreshments. He waited in line for tea, there were no sycophants and sidekicks trying to obsequiously usher him to the head of the queue. He waited like everyone else, and everyone left him alone because they knew he didn’t like the fuss.

Later, during an interview at his modest official residence in Male (he has refused to move into Gayoom’s luxurious presidential palace, which he has bequeathed to the Supreme Court) Nasheed denies he is doing this just for effect. “Integrity and equality must start at the top,” he explains, “but I am also trying to make sure that the government doesn’t cost the taxpayer more than it should.”

After he was elected to office in 2008, Nasheed drastically cut the size of the presidential secretariat, reducing its annual budget from 400 million rufias a year to 27 million ($1=12 rufiya). What a change from Kathmandu where the first priority for every new ruler is to increase the size of the cabinet, award themselves perks, facilities and junkets. Last year, Nasheed initially cancelled his trip to Copenhagen for the Climate Summit in order to save money and only decided to go after the Danish government insisted on hosting him.

It’s not just the president, most Maldivian ministers impress visitors with their grasp of the portfolios they head. The reason is that the president appoints technocrats to ministries, not cronies from his own party or members of parliament he needs to appease. Which is why the Maldivian minister of health has a PhD in nursing, the education minister has a PhD in education, the minister of the environment has a geography masters from New Zealand and the vice president is a public health doctor who once worked for UNICEF in Kathmandu.

WATER WORLD: The island of Male is a densely packed conglomerate of buildings that is the capital of an archipelago of nearly 2,000 islands spread over 90,000 sq km.

WATER WORLD: The island of Male is a densely packed conglomerate of buildings that is the capital of an archipelago of nearly 2,000 islands spread over 90,000 sq km.

President Nasheed has already announced that his country will be carbon neutral by 2020. This is a huge challenge: the diesel used in the inter-island ferry system and the country’s fishing fleet needs to be replaced with biofuels, tourists have to buy carbon offsets for flights to the Maldives and back, the resorts themselves need to be converted to renewable energy, and the country has ten years to replace all thermal power plants.

To be truly carbon neutral, the country also needs to phase out the chemical called HCFC that is used in refrigeration and airconditioners in the fisheries and tourism sectors. HCFCs are harmful to the ozone layer and are also potent greenhouse gases.

While Nasheed has become popular abroad for his pioneering environmental activism, it has become more difficult for him to sell the idea of cutbacks and phaseouts at home. Which is why to his own people he justifies the switch to renewables by saying it will bring down the country’s high electricity tariff.

The country is setting up its first carbon-neutral resort in the south of the archipelago, powered by wind and solar and using cold 4 degrees Celsius water from 4 km below the ocean’s surface for cooling equipment to replace air-conditioning. All this will take time, and till then the Maldives is collaborating with the Indian Bureau of Energy Efficiency to label household appliances to cut fuel use.

As Nasheed says: “What we do is not going to save the planet, but it will save us. And we can tell the world, look it works.”

After the interview, the President of the Maldives accompanies us to the street outside and walks along the sidewalk to his office a few blocks away.

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10 Responses to “Little big country”

  1. Geolog Munich on Says:

    Cute little piece, but Anni may find carbon neutrality easier to say than accomplish. Maldives will soon have 800,000 tourists, imagine how much carbon they will burn getting there no matter how much they pay to offset it. Wind and solar are both erratic power sources,solar demands battery storage. Even HCFC phaseout is impractical in 10 years, the alternatives are not yet available and HFCs is an even more destructive greenhouse gas. We wish the Maldives well, but Nasheed could well have bitten more than he can chew.

  2. YETI MAN on Says:

    What an inspirational figure; can u please translate this into Nepali and
    make sure that it is circulated widely enough so that it is read by those
    that need to read it, and the underlying message is at least conveyed.
    There will be those who get moved and influenced enough to think about it
    and start doing something (Imagine seeing Makune or Prachanda bike it to work!)

    Then there will be those that it will annoy, and those that will see
    a conspiracy hidden within the lines and try to read it backwards and claim
    it says…”Birendra is alive and well and long live Panchayat..” for that is
    the Nepali man’s burden to be cursed with twisted intellectualism and woe is
    he who tries to show us that there are people in the world who are actually
    doing good things……and of course we are sure to to see those two snobs of
    negativism, Jange and Arthur, expose their deepseated prejudices.

  3. Aim high on Says:

    If smaller countries can set an example for bigger ones it will be great. Even if he fails to bring Maldives to carbon neutrality by 2020, he would have done lots to improve his countries image abroad and in effect attract more green tourist. Presently a lot of westerners who travel to high end resorts look for pro environment themed holidays. Maldives could use battery powered boats as companies in China will be dominating the electric car market (Warren Buffet’s financed company BYD car company)and can easily adopt it in boat engines.

  4. Daniel Gajaraj on Says:

    “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”-Mahatma Gandhi.Nasheed leadership is leadership by example”.
    Guruji was telling his disciples not to eat bhanta on ekadasi day during his daily address.But was found himself eating bhanta on Ekadashi day at his residence when his deciples visited him at his house’ When asked for the reason for not observing his own edict The Guru said’Kitabko po na khane bhaneko bariko ta khanahunchha.”‘ Our socalled leaders are all like that guruji. Good leaders are the change agents,can stand for their beliefs and visions,are ethical and trustworthy citizens.We do,nt have leaders but bunch of imposters or impostors.Our socialists are unsocial and communists are communalists.

  5. KiranL on Says:

    When the Maldive ministers had an underwater meeting, our cabinet did a copycat meeting at Everest last year. But while the Maldives followed through on their comitment on reducing greenhouse gases, Nepal’s meeting was just for show. They gave speeches, spent tons of money and emitted tons of carbon and hot air. Nepal’s imports of petroleum and vehciles has tripled in the past 5 years. This is unsustainable. The prime minister and his cabinet should ride bicycles to work, or borrow Dixit’s Reva. No more slogans, no more speeches, let’s see some action in the next budget.

  6. Yen on Says:

    Hi Kunda, enjoyed this piece. I’ve just recently gotten back from Taiwan, which I believe is the only Chinese majority nation with a rather comprehensive recycling program enforced, and I’m so impressed by how recycling has become such an integral part of daily life. There is sorting and classifying of recyclables in almost every household and shop, right down to recycling plastic straw bags and probably even sweet wrappers. I was told by a taxi driver that there are environmental policemen who slap fines on people who indescriminately dump their trash without sorting out the recyclables (possible because Taiwan’s garbage collection system is pretty centralised) Recycling exists in Singapore but it is in no way, a way of life. Ironically, despite the emphasis Taiwanese authorities place on recycling, they are pretty lax in keeping up the air quality-tons of scooters everywhere causing air pollution. But still I just feel there are lots to learn from others…

  7. Daniel Gajaraj on Says:

    “Great movements or causes and little minds ill go together.” goes the saying.When great men are entrusted with any work ,they raise their work to greatness. for all the time our socalled politicians sought greatness by sticking to a big chair of authority and power. The people or the electorate of Nepal are guilty of putting great work of the nation building or man- making into the hands of small petty minded men. It is our bane. Gandhi spinning on the charkha imparted greatness to the humble charkha. Ghumne mechma andho manchhe.Persons like Nasheed develop an intrinsic greatness in themselves as citizens.We are all in Nepal but not of Nepal or for Nepal yet. Whithout this feeling how will we be effective in making excellent and progressive constitution.

  8. pradeep panthee on Says:

    i met maldivian for the first time in bangalore in 2007 during ma graduation. really great people . simple humble and friendly . optimistic about the change in the country. lucky them to have leader like anni. when will the leader of our country think beyond their personal interest …..

  9. Danny on Says:

    Nepal has not only diverse jats and jatis , they have more previledged class than in Rana Oligarcy ( jahaniya-tantr). We have a class of Maha-samants (The Great Fuedals) . This is no way to eradicate feudalism or samantabad, the clarion call of todays politicking.
    A retired IGP of Police gets 8 orderlies for his household servicing and accordingly the facility follows by ranks. They get vehicle and driver and even fuel support from police establishment and their chelas in police service.
    Retired C-in-C of the army gets at least 16 oderlies to run his household and similar perks. Generals on retirement also get benifits accordingly. Army officers wives get the priviledge even after the death of their husbands. Some ladies whose husband being army general as well as police chief get benifit from both organisation till today. in India even Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw in his ripe old age used to get only 2 orderlies; that too not directly from the army .He was paid salary amount for two personals, ; he had to recruit two out of that amount. No army personals are allowed to work as household servants ,washing dirty linens like in ganatantric Nepal.
    Retired politicians are getting unnecessary security escort with a full platoon of police equipped with machine guns and what not. They are using pirated limosines from public sector units like Nepal Bidyut Pradhikaran or Melamchi Khane(?) Pani Projects etc etc. Hugne lai bhanda dekhnelai laj!
    Almost 8000 army and police personals are wasted this way.d at the expense of the tax payers.Is,nt it a shame.Even agragami the saveiour of the Janata and the mahan-neta of the proliterians Comrade Prachanda rides a limosine costing 2 crore at the cost of the public exchaquer.
    This is all leading us instead of a Ganatantra to a Gun-tantra! /a KISTOCRACY!
    Who are our role models? Yatha Raja tatha praja. Mahajano yenagata sa panptha. (Everybody follows the leaders.) So Corruption is rampant; Corruption, Cronyism, Collusion, Connivanceand Consideration for a NEW CLASS have become the order of the day like never before.
    Can a nation be built without a sense of renunciation and service?Walk the talk.Practice what you preach. Do not make a promise knowing it is to be broken.Mahatma Gandhis daily expense was six pice a day at that time also a paltry sum.’Tena tektena bhunjitha mah grithah ksya swid dhanam.’ -Isha 1-1
    (enjoy life through renunciation,lust not after others possession.). Send them to Maldive fo a week end purification drill.

  10. dr on Says:

    Finally, a country like Maldives has given this ignorant world a perfect example of “Action speaks louder than the talk”. Bravo Maldives! Nepal and Nepali leaders doesn’t have such genes in their brain, they only have cancer cells of corruption and self-interest.

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