بســم اللّـه الرّحمـن الرّحيــم
اَلحَمْـدُ لِلّـهِ رَبّ العَـالَمِـين‘ وَالصّـلاة وَالسّلام علـى محـمَّدٍ‘ وعلى آلـه وصحبـه أجمعـين.
His Excellency Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UN WTO, Mr. Xu Jing, Director Regional Programmes for Asia & the Pacific Region, CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, United Nations Resident Coordinator;
Distinguished Experts, Industry Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen;
I am very pleased to welcome you all to the Maldives. We are particularly honoured that you have chosen our beautiful country to be the host of this year’s World Tourism Day event. It is particularly appropriate that we hold this event here this year for two reasons. First of all, because it is the 40th anniversary of tourism development in our country. Also because this year’s theme, “Tourism and Water – Protecting our common future,” is so pertinent to life in the Maldives.
As you can all see clearly, Maldives is fairly a big country with very small land mass. We extend over a thousand kilometres, and yet, we have very tiny, very small islands which comprise our country. So our country is mainly water and we survive and thrive over the years, as part of the ocean. We have been traditionally sailors, boat builders and fishermen, until 40 years ago we introduced tourism in this country. Since then we have raised our developmental efforts many steps higher as a result of the work that have been done in this industry. We still depend on the seas. Our attraction for this country is largely our beautiful beaches, crystal clear lagoons, very rich marine life. So we have a responsibility to protect these, for the survival of our country.
The tourism industry, the government and people of the Maldives, we are doing all we can to preserve and protect these natural gifts for our people.
As we celebrate this event in the Maldives, we cannot forget that Maldives is one of the most vulnerable countries to global changes, particularly climate change. Our oceans are at risks. Our islands are at risk. The climate change and global warming effects on Maldives are much more severe than most people imagine. It is also directly linked to the theme for this year’s event. I know that the main attention of today’s theme is not the oceans and lagoons, but rather water. Water security and sustainable futures.
But the specific problems that we face in the Maldives have to be understood in the context of small island ecology. Our people have lived on these islands for thousands of years, in small communities, largely dependent on fresh water from the ground. Our fresh water reserves in the inhabited islands are now in danger. We live on a 191 islands now, 113 of which are severely threatened by salt water intrusion and other forms of contamination. About half of our people today live on desalinated water, while half of the people on this country do not have access to quality drinking water. But the solutions are also here and the solutions are also found on the tourism sector. Over a hundred tourist resorts have solved many of the problems that we are facing as a result of climate change and global warming.
Most of the inhabited islands today are threatened by coastal erosion. This is also the case for many of the tourist resorts. But because the resorts are following a business model, which is seeking practical solutions to the problems that are faced. The industry is able to find solution. The coastal erosion problem is being addressed in the Maldives through a whole series of engineering solutions, that I think are particularly important, and lessons for the rest of the world. Most of the resorts are also threatened by coastal erosion. But they have come up with solutions, ranging from very soft engineering solutions to very expensive and complicated solutions. I hope that the industry itself will pay attention to the way the Maldives have been able to address this issue.
Similarly with water. Most of the resorts are now able to produce their own water and they have introduced technologies that are highly efficient and most advanced up to date technologies. But these technologies both in coastal erosion and water production are not adequately transferred for the development of local ideals. This is where I think the tourism industry can play a very important role. Because they are small islands, we are seeking small solutions that will cater to the small scale communities. I believe these solutions are found here. Sometimes they are expensive and therefore we have to also rely on traditional experiences. Maldives probably began water harvesting before most other communities. We relied on rain water for drinking purposes together with ground water. But this is no longer a solution. Because even rain water is contaminated and ground water is contaminated. But the solution involves tapping these resources along with reverse osmosis and other technologies can come up with integrated solutions for water management in the country that can be both affordable and sustainable.
So I hope that the tourism industry will be able to work with government and local communities to find such solutions. Within the tourism industry itself, there is more that can be done. Particularly, because Maldives is at the forefront of climate change debate, we have taken the initiative to draw attention to climate change and global warming issues in international fora. And if you have to continue with that, we must also become an example of what can be done.
Today, water is been flown around the world for tourist hotels and resorts all over. This water contributes to global warming because of the transportation methods. It also contributes to pollution. Much of the water is being bottled and transported in plastic. Tourism industry is trying to address this issue by producing their own water. Many of the resorts in the Maldives are currently doing it. Produce their own water and they bottle it in glass bottles.
Earlier this year, I together with Mr Richard Branson launched a global initiative on hotel water to encourage the resorts to produce their own water that would reduce CO2 emissions and also environmental pollution. I hope that all resorts take this seriously and that Maldives can also become an example to the rest of world in this particular contribution to water through the tourism industry.
So I cannot thank you enough for this initiative that tourism industry has taken globally to contribute to the global sustainable water development programme.
Also thank you especially for having these discussions in the Maldives. I look forward to the deliberations and recommendations coming from the experts group that will be meeting here. I hope that the recommendations will reflect some of the issues that are particularly acute for small countries like Maldives.
I am also pleased that today we will be launching our new Tourism Development Plan. For that I would like to congratulate and thank the honourable Minister of Tourism, also the staff of the Ministry of Tourism and all those who participated in its developments, particularly from the tourism industry.
Thank you once again for having this very important event in the Maldives. We are very privileged and really honoured. You are most welcome here. I hope you continue to return as our good friend, the Secretary General has done so already. I hope you continue to come more often and enjoy the Maldives, but also continue to support Maldives tourism development.
Thank you all for being here too. Wish you all the best.