بســم اللّـه الرّحمـن الرّحيــم
Thank you for that warm welcome and of course it is my duty also to welcome you all to this gathering. I am really pleased and grateful that you have taken initiative to organize this breakfast meeting here.
As you heard earlier this is my first visit to Sri Lanka, since I assumed responsibilities of the President of the Maldives. And I would like to particularly thank Mr Hussain Hashim, President of Sri Lanka-Maldives Bilateral Business Council. I want to thank distinguished colleagues who are here from Sri Lanka side. Particularly, the honorable Minister for Commerce and Industry, and the government of Sri Lanka, and our Senior Minister Honorable Mr Fauzee, the Foreign Secretary and other distinguished colleagues who are here this morning.
First of all I want to give you a bit of good news. The good news is that Maldives is not about to disappear. I think many investors have been really worried about the doomsday scenario that has been coming out, sometimes from Maldives itself but also from some international organizations, are not minimizing the impacts of climate change on Maldives.
Maldives, is a very special place, it has a very delicate environment, very sensitive to changes in climate. So of course it is being affected. But I seriously believe, and on the basis of technical and scientific information that we have, that we will be able to manage climate change in the Maldives and prolong the life for the islands and for our life on these islands.
It’s a very delicate environment as I said. So the changes to the weather are causing some damages to coastal areas. It is also affecting ground water and coastal protection. The government is investing heavily in our development budget to protect shore lines and also to provide sewerage systems and safe drinking water in all the islands.
As you probably know, we live on nearly 200 islands. Some of them are really small. Most of them are actually very small and under 1000 people. This is not a development strategy that is sustainable in the long run, particularly as the expectations of our populations increase and when our country is developing quite fast. So in the future most of the population in the Maldives will have to live, by necessity, in larger population centers in larger islands.
Already the greater Male’ area has nearly a 3rd of the population. There are other population centers that are emerging in the South, in the North and in Central Southern regions. Now as this process begins to happen many smaller islands will also get freed up for other economic activities. That is already beginning to happen. For companies that are particularly interested in addressing this issue and enabling this population movement and the development process, these new islands that are being freed up will become available for commercial activities.
Tourism is clearly the biggest industry now. It didn’t used to be the biggest industry. I think Mr Hashim here will testify to that. At one point Maldives had a fairly large shipping industry. For a small country it was quite amazing that the Maldives’ shipping fleet was nearly close to a 100 ships.
Today it’s literally disappeared. And for an island nation it is a very serious issue because it connects the islands to the rest of the world. Particularly for importation and exportation of certain commodities. Air travel is not the most appropriate for that. So we are again looking at possibilities for reviving our shipping industry. With the experience of cooperation that we have had between Maldives and Sri Lanka, I think we should re-examine the possibilities for that.
The tourism sector has now emerged as the number one sector. But as the Minister was alluding to, we have a very specific product. It’s a premium high-end product so far. And we have been trying also to use the experience of the developments in tourism sector for future development of the country in terms of the models, in term of the innovation and experience that the tourism industry brings.
We are beginning to see that more resorts, more hotels are beginning to be eco-friendly, beginning to look at ways of making tourism more sustainable. And what is being learnt there is going to be useful for the development of other communities as well.
One such area is clearly management of waste. It is a major challenge for the country at the moment. But also adoption of new technologies like solar energy. The country is so heavily dependent on fossil fuels, particularly importation of diesel for generation of electricity, and for transportation that it is become a major portion of our public expenditure. With rising oil prices it’s getting to the point where it is totally unsustainable, and it is going to debilitate Maldives’ development.
So for us it is an economic necessity now that we begin to seriously invest in renewables, particularly solar.