Thursday, November 29, 2007

Broadband revolutionizes education on remote Maldives atolls

Maldives, 26 November 2007 – In a historical event for the Maldives today, the country is launching 20 broadband-enabled, child-friendly learning centres, which link 20 of the country's atolls.

Supported by UNICEF, the connected Teacher Resource Centres (TRCs) will create a virtual learning environment accessible throughout the Maldives.

Because this Indian Ocean archipelago is made of 1,200 small islands – 200 of which are inhabited – up to 80 per cent of teacher-training costs are related to transportation. As a result, many teachers remain untrained. The TRCs will greatly alleviate these logistical problems, reaching teachers and children that are otherwise hard to reach.

"It's down to basics. Transport is costly, making it expensive and often dangerous for children to travel between islands to get a better education and for teachers to upgrade their skills," said UNICEF Representative in the Maldives Ken Maskall.

‘A child-friendly teacher’

On remote Rashdoo Island, teacher Asina Ahmed connects to the Internet and uses a ‘smart board’ with a touch-sensitive screen to liven up a math class. The teacher invites Aishath Zayba Ismail, 8, to count the number of cherries in a fruit basket. Ismail approaches, places her hand over the images and glides each cherry across the white board. With a special pen she writes the words 'four cherries' on the screen.

Before the Internet and smart board arrived, there was no interactive learning in Rashdoo Island. Now, broadband connectivity across the atolls has enabled new learning methods to take off, making classrooms fun while fostering children's communications skills.

"The Internet and smart board have made me a child-friendly teacher," said Asina Ahmed. "The lessons are e-mailed each day and I can use the Internet to show children simple things – like what a cherry tree farm looks like – unlike a photograph in a text book."

Connecting remotely

Literacy rates in the Maldives exceed 90 per cent, with nearly all children receiving some form of primary education. However, the enrolment rate in secondary school drops sharply. UNICEF estimates that more than 30 per cent of Maldivian teachers are untrained; many islands have up to 100 pupils per trained primary-school teacher.

Even though some 70 per cent of the population live on islands far from the capital, the TRCs will make it possible for them to connect remotely. Rashdoo is just 1 of the 20 islands to be connected so far.

Rashdoo Island's chief, Mohamed Shafi, is a former teacher himself and believes that the new technology has reduced the frustration of learning for many students. "The smart board has brought the world to our children's feet," Mr. Shafi said.

Source: UNICEF

4th UNESCO regional conference begins Thursday

UNESCO Regional Conference on Global Literacy begins in New Delhi on Thursday.

It is being organised by the India's Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of School Education and Literacy with UNESCO begins Thursday at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi with the participation of Ali Bagherzadeh Faroji, Vice Minister for General Education of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Education and Finance Ministers of the 14 countries of the region namely, Islamic Republic of Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are among the other dignitaries expected to attend the two day conference which will be inaugurated by M A A Fatmi, Minister of State, Ministry of Human Resource Development of India.

The First Ladies from 10 countries namely, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan have been invited to participate in the conference. As Goodwill Ambassadors, the First Ladies would play a vital role to promote literacy in the entire region.

UPA chairperson, Ms Sonia Gandhi will be the Chief Guest of the inaugural session of the two day conference, whereas Ms Mahashweta Devi, Jnanapeeth award winner and recipient of Saraswathi Samman, will be the keynote speaker.

The Conference is of utmost importance for UNESCO and its member States and partners in their effort to achieve the goals of Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to fulfill their commitments to the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD) and the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD).

The Delhi Conference is important for the Indian sub-continent because 3 highly populated countries among E-9 countries namely, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan continue to face major literacy challenges, including the sheer number of illiterates.

In addition to a serious gender gap, there is a high urban-rural disparity. As a key instrument for lifelong learning, indispensable for effective participation in social and economic life and essential for peace, literacy is a crucial issue in the region.

The countries of South and South West Asia have the highest number of illiterates in the world, and out of the 388 million adults in this region who cannot read and write 63.5 per cent are women.

The Conference will organize Five Roundtable presentations on main challenges, trends, gaps, achievements and innovations in the region and make recommendations on how to promote literacy.

The five main issues to be addressed in the conference are:
"Literacy and Gender", "Literacy Policies and Strategies, Costs & Financing", "Programme Content and Delivery", "Monitoring & Evaluation of Literacy" and "Coalition and Partnership-Building for Literacy and Non Formal Education (NFE)".

Source: IRNA

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Commonwealth Summit 'Did Not Do Enough' On Climate Change

Island states have complained that the issue of global warming was not given sufficient attention at the just-concluded Commonwealth summit in Uganda, saying their low-lying nations were the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, particularly rising sea levels.

"Global warming is close to our hearts," said Seychelles Foreign Minister, Noellin Alexander. "We [island states] are the majority members of the Commonwealth, but we are the most vulnerable to global warming as it threatens our very survival. It was, however, given little attention at the meeting," he said.

Mohamed Asim, a delegate from the Maldives, said his country was severely threatened by rising sea levels. "Our islands are lowlands and any continued rising sea level will have dire consequences for our country. We [should] rather work together to stop this threat," he said.

Many delegates from small island states wanted the Commonwealth summit, held in the Ugandan capital on 23-24 November, to end with binding commitments by members to tackle the effects of global warming, ahead of the international conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia, in December.

"We are not after announcements and statements, but concrete and practical programmes to change the situation as far as global warming is concerned," said Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Singapore's senior minister of state for foreign affairs.

Under the UN Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012, parties are obliged to reduce the emission of harmful gases - mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, blamed for a rise in global warming - by about 5 percent of 1990 emission levels.

The Commonwealth summit came up with a Climate Change Action Plan aimed at helping achieve a comprehensive post-2012 global greenhouse emissions agreement.

"We are conscious that climate change is a direct threat to the very survival of some Commonwealth countries, notably small island states. We are also conscious of the threat to low-lying coastal regions. Climate change can undermine our continuing efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. We recognise that the cost of inaction on mitigation and adaptation is far greater than the cost of early action," the plan document stated.

It also noted that actions to stem climate change should not deprive developing countries of the possibility of sustainable economic development.

"On the contrary, measures to tackle the impacts of climate change should support the positive economic and social transformation of societies. In particular, the easing of population pressure on agricultural land and the successful development of secondary and tertiary sectors in economies requires the provision of clean energy."

The outgoing Commonwealth Secretary-General, Don McKinnon, described the declaration on climate change as "quite a leap forward".

Source: All Africa

Monday, November 26, 2007

For Chinese, South Korean exhibitors, trade fair means business

India International Trade Fair (IITF), pitted as one of Asia's largest trade shows, is becoming a coveted platform for Chinese and South Korean traders for doing business as well as understanding the consumer's mind.

Compared to 36 last year, this time the IITF has attracted foreign exhibitors from as many as 44 countries, representing over 100 companies.

'We have been participating since 2001 and every year we are experiencing good business. I think it has lot to do with such a booming economy. People now have more money in hand to spend - which is good for us!' laughs Xie Dabin, a Chinese exhibitor.

Unlike other years, the 14-day event this year had only the first two days exclusively for business and the other 12 days for the general public.

Even though the fair is open till Nov 27, all the South Korean exhibitors and almost half of the Chinese participants have already wrapped up their business and left.

China and South Korea have put up stalls showcasing mainly consumer durables, electronic goods and engineering products.

Luke Jing, another Chinese participant who had been coming since 2004, told IANS: 'Yes, it's true that some of the Chinese exhibitors have gone back but it is not because they did not do good business.

'They bring limited goods and when that gets all sold it makes no sense to stay for all the days.'

Luke also lauded the new rule of having the first two days exclusively for business devoid of any general crowd. He said that IITF helps them understand the changing preferences of Indian consumers.

Sheela Bhide, chairman and managing director, India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO), reiterated what Luke said.

'This is the normal practice of the South Korean and Chinese participants. They set a specific target for themselves in terms of sales and revenues. Once they meet that they leave, but they have paid for the stalls for the 14 days,' Bhide told IANS.

'This way we are able to manage the crowds properly and business people too don't face any problems. They had two exclusive days to them, and moreover this year we have made special arrangements for one-on-one interactions, special business lounges for important meetings to take place,' Bhide said.

Countries that have participated in this year's IITF are Britain, US, Australia, Singapore, Germany, China, Afghanistan, Belarus, Belgium, Bhutan, Brazil, South Korea, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Egypt, Taiwan, Switzerland, Syria, Tanzania, UAE, Holland, Iran, Indonesia, Kuwait, Vietnam, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Surinam, Spain, Turkey and Thailand.

The fair is attracting over 120,000 visitors daily, of which more than 1,200 are business visitors discussing deals and large scale transactions.

Apart from the Chinese and South Korean stalls, stealing the show this year is Afghanistan, coordinated by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with lip-smacking dry fruits, watermelons, besides carpets and fabrics.

'Every year, I come to this place with my whole family. The best part is, one gets everything under one roof. Sometimes the crowd is too much but then it's worth coming here,' said Parkash Singh Sodhi, a visitor from Punjab.

Source: India PR Wire

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Maldives moves up in FIFA Rankings

Maldives has moved up 25 places in the monthly rankings issued by FIFA, moving to the 149th place. This is the biggest leap that Maldives has ever experienced in FIFA ranking in such a short time. The Maldives National Team had recently won two significant matches, against Yemen in the World Cup Qualifying match in Male’ and against Malaysia in a Friendly match, which contributed to the rise.

Despite the rise, India still holds the lead position in the region in the 145th position, the same position they were in last month. India was knocked-out of the World Cup Qualifying by Lebanon.

Pakistan moved up 15 places to the 166th position while Sri Lanka remains in the 169th place. Bangladesh, which had beat Maldives to win the cup in SAF Championship 2003, fell one place to the 173 position. Nepal is in 187th position, and Afghanistan, the newest addition to the SAARC countries, is in the 189th position. Bhutan brings up the rear in the 198th position.

Source: Haveeru Online and Fifa

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Realpolitik rules

A BILLBOARD welcoming newcomers to the “world’s largest democracy” has long greeted those crossing the land border from Pakistan into India at Wagah in Punjab.

India takes justifiable pride in its democratic credentials. Yet the pluralist principles that India follows so proudly at home seem to be playing an ever less important role in its foreign policy—at least in its immediate neighbourhood.

This is not surprising. Some Indians see their country as a lone beacon of democracy surrounded by an arc of autocracies. That may be unfair to Sri Lanka. But India’s other neighbours are under emergency rule (Pakistan, Bangladesh), engaged in delicate transitions from monarchy (Nepal, Bhutan) or long-standing dictatorships (China, Myanmar, and the tiny Maldives).

Were India to make a lot of noise about its neighbours’ politics, it would be accused of interference and bullying. So it errs on the side of reticence.

Take its reaction to recent events in Myanmar and Pakistan. When General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan imposed, in effect, martial law on November 3rd, India was restrained: “We regret the difficult times that Pakistan is passing through,” said a foreign-ministry spokesman, as if Pakistan were a wayward teenager in need of a little love and understanding.

There was no direct criticism of the coup and only the faintest endorsement of “democracy” as a possible solution to Pakistan’s woes.

At such a sensitive moment, virtual silence may have been the only prudent response. But the government has been criticised for its equally circumspect response to the Myanmar ruling junta’s violent suppression of monk-led anti-government protests in September.

India’s foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, expressed the hope that “all sides will resolve their issues peacefully through dialogue”. He said the “process of national reconciliation initiated by the authorities”—a reference, presumably, to the passage of a constitution designed to entrench military rule—“should be expedited”.

There was no condemnation of the violence, no hint of support for the protesters’ aims, and no criticism of the junta.

This was in sharp contrast to the moral and practical support India extended to the Burmese opposition after its failed uprising in 1988. Many Indians admired Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, who once lived in India, where her mother was Burma’s ambassador. India was generous in taking in refugees from the conflict.

So India’s refusal to speak out on behalf of the beleaguered Burmese opposition struck some as a betrayal. Having already lost some influence—and access to natural gas—in Myanmar to China, India seemed loth to jeopardise its recent improvement in relations with the junta. Even Myanmar’s partners in the Association of South-East Asian Nations—and China itself—were more critical.

Similarly, there were complaints this month when the ruling Congress party told its officials and ministers to stay away from a function in Delhi to “felicitate” the Dalai Lama. Tibet’s spiritual leader and some 100,000 of his followers have made their home in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959.

Some suggested that the ban was part of a deal to secure Chinese support for India’s controversial (and stalled) nuclear-technology deal with America.

Those who would like to see India follow an “ethical” foreign policy, sticking firm to its oppressed friends such as Myanmar’s democrats and the Dalai Lama’s followers, find such calculations shameful.

Indian diplomats, however, have a robust defence: at least India does not pick and choose between “good” and “bad” autocrats. The West has propped up General Musharraf, seeing its strategic interests served by his staying in power, and has backed an unelected regime in Bangladesh. It is hesitant to threaten sanctions in China, where it has huge commercial interests. Myanmar, where it has none, is a soft target.

The pragmatism of India’s foreign policy upsets idealists. But at least it is consistent.

Source: Economist

Sushi aiding bigeye tuna stock fall

Worldwide stocks of bigeye tuna, a prime source for Japanese restaurants serving sushi and sashimi around the world, are on the verge of collapse from overfishing, a report released yesterday said.

The wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, which is part-run by the conservation group WWF, said a collapse would have a profound effect on fishing fleets as well as on processing and trading industries in Japan and Taiwan.

Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Maldives, which provide processing centres for large vessels and also have fleets of small fishing boats, could also be affected.

"Science demands a sharp reduction in the catch of the bigeye tuna, but over the past decade this advice has been ignored," said Simon Cripps, director of the WWF's International Marine Programme.

He called on member countries of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to agree on a 14 per cent cut "before it is too late", ahead of their meeting in Guam next month.

Organisations that regulate fishing on the high sea have been generally slow to respond to scientists' advice and have failed to address the problem of overfishing of the bigeye, the study said.

Three days ago campaigners said stocks of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna, another staple of Japanese cuisine, were facing exhaustion because of overfishing.

Greenpeace and the WWF said a collapse of the bluefin seemed certain after the international supervisory body for the fish, ICCAT, failed to agree on cutting quotas at a meeting in Turkey last week.

A decline in bluefin stocks has increased demand for the bigeye which is also excessively fished in the Indian and Atlantic oceans and the Western and Central Pacific, the report added.

Source: Reuters

Maldives police hunt for second bomb

Maldivian authorities are searching for a second bomb believed to have been part of a plot by Islamic extremists to attack the country's vital tourism industry, police said Thursday.

Militants had planned to set off a second bomb almost simultaneously with a first blast which hurt 12 foreign tourists on 29 September in the capital Male, police said.

"We are acting on an intelligence tip off after we arrested eight more suspects in connection with the Sultan Park bomb," assistant police commissioner Abdullah Riyaz told AFP by telephone from Male.

"We don't know the whereabouts of the bomb, but we are looking for it very hard," Riyaz said.

The Maldives has been on high alert since Islamic militants struck in a religiously motivated attack on the tourism industry, which accounts for a third of the country's economy.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has ruled since 1978, has ordered a crackdown on religious dissent, banning women from wearing the full veil and foreign preachers as well as closing down unlicensed Muslim prayer groups.

Gayoom also ordered the strict enforcement of the Religious Unity Act which forbids prayer in non-government mosques.

On Tuesday, the government charged three Maldivians linked to the bombing under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They were accused of "causing bodily harm, with the intention of creating fear or terror," and for making and using explosive substances, Riyaz said.

"State prosecutor Hussain Shameen also asked court for a maximum 15-year jail sentence," he said adding that 13 other Maldivian nationals will be charged under the same act in relation to the blast.

Riyaz said three were in detention, but the remainder on the run and believed to be in Pakistan.

Police are also investigating possible links with foreign militant groups after the Indian press reports highlighted that some of the suspects had links to a Kashmiri separatist group.

Source: AFP

New York, Tokyo May Follow Maldives Underwater

Wine grapes don't grow very well in the Maldives. Actually, other than coconuts and bananas, not much does.

Yet this tropical paradise has something in common with the world's oldest vineyards. Not the grapes -- the rose bushes. Vintners often surround their vines with more fragile vegetation as a kind of alarm system. If some kind of disease emerges, it will show up on the bushes on the periphery first.

The same is true of the Maldives with regard to the forces of climate change. A crude analogy perhaps, yet one to which politicians and investors should pay more attention. Our global rose bushes are flashing warning signs.

``We are on the front lines,'' fisherman Akbar Ibrahim, 48, recently told me in Male, the Maldives capital, while preparing to head out to sea. ``I hope we are sending signals out across the world.''

The average elevation of this 1,200-island nation in the Indian Ocean is 1.5 meters (59 inches) above sea level. Home to 330,000, the Maldives was reminded of its vulnerabilities during the tsunami of December 2004. Most of the nation was underwater for a few minutes.

Since then, President Abdul Gayoom has stepped up efforts to get rich nations to reduce greenhouse gasses and reverse global warming. Last week, he hosted a meeting of small island nations to find a common strategy to halt trends that threaten to submerge them.

``The projected rise in sea levels by the end of this century could mean that our islands may become uninhabitable,'' said Gayoom, who has long worried that rising temperatures and melting ice caps will precipitate the ``death of a nation.''

Good News

The good news is that the world is listening. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore sharing this year's Nobel Peace Prize with a United Nations panel was a huge boost. Another important step came Nov. 17 when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned governments they will have to spend billions of dollars annually to slow warming and adapt to its effects.

``Slowing and reversing these threats is the defining challenge of our age,'' UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week.

The bad news is that it's easier said than done. By 2100, the panel said, sea levels might rise as much as 59 centimeters (23 inches) and temperatures could increase 6.4 degrees Celsius (11.5 degrees Fahrenheit) thanks to greenhouse-gas emissions. These projections may even prove conservative; it could all happen much sooner.

Bad News

Yet the odds favor the status quo as leaders from Washington to Beijing realize the magnitude of the steps necessary.

A report last year by former World Bank economist Nicholas Stern found that failure to invest now might cut global gross domestic product by 5 percent to 20 percent. The longer leaders wait, the more expensive things will become and the more detrimental it will be to bond and stock markets.

Bold and rapid action is needed; world leaders are still only talking. Even as leaders such as U.S. President George W. Bush talk more seriously about climate change, there are too many reasons for pessimism to list here.

Bush's unwillingness to force Americans to conserve energy more comes to mind. So does the way many Asian governments plan to fuel their economies for years to come with so-called clean coal. It's a marginal improvement over conventional coal, yet Asia must pursue cleaner energies, not other fossil fuels.

Dodgy Air

Consider, too, Tata Motors Ltd.'s plan to introduce a car priced at about 100,000 rupees ($2,474) in 2008. While great news for emerging-market consumers, it's dismal news for Asia's air quality. Imagine how things will look when 500 million Chinese and 500 million Indians own cars and a couple of air conditioners.

Or consider Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal buying an Airbus SAS A380 superjumbo jet for personal use. That $319 million purchase in being financed by a lack of energy conservation and efficiency. Just as there are magazine-cover curses that signal peaks in markets, there are purchases that epitomize the hubris of our times. This has got to be one of them.

We need ``political, economic and moral leadership to address climate change,'' said Amjad Abdulla, assistant director of the Maldives Ministry of Environment, Energy and Water. ``Failure to address these challenges will have devastating consequences for human rights, homes, livelihoods and, ultimately, human lives.''

Bigger Targets

Well before that happens, the Maldivian economy might be devastated. Rising ocean temperatures threaten the nation's famed coral reefs. That would take out the two biggest industries of South Asia's richest economy: tourism and fishing.

The more we fill up our sport-utility vehicles and pump industrial waste into our skies without a second thought, the less chance low-lying nations have of surviving. If you're still wondering why you should care, consider this: Once the Maldives is underwater, rising sea levels will start encroaching on far bigger targets such as Jakarta, Mumbai, New York, Shanghai and Tokyo.

The world can pretend there's no crisis; our global rose bushes show one is indeed budding.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Source: Bloomberg

Three men on terror charges over Maldives bombing

Three men in the Maldives were charged under the state's terrorism act on Tuesday in connection with a bomb attack which wounded 12 tourists in September, officials said.

State prosecutor Hussain Shameen said he would seek the maximum 15-year jail sentence in the first such case in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Ahmed Naseer and Moosa Inas stand accused of planting the bomb, which detonated in the capital Male's Sultan Park as a tour group of mainly Chinese nationals entered the garden. Police say the third man, Mohamed Sobah, helped make the bomb.

Inas, Naseer and Sobah are charged under the Maldives Prevention of Terrorism Act with "causing bodily harm, with the intention of creating fear or terror," and the production and use of explosive substances.

Thirteen other Maldivian nationals will be charged under the same act in relation to the blast, according to the Attorney-General's Office. Three are in detention, but police say the remainder are on the run in Pakistan. (Reporting by Ajay Makan; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

Source: Reuters

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Climate change conference closes in Maldives

The island states conference on climate change closed late Wednesday in the Maldivian island of Kurumba after adopting a declaration calling for immediate and affective action to protect them from the increasing threats of climate change, according to local media Thursday.

The declaration noted these countries' extreme vulnerability to climate change and expressed their commitment to an inclusive process that puts people, their property, homes, survival and rights at the center of the climate change debate, the Foreign Ministry of the Maldives said Thursday in its official website.

The 23 participating island states requested the human dimension of global climate change to be included in the agenda of the 13th United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled to be held in Bali, Indonesia from Dec. 3 to 14.

The meeting, with the theme of "Human Dimension of Global Climate Change", was opened Tuesday in the Maldivian capital of Male by Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Source: Xinhua News

Maldives moves against veiled women, jihadis

State-run television in the Maldives has been ordered not to employ women who cover their heads and to stop praising Palestinian suicide bombers, a government minister told AFP. The measures are part of a package of restrictions designed to stem a feared spread of militant Islam that could damage the Indian Ocean archipelago’s status as a top destination for rich tourists. “We have instructed Television Maldives to stop hiring female anchors who wear headscarves and not show fully veiled women, even in news reports,” Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed said in an interview late Tuesday. He said state-run television had also been ordered to no longer refer to Palestinian suicide bombers as “jihadis” - and to cease glorifying “holy war”. “We are taking off panellists on programmes who are not moderate, going through scripts, checking terminology to make sure there is no language that contains extremist kinds of things,” he said. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ordered a crackdown on radicalism after a bomb attack in the capital Male on September 29 wounded a British honeymoon couple, eight Chinese and two Japanese tourists. “Tourism has since recovered. There was a slight dip after the blast. But we can’t afford another blast, it will kill the industry,” Nasheed said. “We can’t afford to ignore the rise of extremism in the country. We can’t afford to look back thousands of years, or go back to that era,” he added. Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid also argued that covered-up women were a security risk. “It’s purely a security issue, people have a right to know the identity of those around them, especially when they enter public buildings, government offices,” he said. “People are free to cover up elsewhere.” Other measures include cracking down on underground mosques and preventing firebrand preachers from working in the chain of 1,192 tiny islands. But the opposition Islamic party, Adalaath, called the restrictions a disgrace. “We have asked women who want to wear the veil not to obey the court ruling. Its a denial of their basic religious freedom, the right to seek justice,” said Mohamed Didi, chairman of the Adalaath Party. “The Maldives is one of the few 100 percent Muslim countries. Those who passed this law should be ashamed of themselves,” he said. afp

Banyan Tree ‘grows’ on Palawan Island

Singapore-based hotel and resort operator Banyan Tree Holdings Ltd. will invest $80 million in building two hotels in Palawan, which are expected to be completed in 2010.

Ho Kwon Ping, the executive chairman of Banyan Tree, said this initial investment is a portion of a major long-term investment plan by Banyan Tree in the Philippines, adding the company may expand to other parts of the country to build similar businesses.

“The plan is to have an integrated chain of hotels and resort in the country as what we did in other countries. We want to have similar business in the Philippines because we believe that this country has the potential to compete not only in the region but also throughout the world,” Ho said during a press conference in MalacaƱang.

Putting up an integrated chain of hotels will have an overall cost of between $700 million to $800 million, Ho said, adding his company could employ as many as 8,000 Filipinos once an integrated hotel business is put in place.

The company is already running a similar chain of hotels and resorts in Vietnam and Thailand. It has seven hotels in Thailand that directly employ 4,000 people.

Banyan Tree’s plan in the Philippines will be similar to its business in Thailand.

But while the country’s tourism potential is world-class, Ho said there is still a need for the government to invest in building additional infrastructure such as roads, airports and seaports.

“This country already has infrastructure that is way ahead of its Asian neighbors but more investment in this area is needed. Its potential in tourism is superb: it has the excellent food, natural resources, and culture. What you need is additional infrastructure,” he said.

Banyan Tree, which already invested before in the Philippines, considered returning to the country after President Arroyo visited Singapore last year.

Ho said the Department of Tourism assisted them in choosing Palawan as the best location for their business.

The company also operates in India, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Maldives and Seychelles.

Source: The Manila Times By Angelo S. Samonte

Overcoming Vulnerability to Rising Oil Prices

A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report ''Overcoming Vulnerability to Rising Oil Prices: Options for Asia and the Pacific'' says Pacific island countries are amongst the most vulnerable in the Asia-Pacific region, and the poor are being pushed further into poverty as a result of this situation.

It emphasised that this is because of the Pacific islands countries' dependence on imported petroleum products for transportation and electricity production; they comprise small markets, they have the added burden of higher oil shipping costs to distant markets and the impact of rising oil prices on their economic growth.

The report developed the Oil Price Vulnerability Index (OPVI), which ranks countries in terms of their economic strength and performance, and the extent to which this growth depends upon imported oil.

The OPVI ranks Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in the group of most vulnerable countries.

Out of 24 Asia-Pacific countries initially included in the OPVI, Vanuatu is ranked as the second most vulnerable country only to the Maldives, also a Small Island Developing State (SIDS). Papua New Guinea, mainly because it is an oil producer is ranked a medium vulnerable country.

Source: Fiji Times Online

Monday, November 12, 2007

Maldives seek Interpol help to arrest terror suspects

The Maldives is seeking Interpol's help to arrest 10 of its nationals, wanted in connection with a bomb blast in the capital Male, who have fled to Pakistan, police said.

The calm of the paradise holiday destination was shattered in September when Islamic radicals set off a home-made bomb, wounding 12 foreign tourists.

Police arrested six of 16 Maldivians believed to be linked to the attack, but said another 10 escaped to Pakistan.

"The Attorney General's office has given us the court order and we have now asked Interpol to issue a red notice," Maldives police spokesman Ahmed Shiyam told AFP in Colombo by telephone.

A red notice allows an arrest warrant to be circulated worldwide, with the intent that the person will be extradited, according to Interpol's website.

Shiyam did not say what charges the suspects might face.

The September 29 bombing occurred outside Sultan Park in Male, wounding a British honeymoon couple, two Japanese and eight Chinese on a city tour.

The two prime suspects, Abdul Latheef Ibrahim and Ali Shameem, fled the Maldives with the help of an immigration officer who is now in custody, Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdullah Riyaz said.

Police in the Muslim nation said those detained received training in assembling bombs at Pakistani madrassas, or religious schools.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said the blast was the first terrorist attack in the Indian Ocean island chain, and has unveiled tough measures to combat Islamic extremism and to protect its vital upmarket tourism industry.

Gayoom, who has ruled the Maldives with an iron fist since 1978, banned fundamentalists from conducting religious services and foreign clerics from entering the country without permission.

Home to about 300,000 Sunni Muslims, the Maldives is a chain of 1,192 coral islands scattered across 850 kilometres (550 miles).

About 600,000 tourists visit the country each year. Tourism and a successful tuna fishing industry has pushed per capita incomes to nearly 2,700 dollars, making the Maldivians the richest country in South Asia.

Source: AFP

Maldives says 10 bomb suspects now in Pakistan

Maldives police said on Thursday 10 suspects in a September bomb attack that wounded 12 foreign tourists were on the run in Pakistan and they were seeking Interpol assistance to arrest the fugitives.

The 10 men planned the bombing and flew to Pakistan in the weeks preceding the September 29 attack near a mosque in the Maldives' capital Male, police said.

"They masterminded the bombing and then fled to Pakistan," a police spokesman said.

Eleven suspects are in custody on the Indian Ocean islands in connection with the attack which struck tourists at the entrance to the popular Sultan Park.

Three of the men have confessed to police that they planted the device to "target, attack and injure non-Muslims, to fulfil jihad", the spokesman said.

Two of the suspects in Pakistan, Ali Shameem and Abdul Latheef Ibrahim, both Maldives nationals, were on a travel blacklist after family members voiced concerns about their intention to travel to Pakistan to train for militant attacks.

They slipped out of the country with the assistance of an immigration officer who has been arrested, police said.

"Several of the fugitives, as well as some of the suspects detained in the Maldives, received training in bomb making in Pakistani madrasas (Islamic schools)," the police spokesman said.

The Maldives has practised a moderate form of Islam uninterrupted for seven centuries. But fears of extremism have grown in recent years.

Extradition orders have been prepared and Pakistani police have been alerted through Interpol, the spokesman said. At home, police have asked the state to prosecute 16 men, including one minor. Some of those on the run may face trial in absentia.

The chain of over a thousand islands straddling the Equator is home to more than 80 upmarket resorts, attracting more than 500,000 tourists last year.

The tourism industry accounts for two thirds of GDP by some estimates, and is the primary source of foreign currency.

The Maldives government banned travel to Pakistan for study in madrasas over a decade ago, and earlier this year sent its first counter-terror officers to Singapore for training.

In the aftermath of the blast, which injured two Britons, two Japanese and eight Chinese, more than 60 men were rounded up from a single island, a third of the adult male population, after a pitched battle outside a mosque.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in power since 1978, has announced plans to ban the full veil and prevent foreign preachers entering the country. The proposals have been fiercely criticised by religious scholars and an increasingly popular conservative Islamic political party.

Source: Reuters

Religious tension hits Maldive Islands, a hot spot for tycoons, superstars

While vacationing tycoons and bikini-clad Hollywood superstars blissfully sipped drinks on the Maldives' secluded white beaches, an Islamic revolution fueled by preachers trained in Pakistan and the Middle East was brewing.

On Sept. 29, the two faces of the Maldives collided when a homemade bomb exploded in a park in the capital, Male, wounding 12 tourists, threatening the critical resort industry and sending the clear message that even this remote corner of paradise is not immune to terrorism.

The attack, and a bloody confrontation days later between police and masked Islamic extremists armed with harpoons, stunned this Indian Ocean nation and threatened its careful effort to balance its traditionally moderate Islamic heritage with liberal Western values.

The government reacted swiftly to crush the fundamentalist movement that had risen amid the palm trees and crystal blue waters of its 1,190 coral islands. Authorities banned the veil, arrested scores of suspected extremists, sealed underground mosques and promised a crackdown on radical preachers.

"We are not taking chances," Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed said.

So far, the violence has not frightened off the tourists, who account for one-third of the economy, he said. But "if there is another attack, then we just close tourism here. And we can't afford that," he said.

By far the most prosperous country in south Asia, with a per capita annual income of $2,700, the republic had seemed safe from the worldwide rise of Islamic militancy. Its longtime ruler, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, had harnessed his nation's major natural resource — hundreds of small, deserted islands — to create remote, upscale resorts that fueled explosive economic growth.

But the country also suffered deep divisions.

While many high school graduates went to Europe or Australia for a liberal education, others studied religion at extremist institutions in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and spread their radical beliefs across the islands, said Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based terrorism expert hired by the government. He estimated that several thousand of the country's 300,000 people now follow these clerics.

"They are preaching a deviant form of Islam," he said.

These once marginal preachers have found a new wave of adherents in recent years. The global outburst of Islamic anger after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the spread of Internet access to this country's remote islands played a major role in the growing fundamentalism, said Hassan Saeed, the Maldives' former attorney general.

"Suddenly, an island nation cut off from the rest of the world became part of the global village," he said.

So did the Maldives. But despite the relative prosperity, there weren't enough jobs for the huge population of young people, and many turned to drugs or radical Islam, Saeed said. The Islamic Council, the government body that runs official mosques, accredits preachers and controls all aspects of religion here, was still distributing decades-old sermons to its imams and was caught unprepared, he said.

The trauma of the 2004 tsunami, which killed more than 100 people here and devastated many islands, also fueled an Islamic revival. Hussein Mohammed, 40, said he was among 200 displaced people originally from the island of Moondu who spent two years in an abandoned textile factory on the island of Gan before getting a new house. Many in the crowded factory sought solace in the translated copies of the Quran the government provided, and within months nearly all the women began wearing head scarves, he said.

"After something like the tsunami, this frightening thing, people became far more interested in religion," he said.

While many of the fundamentalists were not violent, a Maldivian was caught trying to join the Taliban in Afghanistan, another was arrested in India seeking to buy sniper rifles, and a third was jailed by U.S. authorities in Guantanamo Bay, Saeed said.

"For a small country, there were a large number of alarming signals," said Saeed, who quit the government in August, in part because he felt a report he wrote on the looming problem was ignored.

Like villagers on several other scattered islands, the people of Gan found themselves suddenly confronted by a small group of angry fundamentalists earlier this year.

"They said they are Muslims and others are not Muslims and that others should be killed," said Daoud Ibrahim, the clean-shaven imam at the government mosque. "I have never seen this before ... it's against our traditions."

While rows of villagers in knitted white skullcaps prayed in the spacious mosque with its green tile floors, the fundamentalists — dressed in Saudi-style white robes and headdress — took over a tiny mosque of concrete and corrugated metal meant for Bangladeshi construction workers. They pressured Maldivian women to wear head scarves, mocked clean-shaven men as unbelievers and quietly plotted to drive tourists out, officials said.

Some in the group were tsunami refugees from the remote island of Kalhadoo, which embraced a strict form of Islam more than a quarter century ago under the tutelage of a Saudi-educated preacher named Mohammed Ibrahim. Angry at Ibrahim's dissident Islamic views, the government banished him from Male to Kalhadoo, where he quickly turned the islanders into his disciples, said Yousef Ismail, a former Kalhadoo resident who now lives in Gan. Ismail spoke as his wife sat nearby, covered head-to-toe in a black robe.

Police say at least one of the men on Gan, whose cell phone was discovered in the ocean near the airport, was directly connected to the Male blast. On Wednesday, police said the man, Abdul Latheef Ibrahim, had fled to Pakistan ahead of the blast along with nine other suspects from different Maldive islands. Six other suspects were already in custody.

Source: MSNBC

Qtel profit falls on Wataniya costs $5 billion paid for acquisitions

Qatar Telecommunications Co (Qtel) posted its second straight decline in quarterly profit, at the bottom end of forecasts, as financing costs surged after it borrowed $5 billion to pay for acquisitions.

Profit attributable to shareholders in the third-quarter fell 5.6 percent after Qtel's financing costs swelled to 310.07 million riyals ($85.23 million), compared with 3.21 million riyals a year earlier, Qtel said in a statement.

Qtel, the fifth-largest Gulf Arab telecom firm by market value, raised a $3 billion loan that closed this month to refinance debt taken for its $3.72 billion takeover in March of Kuwait's National Mobile Telecommunications Co.

The additional financing which we have done for Wataniya has had an impact on our results," Qtel executive director for group communications Adel Al-Mutawa said. "We are looking at this as the investment phase," Mutawa said.

Profit in the three months ended Sept. 30 was 412.20 million riyals, or 4.12 riyals per share, compared with 436.49 million riyals, or 4.36 riyals per share, in the year-earlier period.

Wataniya's contribution to Qtel's profit in the quarter covered less than half of Qtel's debt financing costs. The Kuwaiti mobile phone firm, in which Qtel holds a 51 percent stake, contributed about KD10.94 million ($39.61 million) during the quarter. Wataniya's quarterly profit fell 27.2 percent in the three-month period to KD15.61 million.

Analysts' forecasts for Qtel's quarterly profit ranged from 430 million riyals and 725 million riyals in a Reuters net profit survey in September.

Qtel is expanding outside its domestic market as Qatar prepares to sell a second mobile phone license this year, ending the last Arab telecom monopoly. Its revenues more than doubled in the quarter to 2.56 billion riyals, compared with 1.08 billion riyals in the year-earlier period.

In addition to financing charges, third-quarter general and administrative expenses rose to 988.43 million riyals, from 366 million riyals a year earlier, Qtel said. "The losses will start to decline going forward as our international operations grow," Mutawa said. Total customers jumped to 14.2 million at the end of September, compared with 1.3 million a year earlier, Qtel said.

This included 1.1 million customers in Qatar, 897,000 in Oman through its unit Nawras, and 8.2 million subscribers through Wataniya, which operates in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and the Maldives. Nawras expects to make its first profit in the fourth quarter, Chief executive Ross Cormack told Reuters in September. Qtel bought 75 percent of Pakistan's Burraq Telecom with a Saudi partner this year and its affiliate, Asiacell, runs a network in Iraq.

Our investments are long-term investments in markets with low penetration," Mutawa said. There could be more acquisitions in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, he said. Qtel took out two loans totaling $4.5 billion in March to pay for acquisitions, including its January purchase of a 25 percent stake in Asia Mobile Holdings Pte Ltd, a unit of Singapore's Technologies Telemedia.
It raised this to $5 billion this month. - Reuters

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Maldives Terrorist Attack Suspects Flee to Pakistan, Police Say

Maldives police said 10 suspects in a bomb attack on international tourists in September fled to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean island nation is seeking Interpol's assistance to detain the fugitives.

The two prime suspects, Abdul Latheef Ibrahim and Ali Shameem, escaped the Maldives with the assistance of an immigration officer, Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdullah Riyaz said. Another eight entered Pakistan through Karachi before the Sept. 29 blast in the capital, Male, he said.

The suspects targeted non-Muslims to fulfill their ``jihad,'' or holy war, Riyaz said, in a statement on the Maldives Police Service Web site.

Several of the fugitives and people already detained in connection with the attack received training in bomb making at Pakistani madrassas, or religious schools, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported. The Maldives, a chain of 1,190 islands located southwest of India, is made up almost entirely of Sunni Muslims, according to U.S. government data.

The bomb exploded at a popular park while the tourists were on a city tour. The 12 people wounded included a British couple on their honeymoon, two Japanese and eight Chinese. The incident was the first terrorist attack in the country, President Abdul Gayoom said at the time.

Moderate Islam

The nation of 369,000 people has practiced a moderate form of Islam for the past 700 years and is concerned about the infiltration of Islamic radicals, according to the BBC.

Plans by Gayoom, who has led the country since 1978, to ban the veil and prevent preachers from overseas entering the country have been resisted by religious scholars and the Islamic political party, the broadcaster reported on its Web site.

Assistant Commissioner Riyaz showed video footage taken by the plotters of the preparation of the improvised explosive device used in the attack, according to a police statement.

Police yesterday applied for an Interpol Red Notice to arrest the fugitives and are working with the Pakistani authorities on the case, it said.

The United Nations said in a September report that Pakistan trains, recruits or shelters more than 80 percent of suicide bombers staging attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

Almost all suicide attackers in Afghanistan ``undergo some form of training and preparation'' in Pakistani madrassas, according to the report.

In 2006, President Pervez Musharraf ordered religious schools to register with the government. A year earlier, he demanded they expel non-Pakistani students, after a U.K. investigation into the 2005 bombings in London showed that at least one of the suicide attackers visited a Pakistani madrassa.

The Maldives islands are spread over 900 kilometers (540 miles) in the Indian Ocean. The country's population lives on 198 of the islands. At $2,419, the Maldives had the highest per capita gross national income in the South Asia region in 2004, according to the World Bank.

Tourism accounts for almost a third of the Maldives economy and more than 60 percent of foreign exchange, according to the U.S. government's database.

Source: Bloomberg By Michael Heath

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Jazeera Airways launches flights to the Maldives

Kuwait and Dubai based Jazeera Airways announced today the launch of their non-stop route from Dubai to the Maldives. Attending the media launch event in the Maldives were Jazeera Airways senior officials, members of the Kuwait Civil Aviation Authority, officials from the

Maldives Tourism Promotion Board, the Maldives Minister of Tourism and travel agents from Kuwait and Dubai.

Jazeera Airways who operate a fleet of new Airbus A320s, all fitted with signature leather seats, are only the second carrier to operate non-stop flights to the Maldives from Dubai, which will fly every Sunday and Tuesday.

Low-fares to the Maldives can be booked online at, and customers can also reserve their preferred seats at the time of booking.

Source: Maktoob

UN-backed environmental database accessible to 100 developing states

More than 100 developing nations now have access to a United Nations-backed online environmental database which allows users to view material worth $1.5 million from prominent environmental science journals.

The "Online Access to Research in the Environment" project - involving the UN Environment Program (UNEP), Yale University, the International Association of Scientific Technical and Medical Publishers and over 300 publishers, key scientific societies and associations - was launched last year and offered free or low-cost service to 70 of the world's poorest nations with per capital incomes below $1,000.

In its second phase, the initiative has added 37 more countries, areas and territories - including Algeria, the Maldives, Suriname and Vanuatu - with per capita incomes ranging between $1,000 and $3,000, a press release issued by the UN Information Center (UNIC) said here Wednesday.

"Providing practitioners, researchers and scientists with online access to scientific research on the environment has been a long-held dream and desire by institutions around the world," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

The project is making great strides towards bridging the North-South scientific gap and digital divide, as well as bolstering environmental institutions in many developing nations, he added.

After a three-month free trial period, participating countries' institutions will be asked for yearly contributions of $1,000, which is less than 0.1 per cent of the annual retail subscription value of the available resources. These fees will be reinvesting in training programs in these countries.

Source: ISRN

Monday, November 5, 2007

Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa, Maldives appoints Jens Moesker as General Manager

The Shangri-La's Villingili Resort and Spa, Maldives has appointed Jens Moesker as general manager and Gerhard Fink as the director of sales and marketing. The Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa, Maldives, located on the Addu Atoll is scheduled to open in the fourth quarter 2008.

Jens Moesker has over 19 years experience in the hospitality industry. He joined Shangri-La in 2000 as director of food and beverage at The Kerry Centre Hotel, Beijing. In late 2002, Mr Moesker became the resident manager of Shangri-La Hotel, Changchun in China before his promotion to general manager in 2004, a position he held until his latest appointment in the Maldives.

He has held key positions at the Hilton Jerusalem in Israel, InterContinental hotels in London and Germany, the Hotel Bristol-Forte in Warsaw and the Jebel Ali Hotel in Dubai. In his new capacity, Mr Moesker will play a pivotal role in leading the team that will bring the hallmark Shangri-La Asian hospitality to the Maldives for the first time.

Gerhard Fink has over 18 years hospitality experience. He previously opened The Westin Guangzhou, W Retreat and Spa Maldives, and the Sheraton Sanya Resort in China. Mr Fink started his sales and marketing career in Austria. His first foray into Asia was in 2002 at the St. Regis Beijing.

Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa, Maldives is one of the largest single luxury resort islands in the Maldives. The resort, which is currently under development, will feature 142 villas including 16 tree villas, unique to the Maldives, perched on stilts. Nestled on a three-kilometre long island, the resort is set in lush vegetation with three natural fresh water lagoons and nature trails.

Source: Asia Travel Tips

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Climate change and tourism: saving our global destinations

Bad weather can ruin a holiday. Global climate change can ruin a holiday destination. This is one of the urgent messages that delegates heard at an international conference on climate change, co-sponsored by the United Nations World Tourism Organization and other international bodies, in Davos, Switzerland, last month.

Tourism has been both a victim and a vector of global climate change. Iconic tourist destinations such as the Great Barrier Reef, the countries bordering on the Mediterranean Sea, the European Alps, the island states of the Seychelles, the Maldives and Mauritius, and the majestic glaciated mountain landscapes from the Rockies to the Andes have all become victims of the rise in global mean temperature of the past 150 years.

But the tourism sector has also become a non-negligible contributor to climate change through greenhouse-gas emissions largely from the transport and accommodation of tourists — as much as 5 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions from human activities, according to the conference's foundational paper, Climate Change and Tourism: Responding to Global Challenges. Under a "business as usual" scenario, emissions from the rapidly growing global tourism sector were projected to more than double in the next 30 years.

Tourism is highly dependant on climate, with weather affecting a wide range of the environmental resources that are critical attractions for tourism, such as snow conditions, wildlife productivity and biodiversity, water levels and quality. Tourists themselves have a high adaptive capacity to avoid destinations affected by climate change or to shift the timing of travel to avoid unfavourable climate conditions.

Suppliers of tourism services and tourism operators at specific destinations have less adaptive capacity. Large tour operators, who do not own the infrastructure, are in a better position to adapt to changes at destinations because they can respond to clients' demands and provide information to influence clients' travel choices. Destination communities and tourism operators with large investments in immobile capital assets (e.g. a hotel, resort complex, marine or casino) have the least adaptive capacity, but all will be forced to adapt to minimize the risks posed by climate change.

So what did the delegates in Davos hear about the health of the world's tourist destinations?

Venice is increasingly susceptible to sea-level rises as are other iconic coastal cities such as Cairo.

The Great Barrier Reef is threatened by coral bleaching and mortality, while 50 per cent of the world's coral reefs are now significantly bleached.

Small island states such as the Maldives, the Seychelles and Mauritius will, under business-as-usual emissions growth, experience partial, if not catastrophic, flooding due to rising sea levels and increasing frequency of storms, along with salt water contamination of their natural water supplies and farmland.

The summer temperatures of the countries along the Mediterranean, especially the islands of the Greek Archipelago in the Aegean Sea, may eventually render that destination untenable in July and August.

The years 1994, 2000, 2002 and particularly 2003 have been the warmest on record in the Swiss Alps in the past 500 years; Swiss investment banks will no longer loan capital to ski resorts below certain altitudes.

Mountain destinations, including the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park in Canada and the U.S., are experiencing significant glacier retreat.

The shorter ice-cover season in Canada's Churchill and Hudson Bay region is threatening the habitat and well-being of charismatic species such as the polar bear, a significant attraction of ecotourism.

The pine beetle infestation in B.C. forests, due to warmer winters, is beginning to devalue the aesthetic beauty of the natural landscape in this part of the world.

The UNWTO report calls for the tourism sector to take a strong leadership role in climate-change mitigation: reducing energy use; improving energy efficiency; increasing the use of renewable energy; and sequestering carbon through sinks.

In our view, the tourism industry in Canada must become an exemplar for innovative approaches to reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions through pioneering technologies and management expertise that will have value in the global tourism marketplace. We must not demonize travel, as tourism is the critical economic engine in many small island developing states and least developed countries.

But, by the same token, the tourism industry must strive to break with business-as-usual consumption of energy and decouple future tourism growth from ever higher greenhouse-gas emissions. The aviation industry must be encouraged to increase the fuel efficiency of its aircraft by working with the airframe and engine manufacturers on an urgent basis. Boeing's new wide body 787 Dreamliner shows significant promise in this regard.

Furthermore, the UNWTO notes that rail and coach have become increasingly popular modes in many non-North American countries where, for example, high-speed rail has captured the imagination of tourists. Perhaps the Canadian government could give greater policy support to the concept of multi-modal journeys in which visitors to certain parts of the country are given an incentive to buy air-rail or air-coach trips in view of the emissions savings that result.

Flying, given the sheer size of Canada, will not disappear. Carbon offsetting, while in its formative stages, should be seriously canvassed as a mitigation measure, particularly for air travel, where there are fewer technological options to reduce emissions. The lodging sector must begin to incorporate "green builds" more widely. Retrofitting existing buildings and construction of new hotels ought to conform with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building rating system. Integrated resorts can look to Whistler, which has quietly become a tourism leader in energy efficiency and the development and use of renewable energy sources.

This is a critical moment for the tourism sector to show leadership in the development of a coherent policy agenda to address what must be considered the greatest challenge to the sustainability of tourism in the 21st century.

Christopher Jones is vice-president of government and public affairs at the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. Daniel Scott holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Change and Tourism at the University of Waterloo and was lead author of the team that drafted the UNWTO report Climate Change and Tourism: Responding to Global Challenges.

Source: Globe and Mail

Growing pains for Maldives as radicals raise tensions

The situation will get worse before it gets better, with tensions likely to escalate ahead of presidential polls next year

THE Maldives has built South Asia’s most successful economy based on luxury tourism, but the atoll nation is now facing religious tensions as it undergoes a difficult transition to democracy.

The tranquillity of the paradise holiday destination was shattered in September when radicals set off a home-made bomb, wounding 12 foreign tourists. The attack was followed by a clash between troops and Taliban-style fundamentalists who want women to be totally covered, singing banned and no schooling for girls.

The government has hit back with restrictions to prevent militancy spreading in the moderate nation, home to 330,000 Muslims on 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered across the equator. “We are going through a process of cultural change, an opening of our society,” Tourism Minister Mahamood Shougee said in an interview.

“But as much as we can’t allow women to cover from head to toe, we can’t allow half naked people on the roads.” The problem of religious extremism has been seen as the result of either increased freedoms or opposition to President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has served six consecutive terms in office since 1978. Gayoom, 69, is now accusing his rivals of holding up his plan to implement sweeping democratic reforms. “I want to be president to give effect to the reform agenda,” Gayoom told AFP. “This is my reform programme and I want to see it through.” Education Minister Mohamed Nasheed believes the unrest is part of growing pains.

“We are going to have a very rapid transformation and the systems are finding it difficult to cope,” Nasheed admitted. “People are not used to this ‘freedom.’ As a result indiscipline has become an issue.” Tourism and a highly successful tuna fishing industry has pushed per capita incomes to nearly 2,700 dollars, making the Maldivians the richest in South Asia.

However, the islanders have little by way of recreation although their beaches are among the best in the world. Every family is said to be affected by drug-related problem, and the islands have one of the highest divorce rates in the world. Nasheed, who is also acting as the state attorney general, says the country is still evolving legal systems and procedures to deal with economic, social and cultural issues.

“Proving something beyond reasonable doubt is a new concept for us,” Nasheed said. “These concepts are new to us. We don’t even know what bail is.” “It is a learning process for all of us. All of a sudden we have medical negligence cases, wrongful dismissal cases. But we don’t have the proper laws. What we have is a condensed version of the penal code of India or Sri Lanka.”

He said what other countries took years to develop, the tiny Maldives was trying to accomplish overnight. “How can we have an independent judiciary when we are all related either by blood or through marriage,” he said. Male, the tiny island capital of the Maldives, is home to 130,000 people - and virtually everyone knows each other.“Where will Maldives be in another five years? I think the situation will get worse before it gets better,” Nasheed said, adding that tensions were likely to escalate ahead of presidential polls next year. afp

Source: Daily Times