Monday, December 29, 2008

India visit fruitful, says Maldives President

The President of the Republic of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, was on an official visit to India from December 23 to December 26, 2008. During the visit, the President of Maldives signed two pacts with the Indian government - one on extending a standby credit facility of $100 million to Maldives and another on air services agreement.

The two governments agreed to work together for the further enhancement of their multifaceted relationship based on shared democratic values, commitment to economic development and social welfare, mutual understanding and cooperation and shared views on major international issues, says a release.

The two sides noted that there was great potential to increase trade and investment between the two countries. Both agreed to revive the sub group on trade under the India-Maldives Joint Commission to recommend ways and means to enhance trade and investment.

Nasheed addressed a meeting of Indian and Maldivians businessmen and industrialists organised jointly by Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Nasheed invited the Indian entrepreneurs to participate in these programmes.

During his visit, Nasheed called on the President of India, Pratibha Devisingh Patil; the Vice-President of India, Mohammed Hamid Ansari; and the External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee.

The Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, Sonia Gandhi, and the Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani called on President Nasheed in New Delhi.

Nasheed and Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, held official level discussions in New Delhi.

This was Nasheed’s first visit to India after assuming the office of the President of the Republic of Maldives in November 2008.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Luxury liner to set sail for Maldives from city dock

Kolkata: Around 6 pm on Sunday, a sleek 90-feet luxury liner will slip into a berth at the Kidderpore docks a princess of sorts among the large, dull merchant vessels, the port of Kolkata is used to receiving. The MV Island Sky will disembark 75-odd passengers and prepare for its next cruise from Kolkata to the Maldives.

The 4,280 DWT vessel has been rated as Superior' class and has a crew of 72. Its maximum passenger capacity is 118. European and American tourists will fly into Kolkata on Monday and board the vessel.
Before it departs, the tourists will be taken around Kolkata in luxury buses and will also have lunch in the city. They will visit Victoria Memorial, Kalighat and the Indian Museum before embarking on the 17-day voyage.

Among those who will join the cruise from Kolkata is said to be former MP Krishna Bose and a group of scholars from Harvard University. "On Tuesday, the ship will cruise down the Hooghly on its way to the sea. On the way to Male, the ship will anchor at Paradip, Vizag, Chennai, Colombo, Tuticorin, Trivandrum, Lakshadweep and Cochin.
The ship has 60 spacious cabins. It has a swimming pool on deck and facilities for water sports. Earlier known as Renaissance VIII, the ship was refitted in 2003. It's a safe vessel with modern lifesaving equipment," an officer said.

It's not cheap, though. Tourists will have to shell out anything between £4,500-5,000 (upward of Rs 4,00,000) for the cruise. The cruise operator recommends that the crew be paid a handsome tip of US$12 (nearly Rs 500) per passenger per day.

Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) officers said they will provide all assistance to the cruise liner including pilotage and berthing facilities. Special care will be taken to ensure that the tourists do not face any hassles.
"Nowadays, we get few cruise or passenger vessels at the port. Earlier, we even had a library' ship calling on Kolkata every year. People would be allowed into the ship to read books and purchase rare collections. It is part of our plan to develop better cruise facilities," a senior officer said.

The last time a cruise liner had called on Kolkata was in January 2007, when the French cruise liner MV Le Levant dropped anchor. The skipper of the vessel had not felt too comfortable in handing over control of his vessel to a Hooghly river pilot.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tsunami Victims Recovering 4 Years After Disaster

Four years after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reports tremendous progress has been made in rebuilding the structures that were destroyed and in rehabilitating shattered communities. Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives were the countries most seriously affected by the disaster.

Nearly one quarter of one million people were killed by the tsunami. Entire communities were wiped out, houses destroyed, lives ruined.

Now, four years after this catastrophic event, the Red Cross reports 97 percent of houses planned for people affected by the tsunami are finished or under construction. And, hundreds of new hospitals, clinics and schools have been built back better.

The International Federation's special representative for tsunami recovery, Jerry Talbot, tells VOA the lives of people who lost everything also have been rebuilt and are improving.

"And, building back better is making sure that these families are able to function again, have somewhere to live, that they have livelihoods and that they are members of communities that are more resilient and safer," said Talbot.

Talbot acknowledges that some people have been so deeply traumatized by the disaster that the scar will stay with them for the rest of their lives. He says many people, who have lost loved ones, will need special care.

"Every one of those persons who died, of course, leaves behind a grieving family. And, very often, of course, it means that we have a lot of single parent households, for example where people are struggling to take care of a young family whilst at the same time trying to find the wherewithal to make sure that there is something in the kitchen every day," he said.

Talbot says tsunami-affected communities run many risks from climate change, flooding, landslides and other disasters. He says these disasters cannot be prevented, but people can and are being taught how to mitigate future risks.

He says early warning systems have been set up to alert people to approaching danger.

So far, more than four million people have received assistance from the Red Cross. The agency says it expects to complete all work by the end of 2010. By then, the Red Cross says it will have spent more than $2.5 billion.


Top ten Asian players of 2008

Asia Editor of John Duerden rates the best 10 Asian performers of the outgoing year...

10. Ali Ashfaq (VB Sports & Maldives)

The Man of Steel was once linked to a move to Europe and although it didn't quite happen, he hasn't looked back. Regarded by many in South Asia as the best player in the region, the striker is improving all the time. The 23 year-old shone during Maldives' recent South Asian Cup triumph and was named as the tournament's MVP. He wasn't ready for Benfica before -he may be now.

9. Ahmed Ajab (Al Qadsia & Kuwait)

The most expensive player in Kuwait history has enjoyed another prolific season. This is a guy who just scores goals. The 24 year-old only made his international debut in January and hasn't stopped scoring since.

Although Kuwait fell at the third stage of qualification for the 2010 World Cup, Ahmad scored six of the team's eight goals. He was the top scorer in the Kuwait league last season, scored three in the Asian Champions League and is on the shopping list of some of the region's big clubs.

8. Hong Yong-jo (FC Rostov & North Korea)

It is North Korea's defence or 'The People's Rooney' Jung Tae-se that take the headlines whenever the Reds do the business on the pitch. That backline kept six clean sheets out of six third round games but it is the presence of Hong that allows the team to play the way they do. Comfortable on the ball, intelligent in possession and handy from the set piece, the Russian-based star is one of those players who seems to have more time on the ball and brings others into the game.

7. Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic & Japan)

Not Naka's best season for the Bhoys but still pretty good nonetheless. Once again, his goals and assists helped the team to another title –though it was a close-run thing. Has struggled with niggling injuries and jetlag and rumours of a return to Japan have never been far away. It is a testament to his ability then that he still impressed.

Japan coach Takeshi Okada went to Bahrain without Nakamura, preferring to leave him in Scotland. Japan lost that game in March and Okada has not made the same mistake again.

6. Hawar Mulla Mohammad (Anorthosis Famagusta FC & Iraq)

Hawar and Iraq didn't quite reach the heights of 2007 but he was still one of the better Desert Foxes in the third round of qualification. Scoring against China and creating for others.

His year will best be remembered for becoming the first Iraqi to play and score in the UEFA Champions League. It was a breathless six games in the group stage for the Cypriots. Hawar was on the scoresheet on a wild Wednesday night in Nicosia as Anorthosis beat Panathinaikos 3-1. The Cypriots collected six points, only two less than Inter Milan. That 3-3 draw will also live long in the memory.

5. Server Djeparov (Bunyodkor & Uzbekistan)

Was named the player of the year by the Asian Football Confederation and Djeparov certainly had a season to remember. The cultured midfielder pulled the strings for both club and country. Uzbekistan stormed through the third round of qualification in impressive fashion – scoring goals left right and centre. The final round has not, as yet, been quite so impressive but there is still time.

The Uzbek player of 2008 also shone for Bunyodkor. He led the Tashkent club to the title and to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League. Within two weeks of becoming coach in the capital, Zico declared his belief that the 26 year-old has what it takes to succeed in Europe. He may soon get the chance with a trial at Chelsea.

4. Javad Nekounam (Osasuna & Iran)

A serious injury blighted the first quarter of 2008 but on his return the all-action midfielder showed why he had been voted the player of the year the previous season by Osasuna fans. His return to action for Iran came just in time as he helped a stuttering team through to the final round of qualification. He is, as he demonstrated against Saudi Arabia, always liable to pop up with a goal at a crucial time.

Nekounam has been doing the same of late as Osasuna struggle to improve upon a terrible start to the season. If the Pamplona club survives, you can be sure that the Iranian man will have played his part.

3. Brett Emerton (Blackburn & Australia)

More column inches are devoted to the likes of Tim Cahill, Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell when it comes to discussing the Socceroos but Brett Emerton is as reliable a player as there is and is a coach's dream. He hardly misses a match, gets up and down the pitch in impressive fashion and even pitched in with a few vital goals in qualification. He helped Blackburn to a seventh place finished at the end of the 2007-08 season and has been one of the team's better performers in this campaign.

2. Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka & Japan)

The modest midfielder would not have imagined at the start of 2008 that he would be lauded by such figures as Sir Alex Ferguson before the year was out. The Manchester United boss paid tribute to the Japanese star before FIFA's Club World Cup and after. Endo's arrival on the world stage comes a few years after he first started getting noticed in Asia. He led Gamba Osaka to the Asian Champions League and was once again one of the best when pulling on the blue shirt of his country. He wants a move to Europe and he may just be about to get it.

1. Park Ji Sung (Manchester United & South Korea)

It is easy to forget that Park started 2008 returning from a lengthy and serious knee injury that briefly threatened to end his career. He was better than ever when he came back and had a season that is better than any other Asian.

Not only was Park instrumental in United's charge to the Premier League title, he was man of the match against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League semi-final and played all 360 minutes in the last four and last eight games. The 27 year-old was left out of the final but deserved his medal. He ended the year lifting the Club World Cup.

Internationally was not bad either, he took the captaincy halfway through the year and led the Taeguk Warriors to a good start in the final round of qualification.


Friday, December 26, 2008

India, Maldives step up anti-piracy drive

India and the Maldives have decided to stepup anti-piracy and marine counter-terrorism operations in the Indian Ocean. Underlining the importance of greater maritime surveillance in the Indian Ocean, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, on Thursday said the Mumbai attacks have “all the footprints of a 16th century piracy activity in the Indian Ocean”.

The Mumbai terror attacks and enhanced security cooperation in the Indian Ocean figured prominently in discussions between Prime minister Manmohan Singh and Nasheed on Wednesday

Before departing for Male on Thursday, Nasheed in response to a question about his country’s perception of the Mumbai terror attacks said, “It (the Mumbai terror attack) came from Karachi via the sea. We would like countries to remain vigilant in the Indian Ocean, specially in view of the Mumbai attacks.”

Maldive’s first democratically elected president in three decades said, “We are a nation of sea-farers. We understand the topography of the Indian Ocean. We are very concerned about it.” While underscoring the importance of greater security cooperation between India and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, the visiting leader said that, “There are pirate activities. We would like the Indian Ocean a peaceful one.”

With the Mumbai attacks as a backdrop, the two countries plan to intensify interaction between their coast guards, Nasheed said. Adding, “Joint exercises are now held every two years. It will be more frequent now.” “Pirates could be recruited into terrorist cells. You have sealed your borders (with Pakistan), but you have pushed terrorists to the Indian Ocean,” he said.


Indonesia commemorates 2004 deadly tsunami

Indonesia commemorated on Friday a tsunami in Aceh province on Dec. 24, 2004, which devastated the coastal areas of Indian Ocean and killed over 230,000 people, with 170, 000 of them in Aceh province.

The commemoration took place in Meulaboh town at the west coast of the province in the northern tip of Sumatra island, which was hit the hardest during the tsunami triggered by a strong quake in December 2004, head of the provincial development agency Rahman Lubis said.

National flags were raised up by a half for three days across the province and many sailors stopped sailing on as they commemorate the sad day, he said.

Television footage shows Acehnese prayed in mosques throughout the dominantly-Islamic province for the soul of the death and begged for a better future life. Ceremonies were carried out at massive graves in the capital of Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar town, Lubis said.

"This day has been made as a special day for them (sailors and Acehnese). So they stop working today," he told Xinhua by phone from the province.

"With this commemoration of the four-year of tsunami, we expect more improvement in our province," said Lubis.

Under a four-year of 7-billion U.S. dollar reconstruction and rehabilitation scheme, Aceh has witnessed improvement as many buildings of schools, roads, government offices, residence houses and other infrastructure, have been built.

But many of them are still unfinished yet, and need more work for completion, chairman of the reconstruction and rehabilitation agency Kuntoro Magkusubroto has said.

In North Sulawesi at eastern part of the country, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono checks the preparation of a tsunami drill which will be carried out on Saturday to prevent the occurrence of the December 2004's catastrophe that smashed Indian Ocean, from Sri Lanka and India to Thailand, the Maldives and Indonesia.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Indian investors can strike gold in Maldives

"Today we are having a different kind of democracy in Maldives - a democracy, in which politics has taken a back-seat and commerce has taken a lead. Investors will have a very smooth sailing here," said Mr Maizan Omar Manik, President, Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Mncci).

"Now it is time for Indian investors to strike gold in Maldives in real sense. Maldives is looking for cooperation in many different areas of commerce and economy, including power, housing and hotel & tourism industry," he added.

He was speaking at the Meeting with Maldives Business Delegation, organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), here today.

Speaking on tourism industry in Maldives, Mr Maizan said, "As such India, compared to Maldives, is far ahead in the hotel industry. However, Maldives has certainly developed expertise in island tourism."

In his welcome address, Mr V K Mathur, Chairman & Managing Director, Inapex Limited, said, "Maldives offers big opportunities for Indian entrepreneurs and investors. Presently the trade between India and Maldives stands at 19.3 million dollars and there is scope to multiply it many times."

"India and Maldives have a long history of good relation and close friendship. In the new world order, when there is a tectonic shift in the centre of economic activities of the world from Europe and the US to Asian countries, we look forward to building a more vibrant business relation with Maldives," he said.

Speaking about the tourism industry in Maldives, Mr Mathur said, "Maldives is doing better job than India in tourism sector and has initiated many innovative schemes to attract tourist from all around the world."

Mr Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, President, Sun Travel's and Tours Pvt Ltd, said, "There is now a big opportunity for Indian investors in hotel, travel and tourism industry in Maldives."

"It should also be noted that no investor has ever lost money in Maldives. It is one of the safest places in the world for investment," he emphasized.

Mr Ahmed Shahid, First Secretary (Economic and Commercial), High Commission of Maldives in India, said, "Housing is now one of the priority sectors in Maldives. The government is trying to decentralize the housing sector. In this changed scenario, we are looking towards India for partnership in this areas, especially in mid-to-high and affordable housings."


India gives 100 million dollar credit to Maldives

Demonstrating its commitment to help the newly-elected government in Maldives, India on Wednesday extended a 100-million-dollar credit to strengthen maritime security in the strategic Indian Ocean island nation.

The pact on extending a Standby Credit Facility and an Air Services Agreement was signed after talks Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had with visiting Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed.

The two leaders identified drug transit and control as important issues to be dealt with and India offered to train Maldivian police forces for this. The two countries also agreed to make joint efforts for effective prevention of drug trafficking.

Nasheed, whose electoral win on October 28 ended 30-year one-party rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, asked the host to conduct a professional course for Maldivian diplomats next year, which was agreed to.

The two sides expressed their commitment to enhance their defence and security relations based on shared maritime threats and other security concerns.

Nasheed, who as leader of the opposition had spent considerable time in India, condemned the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai as the two sides emphasised the need for concerted and coordinated action by the international community to prevent, combat and eradicate terrorism.

Besides Singh, the Maldivian President will also meet with Vice President Hamid Ansari, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Leader of the Opposition L K Advani.

Nasheed also called on President Pratibha Patil who hosted a banquet in his honour.

Of 100 million credit facility, 50 million dollars would be used for imports from India while the remaining 50 per cent will be for budgetary support.


Maldives: Dhuvaafaru island comes alive

Nasim Mohammed is a worried man. In about one week's time he will lose almost 90 per cent of the customers in his restaurant. Nasim opened the Coral Garden Caf� on the Maldivian island of Ungoofaaru barely six months ago. Since then, he has been doing a roaring trade thanks to the patronage of the neighbouring islanders of Kandholhudhoo who have been displaced on Ungoofaaru since their island was swamped by the tsunami for the past four years and was deemed uninhabitable by the government.

"I've been getting about four hundred customers a day. People from Ungoofaru only sit and drink coffee but the Kandholhudhoo islanders like to eat out a lot," sasy Nasim, whose anxiety is linked to the impending exodus of the 2,600-strong Kandholhudhoo community.

On 14 December 2008, the army, coastguard and police moved in to start relocating each family to their new homes on the nearby island of Dhuvaafaru, where the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has undertaken the biggest single construction project in the organization's history.

Thriving community

When work began in April 2006, the 40-hectare coral island was uninhabited. In just under three years, and at a cost of 35.6 million Swiss francs, it has been transformed into a thriving community that now boasts 600 new houses, three schools, one mosque, a health centre and an island administration block complete with auditorium and sports stadium.

Creating an entire community on a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean has been a massive undertaking that has presented the IFRC with plenty of logistical challenges. As the island lies 185 kilometres north of the capital Male, thousands of tons of cement, construction materials and machinery all had to be brought in by ship together with the 600-strong labour force, many of whom originate from countries as far a field as China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Since leaving their home on Kandholhudhoo, Ali Wahid, his wife Haseebath and their family of six children have lived in a cramped three-roomed plywood shelter on Ungoofaru.

Open verandah

The shelters are built in long rows separated by a narrow ten foot wide track, and the street serves as an open verandah for families who pass the time reclining in chairs outside their shelters. Elderly men and women suck on water pipes or play cards while speeding motorcycles dodge groups of children running in and out of each others' shelters.

"We are living on top of each other here," says Ali Wahid. "I only have to step out of the house and I'm almost in my neighbour's front room."

Inside, the corrugated iron roofing makes the shelters stiflingly hot. Ali's family has been sitting outside the hut all morning waiting for the army to pick up their belongings for the move to their new home on Dhuvafaaru. "I've been looking forward to this day since I arrived," says Ali who captains a local tuna fishing 'Dhoni' and has come back to dry land to help his family pack up the house.

Community relations

Despite their close geographical proximity, relations between the communities on Ungoofaru haven't always been easy. For the first month each family was lodged with a host family before they were moved to the shelters. The local school struggled to cope as student numbers doubled overnight.

Some of the younger generation have now intermarried, but the Kandholhudhoo islanders outnumber the host community on Ungoofaru so the relationship has been strained at times. "I think everyone is happy now the move has begun," explains Safwan Amjad, recovery field officer with the IFRC. "We have been making regular trips to Dhuvafaaru with groups from Kandholhudhoo so that they can see the progress on the island. They just want their own island again."

After the tsunami, the 3,700-strong population of Kandholhudhoo was scattered over five different islands in the Raa Atoll. Now, the tight-knit community will finally come together again after four years of separation.

Careful planning

The move has taken careful planning. The IFRC began by bringing all of the heads of households from all four islands to Dhuvaafaru to take part in a lottery where beneficiaries drew a number which assigned their place in a queue to select their new home. Island by island, families are being moved to Dhuvafaaru over a two-week period. The population on Ungoofaaru is the last to go. Trucks piled high with beds, mattresses, cooking pots and personal effects roll onto to huge army landing craft before making the half-hour journey across over to Dhuvaafaru.

Ali and his family arrive on the island by the coastguard's speedboat. He is given a huge bunch of keys to every door in his new home and the family amble down the sandy road to their house, which is at the northern end of the island close to the mosque. The journey to their house is less than a kilometre, but it takes over an hour as Haseebath and her daughters stop to admire the new school and greet old friends and extended family members. As they pass each block of houses they are invited in to be plied with food and drinks in keeping with true Maldivian hospitality.

Hassan Ziyad is the IFRC's senior water and sanitation field officer. Since the relocation process began, his mobile phone has been ringing non-stop. He has been working 14-hour days responding to the teething problems that arise when families take possession of their new homes. Hassan logs complaints coming in from a team of volunteers in the community and then deploys electricians and plumbers who make house-calls to fix the problems.

Minor emergencies

"It's usually simple things like water pumps or lights not working although we have had to deal with a few minor emergencies," he says. "Yesterday, two children managed to lock themselves into a toilet."

As well as overseeing the physical construction of the community, the IFRC has also been closely involved in training-up community members to run and maintain the island's infrastructure. Until the Island Development Committee is elected in January, volunteers are responsible for keeping basic services running. Hassan has provided specialized training to two groups of volunteers from the community who look after the island's state-of-the-art powerhouse and water and sanitation systems.

Dhuvafaaru's power supply is provided by three enormous diesel generators that require 24-hour monitoring. For their water supply, islanders rely upon the seasonal monsoon rains. Each home has been equipped with a 2,500-litre rainwater harvesting tank and roof guttering to capture every precious drop of rainfall.

Something useful

Ali Hussain is one of the volunteers monitoring the island's sewer system. His regular job is driving a taxi, but now he ensures that the six pumping stations around the island function smoothly, "I volunteered because it was a chance to learn a new skill and help my community, I wanted to do something useful," he says.

The morning after the move, Ali Wahid and his family wake up late. "We were up till two this morning. More than ten families came to visit us last night," says Haseebath as she sets about unpacking. "It's so quiet and peaceful here, my ears feel so alive. When I woke up I thought I was in England! This place is so huge. Our old bedroom in the shelter was like a storeroom."

Their new home is surrounded by swaying palm trees and sits adjacent to a picture postcard white sand beach. The family venture out on to the beach for the first time. "It's like being on holiday," exclaims 15-year-old Kudee, Ali's youngest daughter. "On Kandoloodhu there was no beach and hardly any trees."

Beautiful island

Ali's 19-year-old son Jameel was actively involved in the internally displaced persons committee on Ungoofaaru. With other young volunteers, he took the initiative to organize awareness sessions with the community around waste management and the need to care for the environment. "People have the habit of dumping their garbage in the street and on the beach, but we have to change that thinking and teach them about recycling," says Jameel. "This is a beautiful island and we need to keep it that way."

The family decide to visit Kandholhudhoo to take a last look at their old home. With no reef to protect it, the tsunami surged over the entire island, although only three people were killed. Compared to the open space of Dhuvafaaru, Kandholhudhoo feels cramped and claustrophobic. At only four square hectares the island is one tenth the size of Dhuvafaaru. Narrow winding alleys run the breadth of Kandholhudhoo. The island is barely 500 metres across and an arm span is all that separates the small two storey houses that face each other.

Now it is a ghost town, totally deserted except for a few stray cats and a handful of fisherman who make a living from drying fish on racks spread across what used to be the town square. Trees have taken root and grown up through the roof of Ali's two roomed family home.

Old possessions

"It's hard to believe that six of us slept in this one room," he says wistfully. Clothes and old possessions lay strewn about the floor and cooking pots still hang on the kitchen wall. "When the wave came, the government told us to leave. I tried to lock some of our things in an upstairs room but they were all stolen," says Ali.

For Aishath, Ali's eldest daughter, the visit rekindles difficult emotions. "I almost drowned that day," she recalls. "The water flooded into the house and came up to my neck. Luckily a neighbour dragged me upstairs."

Returning to Dhuvafaaru, Ali reflects on the future. "In some ways the tsunami was the best thing that could have happened to us. Our prayers have been answered, we have a new island and the community is back together again. What more could we hope for?"


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Credit facility for Maldives, Bhutan

The government on Friday decided to give a multi-million dollar credit facility to neighbouring countries Maldives and Bhutan. The Cabinet meeting here approved a $100 million stand-by credit facility to Maldives, which elected its President in the first multi-party elections recently.

Of this, $50 million would be used for imports from India, home minister P Chidambaram told reporters after the meeting. The remaining 50% is for budgetary support, he added.

“The credit would provide aid to a close strategic neighbour in the hour of need and promote greater trade with India,” he said. Mohamed Anni Nasheed took oath in November as the first democratically elected President of the Maldives.

In case of Bhutan, the government approved an increase in assistance for Bhutan's 10th Plan by Rs 600 crore during July 2008-June 2013. The rise in aide is over and above the already-approved Rs 4,587 crore which is to be used as project-tied assistance.

The Cabinet also gave nod to a stand-by credit facility of Rs 300 crore at an interest of five per cent per annum to Bhutan for meeting the rupee payment obligations.

In another decision, the government sanctioned Rs 1,798 crore to enable Indian Space Research Organisation to develop a semi-cryogenic engine to power future inter-planetary missions within six years.

India will become the third country, after the US and Russia, to have developed the advanced propulsion system which will be used to launch space shuttles and future space missions.

“The semi-cryogenic engine will facilitate applications for future space missions such as the Reusable Launch Vehicle, Unified Launch

Vehicle and vehicle for interplanetary missions,” Chidambaram said.


Severed cables bring down phone lines linking Europe, Asia, Mideast

Internet and telephone communications between Europe, the Middle East and Asia were severely disrupted Friday after three undersea cables were damaged in the Mediterranean, France Telecom said.

"The causes of the cut, which is located in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Tunisia, on sections linking Sicily to Egypt, remain unclear," a statement said, while a spokesman said it was unlikely to have been an attack.

The company said it was sending a ship to fix the lines but that it would not arrive until Monday and that it could take until December 31 before normal service was restored.

Most business-to-business traffic between Europe and Asia was being rerouted through the United States, the firm said, but regular communications between Europe and several Asian countries has been disrupted since early Friday.

Sixty-five per cent of traffic to India was down, while services to Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Taiwan and Pakistan were also severely affected, a spokesman said Friday evening.

An afternoon toll released by France Telecom said that 100 percent of traffic was lost in the Maldives Indian Ocean islands, with the Gulf state of Qatar and Djibouti, on the Gulf of Aden, also losing over 70 percent of their traffic.

Egypt's state news agency MENA reported that the cuts happened off the coast of Sicily at 10:00 am (0800 GMT) on Friday, with Indian-registered Reliance GlobalCom directing a submarine cable repair company to head to the region to fix the cables.

The agency added that services were being rerouted to backup cables and satellites to compensate for the failures.

The cables are jointly owned by several dozen different countries. One of the cables is 40,000 kilometres (25,000 miles) long and links 33 different countries while a second is 20,000 kilometres long and serves 14 states.

"If there was just one cable down we could have used the other two," said France Telecom spokesman Louis-Michel Aymard. "But all three are down so this puts us in a very difficult situation.

"This is a very rare situation," he said.

The cables might have got caught up in trawlers' nets or there may have been an underwater landslide, said Aymard. One appeared to be fully severed, while the other two seemed to be only partially cut, he added.

Each cable has a "leader" country, he said. Egypt is in charge of the main cable and in this capacity commissioned France Telecom Marine, a subsidiary of the communications giant, to handle the repairs.

The boat, with 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) of spare cable on board, will leave very early Saturday and arrive Monday.

In January, five cables in the Middle East and Europe were cut, causing Internet failures in the region and damaging traffic through the region's important call centre industry.

France Telecom said it would publish updates on its website on the latest traffic disruption. Traffic from Europe to Algeria and Tunisia is not affected, it said.

Source: AFP

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Friends marry after spending 1,029 days sailing around the world together

Jim Brockett, 42, and Gerardine McNulty, 35, were just friends when they decided to leave their jobs to embark on the life-changing adventure in January 2006.

They used their combined life savings to buy a £100,000 yacht, Albert II, and visited 42 countries during 1,029 days at sea.

As they swam with dolphins in New Zealand, fed sharks in the Pacific and enjoyed some of the world's most romantic sunsets together love began to blossom.

The couple got engaged in December 2007 when, dressed in a Father Christmas suit, Mr Brockett proposed to his travel companion – known as Ged – on the island of Phuket, Thailand.

They arrived back in Britain last month and on November 29 married in front of 120 guests at The Old Bell Hotel in Malmesbury before flying out for a honeymoon at Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands.

Mr Brockett, a former RAF pilot with 15 years sailing experience, said: "It truly was a dream come true for me – it was a trip that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

"But the best bit was being with Ged for all that time.

"We got on together so well and things just seemed to click and fit in place perfectly. We never really had any major fallouts.

"Marriage was not something I was thinking about but the relationship just got stronger and stronger until it seemed right to propose."

The couple had known each other for two years before the trip after meeting through friends in a local pub.

Mrs Brockett, who had no sailing experience, said: "When he asked me to go with him I didn't hesitate to say yes.

"Some might say it was a bit of a risk but the way I see it, nothing venture nothing gained."

They couple set sail from Lymington Harbour in Hampshire in January 2006 and travelled to another 42 countries including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Australia, Panama, Egypt and New Zealand, until returning home in November.

Now Mr Brockett says they plan to look for jobs and settle back into "normal life" together.

* The 42 countries they visited, in order, are:

1. Ireland 2. Portugal 3. Spain 4. Barbados 5. St Vincent and the Grenadines 6. St Lucia 7. St Kitts 8. Martinique 9. Dominica 10. Antigua 11. St Martin 12. Saint Barthelemy 13. British Virgin Islands 14. Columbia 15. Panama 16. The Galapagos Islands 17. French Polynesia 18. Western Samoa 19. Fiji 20. New Caledonia 21. Australia 22. New Zealand 23. Vanuatu 24. Indonesia 25. Singapore 26. Borneo 27. Malaysia 28. Thailand 29. Sri Lanka 30. The Maldives 31. Yemen 32. Eritrea 33. Sudan 34. Egypt 35. Cyprus 36. Turkey 37. Greece 38. Croatia 39. Malta 40. Italy 41. France 42. England


Monday, December 15, 2008

Burj Al Arab remains World's Favourite

The celebrated Burj Al Arab, flagship hotel for Dubai based luxury hotel company Jumeirah, collected two much-coveted accolades at the 15th Annual World Travel Awards, held in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

The hotel was also recognised elsewhere on the same day at the Luxury Travel Expo in Las Vegas with two Luxury Travel Advisor Awards.

The World's Most Luxurious Hotel was once again recognised as the World's Leading Hotel as well as the World's Leading All Suite Hotel at the 2008 World Travel Awards, for the commitment to luxury, convenience and a highly personalized service for every guest, enhanced by private reception desks on every floor, as well as in-suite check-in and a brigade of exclusive butlers that provide around the clock assistance.

The inaugural Luxury Travel Advisor Awards in Las Vegas named Burj Al Arab as Best Hotel/Resort in the Middle East and the hotel also collected the award for Top Luxury Suite in a Hotel/Resort Worldwide for the Royal Suites. The Royal Suites are located on the 25th floor of Burj Al Arab and the award-winning features include an extravagantly appointed Majlis style lounge, a spacious library, luxurious dining room, a master bedroom with rotating four-poster canopy bed, spacious dressing room and adjoining marble bathroom complete with spa bath and walk-in shower, and a second bedroom with a luxurious bathroom similar to the master bathroom. The suites also contain a private elevator and private cinema.

Heinrich Morio, General Manager of Burj Al Arab, commented:

"We are proud to have been recognized at the Annual World Travel Awards yet again this year, and are delighted at the support from readers of Luxury Travel Advisor. We believe that Burj Al Arab symbolizes the very essence of Dubai, embracing the best of the new alongside traditions of the past and setting new standards of luxury, service and comfort. At Burj Al Arab, as with the rest of the Jumeirah Group, we are truly committed to our guests, and our promise to stay different. We would like to thank all of our Jumeirah colleagues for their continued hard work and dedication to surpass guest expectations."


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Indonesia's Aceh will have tsunami museum

The building of Museum of tsunami, which features the horrified impact of the catastrophe four years ago in Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra island and Nias Island of North Sumatra, will be complete this month, a local media said here Thursday.

Over 170,000 people were killed and more than a half million other made homeless after a tsunami triggered by strong quakes in Aceh province in December 2004. Not only in Indonesia, the tsunami also left hundreds of lives in other Asian countries, from Sri Lanka and India to Thailand, the Maldives and Indonesia.

About three months later, on March 28, 2005, another powerful quake struck Nias island of nearby North Sumatra province.

"We expect this museum can display the impact of tsunami," a deputy at the provincial administration Bastian Sihombing quoted by Antara News Wire as saying at Aceh.

The tragedy had led a global solidarity and encouraged countries to adopt preventing measures by installing tsunami early warning, including Indonesia.


Poor accuse rich of meanness in U.N. climate fight

Developing nations accused the rich of meanness on Saturday at the end of U.N. climate talks that launched only a tiny fund to help poor countries cope with droughts, floods and rising seas.

They said agreement on the Adaptation Fund -- worth just $80 million -- was a bad omen at the halfway mark in two years of negotiations towards a new treaty designed to be agreed in Copenhagen at the end of 2009 to fight global warming.

"We are so sad and so disappointed," Colombian Environment Minister Juan Lozano said of the Dec. 1-12 talks, which went on into the early hours of Saturday.

"The human side of climate change is the suffering of our orphans and our victims and that was not considered here. It's a bad signal on the road to Copenhagen," he said.

"I must say that this is one of the saddest moments I have witnessed in all these years," Indian representative Prodipto Ghosh told delegates at the 189-nation talks, adding he had attended U.N. meetings for 12 years.

"In the face of the unbearable human tragedy that we in the developing countries see unfolding every day this is nothing but callousness, strategising," he said. Several other nations including Brazil, Costa Rica and Maldives made similar remarks.

Many delegates expressed hopes that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama would adopt more aggresive climate policies.

Environment ministers at the talks in Poland set rules for the Adaptation Fund, which is meant to help poor nations build flood defences, develop drought-resistant crops, and produce storm warnings.

The fund, among few points agreed at the meeting, has just $80 million but could rise to $300 million a year by 2012. The developing nations accused the rich of blocking talks on wider funding. The issue was delayed until 2009.


U.N. projections are that poor nations will need tens of billions of dollars a year by 2030 to cope with climate change. Poland spent 24 million euros ($31.84 million) just to host the Dec. 1-12 conference.

"It is obvious that the existing amount of money for the Adapation Fund ... is much too low," said German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Developing nations won streamlined access to funds while rich nations secured controls to ensure cash was properly spent.

Overshadowed by worries about a global recession, the main task of the meeting was to review progress towards a sweeping new global climate treaty in Copenhagen in December 2009 to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

"We are desperately disappointed with the progress here," said Stephanie Tunmore of the Greenpeace environmental group. "The stocktaking bit wasn't difficult: 'What did we do in 2008? Not much'."

Environmentalists accused Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand of blocking progress and failing to set ambitious new goals to cut emissions. By contrast, countries including Mexico, China and South Africa laid out ideas to curb rising emissions.

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the talks were on track.

"Everyone said the fight against climate change is consistent with tackling the economic crisis," he said. Many delegates said stimulus packages to end the global economic crisis could help create millions of green jobs.

European Union ministers in Poznan expressed relief after EU leaders in Brussels agreed a pact on Friday to cut greenhouse gases by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 -- after making costly concessions to east European countries.

The U.N. Climate Change Secretariat said the talks achieved the main goals of agreeing a plan of work towards Copenhagen.

Under the Adaptation Fund, cash is raised by a 2 percent levy on a U.N. system of projects to cut greenhouse gas emissions in poor nations. The levy has raised 60 million euros ($80 million) so far.

Negotiators also agreed measures to speed up approval of projects such as cutting greenhouse gases from factories in China or building windmills in Morocco.

Source: Reuters

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Analysts Consider Democracy in Maldives

In the Indian Ocean, far from India's southernmost tip, lies a chain of tiny islets and atolls that comprise Asia's smallest nation, and the smallest Islamic country in the world - the Republic of Maldives. In October, the world's attention was drawn to the Maldives when a former political prisoner became the nation's first democratically-elected president.

The event was not only a proud moment for the people of the Maldives, it served as another sign of the flowering of democracy in South Asia.

With barely 300,000 citizens inhabiting some 250 tiny islands, the Republic of Maldives is a nation that is easy to overlook. But for 30 years, much of the world looked the other way when it came to the autocratic rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. After surviving a number of coups and winning six consecutive - albeit uncontested - elections, violent protests in 2004 and 2005 forced President Gayoom to legalize political parties and improve the democratic process. Standing for re-election for a seventh term in October of this year, President Gayoom saw his tenure as the longest-serving leader in Asia come to an end.

Winning a run-off election against the incumbent president was one of his strongest critics and a former political prisoner, journalist Mohamed 'Anni' Nasheed. In handing over power to his successor on November 11, Mr. Gayoom apologized for any unfair treatment or injustices he had caused to the Maldivian people during his presidency. It marked the end of what some considered one of the world's most repressive governments.

Ahmed Moosa was among the most outspoken opponents of the Gayoom presidency. Editor in chief of Dhivehi Observer News, a tabloid website targeting Gayoom's government, Mr. Moosa returned to the Maldives last month after more than five years of exile in Britain. He says he believed the pro-democracy campaign he championed would eventually bring about his dream of free and fair democratic elections.

"I think Maldivians are quite resilient," said Moosa. "When they want to do something, they normally do end up achieving what they want. My confidence came from the fact that I was in a position to educate the people of Maldives and to inform them of their rights via the internet, via international media. I was safe in the UK. There was no way that Gayoom could get to me or try to arrest me while I was abroad. So my campaign was trying to educate the people and inform them that they deserve better."

The Maldives Ambassador to the United States, Mohamed Hussein Maniko, said the October election result was not unexpected. "I think it was not really a surprise in many ways," said the ambassador. "I think Nasheed ran basically as a candidate the younger population could adhere to. It was time for us to take the challenge, and the public and the previous government and the present government took upon themselves to do the right thing, and we have been successful in that."

Editor Ahmad Zahir of Maldives' English-language newspaper Haveeru Daily, says the people of Maldives were tired of the 30 years of authoritarian rule. "The former president had all the power in the country," said Zahir. "So, people were fed up with all this and finally they wanted to have a change."

South Asia analyst S.D. Muni said the new government will try to change a feudal system in which power has been controlled by a few families at the top of the social structure - in some cases for generations.

"Almost all the opposition parties seem to have come together under Nasheed Anni's support, and that would broaden up the governance and political system, with greater emphasis on not only democratization, but also on development and more of administrative efficiency," said Muni.

The new president, Mohamed Nasheed, is popularly known as Anni. An outspoken former member of the parliament in Male, Nasheed was imprisoned several times for his criticism of the Gayoon government. Despite the personal price Mr. Nasheed paid for speaking his conscience, he accepted Mr. Gayoon's apology upon leaving office. Editor Ahmed Moosa says forgiveness is part of the Maldivian mindset.

"Well, it was a long time coming. People expected him to apologize every time he made a mistake. Obviously it was very, very late. Maldivians are not violent people. They do not want to take revenge," said Moosa. “People have understood that he was under immense pressure to make sure that the verdict of the people is heard, and international community did play a part in it and our police and the defense force were committed to making sure that at the end of the day what people decide will be the final outcome. Personally I have no problem with Gayoom. Forgiveness is a very noble act."

Ambassador Maniko says both former President Gayoom and President Nasheed should be credited for the smooth transition of power. "I think this transition and the way it has moved smoothly gives credit to both President Nasheed and former President Gayoom for what has happened in Maldives," he said. "They both get credit for this."

In his inaugural speech, Mr Nasheed promised to strengthen democracy and to combat both poverty and drug abuse. Mr. Nasheed's victory continues a recent trend toward democracy in South Asia. Professor Muni said Nasheed's victory will strengthen that movement in the region. "This is important, looking at the democratization drive in South Asia. You have Nepal changing. You have Bhutan changing. Now you have Maldives also changing," said Muni. "So, it is strengthening the democratic trend in South Asia."

Upon taking office in November, Mr. Nasheed announced one of the most ambitious programs any government has undertaken. Remembering the terrible losses suffered during the 2004 tsunami, Mr. Nasheed has proposed the purchase of land elsewhere for the people of Maldives to relocate, should a tsunami or rising sea levels inundate the country. The government is reportedly considering locations in Sri Lanka and India and as far away as Australia.


Research and Markets: 2008 Asian - Fixed Voice Market Report Provides an Overview of Some of the Main Players in That Segment of the Market

Research and Markets ( has announced the addition of the "2008 Asian - Fixed Voice Market" report to their offering.

This market report looks at the fixed-line market in Asia and provides an overview of some of the main players in that segment of the market within the various economies of Asia.

While the fixed-line market is growing at a comparatively slow pace and is overshadowed by frenzied activity in the booming mobile market, fixed infrastructure remains an important component in the overall development of the telecom sector. By March 2008, Asia had a total of more than two billion telephone subscribers; of these, more than 630 million were fixed-line subscribers, the remainder of course being mobile subscribers.

The standout market in terms of fixed-line subscribers is China with its 365 million subscribers representing more than half the total regional subscriber base. As shown in the table below, China is well ahead of the rest of the market in this respect. It is interesting to note that a number of the highly sophisticated telecom markets in Asia are also highly penetrated fixed-line markets; leaders in this regard are Taiwan (63% teledensity) and Hong Kong (54%). These two are followed by Singapore (42%) and Japan (40%).

Key Topics Covered:

  • 2. ARMENIA 4
  • 5. BHUTAN 14
  • 7. CAMBODIA 17
  • 8. CHINA 18
  • 9. GEORGIA 37
  • 10. HONG KONG 39
  • 11. INDIA 47
  • 12. INDONESIA 69
  • 13. JAPAN 84
  • 14. KAZAKHSTAN 102
  • 15. KYRGYZSTAN 106
  • 16. LAOS 108
  • 17. MACAU 111
  • 18. MALAYSIA 112
  • 19. MALDIVES 121
  • 20. MONGOLIA 123
  • 21. MYANMAR 125
  • 22. NEPAL 126
  • 23. NORTH KOREA 129
  • 24. PAKISTAN 131
  • 25. PHILIPPINES 144
  • 26. SINGAPORE 163
  • 27. SOUTH KOREA 175
  • 28. SRI LANKA 186
  • 29. TAIWAN 199
  • 30. TAJIKISTAN 209
  • 31. THAILAND 210
  • 32. TIMOR LESTE 231
  • 33. TURKMENISTAN 233
  • 34. UZBEKISTAN 234
  • 35. VIETNAM 236
  • Companies Mentioned

For more information visit


Friday, December 12, 2008

Regional governments, NGOs urged to prepare for major Sumatran quake

Experts are urging regional governments and humanitarian agencies to step up preparations in time for the next major West Sumatran earthquake.

This comes after their studies show that an 8.8-magnitude earthquake could rock the coastal areas of Bengkulu and Padang in the next 30 years, triggering a major tsunami.

With a total population of 1.5 million in the area, experts warned this could lead to a bigger loss of life and property than those seen in Aceh during the 2004 tsunami.

It has been nearly four years since the Asian tsunami claimed nearly 100,000 lives in Indonesia's Aceh province.

Now, international experts are predicting the next such disaster could cause even more deaths - this time in the Mentawi Islands, which mainly comprises of Padang and Bengkulu.

After studying the pattern of ancient earthquakes at reefs near the islands, they say seismic stresses are still building up, even after three large quakes off the coast in September last year.

In fact, the study showed that the three large earthquakes signal the start of the next big sequence of earthquakes to hit West Sumatra.

Professor Kerry Sieh, Director Earth Observatory Singapore at Nanyang Technological University, said: "If the remaining earthquake happens just as one event, it could be a magnitude of 8.8. If it happens in a series of events, it could be a series of 8 pluses. That is a bit speculative, but it is a bit of a warning that it could happen."

If the team is correct, this could prove devastating to Padang, which has a population more than twice that of Bandar Aceh of 350,000.

And the resulting tsunami, they say, could be over five metres high.

Besides widespread damage to Western Sumatra, there is also the possibility that the Maldives and Mauritius could be hit.

Thus, the team hopes regional governments and aid organisations will hasten their emergency preparations.

Professor Sieh added: "They have been focusing on developing evacuation routes, teaching them what to do after the tsunami if they have lost their homes. There are other organisations who are thinking of building vertical evacuation structures, you build platforms so the water can go underneath."


Monday, December 8, 2008

Overcome barriers to increase bottled water exports

Sri Lanka exported bottled water to the value of Rs. 24 mln up to October 2008 and there is potential to increase it further if the barriers impeding its growth are eliminated.

Chairman, American Premium Water Systems (Pvt) Ltd, Anura Kumarasinghe said that bottled water was never recognised earlier but it is an essential food item and the government realising its potential has presented a budget proposal to develop the bottled water industry.

Considered the father of the bottled water industry, Kumarasinghe said, “We had a discussion but never thought that the government will act so fast. It is a welcome move.”

Kumarasinghe who is also the President of the Sri Lanka Bottled Waters’ Association (SLBWA) said that as requested by the EDB, the Association submitted its proposals relating to the development of the industry on Friday. The EDB is keen to improve the industry.

He said that if consistent standards are introduced for local and imported water and a freight subsidy is given, SLBWA can increase the export volumes and earn foreign exchange. Since the product is 100% Sri Lankan the total amount earned is the country’s gain.

At present 90% of our bottled water is exported to the Maldives while the balance is exported to Australia and the Middle East.

In the event a subsidy on freight is given we can increase exports to Maldives as there is a huge market due to the numerous tourist hotels.

The freight rates to the Maldives is very costly. To export a 20-foot container to Maldives the freight rate is US$ 1,000 while it is US$ 150 to India.

In addition, Maldives has imposed a 15% duty. In the event government to government discussions can be held to abolish it, it will greatly help the industry.

In the event these obstacles are removed we can earn Rs. 200-250 mln on exports to the Maldives alone as the consumption is fives times greater than Sri Lanka.

The SLBWA can increase the quantity to the Middle East also if there is government support.

The Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI) has laid down strict standards for local manufacturers while for importers the certificate is given based on documentation and the product.

He said that according to the standards local companies have to specify the source and one source can be used only by one manufacturer.

This hampers the growth of the business while the cost also increases unnecessarily. Globally source water testing has been given up.

Outlining the company’s achievements, Kumarasinghe said that the company has set up a plant in Chennai and the company is ranked among the first 10 bottled water companies.

The company is also planning to open a plant in Bangalore and another in the Maldives.

In Sri Lanka the company is planning to establish a plant in the Kandy district.

The market for bottled water is growing and it is now an essential food item.


Islanders Plead at Climate Talks to Be Saved From Rising Seas

Island countries from Grenada in the Caribbean to the Maldives in the Indian Ocean are telling delegates at the United Nations climate-change talks this week that their lands may be swamped by rising seas and more powerful storms unless global warming is curbed.

Warmer temperatures are melting icecaps, expanding the volume of oceans and sending more intense hurricanes toward Grenada. Higher tides in the Tuvalu islands between Hawaii and Australia have started making groundwater too salty to drink for its 12,000 residents. The Maldives may buy land elsewhere and move all its islanders should rising waters engulf their land.

“We are already in danger -- it’s not that we Maldivians ever want to leave,” Amjad Abdulla, director-general of the nation’s environment ministry, said in an interview at the UN global-warming talks in Poznan, Poland. Relocation plans for the 300,000 residents from the low-lying atolls south of India are being drawn up for “a worst-case scenario.”

Delegates at Poznan are negotiating a “shared vision” to open the way for a new global-warming treaty to be signed a year from now in Copenhagen. Island-state envoys say they fear an agreement struck before talks wrap up on Dec. 12 won’t ensure their survival, or be backed by pledges from industrialized nations that release the most heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year predicted sea levels will rise 18 to 59 centimeters (7 inches to two feet) by 2100, having risen 17 centimeters during the last century. The Maldives’s highest point is about 10 feet above sea level. The panel also said tropical cyclones are likely to increase in intensity as temperature warm.

2 Degrees Too Much

The 27-member European Union has proposed curbing global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre- industrial times.

A 2-degree limit won’t guarantee the future of the lowest- lying nations, said Leon Charles, a Grenadian delegate. “Two degrees is really not a safe level for small island states,” Charles said. “For many of them it would be like a death sentence in the long run.”

The EU, the biggest group of nations that already accepted binding emissions limits under the Kyoto treaty, also asks the developed world to cut them 20 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

The “shared vision” blueprint won’t likely include precise numbers on reductions by 2020, U.S. delegate Harlan Watson said at Poznan, which lies halfway between Berlin and Warsaw.

A 2-degree goal is “suicide” for islands that rise little above sea level, Selwin Hart, a spokesman from Barbados for the Alliance of Small Island States, told delegates on Dec. 2.

‘Our Extinction’

The 43-member Alliance of Small Islands group wants a 1.5- degree limit, and “agreeing to a goal that results in our extinction is not something we’re prepared to do,” Hart said.

A temperature gain of 2 degrees would kill off up to 85 percent of corals, raise sea levels, increase tropical diseases and intensify storms further, said Charles, climate-change adviser to Grenada’s finance ministry.

Ocean water expands when it’s warmer, occupying more volume as temperatures rise. The seas also have risen as the Greenland and Arctic ice sheets melt.

The UN climate panel also said temperatures have risen by 0.76 degrees since the 19th century and further gains of 1-2 degrees would result in the bleaching of most corals, a process that makes them more vulnerable to dying off.

“We’re living on coral reefs: The economy is fisheries and tourism and the coral reefs are the natural barriers from sea- level rise and storm surges,” Abdulla of the Maldives said. “If the coral reefs go, it means the death of a nation.”

As studies are carried out and the evidence stacks up that the small islands are in danger, politicians in richer nations may begin to change their stance, said Stephanie Tunmore, climate campaigner for the environmental group Greenpeace, in Poznan.

“The 2-degree target a few years ago was an incredibly radical position. It’s much more widely accepted now” and even 1.5 degrees may be endorsed, she said. “It’s very, very hard for them to say ‘we know this island and this island and these people will be obliterated.’ It becomes a moral imperative to act.”


Millions of Muslims begin Haj

Chanting prayers, nearly 3 million pilgrims from about 100 countries converged on Saturday in a valley just outside the holy city of Mecca at the beginning of the 5-day haj pilgrimage, a lifelong dream for many Muslims.

The pilgrims left Mecca after completing the first ritual of the haj by circling the sacred Kaaba stone structure seven times inside the Grand Mosque, which Muslims all over the world face during their five daily prayers.

Dressed in white robes, pilgrims piled into and on top of buses on their way to a ritual of prayer and reflection in Mina, some 5km east of Mecca.

The journey caused massive traffic jams on roads leading to Mina, where pilgrims will spend the night in white, fireproof tents. Some pilgrims chose to walk the route.

The haj, packed with symbolism and ritual, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Every able-bodied Muslim who can financially afford to must perform it at least once in his or her lifetime.

'All people are equal before God'

For Ahmed Malek, a pilgrim from the Maldives, the haj teaches that all people are equal before God.

"Here, all the people are wearing identical white dress, no matter who they are," said Malek.

"I get the lesson that all human beings will be judged on the basis of their deeds, not colour, race or social position."

Mohammad Hossein Salem, an Iranian pilgrim performing the haj for the first time with his wife, said he waited 10 years to make the journey.

"Now, my dream has come true," said Salem. "Here is the best place to be on earth."

Saudi Arabia has deployed some 100 000 security personnel to keep order during the haj.

Thousands of them patrolled the route to Mina on foot and in vehicles.

Prayers at Mount Arafat

The high point of the pilgrimage comes on Sunday with prayers at Mount Arafat, a gentle hill about 15km east of Mecca where Islam's Prophet Mohammed is said to have given his last sermon 14 centuries ago.

Muslims believe that the last passage of their holy book, the Quran, was revealed to Mohammed during this sermon.

At Arafat, pilgrims offer prayers from noon to shortly after nightfall in a ritual that's interpreted as a foretaste of the Day of Judgment, when Islam says every person will stand before God and answer for his deeds.

Following the prayers, the pilgrims travel to nearby Muzdalifah to pray and collect rocks to throw at a pillar symbolising the devil in Mina on Monday.

After the symbolic stoning, the pilgrims slaughter a camel, sheep or cow to mark the beginning of the Eid al-Adha, or the "Feast of the Sacrifice".

The feast commemorates God's gift of a ram to substitute for Abraham's impending sacrifice of his son and is considered the most important holiday in the Islamic calendar.

The pilgrims remain in Mina for two more days to perform a second and third symbolic stoning of the devil and then perform a farewell circling of the Kaaba before leaving Mecca.


Source: AP

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Island states seek tougher U.N. climate deal

A group of 43 small island states called on Wednesday for tougher goals for fighting global warming than those being considered at U.N. climate talks, saying that rising seas could wipe them off the map.

"We are not prepared to sign a suicide agreement that causes small island states to disappear," Selwin Hart of Barbados, a coordinator of the alliance of small island states, told Reuters at the 187-nation meeting.

The December 1-12 talks in Poznan, Poland, are reviewing progress at the half-way stage of a two-year push for a new U.N. treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. The new treaty is meant to be agreed by the end of 2009 in Copenhagen.

The 43 nations, including low-lying coral atolls from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, said global warming should be limited to a maximum of 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, below a 2.0 C goal by the European Union.

Average temperatures rose by about 0.7 Celsius last century and many scientists say that even the EU goal, the toughest under wide consideration, may already be out of reach because of surging emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

Hart said it was the first time that the alliance had set a common temperature goal. Rising temperatures and seas would damage corals, erode coasts, disrupt rainfall and spur more disease, they said.

Low-lying states such as Tuvalu and Kiribati say they risk being submerged by sea level rises, spurred by rising temperatures that could melt ice in Greenland and Antarctica. Warmer water also takes up more space than cold, raising levels.

"A 2 C increase compared to pre-industrial levels would have devastating consequences on small island developing states," the nations said in a joint statement.


"My country is really suffering," said Amjad Abdulla of the Maldives. He said some people in the Maldives were already living in partly inundated homes.

Bernaditas Muller of the Philippines said a 2C rise would wipe out a third of the territory of her country. Rising seas would also swamp low-lying coasts from Bangladesh to Florida.

The small islands said their goal would mean that industrialized nations would have to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by more than 95 percent by 2050.

Such cuts are far deeper than under consideration by industrialized countries, facing additional problems in making new reductions because of the financial crisis.

The EU, for instance, is struggling to get approval for a plan to cuts of 20 percent below 1990 by 2020. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama aims to return U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 after a rise of 14 percent since 1990.

The U.N. Climate Panel said seas may rise by between 18 and 59 cms (7-24 inches) this century and that sea levels are likely to keep on rising for centuries.

But some scientists say that may be an under-estimate.

"It's still likely that the average sea level will rise less than 1 meter by 2100 but higher figure cannot be excluded," said Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

He said that some studies indicated that seas could rise by up to about 1.55 meters by 2100 and 1.5-3.5 meters by 2300.

"If the Antarctic ice sheet melts down completely the global sea levels would rise by 57 meters (187 ft). For Greenland it's 7 meters," he said.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Receives World Travel Award

The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island has added another accolade to its collection, with the receipt of the World Travel Award for ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Hotel’.

The current Miss World, Zhang Zilin, presented the award to General Manager and Island Chief Carsten Schieck at the World Travel Market, held earlier this month in London.

The World Travel Awards are one of the biggest accolades in the travel and tourism sector, gaining recognition as “The Oscars of the Travel Industry” from the Wall Street Journal.

Carsten Schieck, General Manager and Island Chief commented, “We are delighted to receive this highly sought after award for the second year running following our re-branding in December 2007. We have an exceptional team committed to providing a truly outstanding resort experience and this award proves that we are setting the benchmark in a highly competitive environment.”


President urges World Bank to prioritize Maldives private sector

President Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) has said that he had requested the World Bank officials to priorities the Maldives’ private sector over the Government in extending loan facilities. He made this statement at a press briefing held today, on establishing a transport network in the Maldives.

He also noted that the Government does not wish the transfer of people’s homes from one island to another and the Government’s long term plan was to open a national fund that would assist us in protecting ourselves form climate change calamities.


Maldives President Nasheed meets British High Commissioner

President Mohamed Nasheed has met with the British High Commissioner to the Maldives, Dr. Peter Hayes. The meeting was held this afternoon, at the President’s Office.

Speaking at the meeting President Nasheed and the High Commissioner discussed ways of further strengthening bilateral relations and possible areas of cooperation between the Maldives and the United Kingdom.

President Nasheed also briefed Dr. Hayes on the Government’s policies in delivering its pledges to the people.

Dr. Hayes assured that the British government would continue its assistances to the Maldives.

President Nasheed was joined at the meeting by Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, Special Envoy of the President; Abdul Bari Abdulla, Policy Secretary at the President’s Office; Sabra Noordeen, Maldives Political and Press Officer at the British High Commission; and Mohamed Naseer, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Maldives President Nasheed meets British High Commissioner

President Mohamed Nasheed has met with the British High Commissioner to the Maldives, Dr. Peter Hayes. The meeting was held this afternoon, at the President’s Office.

Speaking at the meeting President Nasheed and the High Commissioner discussed ways of further strengthening bilateral relations and possible areas of cooperation between the Maldives and the United Kingdom.

President Nasheed also briefed Dr. Hayes on the Government’s policies in delivering its pledges to the people.

Dr. Hayes assured that the British government would continue its assistances to the Maldives.

President Nasheed was joined at the meeting by Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, Special Envoy of the President; Abdul Bari Abdulla, Policy Secretary at the President’s Office; Sabra Noordeen, Maldives Political and Press Officer at the British High Commission; and Mohamed Naseer, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More environmental initiatives

In last week’s column, I proposed a number of legislative measures that should be taken to improve the efficiency of our environmental enforcement mechanisms. The protection of our local environment and an awareness of the affects of Climate Change are of the utmost importance. Globally, the economic crisis has put the concept of sustainable development on centre-stage. There are now discussions of just how realistic a “green” economy can be. As Pakistanis we owe it to ourselves and the future generations, who will suffer the effects of climate change, to be aware and practice of what means to be environmentally-friendly.

At the moment, there is total lack of awareness of what environmental problems and climate-change issues face Pakistan. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that the word “environment” when employed in Urdu as “mahaul” is not correct. Mahaul and mahauliyat convey a different meaning in Urdu than in English. It is not for nothing that many a local “environmentalist” seldom goes beyond planting trees or cleaning up litter. Wo mahaul saaf rakh rahein hain.

Another challenge is how, too often, we compartmentalise climate change, the environment and, say, health. For example, the Ministry of Health is responsible for premature child deaths. A World Bank study states that in Pakistan some 22,000 premature child deaths a year are caused by air pollution. This is the air pollution in our cities caused, primarily, by the burning of fossil fuels in the transport sector. The burning of fossil fuels is, according to Pakistan’s own Initial Assessment of Climate Change, responsible for roughly half of Pakistan’s total CO2 emissions. These CO2 emissions are responsible for climate change. But nowhere is the Ministry of Health connected to the Ministry of Environment. And in no way is the Ministry of Environment in touch with the Ministry of Transport. Our bureaucrats may be the best and most seasoned of professionals (and may Allah grant them greater glory and more plot allotments), but if the system they have to work in – the Federal Government Rule of Business – doesn’t help them, a rational approach to the environment and climate change is unlikely. I should mention that the Rules of Business, the document which sets out the manner in which the Federal Government operates, was written in 1973. This was before I was born. To think that, in my lifetime, no one has come up with a better way of running government is shocking.

The Ministry of Environment should take the initiative and begin examining the failures in the very structure of our government. It needs to undo the compartmentalisation mentality in government. By keeping climate change as a priority, the ministry should investigate to determine if there are better ways of designing a government structure.

The prospect of climate change often seems insurmountable. After all, what will turning off a light bulb do to slow the alarming rate at which polar icecaps are melting? How can not using plastic bags keep Bangladesh and the Maldives from sinking into the Indian Ocean?

The fact is that activism on environmental issues and climate change has gone beyond merely personal obligations. The challenges posed by these issues now permeate into government responsibility on the national and international level. I know we have a tendency, counterintuitive that it is, to fall into the mistaken belief that government is responsible for the public good. We continue to hold this belief despite the fact that, as a rule, our governments only fail our expectations. But the environment is an issue that offers redemption. It is incumbent on government, in the larger interests of its citizens, to take the environment seriously and begin taking stock of what is required to meet the challenges of climate change.

Just as a better understanding of the environment forces a better understanding of unseen connections – the linkage between premature death, air pollution, transport and climate change being a perfect example, a better understanding of climate changes forces us to appreciate global unconnectedness. Take Bangladesh, for example. In 2006, Bengalis emitted less than 0.3 tonnes of carbon per capita. In comparison, the average US citizen emitted 6 tonnes of CO2. That polar ice caps are melting because of climate change is not disputed. But millions upon millions of Bengladeshi citizens are going to be effected by rising sea levels and their contribution to global climate change is negligible! The Maldives is expected to be completely submerged by 2050. Recently, the prime minister of the Maldives launched a proposal whereby a portion of the country’s tourism revenue is to be set aside for the acquisition of real estate. That’s correct: the Republic of the Maldives and its 350,000 inhabitants are planning to shift. But where are the more than 130 million Bangladeshis going to go? Do the Indian and Burmese economies have the capacity to deal with such a refugee situation? To what extent are developed countries, whose emissions over the past century and a half are the cause for the current state of the earth’s environment, responsible for indemnifying the losses to be suffered? The environment and climate change are the means by which these hitherto unseen connections have been identified. What is to be done remains a topic of international debate today.

Because of these seemingly intractable international equity issues that arise within the context of climate change, countries routinely take their best and brightest to international conferences. International treaties are negotiated by armies of professional lawyers, environmentalists, economics, scientists, diplomats and experts. One of Pakistan’s proud sons, the climate-change specialist and blogger Adil Najam, once told me that some European countries took over a hundred negotiators each to the table at the international climate-change conference at Bali last year. The Pakistani contingent could be counted on one hand. How can we hope to carve out a place on the international level? How can we get equity without an army of experts of our own? The Ministry of Environment should be busy finding and trainings its own army of experts to forge a way in these international conferences. Only by being smarter and better prepared than western countries does Pakistan stand a chance is getting its fair share. At the moment, with the exception of the brilliant Furrukh Iqbal Khan and a handful of others, the fate of Pakistan lies in the hands of bureaucrats from the DMG who are lucky enough to be assigned a junket.

The Ministry of Environment should take the initiative and launch a large-scale climate- change awareness programme within the existing structure of government. We are beyond the specious argument that environmental regulation will detrimentally affect the development of our economy. We are beyond the mistaken belief that the cap-and-trade system is a licence for developed countries to continue polluting. It is my belief that a “green” economy is Pakistan’s only option for future development. The environment and climate change are the most pressing issues of our time. And if anyone thinks the Ministry of Environment has nothing to do, they need to think again. The massive responsibility of organising our government on these issues is squarely balanced on their shoulders. Climate change is no longer just a personal commitment to the environment. Mitigation and adaptation strategies must be our government’s commitment to the people. By not taking these initiatives, the ministry is letting down the Pakistani people.

The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email: ralam@nexlinx.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Thousands Pay Final Respects To Former President

Thousands of people queued outside the presidential palace in Malé on Sunday to pay their final respects to the late former Maldives President Ibrahim Nasir after his body was flown to Maldives.

Nasir, who died in a hospital in Singapore on Saturday evening at the age of 82, had not returned to the country since he left in 1978 due to persecution by ex-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Queues of men, women and children snaked along the roads in Male to see Nasir, the first president of the second republic of Maldives, for the final time. Sunday was made a national holiday to commemorate the event.

Nasir, who is succeeded by three children, died in Singapore Mount Elizabeth Hospital on Saturday after having suffered from kidney failure in the intensive care unit for some time.

With the consent of President Nasheed and Nasir’s family, Nasir’s body was brought to Male International Airport on a Sri Lankan Airline flight. Hundreds of people congregated at the airport.

His body was brought for a ceremony held at Republican Square before being taken to Theemuge, the former president’s palace, for public viewing.

Thousands of people proceeded to pay their final respects. Among them were the ex-President Gayoom, who lost power on 11 November, and President Mohamed Nasheed (Anni).

The funeral prayer and burial was arranged to have after Isha prayer, but later decided to postpone till Fajr prayer due to the long queues.

Nasir’s body was placed in the hall of Theemuge covered with an orange cloth, with only his face exposed.

Speaking to the media today at the President’s Office, Nasheed said Nasir had rendered numerous services to the Maldives.

Without forgiveness and reconciliation, he added, it would be impossible for us to achieve the democracy that we hope for.

Among those who attended the ceremony, forty-year old salesman Ali Mohamed said he agreed that Nasir should have been given a state funeral.

Moosa Ali, 49, a fish seller, said Nasir was the one who had introduced mechanised fishing vessels and many other services to Maldives.

“I don’t know how Gayoom would have dealt with Nasir’s body if he had been in power,” he said. “We should give all the respect to Nasir,” he added.

Nasir served as country's Prime Minister under Sultan Muhammad Fareed Didi from 1957 to 1968 and succeeded him to become the first President of the Second Republic from 1968 to 1978.

Nasir is recognized for bringing independence on 1965, when the country been a British protectorate since 1887.

His work included bringing Maldives to the United Nations, modernising the fisheries industry with mechanized vessels, and starting Maldives’ lucrative tourism industry.

He was credited with many other improvements, such as introducing an English-based modern curriculum and building the first international airport in the Maldives.

He also abolished “Vaaru”, a tax on the people living on islands outside Malé.

But he has also been criticised for human rights abuses and the use of authoritarian methods against opponents, such as a crackdown on a 1959 breakaway republic in the south of the country.

As prime minister in 1962, Nasir sent a militia from the capital, Malé, to suppress islanders of Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo after they declared a breakaway state in the southern atolls.

Reports suggest an estimated two or three hundred islanders were allegedly brought to Male, jailed and tortured.

Islanders of Thinadhoo on Sunday were protesting over the decision to fly the Maldives flag at half-mast, angry over his treatment of their island.

But Abdullah Abdul Rahmaan, 70, from Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo, believes Nasir sent a militia to Thinadhoo for their good. “He was a good person who wanted to make this nation unified,” he said.

In 1981, Nasir was sentenced by President Gayoom in absentia for alleged corruption and planning a coup, but he was later pardoned.

President Nasir’s family was with him when he passed away on Saturday.

The funeral prayer for the late President Nasir will be held after the Fajr prayers, at Masjid-ul Sultan Mohammed Thakurufaanu-al Auzam. He will be buried at the Friday Mosque.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Maldives' first president dies at 82

Ibrahim Nasir, who led the Maldives' independence movement from the British and became the nation's first president, has died at age 82, an official said.

Nasir died Saturday at a Singapore hospital and his body was flown to the Maldives and kept for public viewing at the president's office, Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaeed said Sunday, adding that the cause of death was not known.

Born on Sept. 2, 1926, Nasir became the prime minister of the British protectorate in 1957 at age 31. He signed an agreement with the British that won independence for the Indian Ocean archipelago in 1965.

In 1968, three years after independence, Nasir became the Maldives' first president and held that position until he resigned 10 years later. He was accused of ruling the country as a dictator and fled in 1978 amid public resentment and unproven allegations of corruption in handling public funds.

Nasir modernized the country's fishing industry and introduced tourism, for which the Maldives is now world famous.

President Mohamed Nasheed and his ministers were to be present at the burial Sunday night.

Nasir is survived by two sons and a daughter.

Source: AP

Friday, November 21, 2008

Club Med Kani offers a peaceful paradise in the Maldives

A room that looks like an image from a coffee-table book on tropical living, a bed covered in fine cotton sheets, a white mosquito net that's draped over its dark timber frame and folding doors that open on to a private balcony.

Breathe in the fresh air, a mix of humid equatorial heat and salty sea spray, and look across the shallow blue water of the lagoon to the deep indigo of the Indian Ocean stretching to the horizon.

Walk down the timber steps to a private swimming platform, then down the short ladder and slip into the still water of the lagoon.

Tropical fish of all shapes and sizes swim around, not at all disturbed when you slide below the surface, and the temperature of the water is perfect.

This is the morning routine that awaits you in the Maldives at one of Club Med Kani's luxurious bungalows.

Club Med Kani is a 40-minute boat ride from the Maldives' capital of Male and a 30-minute hop from the airport island of Hulhumale where one of the resort's super-fast vessels will meet you at the door of the terminal.

From dawn to dusk you can enjoy the dozens of activities that are run by the resort's friendly team of GOs – general organisers – from stretching at sunrise and yoga at sunset to water aerobics, beach volleyball, kayaking, sailing, snorkelling, scuba-diving and deep-sea fishing.

While it would be easy to spend all your time on Kanifinholu Island, there are lots of options to get out and see more of this Indian Ocean destination that's made up of 1190 islands and 26 atolls.

The Maldives are famous as a dive location but if you don't want to scuba, and are keen to get your head under the water to look at life beneath the waves, you can join one of the half-day snorkelling cruises.

Club Med Kani has access to a couple of dozen snorkelling locations and the experienced staff will pick a few sites to visit depending on the weather and the currents.

This is the home of the Male Express, a powerful ocean current, and surfers are told not to paddle between islands because they could end up a couple of kilometres from their intended destination if they're swept up.

It's a surprise, when you're cruising along in a speedboat, to stop in what appears to be the middle of nowhere, but your guide knows that this seemingly random patch of blue is right beside a deep ocean ditch where tropical fish graze on a coral reef.

Jump off the boat, adjust your goggles and slip into the silence below the surface. Schools of tropical fish as colourful as neon signs are comfortable with their human companions.

Another excursion is a visit to the Blue Lagoon – a patch of white sand that rises out of the ocean just enough to walk on and is surrounded by a calm stretch of azure water that's protected by a distant reef.

The boat backs right up to the island and it's only a couple of steps in the shallows until you're on a feature that isn't much more than a sandbank and there's nothing to do but float in the quiet water or sit in the lapping waves near the beach.

Another outing gives you the chance to visit Male and see a slice of life in this Muslim country which survives on fishing and tourism.

The capital city looks like a movie set, with highrise buildings coming right to the edge of the island, and the city feels like it's about to burst at the seams with more than 80,000 people living on a pint-sized patch of land.

An afternoon is more than enough time to visit the attractions, have a meal, and do some tourist shopping.

Make sure you visit the Grand Friday Mosque – with its walls built from carved coral blocks – the busy fish and produce markets, the always hectic fishing harbour and the National Museum in the Sultan's Gardens.