Although we do not have tall sky scrappers like the US, today 9th September 2011 is one of the saddest days in our nations history. Just like as the USA lost 3000 souls in their 9/11 tragedy, today we lost 5 people which is exactly the same percentage when US and our country’s population are compared. However our tragedy is not related to any war or global conflicts.
On behalf of all fellow resort workers we send our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and we wish them courage in this hard time. May Allah bless them and their loved ones, and make them rest in peace.
It happened in a most happy carefree setting which is repeated numerous times throughout the year in various parts of the country. Two Classes of Hiriya School (2nd girl’s school in Male’) went on a Fisheries science project to the island of BoduHuraa (near Four Seasons Kuda Hura) with some of their teachers and their late principal Mr. Ali Nazim. He is a strong swimmer and a swimming instructor as well. Over the course of the project, a group of about 8 girls somehow went in to a deeper part of the lagoon (8 feet depth) and shouted seeking help. Nazim managed to free some of the drowning girls and it appears that the remaining panic stricken teens somehow overpowered him reflexively and that appears to have been how the tragedy happend. The total body count of the tragedy is five including Nazim.
The tragedy has taken the whole country by surprise and the whole country is in mourning. Three official days of national mourning has been announced by the president and Health and Education ministry are conducting reviews of the whole situation to prevent repeats in the future.
It might have something to do with the proliferation and easy access to media, but almost every other day the sad news of a drowned or disappeared person is relayed in local news. Normally when a person goes missing in an island, the islanders comb the whole island sometimes for a whole week, during the same time authorities are notified who in their part scour the seas from the sky using hired aircraft. Sometimes the body washes up a few days later, and sometimes the search goes fruitless. Although not frequently attached with the grim story of such a fatality, the authorities do spend huge amounts of money on such search operations.
Prevention is indeed better than cure at which the tourism ministry is currently drawing up guidelines to tourism industry to incorporate safety guidelines at new resorts which will require more emphasis on safety. Same or more measures in these lines needs to be implemented in building/construction and fisheries industries where people work with dare-devil mentality. Its not particularly smart to be a daredevil, it pays to be precautions.
Perhaps one small help that we can use to do an effective search with minimal cost would be to use drone technology instead of hiring normal airplanes. There are drones which can do spectacular military strength photography from above, which can be very useful in situations like this at very reasonable prices. Such drones are sometimes used by oil exploration companies and environmental agencies to photograph massive areas cost effectively. One such drone technology available for civilian use was bought and used by Libyan rebels against Gaddafi forces on their march to Tripoli in the days prior to 23rd August, the day they stormed Tripoli. The system they used was called Aeryon Scout, a product of Cananadian company which was sold for a little less than what would cost to buy an “3 cylinder engine dhoni” (100k$ to 200k$)in our terms. If our forces opt for this technology in their search operations it surely will enable them to do more thorough searches of large areas of land and sea many times less expensive than current methods.
The recent round of middle east turmoil and popular action to remove corrupt regimes from power started with an economic problem. Joblessness. The same kinds of problems are being experienced in more developed countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece. Here in Maldives, we had a culture of government appointing political and civil service jobs as favors for katheeb’s and atholhuverins and their friends and families for a long long time. At that time those who didn’t have the right connections had to make their own way to resorts or somehow manage to scrape a living. Time however has changed with the new popular administration and the changes that are currently being brought simply needs an urgency in creation of jobs for the local people. The current thinking for solving the housing problem is through real-estate business like as done anywhere else, which is almost a new concept for the country. There still is more needed to be done to facilitate this type of business such as changing existing laws on land ownership and laws on mortgage etc. All these measures will soon be taken up and fast-tracked as our version of ‘welfare-state’ is being built, after which the problem of jobs will come again around with a vengeance. This time it will be in the form of home-owners who needs jobs to pay for mortgage!
Fortunately we currently seem to have the capacity to provide jobs for prospective homeowners and taxpayers in the private sector as well, but its by no means in an orderly fashion. Our current job market is in serious chaos and it needs drastic restructuring to be efficient and useful for the local economy.
Broadly here are the industries and the situations thereof which needs to be taken in to consideration. Tourism industry:
Tourism industry provides most jobs for local economy and this industry can still provide more opportunities by quota adjustment by profession. Currently the situation is that almost any number of foreign workers for any position can be employed for any length of time. Apart from a requirement that 50%ratio of expats to locals workers need to be maintained (even which is not a hard or fast rule!) there is no more encouragement for employing local workers. Construction industry:
construction industry has vast potential for local economy but is actually the worst in terms of work opportunity for local workers. Its not a problem of lack of talent but rather lack of willingness to tackle corruption in the industry. Construction industry as its currently running is only useful for a handful of big contractors and a few smaller ones who are have the right connections to the big ones. Its almost a no-go area for local artisans and craftsmen because of lack of job security, poor work conditions, and extremely meagre wages designed to discourage local workers. Being businesses everyone tries to get the most profit which equates to finding the cheapest labor which is where the local worker looses out. Fishing industry:
This is one industry which can be better managed by innovative means. Only depending on one type of product, one type of boats, and one methodology to fish have exhausted the industry and drastic measures needs to be made to revive the industry. Agriculture industry:
Although we would love to call it an industry, we do not yet have much of agriculture in any comparable industrial scale. Because our islands are small and soil is not very fertile, traditional methods of agriculture as practised in other countries will not work. Things like hydroponics and aquaculture are perfectly suitable for some varieties and needs to be propped up. A most pressing problem for this industry is financing and small business assistance, which also needs to come up somehow somewhere and the sooner the better! Manufacturing:
Apart from The Static-Company (they export R/O plants) we do not yet seem to have any exportable manufacturing products but there are many encouraging signs. We have successful businesses in bottling plants for water and soft-drinks and a few canning factories for fish cans. What we can successfully introduce to local economy with little effort and financing include, cookies, biscuits, soap, detergent, lotion , perfume etc. These small scale productions can be introduced to aspiring enterprising souls through chambers-of commerce activities and small businesses initiatives. Financing:
There is great urgency in propping up institutions and mechanisms to help create and sustain other industries by providing capital and finance services. With the upcoming income tax regulations and associated restructuring, its hoped that the government will not be forced to take loans from local banks which is the cause of all financing woes the the country faces.
Poaching or rather fishing very close to the house reef of a resort property is a contentious issue which is dealt with differently in different resorts. There appears to be no law or regulation on this issue except the resort can chase away the poachers with their high speed boats powered with outboard engines, given that the resort is aware that its a problem in the first place. With the ever great need for guests for absolute privacy, rooms built on the ocean side of the island maybe the ideal private rooms which is all but open to the ocean giving panoramic views. There are many resorts built with this format and the room types and constituency of beach houses and ocean houses are determined by the geology of the island. Such ocean houses offer good privacy on the land side but is bare on the other side which is especially bad if the ocean side is on an established route of sea traffic.
Tourism and Fisheries are in totally opposite sides of the interests table such as the gun and peace lobby of USA. Tourism here in our country relies on presenting the beauty of nature, natural fauna and flora to guests while fisheries is about taking out these very same resources from nature and present it to hungry mouths elsewhere to be eaten! Its also quite difficult to debate on the merits and demerits of the situation as both sectors can wreck the high ground other will claim on variety of issues and all sorts of emotive genies will escape the bottle as the debate continues.
The best way to deal about this problem with lack of judicial protection would be for resorts to adopt the corporate social responsibility thing to a little more practical level. This could be done by showing the neighbouring villagers the positive side of having a rich neighbour as a resort and how important it is to keep relationship amicable. An annual photo-shoot with island kids and resort executives “island cleaning” will simply not do the magic nowadays. There are some resorts who have successfully done this “catching up with neighbours” such as Naide which recently opened up a small training facility in their resort to recruit apprentices from neighbouring islands.
Ultimately the source of these social problems of the country stems from unemployment which makes an already hopeless people do reckless things which in turn comes to affect the main bread earner (tourism) of the country.
Catching fish by bare hands is not an everyday experience especially if the fish is tuna but occasionally the unexpected happens… What you see is a staff in Anantara Veli hurling a tuna fish (frigate tuna) on to beach from a school of tuna which had entered the shallows around the island and was trying to fly on to beach. The pic was shot in the evening from a mobile phone camera.
The school of fish probably several thousands in number came in to the shallows a day earlier been chased by prey such as sharks and since has been trapped by a navigation error which was a chance to fish on the beach for staff and guests in pure resort style…
The school of fish has since found its way out to the sea after “woving” the guests and giving everyone memories of a life time. Moments like these are few and far between in resort life but are the things which make resort life fun and worthwhile.