A Float­ing Is­land of Waste

Par­adise on Earth? Per­haps not.

Southasia - - Contents - By Fa­tima Si­raj Fa­tima Si­raj is cur­rently pur­su­ing a BBA at the In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Karachi. She writes on mar­ket­ing and so­cial is­sues.

The Mal­dives, largely known for its dream re­sorts built on 99 of its 200 in­hab­ited is­lands, is a hon­ey­moon par­adise with pic­turesque blue wa­ters, sway­ing palm trees and white sands. The 1,192 ar­chi­pel­ago caters to close to three quar­ters of a mil­lion tourists ev­ery year. But while hon­ey­moon­ing cou­ples and va­ca­tion­ing tourists flock to this breath­tak­ing des­ti­na­tion, the for­eign ex­change that they bring in comes with its costs. The un­for­tu­nate op­por­tu­nity cost of al­lo­cat­ing the Mal­dives’ pris­tine beaches to tourists can be summed up in one word: Thi­la­fushi. An is­land built on re­claimed co­ral reefs around two decades ago, Thi­la­fushi or ‘garbage is­land’ as it is com­monly known, has be­come a dump­ing ground that would make even the most un­der devel­oped parts of the world look clean.

Far re­moved from the nat­u­ral beauty that is as­so­ci­ated with the Mal­dives, Thi­la­fushi is home to piles of garbage, mostly com­pris­ing tourist as­so­ci­ated de­bris - plas­tic bot­tles, crisps pack­ets and candy wrap­pers. As mi­grant work­ers light fires to burn the lit­ter, toxic fumes in­fil­trate the once clean air with dust par­ti­cles and flies. Keep­ing aside the dam­age in­flicted on the ozone layer, the harm­ful ef­fects of in­hal­ing this pol­luted air have se­ri­ous health con­se­quences for the mi­grant work­ers who hail mostly from Bangladesh.

The heaps of rub­bish that have formed lay­ers of filth over the land are cer­tainly a sore sight for the eyes. The coun­try dumps 330 tons of garbage daily, most of it as­so­ci­ated with the tourism in­dus­try as each tourist gen­er­ates 3.5 kg of waste per day. How­ever, a large chunk of in­dus­trial waste in the form of lead, as­bestos and other met­als also finds a place on this is­land. Apart from the ruth­less air and land pol­lu­tion, a mas­sive amount of water pol­lu­tion also oc­curs. The In­dian Ocean la­goon is in­creas­ingly sub­jected to waste that can­not be burned or is con­ve­niently tipped over by boats that can­not wait for hours to off­load their con­tents onto Thi­la­fushi. As chem­i­cals and solid waste pol­lute the water, it be­comes a dan­ger­ous habi­tat for life un­der the sea. Apart from the loss of marine life, ed­i­ble fish is also con­tam­i­nated, dis­rupt­ing the food chain and even­tu­ally caus­ing harm to hu­mans.

It is crit­i­cal that the en­vi­ron­ment be pro­tected for its own sake. In our quest for achiev­ing higher stan­dards of liv­ing, hu­mans have failed to give im­por­tance to the need for leav­ing the world’s re­sources the way we found them, for the sake of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. By care­lessly harm­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, the Thi­la­fushi sce­nario is even­tu­ally de­plet­ing free goods: water and air. As the piles of trash are left to rot on the is­land they de­com­pose and re­sult in the emis­sion of green­house gases, which in turn cause global warm­ing. This sig­nif­i­cantly adds to the Mal­dives’ great­est woe: the loom­ing threat of a ris­ing sea level. Are th­ese costs worth the huge amounts of eco­nomic growth that mass tourism brings for the Mal­dives? The short

and long-term con­se­quences for the en­vi­ron­ment are se­vere. For a coun­try like the Mal­dives, such reck­less dis­posal is an af­front and an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist’s worst night­mare. The coun­try’s mere ex­is­tence is at stake so im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion must be paid to the Thi­lafishu cri­sis.

The pre­vi­ous government un­der Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Nasheed, rec­og­niz­ing the grav­ity of waste man­age­ment, had signed a deal with the In­dia based ‘Tatva Global Re­new­able En­ergy’. Ac­cord­ing to the agree­ment, a sys­tem would be de­signed to re­cy­cle waste for power gen­er­a­tion. How­ever, with po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity grip­ping the Mal­dives, the new government has yet to fi­nal­ize the deal. De­spite the de­lays, the en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards are so grave that the State Min­is­ter for En­vi­ron­ment and En­ergy ap­proached the Tourism Min­istry to place en­vi­ron­ment of­fi­cers in re­sorts. Th­ese of­fi­cers are re­spon­si­ble for en­sur­ing that waste from the re­sorts is not dumped at Thi­lafishu, as is the case right now. As the Mal­di­vian Min­is­ter for Tourism rightly stated “One of the main is­sues which has a neg­a­tive im­pact on the tourism in­dus­try at present is the is­sue of garbage: the sight of garbage float­ing in the sea, the sight of smoke from burn­ing garbage as the flights de­scend to land. This has a very detri­men­tal im­pact on value ad­di­tion.” While this state­ment may seem ir­re­spon­si­ble for its cut throat na­ture and some­what crude em­pha­sis on ma­te­rial gains as op­posed to con­cern for the en­vi­ron­ment, it shows that there is a sense of aware­ness about the is­sue at hand and this shows the need for a des­per­ately needed so­lu­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.