The fifth triennial report of the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE), “South Asia and the Future of Pro-People Development: the Centrality of Social Justice and Equality”, was launched at a programme held in Male, Maldives on 04 June 2017 organised by Maldives NGO Federation (MNF) and SAAPE. Mr Ahmed Nizam, President of Maldives NGO Federation (MNF) and SAAPE Core Committee member, chaired and moderated the programme. Honourable Mohamed Shihab, former Speaker of Parliament (People’s Majlis, Republic of Maldives), former Finance Minister, former Home Minister and former Mayor of Male' City released the report.
SAAPE Core Committee member, Sushovan Dhar highlighted the major issues on which the report is focused. He said that SAAPE brings narratives from the ground and poverty report is a counter narrative to most of the official publications on poverty, which seek to laud only the economic growth and neglect its pitfalls. He added that the report is an attempt to address the issues of inequality and seek attention of policy makers to initiate a dialogue based on the counter narratives to find out appropriate course to address the issues of poverty, inequality and various types of oppression.
The Honourable Mohamed Shihab, in his brief address, he shared his past experience as a planner and policy maker in the government of Maldives. He highlighted the current situation of inequality in Maldives and shared the trend of the ever increasing gap between rich and poor is and also how few people are holding most of the resources if we compare the data of the last three decades. He observed that the report reflects the ground reality and captures the reality of South Asia where inequality is increasing with the shrinking job opportunities for youth and women. There is economic growth and development in one hand, but the gap between rich and poor is increasing on the other leaving more and more people vulnerable and poor. Maldives is badly affected by the impact of climate change in South Asia, although all South Asian States are facing challenges posed by climate change. He emphasised that the report appears to be useful for planners and policy makers of South Asian countries to seek alternative and sustainable development path. He deplored the US decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord in June 2017.

The launching of the report was followed by a panel discussion on “threats of climate change in South Asia – the case of Maldives.”

Ibrahim Naeem, Director General of Environmental Protection Agency of Maldives, emphasised that climate change is real and it is adversely affecting small island countries like Maldives in many ways. The impacts of temperature rise are apparent on sea level rise and severe bleaching of reefs which has impacted the livelihood of the people as reef is one of the major tourist attraction in this country. Similarly, the erosion of island is another major problem. If we compare the current aerial pictures of the islands with those of three decades back, we could see that 10-15 per cent land of the islands has eroded already.
Aminath Shazly, SAAPE Core Committee member and lecturer of environmental management at the Maldives National University (MNU) shared her thoughts on the impacts of climate change on social aspects of people’s lives. She shared major findings of one of the studies carried out by Huvadhoo Aid in island communities of Maldives. Accordingly to her, communities in remote islands have not received proper attention from the government while erosion and other impacts of climate change have severely affected their lives, especially women. Women of island communities have to take care of their children and elderly family members while their counterparts are away from the island for economic activities. At the time of inundation, flooding, storm and heavy rain, they face the problem and are most affected and vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Similarly, daily transportation within same atoll for expectant women for regular check-up/follow-up is difficult in severe climatic conditions. There are lot of reports published on the impacts of climate change on environment, tourism etc. but impacts on social aspect has not been analysed as well as not addressed yet.

Mohamed Shihab, Chief Volunteer – Villijoali, MRC Villimale Unit shared his experience of working with the island community people in Maldives. Mr Shihab said that most of the climate change related programmes in Maldives are focusing on physical elements but social elements are totally left out. His observation based on his experience of working with community is that poverty reduction and climate change seems to be an issues being used by bureaucrats and experts on which they have created their own territory. He also suggested bureaucrats and experts to understand and find ways to engage with community people in meaningful ways.

Amjad Abdulla, Director General of Climate Change, Department of the Ministry of Environment and Energy emphasised on water, energy and food security that state should provide to the people to work on the issues of poverty eradication and sustainable development. He highlighted the climate change as a developmental issue and not only an environmental one as it has cross-cutting effects on the livelihood of the people. As a chief negotiator for the 39-member Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Board member of Green Climate Fund (GCF) representing Asia-Pacific region, Mr Abdulla promised to raise the voices of the people at the board meetings.

Mohamed Zuhair former Minister of State for Finance and Treasury and a prominent statistician compared the life of an average Maldivian from subsistence economy in 1970s, where poverty was low and income disparity was minimal, to growth of economy by tourism in 1980s and 90s.

Fathimath Afiya of Maldivian Network to Empower Women (MNEW) also contributed to the discussion. According to her, the gap between rich and poor is increasing in Maldives as in other countries of South Asia.
27 participants took part in the interactions sharing their experiences of daily life on economy and livelihoods, development and threats from climate change etc.

Netra Timsina, coordinator of SAAPE summarised the discussion highlighting the need of rethinking on the alternative model of development that will give justice to both people and environment. The current development model is exhaustive in resource use and exacerbates the inequality in society.

Click here to download SAAPE Poverty Report 2016