The environment ministry and some 99 out of 111 resorts in the Maldivian tourism industry signed a declaration today to manage waste, promote sustainable tourism and protect marine and coastal ecosystems.
The declaration was signed at the opening ceremony of the “Sixth Regional 3R Forum in Asia and the Pacific” – an annual forum initiated in 2009 by the Japanese government in partnership with United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) with the goal of integrating the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle) in the overall policy, planning and development.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the forum held at the Dharubaaruge convention centre this morning, Vice President Ahmed Adeeb announced the introduction of a national 3R award “to further encourage the measures by the industry to incorporate resource efficiency into tourism operations.”
The government also plans to mark August 16 annually as the national 3R day.
Environment minister Thoriq Ibrahim signed the declaration on behalf of the government while Mohamed Umar Manik signed on behalf of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI).
In his remarks, Thoriq said poor waste management practices undermine the appeal of the Maldives as a high-end tourist destination and “can lead to negative publicity and reduction in visitor numbers.”
“The social and environmental impacts of tourism calls for an appropriate development strategy for achieving environmentally-sustainable tourism.”
The Maldives Independent was unable to obtain a copy of the declaration at the time of going to press.
The 3R forum seeks to address policies, programs, measures, tools and technologies to achieve resource efficiency, sustainable production and consumption, integrated solid waste management, sound material-cycle, low-carbon and a zero waste society.
The theme for this year’s forum is ‘3R as an Economic Industry – Next Generation 3R Solutions for a Resource-Efficient Society and Sustainable Tourism Development in Asia and the Pacific’.
Some 141 officials from 33 countries are participating in the three-day forum.
Commitment to conservation
In his remarks Adeeb said the signature of 99 resorts on the 3R declaration is testimony to the commitment of the tourism industry to conserve the environment.
Adeeb said the government recognises the importance of environment protection and sustainability to the development of the tourism industry.
“Environmental considerations were incorporated into the very first regulations developed for the sector in 1979,” Adeeb said.
“The Tourism Act of 1999 specified that all tourism projects must undertake an Environment Impact Assessment prior to the initiation of any project. In 2006 a separate regulation dedicated to protection and conservation of environment in the tourism industry was adopted. This regulation covers a wide range of areas, incorporating environmental considerations into all stages of tourism development and operation from protecting the environment during construction, through to protecting of biodiversity, waste management, waste water treatment and water storage in operations.”
Adeeb added that many resorts “have taken steps beyond the mandatory requirements to protect and conserve the fragile ecosystems of the Maldives.”
“It is not surprising that the efforts of many of our resorts are consistently recognised by the international community and have won various international awards for conserving the environment.”
In April this year, the parliament transferred the Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) powers to evaluate environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and authorise projects such as land reclamation to the tourism industry. The EPA functions as an independent body under the environment ministry.
Environmental NGO Ecocare warned that the move conflicts with the environment protection law – which requires the EPA to evaluate assessments – and could “pave the way for corruption”.
A 2013 study by solid waste management consultant, Charles Peterson, found that an estimated 860 metric tons per day (mtpd), or 312,075 metric tons (mt) per year, of solid waste is discarded in the Maldives. About 21 percent is attributed to tourism with the balance divided among urban areas (65 percent) and island communities (35 percent).
An estimated 134 mtpd of solid waste is generated by the 101 resorts in the Maldives; whereas, the safari vessels (157 boats) discarded an average of 8.0 mtpd.
Island community solid waste was reported to have a high organic fraction (70 percent).
Recyclables (metals and plastics) account for only three percent of waste, whilst the balance of the solid waste is classified as residuals.
At tourist resorts, organic waste is estimated to account for 89 percent. The primary components are food waste (40 percent) and garden or yard (landscaping) trash (38 percent).
As the best practice for solid waste, Peterson’s study proposed prevention, minimisation and reuse management as the most preferred options, whilst recycling or composting, energy from waste, landfill are the least preferred options.
More than 200,000 tons of industrial and domestic waste was sent to the industrial island of Thilafushi for disposal in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
While some of the waste is sorted and sent to India, the rest is simply used as landfill or incinerated. Campaign groups have highlighted the risks to workers from toxic fumes and the contamination of surrounding lagoons by floating garbage.
The former Maldivian Democratic Party-led government had signed a contract with India-based Tatva Global Renewable Energy in 2011 to provide waste management services in and around Male, including establishing a system to generate power from recycling waste.
However, the current government of President Abdulla Yameen cancelled that deal late last year, having previously sought to renegotiate it on “more mutually beneficial” terms.