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Updated: October 20, 2009 01:21 IST

Maldivian president on five-day visit to India

B. Muralidhar Reddy
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Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed. File Photo: AP
AP Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed. File Photo: AP

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed is travelling on Wednesday on a five-day official visit to India at the invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Besides the review of the state of India-Maldives bilateral relations, Mr. Nasheed’s special focus in his talks with Dr. Singh would be a common approach on climate change issues ahead of December’s Copenhagen Climate Summit.

According to diplomatic sources, Indian companies, coinciding with the visit, will announce plans to establish major infrastructure facilities in the northern Maldives that could attract investment to the tune of $400-500 million.

The projects identified include an international airport, a port with trans-shipment facility, and tourism development. “Work by the Indian companies interested in development of infrastructure services is to begin in the near future,” a senior Maldivian official associated with the visit told The Hindu.

In the course of his stay, Mr. Nasheed will be the guest of honour at the Delhi High Level Conference on Climate Change and Technology Transfer.

The Maldives, with little over a quarter million population, is a nation of 1,192 coral islets that lie on average just 1.5 metres above sea level. It sees itself as the front-line State in the debate on climate change that can offer valuable insights to the world grappling for solutions to global warming.

Accompanied by a large delegation of ministers, MPs, and mediapersons, Mr. Nasheed, besides his engagements in New Delhi, will visit Hyderabad.

Mr. Nasheed, who became President of the Maldives in November 2008, is visiting India for the second time. He took over the reins of the country after emerging victorious in the first multi-party, multi-candidate elections in the Maldives’ 44-year-old independent history.

The sources said that apart from reiterating the commitment to strong bilateral relations, both sides will review ongoing cooperation in the field of health, education, economic projects and developmental assistance. “They may agree that the Government of India would provide necessary assistance to renovate and strengthen the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male,” the source said.

Renewable energy project

India may also agree to support the development of a group of islands/atolls by establishing a renewable energy project in a bid to assist Maldives towards moving to a carbon neutral economy by 2020.

Indian companies are also entering the affordable housing construction sector in the Maldives as part of the Maldivian Government’s plan to provide affordable houses to the poor.

The State Bank of India will be extending a credit facility of $100 million to the Government of Maldives in addition to the $100 million standby credit extended by New Delhi towards the end of December 2008.

The global debate on climate has provided an opportunity for Maldives to invite world attention to the complex issues of climate change and its potential grave threat to the island nation. For the Maldives, the threat of a warmer sea will translate into higher water levels through thermal expansion of the ocean and storm surges, and could also damage the coral reefs on which the islands depend for fishing and tourism.

New ‘homeland’

The potential danger is so acute that the country’s leadership has been thinking aloud about buying a new “homeland” for its 3,30,000 people in Australia, India or Sri Lanka.

To highlight the threat of global warming to the lowest-lying nation on earth, Mr. Nasheed presided over the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting on Saturday. Held off the island of Girifushi, about 20 minutes by speedboat from Male, the Cabinet signed a document calling on all countries to cut down their carbon emissions ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, where the countries are to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

Earlier on Monday in Male, Mr. Nasheed delivered a lecture on the topic: “Is Gandhi Relevant Today?” at a function organised by the High Commission of India to mark the International Non-Violence Day and the 140th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The Indian High Commissioner to Maldives, Dnyaneshwar Mulay, was present on the occasion.

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