Society

Maldives: Idyllic Archipelago's Unprecedented Floating Trash Dump

Thilafushi Island, in the Maldivian archipelago, is a giant garbage dump where mountains of toxic trash are burned in the open, threatening to turn the Indian Ocean paradise into an ecological nightmare.

Tourist heaven this is not (Shafiu Hussain)
Tourist heaven this is not (Shafiu Hussain)

MALÉ - Plumes of thick smoke rise from the small island and disappear into the brightness of the Indian Ocean. Thilafushi is a gigantic floating and burning garbage dump. It's a stain, a black eye on this idyllic archipelago with its 1200 islands, crystal-clear lagoons and blissful tourism.

Walking around Thilafushi is hellish. To protect yourself against toxic exhalations, you have to put a scarf over your face, and you can easily twist your ankle climbing mountains of trash. Behind concrete block walls you can see piles and piles of plastic bottles. Down the road, in the poisonous fog, garbage trucks dump their load.

Thilafushi is the hidden face of the Maldives. It is the price to pay for paradise. An artificial island created in 1992 on an artificial lagoon, it was first used as a giant waste dump for Malé, the capital where one third of the Maldivian population lives, located half an hour away from Thilafushi. Twenty years later, the size of the dump has grown as much as the tourism industry. 850,000 foreign visitors in 2011 - plus the local population - that's a lot of waste.

Maldivian trash is bound to end up in Thilafushi, although a lot of it is lost in the sea on the way over. Garbage boats regularly ferry the trash from the hundred or so islands where the seaside resorts are located, to Thilafushi. According to official statistics, a single tourist produces 3,5kg of garbage a day, twice as much as someone from Malé and five times more than anyone from the rest of the Maldives archipelago.

Altogether, that comes to "300 to 400 tons of trash" dumped on Thilafushi Island every day, according to Shina Ahmed, administration manager of the Thilafushi Corporation, the governmental agency that runs the island.

A toxic time bomb

"Thilafushi is a toxic bomb in the ocean," says Bluepeace, the main ecological movement of the Maldives. To gain space on the island, a great part of the litter is buried, with potentially dangerous consequences. If toxic products such as mercury, lead or asbestos leak into the sea, it will have a dramatic effect on the undersea environment, and could even find its way into the food chain- if ingested by the local fauna.

And when it is not buried, the trash is burned in open air– because of the lack of incinerators –, producing a disgusting smoke. "It's dangerous," whispers Hakim Mohammed, an immigrant Bangladeshi worker who looks for reusable materials in the dump. "When there's wind from the West, everybody at the office gets a headache," Shina Ahmed admits. Malé being so close, the capital's inhabitants are most probably exposed to the effects of the smoke.

Since there hasn't been an investigation, no one knows what the consequences regarding public health are. "But there are obvious effects: there is a growing number of pulmonary complaints in Malé," says Ahmed Murthaza, the head of the Waste Management department of the Maldivian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

An archipelago on the brink of extinction

The Thilafushi time-bomb is adding to the Maldives ecological woes, an already burning issue in a context of rise in the sea level because of global warming. The Maldivian archipelago is less than one meter above sea level, which makes it one of the most endangered countries of the world, along with South Pacific island-nations.

Water acidification caused by human activities has dramatic consequences on corals, which are needed to build reefs and in turn to create new islands.

It's now become a race against time. Maldivian authorities are struggling to minimize the toxic effects from Thilafushi. A new law is on the ropes, to limit the types of garbage that are destined for combustion: "Only organic materials," Ahmed Murthaza says. At the same time, the Maldives is starting to export its recyclable waste, mostly iron and plastic, to China, Malaysia and neighboring India.

Garbage has already become the archipelago's number two export, after the fishing industry.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Shafiu Hussain

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Society

A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.


Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?


The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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