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Cablegate: Maldives Seeks Assistance with Climate Change

VZCZCXRO2465
PP RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHLH RUEHPW
DE RUEHLM #1048/01 3231020
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 191020Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0789
INFO RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 2060
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 9088
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 7330
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 3485
RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH 0092
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 9651
RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 2580
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0457
RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE 0095
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 6945
RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR 0378
RHEFHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1320
RUENAAA/SECNAV WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 001048

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE FOR NOAA, USGS
DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY FOR FEMA
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE FOR U.S. COAST GUARD
DEPARTMENT OF STATE FOR SCA, OES, AND IO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON SENV PGOV TSPL KGHG TPHY KICR IO CE
SUBJECT: MALDIVES SEEKS ASSISTANCE WITH CLIMATE CHANGE
ISSUES

REF: COLOMBO 1033

1. ESTHOff met with Maldivian government officials on the
margins of the Climate Vulnerable Forum November 9-10
(reftel) and in Male November 15 to discuss a range of
climate change and other environmental issues. The
Government of the Maldives (GOM) has called climate change
its number one national security concern and announced plans
to reach carbon-neutrality by 2020 -- an ambitious goal for a
lesser-developed country. After successful democratic
elections last year, new policy makers, politicians, and even
civil servants are in many ways starting from scratch in
trying to better understand climate change and environmental
challenges confronting the nation. While their hearts are in
the right place, government officials admit that a good deal
of outside support would be welcomed in such areas as
training, outreach, capacity building, equipment and
materials as they seek to enhance their ability to manage
environmental issues and climate change challenges.

TSUNAMI FOLLOW-ON AND HARBOR MITIGATION ISSUES

2. Mohamed Shahid, Director General of the National Disaster
Management Centre (NDMC), noted that 60% of the nation's GDP
was destroyed when the tsunami hit the islands on December
26, 2004, leading to the displacement of as many as 25,000
individuals. After nearly five years, 1600 remain displaced,
although housing units continue to be built on home islands.
Noting the importance of intact reef systems -- which
surround the islands -- to protect against both future
tsunamis and climate change, the DG (on the job for 10
months) asked for information regarding what he described as
a NOAA/NASA/Navy project which maps reef systems to ensure
that harbor dredging and design limits damage to the
ecosystem and beach erosion. He also requested FEMA and NOAA
assistance on capacity building and information sharing.
Finally, he indicated the USG may have old (25-plus years)
satellite images of Maldives which are declassified. Shahid
asked if these could be shared to assist the GOM in better
understanding shifts in their own islands.

CORAL REEFS

3. Mr. Hussein Zahir, Senior Reef Ecologist at the Marine
Research Center (MRC), part of the Ministry of Fisheries,
Agriculture, and Marine Resources, also requested capacity
building and information-sharing assistance. He noted that
the World Bank's "Maldives Environmental Management Project"
-- a five-year, $13 million project begun in 2008 -- is well
underway and already producing reports identifying needs,
including on coral reef issues. The Maldives participates in
all Coral Reef Monitoring Network (managed through the South
Asia Cooperative Environmental Project, SACEP) projects.
Zahir emphasized that because the 1190 islands of the
Maldives are surrounded by atolls and coral reefs, the
country is a particularly good platform for coral reef
science. The MRC recently took possession of an island in
the Male atoll which formerly housed a fish processing plant,
and is turning the site into a research facility for use by
scientists worldwide. Zahir requested assistance in funding,
equipping, and publicizing the site among the official and
university scientific community the United States and
provided a report outlining the location's needs. He also
said the GOM is interested in learning more about whether
coral reefs -- the "forests of the seas" -- could be a
potential source for carbon sequestration.

4. Zahir related the good news that many of the reefs damaged

COLOMBO 00001048 002 OF 002


by the 1998 El Nino bleaching incident have rebounded
extremely well, particularly in the southern atolls and the
western side of the central atolls. He requested assistance
in linking up with scientists in the U.S. to learn more about
ocean acidification and its potential effects on coral reefs
and the Maldivian islands. He explained that the Maldives
has only six graduate-level scientists working on coral reef
issues and affirmed outside expertise would be welcomed. He
also noted that he has no base-line data regarding his
country's fisheries, coral reef quality, or beach erosion.
He asked if any USG agencies might have data from the 1980s
we could share.

CLIMATE CHANGE

5. The GOM is extremely focused on climate change research,
mitigation, adaptation, and prevention. Post is aware of a
NOAA-led ten-day course offered entitled "Planning for
Climate Change in the Coastal and Marine Environment." GOM
officials with the Vice President's office, the Ministry for
Housing, Transport, and Environment, and the Ministry for
Fisheries, Agriculture, and Marine Resources all expressed
interest in exploring options for bringing this
capacity-building and information-sharing course to Maldives
in the first half of 2010, something Post strongly supports.

ACTION REQUEST

6. Post requests Department assistance in identifying
governmental, non-governmental, and university partners to
begin building relationships between appropriate officials in
the Maldives on environmental and climate change activities.
Possible interlocutors within the USG from NOAA, FEMA, USGS,
Coast Guard, Navy, AID, and elsewhere should contact ESTH
officer Ken Kero-Mentz via unclassified email at
keroka@state.gov. Post will also provide copies of the World
Bank and coral reef research facility reports noted above
upon request.
BUTENIS

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