March 29, 2012

The burden of keeping our democracy is on the common man

It’s the common man who must keep democracy alive. It’s not in the general interest of those we elect to do so. The political chaos in so many of our world’s so labeled democracies vouch for this. As a temporal process in our developing nations, the election date is a moment that separates two opposite vistas of the democratic process. Before elections, advocacy for the benefits of democracy is the rousing cry, but after the event, such advocacy is hushed into uneasy silence. This dichotomy is stark when in our societies, those aspiring for power have the bigger voice and the public have very little. This dichotomy can be transformed into a continuum when the common man begins to give strength to his voice. The stronger the public's voice, the more humble the other will become. Ultimately the essence of democracy operates when the public’s interest will be dedicatedly accommodated by those whom we raise to the positions of public leadership.

But for a society to reach this pinnacle, at least two things must happen. That public must be well informed and educated -- not just a schooling that epitomizes the mere banking of information, but the infusion of responsibility and character; and the other being the need for us to be compassionate as a community. For Maldives, both pose huge challenges, but the second being ever more the harder of the two, for in a world full of the glitter and draw of materialism to which we have become so accustomed, the effort will be gargantuan, for such a paradigm of development makes us blindly competitive and selfish. We will need originality and inventiveness to overcome the barriers that confront us. However, it is these very aspects that must be nurtured for democracy to prevail in a sustainable way.

With sincerity and committed leadership, we can do it -- through good education and nurturing good parenting. But for the 20 years hence, by which we can hope to expect such harmony to be a way of life in our Maldivian society again, we need to manage the turbulence of this interim period that has for many reasons not had the blessing of both of the above. To manage this present, its imperative we put down our cudgels and come to the table for dialogue and redefine the future we want to create.

March 22, 2012

Water and Food Security is the message of this year’s World Water Day

Today is the World Water Day. Every year, the 22nd of March is marked as the special day that focuses on the blessings of water as our live giving elixir; the use and misuse of it; and on how we can be more responsible in managing this finite resource.

For many who may not know, close to two-thirds of our body is made up of water, and that is why we have to keep on drinking so much of it to keep our bodies in good working condition and for us to feel alive and well. But drinking contaminated water will make us sick. In the Maldives of our past, we drank our water from the wells in our homes or brought in from those located in our mosque premises. And perhaps many of us have forgotten that before we began using the water closet, those of us who didn’t want to trek to the beach, used a special enclosed area in our yard for burying our human wastes (gifili) in close proximity to our wells. Uninformed as we were during those early days on how our porous coral soil could easily drain the germs from the waste into our wells, we consumed the water just because it seemed clear to the look. And so, given this practice of those days, the leading illnesses for both children and adults were diarrhea and intestinal parasites that drained much of the meager nutrition we put into our bodies. Such being the case, Maldivians of those days, could not grow in height to their full potential due to the many bouts of these childhood diarrheas and so when the natural growth spurt stopped, we were a few inches shorter than what we could have been. That explains why we were much shorter then.

Our cholera epidemic of 1978 was a turning point in this national habit. From then on, with huge efforts by our health sector, in chlorinating our water wells and helping everyone with collecting rain water, our habit completely transformed to using rain water for drinking. The result was a dramatic decline in the rates of diarrhea in children and consequently there was a drastic reduction in the numbers of our babies dying before the age of one. This was a very notable achievement in the health of all Maldivians -- achieved just by the simple life style change of drinking rainwater. So now we see our Maldivian youth, on an average a few inches taller than their parents and much more than their grandparents. Of course this was the result of the availability of more food on the table also. Whereas about a generation ago, our normal breakfast in our islands would be just a thuni-roshi and a cup of black tea, now we have a better balanced breakfast and even get to eat more variety due to our increased affluence.

Clean water plays a big part in the preparation of food too. Salads and vegetables washed with contaminated waster will make us sick. Or cool drinks made with such water and contaminated ice cubes can also make us sick. From a food security point of view, food can be contaminated by pesticides also and that can be dangerous to our bodies, the short and long term effects of which can be life threatening. In larger countries where agriculture is a prime vocation, lack of water can also result in food insecurity because enough water is not available for agriculture and less food can be grown and thus less availability due to low supply or high food costs.

In Maldives, our water can also get contaminated with the pesticides and fertilizers we use in agriculture and by the chemicals we drain into our soil with our domestic and industrial effluent and from the stuff we throw away into our dumps such as left over pharmaceuticals, batteries, used machinery, e-waste and the like. In Maldives, as we all by now know, our available water is confined to a lens of fresh water in the ground and this is easily contaminated from the seepage from these above substances. So very responsible care is needed in disposing such wastes because the risk of water contamination is always there and that risk could easily find its way into our bodies. In the case of fertilizers, it is certainly better even from a carbon foot-print point of view to use natural fertilizers such as the compost that we can prepare even by ourselves.

Being aware of these important facts can be the message of today.

March 21, 2012

Let’s focus on issues rather than people

The political turmoil and violence our small nation Maldives is witnessing today brings tears to my eyes – and I am sure into that of many others too. The damage and destruction to bodies, minds, and structures is pathetic, and the fear and anguish being seared into the hearts of an unassuming public by the few is deplorable. Such a far cry from the peaceful nation we had! And what development potential we had in vantage. We throw it away with nothing but greed in our minds. Innocence is lost, and I would say we have sold our soul to the evil that is our bloated egos. How can such behavior demonstrated by those we have selected to be our leaders be taken for good role modeling? Leaders are, by their very nature, those that lead and show good example for the betterment of a cause. And we as a nation have selected leaders to move our nation state forward to bring peace and harmony amongst us citizens. We need those with the knowledge and wisdom to move our ship through the turbulent waters of life with awareness, mindfulness and prudence.

But, given the continuing chaos, what we are witnessing today are those seemingly without that caliber to be such captains. How can our children be expected to follow these manifest examples? Do we want to nurture another generation of angry youth? There is ample evidence to demonstrate that children become what they see and experience around them. When we blatantly infringe the God-given responsibility of parenthood to nurture good human beings we forfeit our right to be the bearers of morality in our society. Leaders must be truthful, visionary and forthright and full of the edge that comes from strength of doing the right thing. And of character that will elevate them as beacons of hope for an egalitarian future, not be pitiful plunderers in a selfish moment.

In searching out solutions for this moment we are facing on our home-front, there is no better option for warring parties than to come to the table - however ego-demeaning it may feel. Conflicts are resolved when we can put our best options for a negotiated settlement on the table and coming to compromise - to put the "issue" for debate rather than hold on to our pet "positions". Only then can we separate our ego from our real self and become sober to the realities of the public's needs.

For the promise of a safe and hopeful long term future, it would have to be the nurturing of a responsible citizenry by re-thinking the basis of our whole educational and parenting system to instill that good character and community conscience that will be the gold standards by which our future leaders will measure their actions. For now, it's going to be an uphill climb again. But who said building sustainable nationhood was a piece of cake? Yes, Dear Citizens, let's not make the same mistake again!

March 19, 2012

The island is still our home

These sights and thoughts from a morning walk in Male.

 Litter of yesterday still remained, not collected and being strewn about in the morning breeze. The narrow pavement made uneven by the constant repair work being carried out unabated to accommodate the wiring and piping of new building constructions makes walking precarious -- especially for the older generation for the possibility of a sprained ankle from a foot laid unsteady or a sudden trip of the foot on a protruding cement block that doesn't quite fit the surface lattice-work. In the tree pits along the wobbly sidewalk are accretions of litter such as empty pet bottles, chocolate wrappers, empty supari or gutka sachets or just crushed up remains of shop receipts and most of all I notice the base of the trees of the avenue red with myriad streams of beetle juice laden spit directed at these lone and accepting sentries of the street. The lattice cover of the street-side drains is layered with dried fallen leaves from the trees overhead that indicated a default on the daily sweeping and collections of road-side litter. Nostalgia overcame me as I drank in the fresh morning air – nostalgia for the days gone by when Male’s then sandy streets were swept to a clean sheet every morning by the house owners who valued the tidiness of the common surroundings. It was almost a religious impulsion from within, not to be dished out to foreigners doing labor duty. The island was still our home.

At the next street-corner, I did see some such collectors of the morning litter, sweeping half the accumulations into the drain along with the sand and the leaves, oblivious or careless to the fact of a filling up drain and the problems of water logging and mosquito breeding these drains will pose during the monsoon time. Unable to bear witnessing this irresponsible and inefficient process happening I was overcome with an inexorable temptation to move over to give them my version of what a good sweep meant. I did so showing how to sweep away from the drain and protecting it from filling up, and fortunately they did not get upset with me but deferred to my pleadings to keep our country clean by doing properly the work assigned to them and benefiting from our tax payers money to give them a sober livelihood even as our own poor sleep long on Saturday mornings letting the dollars drain. The economic development of the past decade or so seems to have put an irrational logic in our minds that manual labor is degrading, and so must be dished our to guest labor from neighboring countries. Our hubris is that despite being aware of the economic hardships we are experiencing now, we still are willing to let the dollars drain out of our country for the obduracy our bloated personal egos dictate, and allow our national interest to whither. Yet we complain that dollars are hard to come-by! Does this not call for a major overhaul of our moral base and to put us on the path of values again? Can we call for a Captain who will put our ship on course by having his/her eyes less on the materialistic glitter of the shores yonder than on the treacherous corals that lie in our path of social values -- responsibility and character?

March 14, 2012

Disasters mirror our action

Whether complex emergencies (those created by man’s anger towards man) or disruptions to our lives caused by natural events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, avalanches, hurricanes, etc, are all we impose on ourselves. There is very little we can do to avert some of these natural occurrences that are part of the normal settling process of our planet earth. But the consequences of these events become disastrous to us because we are unprepared for these. We locate our cities along coast lines and rivers, we mine our land and cut down our forests unmindfully, and we create divisions and discontentment within and among our societies that end up being risks to us that we have to burden ultimately.

Nature has these events to occur for the purposes of its evolution and for the crust to settle and cool and renew as a part of its regenerative ecological, biological, meteorological and physiological processes that make our earth what it is. In the process, it becomes a more habitable place for us animals and humans. When we are in its way, we get hurt, injured or eliminated. But Providence gives us our sense of thought and reflection that enables us to survive our terrain. Unlike in other animals who have a natural instinct to detect natural occurrences through a sixth sense so to say and take evasive action (you may recall that during the great Asian tsunami of 2004, very few animals died where as scores of human lives were lost), humans have had this faculty dulled over the eons by the very fact that we have a more thinking brain. But many of us may not use this God-given blessing to think through the consequences of our actions in an objective enough way for the very big obstacle we have that is our ego. It seems it is always selfish desires that come before social harmony or our very own survival. In our interaction with our ecosystem, we project this selfishness. Even when the voice is loud and clear that our present global environmental and ecological disaster is the result of our mindless greed – that it is the consequences of our very own human action (not of other animals) we go on plundering.

In our total oblivion to ecological truths and the blindness to the fact that we share a common home with other living species too (what the science community calls biodiversity), we mine our earth and seas to its bowels, level great swathes of our rain forests, and spew out the belch of our materialistic production into the pristine air for the short term gains that make companies richer than countries. No wonder that our profligate behaviors are reciprocated by nature that goes beyond its ecological functions in the intensity of the events that we observe and the devastations that we experience. Unfortunately, it is the small carbon foot-printed poor of the world that suffer the brunt of this ecological bludgeon. Surely, we can’t eat the cake and still hope to keep it. Realizing that ecological truth of the ripple effect (“a flutter of a butterfly in Rio will affect the weather in Beijing”) must drive us to be more thoughtful and wisely think through consequences of our action. All our great Religions tell us to “think before we leap – of the consequences, and that we cannot hide from these”. Only through such responsibility can the Gaia survive. Perhaps I should say “we humans, can survive on Gaia”. As the old adage goes, “This earth doesn’t belong to the present generations, we have merely borrowed it from our unborn children”.

March 12, 2012

Carbon neutral – lets pick the low hanging fruit first!

Whatever government that comes in to help us live our lives in harmony, the carbon neutral policy is one that needs to continue. For economics or for ethos, we need that. I had a delightful opportunity about a year ago to help the government streamline its health and environment plan into its overall environment plan. It was a wonderful collaborative exercise among the various relevant ministries in how we could come up with consensus. One of the objectives of the national environment plan was on achieving carbon neutrality.

If implemented well, this policy will prove very cost effective to our communities, and it will preserve our way of life for generations to come. And it is the right thing to do. But where can we begin? Take for example, our age old habit of walking, and keeping fit in the process, even without noticing that we are doing so. In Male, right away, a third of our population is hindered from experiencing a peaceful walk. In Male this can be a perilous experience. We have filled our little island with vehicles that are literally choking it and us in the process. Either bravery or questionable sanity can make you venture onto the streets of Male. Although we may not be aware – it is a high tension moment in our motor vehicle thronged streets that lack walking space. Two-foot wide pavements that wobble with the unevenness of its latticed cement blocks leave us with many a sprained ankle, and the dripping water from curing cement of newly laid concrete work of buildings or the overflow from air-conditioners keeps the pressure up leaving the hapless pedestrian guessing where to place the next foot-step. As if this is not enough, the barrage of on-coming pedestrians occupying the same narrow pathway and also mutually meandering through the narrow spaces in-between the army of parked motor cycles, keeps one moving in fits and starts. And then not infrequently also there is the obstacle of having to constantly sidestep gaggles of guest workers who have no other place for chatting than on our narrow pavements, and who often seem oblivious to the urgency of a pedestrian in a hurry – sometime to be the object of ogle or having to avoid the spray from the ever-present spitting. So making our streets more pedestrian-friendly must be a prime objective of our carbon neutral policy. If we have more walkable pavements, less people will opt not to drive gas guzzling vehicles or take the 20 rufiyaa taxi ride to the next block 20 meters away. So could be the reduction in vehicles. It cannot be that people don’t know of or experience such agonies and wish for a solution -- perhaps few actually know of ways to address it. This is what the Male Municipal Council could put to public debate or reflection. It would truly be worthwhile, and I am sure very good ideas will emerge, if the Mayor puts this to an open forum

Our marine vessels also carry the potential for carbon neutral action. Thus, one query I would pose is as to why we don’t use our sail any more? Even on a good windy day, we just continue to burn our diesel or petrol without a thought to this possibility of cost or carbon reduction. The hurried life our minds have got us so accustomed to, pushes us to be energy intensive – of course without really being aware of this. But in this new promise of carbon neutrality we have made for our nation, every opportunity must be taken. And these couple of approaches seems like low hanging fruit that can be picked quickly and easily before we reach out for those on the higher branches --such as those related to wind and solar energy. These latter are certainly the ones in vogue in global media and so in our minds also whenever the idea of “green” is flagged. But let’s look at functionality before fashion. Given the global financial climate, we need to be frugal and prudent in our present choices not to ditch posterity into debt. Let’s pick the low hanging fruit first!

March 2, 2012

The mind thinks linear: can we get out of that straight line?

The mind’s logic has it that those who have a lot must have tried very hard to acquire what they have. But spiritual logic says that we get a lot when we don’t try but when we just set our intentions in the right direction. This must be without the idea of greed, but with a sense of sharing what we get in the service of society. Mental logic also says that when you have a lot you are very happy. But spiritual logic says that even though you may have much, it will not give you joy and peace if that is kept only for yourself. This latter logic comes from the fact that nature doesn’t hoard, it shares, and circulates. If we look at nature, we see the dynamic of cycles of happenings –it’s never a linear process as this age of science has so ingrained in us. The living and the dying, the youth and old age, the water and the steam and the rain and rivers that give us our life strength and sustenance, the economy of nations that must depend on the circulation of wealth among its people, our physical bodies that circulate our blood and life-giving oxygen all show us that to hoard and keep will only plug up our body systems, our ecological systems, our economic systems and even our spiritual systems. Perpetuation and life is about sharing and giving and service. That is why we find in so many places in our Holy Quraan, next to prayer, it is always about giving, for giving is tantamount to prayer.

Our lives can be ever richer when we understand the power of giving and sharing. Hoarding and selfish desires will only coagulate our system and lead to death which in itself is not a bad thing if we can learn to look at death also as an event in a cyclic path; a passing over rather than an end of all. But that is the spiritual maturity we must have as individuals that make up a nation -- to prosper, to have peace and be in the throes of continued joy.

March 1, 2012

Why instigate the very things we want to prevent?

The ego is at work, always forgetting the Golden Rule. The ego doesn't care about the Golden Rule! It just wants to win for itself and be in the limelight. In the case of our country Maldives, it would not be unwise to say that we don't want violence. We just want peace. To those I would say let's become peaceful ourselves. The law of life says that "one cannot change others, but one can change oneself". That is only logical, for if we don't have control over ourselves, are we worth our salt? Have we grown up? Have we matured? Or are we just morphed in the Peter Pan stage? So in this domain of thinking its only logical that the 'leaders" we have chosen from ourselves in our new-found democracy realize that violence only begets violence, and its inherent emotions of jealousy and greed only demonstrates to our younger generation the role modeling of a harshness that will continue into posterity. Do we really want that? I thought we are all in to build a harmonious society where peace and development - social, economic and spiritual - will reign. In our small and beautiful country, what we are doing now in our anger, deceit and resentment for each other - in what I would call only temporary alliances for the common greed - is to destroy that potential to create a loving and sharing generation of Maldivians. Instead we attempt to nurture a nation of cynics who will perpetuate the gloom. Let's wake up, forgive, and go forward in the realization of our common heritage. Let's take charge of ourselves and not be led by others alien to us and our culture to dictate what we should be and what we should do. After all, we decided to be a nation and we picked democracy over despotism to be our governing paradigm. Now we must live it. May Allah Bless our Nation!!