By Ajay Makan
The first response to President Gayoom's appeal for international aid after recent floods has come from a surprise source - Bangladesh.
Following the floods, which were on a scale not exceeded since the 2004 tsunami, Foreign Minister Dr Shaheed said the Maldives had sent a letter requesting aid to "the usual donors. The US, EU, Japan and Canada."
But it is Bangladesh, the country with the lowest GDP per capita, and with no dedicated aid budget, which announced the first donation of $1 million on Wednesday.
"Our resources are limited, but we wanted to come to assistance in our own humble way," said Mijarul Quayes, the Bangladeshi High Commissioner to Malé.
A million dollars is the largest aid contribution Bangladesh has ever made to a state, and eclipses the $50,000 highest single contribution, which the Maldivian government has made to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh after past national disasters.
Over 80% of Bangladeshis live on less than $2 a day, and the Bangladeshi GDP per capita is around a quarter of the Maldivian figure, but Quayes said Bangladeshis would welcome generosity shown by their government to their wealthier neighbours.
"The collective ethos of our nation is mindful that you need your plate of rice. But if your neighbour suddenly does not have any rice, you should share it," he explained.
"We are delighted with the Bangladeshi response," the Maldivian Foreign Minister, Dr Shaheed said. "We cannot commit to matching it for Bangladeshi disasters in the future, because, although our GDP per capita may be high, our actual GDP is very low. But we will show solidarity, and our generosity has always been welcomed by the Bangladeshi government."
India is the only other country so far committed to providing aid, but has not pledged a specific amount. "We hope Bangaldesh's prompt response gives a direction for others to follow," Dr Shaheed said.
At the time of writing, there are also reports the US government has pledged US $100,000, which would be channelled through UNICEF, a tenth of the amount offered by Bangladesh.
Much of the aid will be provided in the form of medication, desalination facilities and contribution of other materials needed in the recovery, rather than simply cash, Mr Quayes said.
The two governments are in contact and once a needs assessment of affected islands has been completed, Bangladesh will begin supplying goods.
A preliminary situation report compiled by the Disaster Management Centre says 1,649 people have been made homeless by the floods, which damaged 217 homes. Drinking water on most effected islands has been completely salinated.
So far, UNICEF, WHO and the UNDP have all joined the relief efforts as well as International Federation of the Red Cross.
But the government continues to face criticism over what critics say was a slow and unprepared response to the floods. And frustration has been voiced at the need to turn to international assistance again so soon after the tsunami.
The Bangladeshi High Commissioner emphasised the "shared commonalities between our two countries. We are both low-lying states, vulnerable to flooding and the effects of global warming."
And although he stressed the aid has been provided with "no strings attached," he hopes the Maldives will work with Bangladesh at an international level to create an institution to respond to future disasters.
"A critical pool of like minded nations who can respond rapidly to environmental disasters," is needed according to Mr Quayes.
"The international treaty bodies for the environment address technical work, but cannot mobilise that quickly. We have organizations like the UN and the Red Cross, but an organisation of states may address disasters wholistically."
Dr Shaheed agreed the floods have, "implications far beyond the Maldives. We have discussed this earlier," he said in reference to the potential for an international rapid reaction group.
"We will take a lead on it as well as addressing the wider global warming issue," he promised.
Not Just Workers
Both Dr Shaheed and Mr Quayes hope the donation will raise the profile of Bangladeshis in the Maldives, and make Maldivians realise that "we are not just a country where many of their workers come from, but someone who comes to their aid in time of need," as Mr Duayes explained.
Over 23,000 Bangladeshi expatriates work in the Maldives, primarily in the tourism industry, but also in blue collar and domestic service jobs. Work is ongoing between the High Commission and the Maldivian government to identify and close down scams which bring Bangladeshis to the Maldives on the promise of jobs which do not exist.
"The Maldivian government has always been responsive in the past," Mr Quayes said, but "there are other gaps which we need their help to fill."
- Maldives Independent
- Minivan News - http://www.minivannews.com/