Her Excellency Thilmeeza Hussain,
Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations
at the Second Committee General Debate
New York, 8 October 2020
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
- My Delegation commits our full support to you and the Members of the Bureau as you steer the work of this Committee.
- We align ourselves with the statement delivered by the distinguished Permanent Representative of Belize, as Chair of AOSIS and the statement delivered by the Representative of Guyana, as Chair of G77 and China.
- Amidst the COVID19 pandemic - one of the greatest global challenges in recent history - this committee must continue to play a critical role in tackling economic inequality, mitigate the effects of climate change and build a fairer and more resilient world, all of which sits at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Development. This entails redoubling our efforts to implement the SAMOA Pathway, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, among other key multilateral agreements.
- The multidimensional nature of the COVID19 pandemic has laid bare the asymmetries in the international system – the digital divide, the disruptions in supply chains, debt sustainability and lack of accessible financing. No country has been spared from its impacts. But, not every country has been affected equally. For Small Island Developing States that are dependent on tourism such as the Maldives, the impact has been immeasurable. And they threaten to unravel decades of development progress.
- The Maldives took the unprecedented step of closing its international borders in late March, effectively shutting down our tourism industry, which directly accounts for 25% of production and as much as 60% of our production including indirect contributions. We received 65% less tourists in the first eight months of the year, compared to the same period last year. Revenue declined by 39% in the first eight months of the year. Gross international reserves fell by 6.1% by the end of August 2020 and usable reserves fell by 50.3% for the same period compared to last year. Despite the revenue loss and faced with a substantial financing gap to fund day to day expenditure on public administration and services, the Government of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih nevertheless placed the well-being of citizens at the centre of its decision making.
- COVID-19 is not only a health pandemic. It is a socio-economic pandemic too. Despite the difficult situation and fiscal burden, prompt measures were taken to mitigate the social and economic impact on the people and to flatten the curve. Stimulus packages for businesses, both big and small, subsidized utility bills and controlled prices of essential products were early interventions to curb the effects of the pandemic. Services by both public and private sector moved to electronic platforms; nevertheless, those with limited access to technological advancements may have been left behind during this crisis. We cannot deny that the digital divide exists. We fear that more people may face the risk of sliding into poverty with effects of the pandemic. Issues such as mental health and non-COVID related health issues, gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse increased.
- The Government has embarked on an ambitious recovery plan that aims to build a more resilient Maldives – one that takes us closer to realising the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As tourism remains slow to pick up, international support is crucial. We need support including concessional financing and debt easing for our immediate recovery from the pandemic. I take this moment to thank on behalf of the Government, all our friends – bilateral and multilateral – that have already extended a helping hand to us. Your support is very much appreciated at this time.
- In this context, my Delegation welcomes recent discussions on financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the era of COVID-19 and beyond. As the co-chair for Group Three on Global Liquidity and Financial Stability, Maldives joined other small and vulnerable countries in the call for simplified and alternative financing options and introduction of mechanisms for credit guarantee schemes, which would help reduce the cost of borrowing. We also reiterated our call upon the IFIs to provide flexibility in lending instruments to reflect the current reality. Implementing the options that I have outlined, together with the commitments of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda will lay solid groundwork for a better future.
- During the General Debate, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Abdulla Shahid, stated, “the COVID pandemic has given us the opportunity to recalibrate our approach to development and focus on building a more resilient world – one that delivers for planet, people and prosperity.” Indeed, the pandemic has presented us with a unique opportunity to strengthen cooperation and solidarity in accordance with the spirit of the United Nations. Our people see the United Nation and this Committee, as a critical platform to build a better world, where we work together to ensure equitable access to a vaccine, to end poverty and inequality, to integrate gender equality and climate action as driving forces to recover and build back better.
- The Maldives views climate change as a threat multiplier and one of the most significant challenges to peace, prosperity, security and sustainable development. The unique vulnerability of the Maldives and other SIDS to climate change and other disasters means that years of hard-earned economic growth and social progress can be undone by a single natural disaster, a phenomenon proven by COVID-19. As we rebuild our economies after COVID, climate action and protecting biodiversity should be the driving force to recover and build back better. With this in mind, domestically, we are taking concrete steps to achieve environment-related targets in a number of areas. In the past year and a half, we have achieved 35% of the President’s pledge to protect one reef, one island and one mangrove, in each of 20 the atolls of the Maldives by 2023. Some of these are now eligible to be listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. In our National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, we have adopted a target to protect 10% of coral reefs and 20% of mangroves by 2025. We are also committed to protect 30% of the oceans, an international benchmark set forth to save the ocean ecosystem. Also, we have prioritized reforming our waste management systems and increasing our use of renewables.
- Climate change does not recognise borders and thus, domestic policies alone are not sufficient. We must accelerate our collective actions. We need concrete measures such as stronger NDCs by all countries to reduce emissions to keep global temperatures well below 1.5 degrees. We urge the international community to fast-track actions on commitments made in the Paris Agreement, commitments on both mitigation and climate finance. We insist that meaningful action is required for the protection of our ocean from harmful impacts such as marine plastic pollution. We call for the support and collaboration within the international community to take concrete steps to undertake disaster risk reduction as agreed under the Sendai Framework. My Delegation also wishes to reiterate our position that SAMOA Pathway should be placed at the centre of this Committee’s discussions. One year out from the mid-term review of the SAMOA Pathway, there is still much work to be done, work that we must prioritise in order to fulfil our commitments.
- The Government of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is committed to placing people and sustainability at the centre of its development policy. As we continue to battle the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of climate change, as we reach to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda in the next 10 years, the stakes are high. While we acknowledge the disproportionate impacts on women and society, and that climate change is both an ethical and a political issue, our experience with COVID-19 is truly demonstrating what can be achieved if we act and work together to address global challenges – that we are able to develop sustainably, peacefully prosper and ensure there is climate justice.
- The agenda items of this Committee provide us with an opportunity to address a number of development issues of our time. The Maldivian delegation stands ready to support the work of this Committee. Only by working together can we unlock durable economic and social prosperity for all.
I thank you.