Saturday, February 11, 2012

DYNAMO suspended after Maldivian president ousted

Field operations for DYNAMO in the Maldives have been suspended because of the political unrest there.  This situation is sad on many different levels.

A few days ago, the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, resigned amid protest.  He has stated that he was forced to resign by the police at gunpoint.  The police are apparently loyal to forces affiliated with the previous government, an autocratic and repressive one which was in place for 30 years before Nasheed became president in 2008.

Nasheed had by all credible accounts made the Maldives a much more democratic and free country since taking office.  He had also become famous worldwide for his leadership stance on global warming.  The Maldives is the lowest-lying country in the world, made up of very flat islands in coral atolls.  It won't take much sea level rise to make them disappear.  This is the case for quite a few small island states, and they are all concerned, but Nasheed has been more successful than others in drawing attention to their precarious situation.  A couple of years ago, as a publicity stunt, he held a cabinet meeting on the sea bottom with all the ministers in scuba gear.  His strong speech at the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen also contributed to making him a celebrity.  A documentary film has recently been made about him;  one can't easily see it at the moment but a six minute piece by the director, Jon Shenk, has been put up on the NY Times web page just a couple days ago due to the new strife.

I am not an expert on the politics and history of the Maldives, so I don't want to try to analyze the current situation in detail.  There has been quite a bit of news coverage in the last few days (it doesn't make the front pages here in the US, but you can easily find it if you google) and if you read all that you'll know about as much as I do.  But it's pretty clear that under Nasheed the Maldives made a big step forward to becoming a better place, and now they are in the midst of taking a big step back.  To get a sense of some of the forces at work here, read about the vandalism in the national museum, in which priceless artifacts of the Maldives' Buddhist past were destroyed.

Reports are that Addu Atoll has seen some of the most violence and repression in recent days, with government buildings being attacked, and people being detained and treated harshly.  This is of course where the remaining DYNAMO scientists and staff were located.  I can't disagree with the project leadership's decision to pull them all out;  things are just getting too scary.  But it's sad.  The climate will lose a champion if Nasheed isn't reinstated;  now climate science is going to lose out in another way.

I guess the silver lining for DYNAMO is that we were already in the "extended observing period" - the primary part of the experiment, when the most observations were taken, has been over for more than a month.  We already knew we were lucky that the MJO cooperated so well by showing up and going through two strong active phases during our two short months of intensive observing.  Now in hindsight, we can say we were also lucky that the government didn't fall until now.

I can't imagine that's much comfort to the Maldivian people though.


3 comments:

  1. Hope the team there makes it out safely!

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  2. The police stations, academies, the courthouses, accommodations, pretty much every government building was burned down. There were police shields o the ground and a tank-like truck. All streets were closed and were patrolled 24/7. Equator Village was quiet though, we were never in major danger and, more importantly, as far as I know we all made it out safe.

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  3. Angel, that is upsetting. I haven't seen all that destruction in Addu reported in the press. Sounds scary. I'm glad you all were not threatened and got out fine. At the same time all the Maldivians are still there and will have to live with this mess. I hope things get better and not worse.

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