Chair of the Organizing Committee of the 5th Indian Ocean Conference, His Excellency Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka;

Distinguished Foreign Ministers and heads of delegations;

Distinguished Representatives of the India Foundation;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

A very good evening to you all.

I would like to start by thanking the Government of the United Arab Emirates for their generous hospitality extended to me and my delegation. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate the Government and the people of UAE on the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the nation marked on Thursday.

I would also like to thank the India Foundation for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to share the views of the Government of Maldives under the theme, Indian Ocean: Ecology, Economy and Epidemic – a befitting theme that reflects the most pressing needs of the day to protect our planet, and one which has a special significance for the Maldives.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, we are facing unprecedented global challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated our economies in ways we never imagined. It has also radically changed the nature of our social interactions forever.

The Covid-19 pandemic has tested the Maldives. It severely contracted our economy and reversed years of hard-won gains. Tourism, the biggest contributor to our GDP took the hardest hit as countries closed their borders and airplanes sat on the tarmac. We had to go into multiple lockdowns as we faced surges in Covid-19 numbers. Our restaurants, cafés and small businesses were empty. We also had to make the difficult decision of closing our schools in order to protect our children and their teachers, interrupting their education.

Today, the situation is different in the Maldives. Tourists have started walking on our white sandy beaches, swimming in our splendidly blue lagoons and have started filling up our resorts. Our restaurants are serving customers again. We are back in business, and our economy is recovering. Our schools have reopened too, and the laughter of our children can be heard again in the classrooms.

We were able to do this because of well-planned health regulations from the government and because of our robust vaccination campaign. In the Maldives, 95 percent of our frontline tourist workers are fully vaccinated to ensure the safety of our guests. Based on the principle of equality, all residents of the Maldives are eligible to receive vaccines regardless of their social status. We believe that equitable access to vaccines is vital to stop the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic also laid bare the stark reality of multidimensional poverty. As the deadline to meet the goals of Agenda 30 draws closer, we need to ramp up our efforts to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, within and among nations. Regional trade must be promoted, mutually beneficial Foreign Direct Investment must be further incentivized, and we must support each other to strengthen our governance systems. The Maldives has a lot of economic potential yet to be unlocked. Our doors are open to all and we welcome all investment opportunities.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The pledges made at COP26 were progressive, but the question we should be asking is, are we doing enough to save the Maldives and other Small Island States in time? The imminent risks that scientists have warned us for many years have caught up with us. Yet, the conference failed to reach consensus on a plan to sufficiently reduce carbon emissions to limit global heating to 1.5 degree Celsius.

Let me be clear. The world only has 97 months on our hands to scale up our ambitions to maintain the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The survival of my home and that of other small island states depends on this. Even though we contribute little to heat-trapping emissions, we face the brunt of the devastating consequences of climate change. This is simply unjust. We cannot remain idle. It is high time that we take action.

We must shift away from fossil fuels, invest in green technology and protect the marine environment. To do that, we need increased access to adaptation finance. We must recognize the merits of investing in adaption to reduce long terms costs of loss due to climate change. We must also invest in further enhancing our knowledge and awareness of the impact of the climate crisis, so that we can take the necessary actions to counter its adverse effects.

The Maldives is doing its part. We have committed to achieving net-zero by 2030. We are putting our efforts towards better waste management and greener sources of energy. We are also developing a blue economy that protects our vulnerable oceans, lagoons and mangroves. We are taking action. We need all of you and the rest of the world, to take action too. Our shared future depends on it.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Indian Ocean is an important trading hub, which is directly connected to our economic well-being. It is for that reason that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has prioritized Indian Ocean security as the most important item on his foreign policy agenda.

Addressing the ever-growing threats of trans-border terrorism, piracy, narco-trafficking as well as non-traditional security threats such as climate change, cyber security and human trafficking, require the support and cooperation of all regional and international partners.

No one country can safeguard the resilience and security of the Indian Ocean region alone. We must continue to pool in our resources and strengthen our regional partnerships.

As Indian Ocean littoral countries, we must preserve and utilize its wealth sustainably and wisely. In the Maldives, we practice one of the most sustainable forms of fishing – our traditional method of fishing using pole and line. I urge all countries to follow their own sustainable fishing methods to guarantee healthy fish stocks in our shared oceans.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have an enormous task ahead of us to respond to the climate crisis and its consequences, to rebuild our economies, ensure security of the Indian Ocean and most importantly to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The success of our efforts depends on our willingness to cooperate and our solidarity to help each other.

We must assume greater leadership in increasing our engagements and unifying our collective efforts to ensure a healthy and prosperous future for all.

Thank you very much.