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Pledges Of Money To Rehabilitate Tsunami-hit Maldives Not Kept

The president of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, says nearly five months after the tsunami devastated his small island state, he is still waiting for international donors to honor their pledges of money to rehabilitate his shattered country. In an interview for VOA in Geneva, President Gayoom tells Lisa Schlein he is afraid his country's needs may be forgotten and overshadowed by those of his bigger tsunami-hit neighbors, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Maldives President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, says, in an ironic twist of fate, the United Nations decided to remove the Maldives from the list of the world's Least Developed Countries on December 20.

"Tsunami struck us six days later," said Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. "So, it is a great tragedy. We have been able to attain a fair amount of progress during the past 20 years … and, all of a sudden this has struck us. It has moved us back 20 years."

The Maldives is composed of nearly 1,200 tiny coral islands. Its 290,000 inhabitants are spread over 200 islands. Tourism and fisheries are its two main industries.

During the past two decades, the Maldives has increased its per-capita gross domestic product from under $300 to $2,800. The country's infant mortality rate has decreased from 120 to 14 per 1,000, life expectancy has increased from 46 years to 72 years and the literacy rate is 99 percent.

President Gayoom tells VOA that all these achievements were washed away in an instant. He says fortunately, the loss of life was relatively low. About 100 people died in the tsunami.

But, he says the country's losses in assets and infrastructure are huge. They are estimated at $470 million, which amounts to 62 percent of its GDP.

Although governments have pledged to cover these costs, he says the Maldives has received only $80 million. This, he says is just a fraction of what is needed.

"One of the disadvantages of being such a small country with such a small population is that the media does not give us any attention," he said. "Especially in a case like this, all media attention is focused on larger countries that had lost an enormous number of people dead. But, the Maldives is, unfortunately, sidelined. So, it is of deep concern to us."

Mr. Gayoom says he expects the visit of former President Bill Clinton to the Maldives later this month will re-focus attention on his country. He says he hopes the visit will generate the cash needed to re-build his country. He notes so much has to be done. Houses have to be constructed. Roads, dams, jetties have to be re-built. Peoples' livelihoods have to be restored.

The Maldives president estimates it will take between five and 10 years of work to bring his country back to where it was before December 26, when a giant wave smashed the hopes and dreams of his people.