Island President - one man's battle to combat climate change and save his country

Island President
The Island President offers a glimpse of the struggle of Maldives leader Muhamad Nasheed to save his island from sea level rise. He has just been deposed in a coup d'etat

The Island President offers a glimpse of the struggle of Maldives leader Muhammed Nasheed to save his island from sea level rise. He has just been deposed.

The film follows the struggle between Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed and sea level rise. As the Maldives continue to be threatened by climate change, Nasheed realises it is time to take action before his country disappears under the ocean.

The Island President tells the story of one man's struggle to save his country before rising oceans submerge the 1,200 islands that make up the Maldives. 80 per cent of this land is less than 1 meter above sea level, making scientists fear that it could be underwater by 2050 or 2100. In 1990, Mohammed Nasheed was arrested from his home one night for starting the political magazine, Sangu. He was kept in solitary confinement for 18 months, followed by being held incommunicado for 14 months on the prison island of Gamaadhoo, and then detained once again for political writings for 3 months, followed by house arrest.

After winning elections into the Maldivian parliament, he was arrested two years later on false charges and lost his seat. During his banishment to the island of Angolhitheem for 6 months, Nasheed's second daughter was born. After his release, during his exile to Sri Lanka, Mohammed Nasheed co-founded the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), taking the first steps towards a better and more just country.

On 11th November, 2008, after great international pressure to hold the country's first multi-party presidential elections, Mohammed Nasheed became President of the Maldives; the Island President. The documentary then takes us through his efforts to reduce carbon emissions and bring world leaders to an agreement on what steps should be taken to combat climate change. From pledging to make the Maldives the first carbon neutral country within a decade in March 2009, to the intense three days the Copenhagen Climate Conference at the end of the year, the Island President is a film that will inspire people everywhere to take action immediately.

In the film, Mohammed Nasheed talks of the 2004 tsunami, calling it a ‘strong reminder of the fragility of human life here [the Maldives]'. Nasheed's words act as a reminder to citizens of the world that we need to take strong action to stop the devastation that is to come before Mother Nature wins this battle. ‘The world has never had to face a crisis like the crisis of climate change,' he says.

Since Copenhagen, the Maldives has had a carbon audit done to keep track of how much they are emitting. They were also in the process of drafting a renewable energy plan and organising training for their diplomats all around the world so they can advocate their case more effectively. Revetments were being built around islands as an adaptation method, while researchers had begun looking into things such as accelerating coral growth to provide a multitude of possible solutions to the issue. However, with a recent turn of events and Mohammed Nasheed out of office, the plans have come to a halt and the future of the Maldives remains uncertain.

So, what is Plan B for the Maldives? What happens now that their Island President and climate champion is out of office? While there is indeed a Plan B, high commissioner of the Maldives in London, Farah Faizal, is unwilling to accept that it may come down to that. ‘The Maldives have very positive people,' she says. ‘We've lived there for 2000 years so it is very hard for us to accept that we may not be there within the next 200 years or so. We feel that the world will listen, they will do something, and the people will activate themselves and force their leaders to take action, which we already see signs of around the world today. We have a Plan B, but Plan B is in the back corner. The idea of moving to another place is just... it won't be the Maldives.'

The Island President depicts the urgency of the issue as they follow President Nasheed's efforts over a year and portray his despairing pleas to the world to wake up. He urges world leaders to focus on climate change more and make it a priority over political and global conflicts. ‘What is the point of having a conflict if we're all going to die anyways?' he asks.

A must-see film, it is sure to leave you wondering why more world leaders aren't as committed to the issue as President Nasheed is. The Island President will make you feel his frustrations over non-active world leaders and feel his joy when a small milestone is reached. Above all else, the film is an ideal way to spread awareness of a drastic situation that needs to be addressed immediately.

‘I think we need to raise awareness because I really believe in people power,' Farah Faizal told me. ‘I am very faithful that if we can gather people power, then the governments will listen and they will do something about it because they can't afford not to listen.'

The Island President opens Human Rights Watch Film Festival on March 22 at London's Curzon Soho

The film releases in the UK on 30th March, 2012.

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