Maldives: Dr. Mohamed Waheed, Vice President of the Republic of Maldives, a true advocate and visionary for a future without drugs

Addressing drug use is one of the five key pledges of the Government in the Maldives. Two days ago, on 19 January 2010, UNODC signed with the Government of Maldives its ever first country-specific technical cooperation project for Maldives, called "Strengthening the national response to combat drug abuse in the Maldives', funded by the European Union. The signing ceremony took place at the Ministry of Finance and Treasury, Government of Maldives, where Mr. Ali Hashim, Minister of Finance and Treasury, Mr. Abdul Bari Abdulla, Minister of State for Health and Family, Government of Maldives, and Ms. Cristina Albertin, UNODC Representative for South Asia signed the project document.

On this occasion, UNODC interviewed Dr Mohamed Waheed, Vice President of the Republic of Maldives.

UNODC: How do you see the drug problem in the Maldives?

Vice President: Many adolescents in this beautiful island have turned to a life of addiction. Since the first case of heroin abuse was detected in 1993, drug use has escalated among the youth. It is a serious national concern which affects the country's security and social well being. The National Health Policy of the Maldives recognizes this as one of its major challenges. Drug addiction touches nearly every family and the Government of Maldives. There are between 2,000 and 3,000 drug users and injecting drug use is on the rise. This will further exacerbate the HIV epidemic, even though it is in the early stages. Another dire need is drug treatment in prisons. The prison authorities in the Maldives estimate that 80 per cent of the inmates need drug treatment.

UNODC: You are known for taking leadership in positioning the drug problem on the national policy agenda. In August 2009 you organized the Future Search Conference for a drug-free Maldives. Tell us what motivates you to work on drug prevention in the Maldives?

Vice President: In 2009, substance abuse eradication became a major pledge of the Government, which formulated a five-year strategic plan in consultation with all stakeholders present at the Future Search Conference. We need to collaborate with the non governmental organizations (NGOs), relevant departments of the Government of Maldives and the UN agencies - that is the only assured way of dealing with this problem.
I am motivated because being in a position of leadership and authority, it is my responsibility to the Maldivian society that I take this opportunity to convey messages on prevention of drug use and push for comprehensive drug policies and change. Being in a leadership position I can help improve inter-agency coordination, give hope to my people, convince policy makers on drug prevention programmes and begin new initiatives.

UNODC: UNODC has signed its ever first technical cooperation project with the Government of Maldives. What are your expectations from this programme intervention?

Vice President: Signing the project document is a major step ahead for the Government. This is the first country specific, comprehensive drug prevention programme with UNODC funded by the European Union. UNODC has in the past provided technical assistance to the Government to develop and launch in 2008 the first national "Drug Control Master Plan 2008-2012".
This new project will provide technical assistance to strengthen the national response on drug use prevention and treatment through a series of capacity-building measures both with the Government and the civil society in the framework of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework. I hope the project will most importantly achieve: (i) a coordinated response among the Government, donors, experts and civil society groups to the problem of drug use and (ii) sensitize NGOs, law enforcement agencies and especially the judiciary on legal and policy barriers that impede access to quality drug prevention services.

UNODC: As you are aware, UNODC has a broad mandate in relation to drug control, trafficking in persons, anti corruption, smuggling of migrants and prison reform - what are the problems in these areas in the Maldives? How will the Government address these problems?

Vice President: The Maldives has porous borders and covers an area of 500 kilometers. It has 1,100 islands, out of which 200 are inhabited with people. All these reasons make it difficult for the Government to constantly patrol its borders and provide surveillance. However, networks and air surveillance systems are being set up and the coast guards' capacity strengthened. Still the country is at risk of transnational organized crimes like trafficking of drugs and smuggling of migrants to Maldives. These are two areas of particular concern.

UNODC: Any last words for the readers?

Vice President: It is important to never give up and put hope in your country and its people. I believe every country can make a positive gain and prevent its young people from engaging in drug use. What we really need is well coordinated, persistent efforts to provide safer alternatives to the young people so that they can lead happy and productive lives.

Dr Mohamed Waheed, Vice President of the Republic of Maldives in conversation with Mr. Mansoor M. Ali, United Nations Resident Coordinator a.i. and UNICEF Representative in the Maldives and Ms. Cristina Albertin, UNODC Representative for South Asia.