Clean energy investments can help Maldives post-virus recovery, World Bank says
Seizing green energy opportunities through increased investments in renewables can contribute to economic recovery in Maldives which had been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, says a World Bank report released Monday.
The latest World Bank Maldives Development Update: In Stormy Seas, which takes an in-depth look at the island nation’s economy and future outlook, highlights the high toll that the pandemic has inflicted on the country’s economy.
As a result of the shutdown of tourism, the Maldives main economic driver, growth is projected to contract by between 13 and 17.5 per cent this year before rebounding to between 7.9 and 8.5 per cent in 2021 as tourism gradually recovers.
To buffer the impact of the crisis, the government has introduced a series of fiscal and monetary measures. The relief package includes loan moratoria and emergency financing for businesses, as well as income support for individuals and discounts on utility bills for poor and vulnerable households.
However, despite large cuts to both recurrent and capital spending, the revenue shortfall resulting from the crisis is expected to elevate the fiscal deficit to at least 14.5 per cent of GDP.
“The Maldives has enjoyed high growth rates in the past few years. But the shocks stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic have upended the Maldives development trajectory and severely affected the Maldivian people,” Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, was quoted in a statement, as saying.
“Focusing on renewable energy can prove to be a good investment at this time – creating jobs and improving the country’s ability to rebound stronger, when opportunities open up.”
The report includes a special focus section on the importance of scaling up renewable energy generation in the Maldives.
Maldivians have enjoyed universal access to electricity since 2008, but heavy reliance on imported diesel and isolated island-based grids drive up the costs of electricity generation. Even with subsidies, which add to the government’s fiscal burden, electricity tariffs are among the highest in the region – which puts additional burden on households.
To alleviate these challenges, the report recommends facilitating more private sector investments in renewable energy, especially in solar photovoltaic technology.
“The Covid-19 crisis illustrates the urgency of strengthening the Maldives’ resilience to external shocks. While the crisis may have hampered efforts to increase its share of renewable energy in electricity generation, this remains a crucial goal”, Florian Blum and Pui Shen Yoong, lead authors of the report, said.
While the required upfront investments are high, the report notes that investing in renewables can help the Maldives to lower its cost of electricity service, fuel import bill and subsidy expenditure, reduce carbon emissions, and create new jobs.
“Scaling up these investments will require greater participation from the private sector, which can be encouraged through power purchasing agreements, net metering and improved system planning,” Joonkyung Seong, World Bank senior energy specialist and author of the special focus section, said.
The coronavirus outbreak has hit the Maldivian economy hard, as travel restrictions and other preventive measures affect the country’s lucrative tourism industry, which contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.
All international airlines have suspended scheduled operations to the Maldives, as the island nation enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in late March in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
With arrival numbers falling and the visa suspension in effect, several resorts across the Maldives had been closed.
Before the pandemic, the government had been bullish about tourism prospects, targeting two million, high-spending holidaymakers this year after last year’s record 1.7 million.
However, tourist arrivals saw a year-over-year decline of 22.8 per cent in the first 10 days of March. Officials say the number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives could drop by half in 2020.
Tourism has been the bedrock of the Maldives’ economic success. The $5 billion-dollar economy grew by 6.7 per cent in 2018 with tourism generating 60 per cent of foreign income.
However, the government is at present projecting a possible 13 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $778 million hit.
The Maldives is preparing to reopen its borders to visitors in July.
On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.
Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.
A six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 2,035.
Eight deaths have been reported and 1,311 have made full recoveries.
The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.
The public health emergency declaration allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, schools, colleges and universities.
Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks were also shut.
Restaurants and cafes in the capital were asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.
A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands was also ordered.
Photo: Rooftop solar panels installed in the satellite town of Hulhumale under a World Bank-funded project. PHOTO/Environment ministry