Maldives and Barbados: waste and tourism entangled

The Maldives and Barbados are classified as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and, before the COVID-19 outbreak, their primary source of income came from the tourism sector. For the Maldives tourism accounted for 25.2 % of its GDP in 2019, with more than a third of government tax revenue coming from tourism, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The situation for Barbados is very similar: in 2019, travel and tourism was equivalent to 36.2 % its GDP. 

Both the Maldives and Barbados also rely on tourism for their economic “renaissance”. Barbados’ Central Bank Governor, Cleviston Haynes, announced that tourism is vital to the relaunch of the economy after the COVID-19 disruption. The Maldives tourism recovery has been anchored on facilitating maximum safety and security measures for tourists, employees and the public.

©EU GCCA+, Maldives Nature Park & Farming

The re-opening of the Maldives’ borders, the growing numbers of scheduled airlines (more than 30) flying to the Maldives, most of them long haul, are all elements that represent a ray of hope for the economy. Tourism is seen as a golden economic opportunity. However, tourism and the emissions from the whole tourism sector/stakeholders are not assessed using the Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) exercise. They are only roughly quoted in the Maldives and Barbados updated NDCs. A growing number of tourists implies growing amounts of waste to be managed and increased emissions if no mitigation actions are considered. These higher volumes of waste threaten the quality of ecosystems on which tourism is based. Sustainable tourism requires governments to promptly address the issues related to the scarcity of disposal facilities and the risk of contamination of freshwater sources.

Unfortunately, waste is a geographical/inherited problem for all SIDS. None is excluded. This is due to multiple factors such as a growing population, rapid development and increasing imports of goods, insufficient investments in waste management, the absence of integrated master plans, challenges in running a sustainable financial mechanism for waste (cost recovery with fees and levies) and weak data collection systems. As per the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2019, SIDS produced an average of 2.3 kilograms of waste per person per day, much of it from the tourism sector.

The Maldives in South Asia, and Barbados in the Caribbean, are examples of SIDS’ efforts to manage waste in remote areas, with a scarcity of land, a paucity of appropriate technology, and challenges in realising viable waste management operations due to poor economies of scale, including recycling. 
They are part of the Implementing Sustainable Low and Non-Chemical Development in Small Island Developing States (ISLANDS) programme aiming to address chemical and waste management in SIDS globally, with a focus on countries in the Caribbean, and the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

©EU GCCA+, Maldives Waste Management Center

Both the Maldives and Barbados launched their solid waste management programmes to cope with their challenges and preserve both their ecosystems and economies. However, COVID-19 hampered the existing threats and delayed investments in infrastructure. COVID-19 vaccination campaigns and international procedures to re-open touristic activities may relieve the Maldives and Barbados economies. However, national sanitary and key infrastructure measures will also be prioritised. Tourism will be used as a catalyst to address waste management problems. Making tourism sustainable implies taking care of the whole tourism value chain, including waste. It involves anticipating and acting to mitigate the effects of natural hazards, the degradation of ecosystems and the negative impacts on society and economic capacity. Tourist resorts and managing companies play an active role in improving solid waste collection, reticulation systems, treatment and disposal facilities (both public and private) as they are both actors and beneficiaries of tourism recovery.