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Major reconstruction programme for Maldives

By T.S. Shankar

CHENNAI, MARCH 31. The Maldivian Government has initiated a major reconstruction programme for the island after the tsunami destroyed about 62 per cent of the country's GDP.

``Only nine of the 200 inhabited islands escaped flooding, while 13 were evacuated in the immediate aftermath and 53 of them suffered extreme infrastructure damage,'' said Ahmed Shaheed, Chief Government Spokesman of the Strategic Communications Unit of the Maldivian President's Office.

Mr. Shaheed and Mohamed H. Shareef, Deputy Director of the Unit, who are here as part of the Maldivian delegation accompanying the President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, told The Hindu here today that a ``safe islands programme'' had already been initiated to make the island communities more resilient against natural disasters. A tsunami disaster relief fund had also been established.

``Besides the exclusive fund, the post-tsunami reconstruction programme christened Recovery Plus will be implemented with the $120 million assistance pledged from the United Nations, the World Bank and other international bodies,'' Mr. Shaheed said.

Revival of tourism was the major focus next only to fisheries Mr. Shaheed said, adding the Government was keen on encouraging more air connectivity to improve access to the island nation to further boost tourism.

``We have an open sky policy and we grant a 30-day visa on arrival for no fee. It is a gratis we have with India under a mutually agreed visa on arrival scheme. We are also currently talking informally to Indian private airline operators who have been permitted to fly to overseas countries to choose Maldives as one of their destinations from Indian points,'' Mr. Shaheed said adding that currently air links were available from Thiruvananthapuram and Colombo.

Stating that the current visit of India was ``fruitful and successful,'' Mr. Shaheed said India had always been a vital development partner and ``we look forward to continued collaboration with India especially to pursue the Recovery Plus programme.''

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