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Charlie Mahoney

A Troubled Paradise


Climate change is a difficult subject to treat visually, because much of the expected damage is still yet to come. We just haven’t seen many direct victims of climate change…at least not yet. As a result, I wanted to find a story that had a human element to it. After extensive research, I decided to go to the Maldives because, if scientists are correct, it will likely be the scene of one of first humanitarian disasters due to climate change. The story also ties in to an interesting social-political situation. I hope you find it interesting.

Beneath the outsiders’ vision of the Maldives lurks a troubled paradise- one shaped by 30 years of a brutal dictatorship. No one knows this better than Mohamed Nasheed, the nation’s new democratically elected President, who unseated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Maldives’ ruler since 1978, in a landmark election in October 2008. Nasheed was imprisoned thirteen times by Gayoom and was named an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience in 1991.

Nasheed is determined to secure liberal democracy in the Maldives, but the country is facing pressing challenges at home. Despite significant tourism revenue – the Maldives has South Asia’s highest GDP per capita – almost half of the Maldives’ population earns less than $2 a day. And Maldivian youth are in the middle of a heroin epidemic that may be one of the worst in the world. The legacy of Gayoom’s rule lingers, and the process of unraveling it will take time as entire political institutions, like a free press, an independent judiciary, and a multiparty legislature will need to be built from the ground up, emerging from the long shadows of three decades of tyranny.

As if all that was not enough, the archipelago nation faces a larger challenge. It could find itself submerged by a swelling sea. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international body of scientists, forecasts that sea levels will rise an estimated 2 ft. (60 cm) this century, enough to inundate most of the country, many of whose 1,190 isles sit just 3 ft. (1 m) above the ocean. For a nation of so small a size, the new government’s task is monumental.

Photos from this story were published as part of an assignment in Time Magazine (Asia Edition) and in Intelligent Life and Corriere della Sera Magazine.



Charlie is a photojournalist and multimedia journalist currently based in Barcelona, Spain. His clients and publications include Time Magazine, The Guardian, BBC News, GEO, National Geographic Traveler, Lonely Planet Magazine, The Times, The Independent on Sunday, The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHRC), the Council on Foreign Relations, Corriere della Sera Magazine, Intelligent Life, CS Monitor Weekly, 100 Eyes, The Telegraph, Financial Times, Global Post, Die Tageszeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau and De Standaard.

His most recent awards and nominations include the 2009 Environmental Photographer of the Year Award, the 2009 International Photography Awards, the Life category of the 2008 Travel Photographer of the Year, the 2008 PX3 Prix de la Photographie for photojournalism, the 2008 SOS Racism Photography contest and the new talent category of the 2007 Travel Photographer of the Year. He is represented by Bilderberg, Corbis and Cosmos.

He especially likes to work on stories of human interest and strongly believes that photojournalism can promote change by giving a voice to people who are all too often powerless to tell their own stories.

He has a Masters in Photojournalism from the University Autónoma of Barcelona and a B.A. in International Relations and Biology from Bowdoin College. Prior to his career in photojournalism, he worked in investment banking and equity management.


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Charlie Mahoney


Editor’s note:

As per Charlie’s request, comments are closed under this essay…you may discuss under Dialogue….

-david alan harvey