Alumni News Issue Eight 2018

Exposing the dark underbelly of climate change in the idyllic Maldives

Aishath Niyaz

Consultant, UNICEF
Founder, aishaniyaz consulting
Master of Environmental Management and Sustainability

Aisha Niyaz teaching children

A strong believer that ‘every little bit counts’ when tackling climate change and environmental issues, Master of Environmental Management and Sustainability graduate and Australian Awards scholarship recipient, Aishath (Aisha) Niyaz is on a mission to save the Maldives by raising awareness of environmental sustainability and inspiring other youth to find their voice.

Now working as a Sustainable Development Consultant for some of the most important humanitarian and developmental efforts in the area – including UNICEF, UNDP and Maldivian Red Crescent – Aisha says her time at UniSA further enhanced her knowledge and skills and boosted her confidence in advocating for sustainable development.

It was an opportunity that nurtured and bolstered her passion for sustainable development – a seed that had been planted from a young age growing up in the Maldives.

Environmentally conscious as a child, Aisha vividly remembers bringing her school bag home filled with food wrappers in an attempt to stop her friends from littering. However, it took joining a team of scientists from Australia and New Zealand conducting a study on the vulnerability of the Maldives to climate change to truly comprehend the scope of the issue.

“It was an invaluable experience which opened my eyes and helped me understand the fragile ecosystem of my home,” says Aisha.

This role as a Surveyor Trainee at the Environment Research Centre under the Ministry of Environment of Maldives, further ignited her passion for protecting the Earth.

“As an island nation of roughly 1,200 tiny coralline islands spread across the ocean, we are extremely dependent on imports for our survival. Climate change is very real to us, and over the past 15 years I have personally witnessed its negative impact,” she says.

“From increasing erosion of the islands, growing frequency and intensity of storm surges, droughts and flash flooding, to the prevalence of dengue and increasing prices of basic commodities – climate change threatens our very survival as a nation.”

Aisha Niyaz

When she returned home to the Maldives after completing her undergraduate degree from the University of Queensland, Aisha received offers to work with environmental consultancy firms, where a major part of the work was conducting Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs).

Advocating for environmental conservation and minimum harm in development projects, Aisha worked to convince clients to alter original project ideas that had the potential to cause irreversible environmental damage.

“My colleagues started calling me an activist and basically told me my job was to follow what the client wanted, which made me feel as if I was facilitating environmental destruction. So in 2010, I stopped doing EIAs and since then have worked as a freelance consultant, providing consultancy to UN agencies, tourist resorts, community-based organisations and government projects.”

Presently, Aisha is wrapping-up a Consultancy with UNICEF, Maldives. The role has involved creating awareness for community-based waste management in nine islands of the Laamu Atoll as part of the Low Emission Climate Resilient Development (LECReD) program, funded by the Government of Denmark.

On top of her independent consultancies working for organisations like UNICEF and volunteering work, Aisha created her own sustainable development consultancy firm ‘aishaniyaz consulting’ in 2016 to formalise her consultancy services and broaden the scale of making a positive difference.

She is also currently working on the final stages of publishing a children’s book on environmental consciousness with the hope of instilling love for the nature so that more children will grow up to become environmental stewards.

At the end of July the Maldivian Red Crescent (MRC) requested her to be part of the Steering Committee to advise in the development process of MRC's new Strategic Plan and has been closely involved with the process.

Aisha Niyaz teaching children

On reflection of her career, and balancing so many roles and responsibilities, she says there have been many invaluable lessons in her journey so far.

“Integrity is very important to me and I refuse to compromise on ethics and values. It can be very challenging and overwhelming at times when politicians and powerful corporations around the world destroy the environment for short-term political and financial gains,” she says.

“What stops me falling into despair is my faith and belief that ‘every little bit counts’ – one individual can make a difference with small, simple actions. Not littering, carrying reusable shopping bags and refusing to accept single-use plastics such as bags, straws, coffee-cups and water bottles can make a significant difference.”

Aisha believes global campaigns and movements for beating plastic pollution and climate change play a major role in enhancing environmental consciousness, enabling behaviour change and inspiring sustainable lifestyles, but she also stresses the importance of recognising ‘greenwashing’ amongst both small and large corporations and entities.

“For those aspiring to make a positive difference for humanity and the world, my advice is to always remember that change starts from within and to celebrate small wins. Self-care is very important, as is finding a balance between volunteering, paid work and time for family and friends,” she says.

“I also deeply believe in the concept of Gandhi – ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. History proves that people power should not be underestimated in bringing about significant change.”

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