“Climate change knows no borders, it does not discriminate. The rising tide of climate impacts, be they economic, environmental or humanitarian will affect each and every one of us – rich and poor…” (Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International Executive Director)
I wrote my bachelor thesis about Maldives last academic year, I read a lot of articles about sea-level rise in this archipelago and that’s why I would to present you my view on climate changes in this country. As we know, this republic is threatened by global warming because of its very low elevation. It is the lowest lying country in the world. I should start with some basic information about this archipelago.
The Maldives are a collection of 1 190 coral islets (about 200 inhabited) which are situated in the Indian Ocean about 670 km southwest of Sri Lanka. The capital of this archipelago, Malé, is the largest city of the country. Tourism and fishing are the main pillars of the economy, employing over 50 percent of the work force. In 2011 the country graduated from the group of least developed countries as it achieved positive economic results.
Rising ocean levels threaten the entire existence of Maldives. I fear many of the islands will soon sink into the sea. All of the islands of this country are extremely sensitive to rising ocean levels. Furthermore there are intense tropical storms which affect the islands. The weather is becoming less predictable and more volatile. Dwindling freshwater supply is actual problem too. None of the coral islets measures more than 2.5 meters above sea level and that’s why the country is so vulnerable to a rise in sea levels. I am sure that climate changes will affect the Maldives’ economy in the future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that average global sea levels will rise by about 9 mm per year. It will surely have catastrophic impact on this archipelago because the global warming will wipe Maldives off the map. It is generally known that in 2004 tsunami swallowed about 50 percent of the country. 25 islands were permanently erased from the map. If the trend continues, Maldives would lose about 80 percent of its land area by the end of the century.
Migration would be a potential solution for inhabitants. It was quite surprising for me when I have read that the government of Maldives has started to negotiate with Sri Lanka, India and Australia about renting some areas of these countries for Maldives refugees (they are called future environmental refugees or boat people). Citizens would be probably forced to evacuate from their mother land. It sounds really unbelievable for us. Maldives people will have to abandon their homes before the end of the century. The citizens don’t really have a choice. It is important to realize that humans can be easily relocated to other neighboring countries, but it is practically impossible to “rescue” plants and animals.
“[Climate change] damages our economy, deprives us of our rights, of our land, and our way of life. It is a threat to the very existence of our nation…” (Dunya Maumoon, Maldives Minister of Foreign Affairs)
Maldives government must spend the money for defence, therefore there are no financial resources for public services and development. Some islands are protected by dikes (seawalls) which provide useful protection from waves but it is quite expensive and if there is no financial support it is not possible to build them.
It is also necessary to protect groundwater, to improve waste management practices, to improve rainwater harvesting, …to ensure a safe and healthy island environment. I think it would be also great to write some brochures explaining the problems to tourists because there are many “tourist financial donations” every year. Infrastructure (e.g. 5 airports) and houses in this archipelago are concentrated along coastlines. Maldives must pursue further coastal protection measures, there is no other solution. It is quite easy to find some measures to help Maldives adapt to rising seas, but without money it is impossible to bring them into effect.
Former president Mohammed Nasheed is very well known for his climate change leadership. He gained international popularity with his leading speeches on environmental issues. He held underwater cabinet meeting and signed a document which calls for a reduction in carbon emissions. According to Nasheed Maldives will be entirely carbon neutral country by 2020 by replacing all fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. It will be the world’s first carbon neutral country. In my opinion Nasheed is confronting a problem bigger than any other leader has ever faced. I really recommend you the documentary movie The Island President which demonstrates his endeavor to save his home-land.
What about the impacts on tourism industry? Tourism is the largest economic industry in Maldives, it accounts for about 30 percent of GDP. This archipelago depends entirely on the coastal and marine ecosystems (e.g. coral reefs, white beaches, lagoons, seagrass meadows). It is the main attraction for tourism industry. There will probably be loss of beaches and coral reefs, coastal areas will be devastated, tourist infrastructure will be damaged etc. There is no doubt that these impacts will probably ruin this economy because this country is really dependent on the hundreds of thousands of visitors.
This republic faces the real possibility that the majority of its islets will be underwater by the end of this century. We should realize that Maldives produce minimum global carbon emissions but they will probably be among the first to suffer from the effects of global warming. Such a paradox, isn’t it? Many of problems which have been mentioned could be solved; we should just believe that 2015 Paris Climate Conference will totally change today’s climate policy. It is necessary to find some financial resources which are necessary to power the projects to solve these problems. There is still time to alleviate the worst effects of climate change and to save this paradise faced with extinction.
If you are interested in this topic you should watch this short video which warns that Maldives can be the first state in history to be completely erased by the sea.
Thank you for reading.
Please, feel free to leave any comment or feedback 🙂