The Maldive Islands, Destination Climate Change
2012.02.10
By:Afaf

"The Maldives has 1200 coral islands" Courtesy of Paolo Curto/Getty Images

 

Lying only about 1.5 meters above sea level, the Maldives have a lurking serious threat when it comes to climate change: Rising sea levels.

 

 Some scientists fear that the island nation could be underwater as soon as 2050.  These islands clustered in the Indian Ocean southwest of India and Sri Lanka are considered the flattest on Earth—and are most probably the most at risk from rising sea levels due to global warming.

 

"The best available science predicts that sea levels will rise 0.5 to 2 meters by the end of the 21st century, assuming global warming increases average temperatures by 4 degrees Celsius. Our islands are on average just 1.5 meters above the ocean, so even a 0.5 meter rise in sea level will be catastrophic. If sea levels rise by 2 meters, we will have to abandon the Maldives and find a new home on higher land abroad, but that is not a solution…" -Maldive's President, Mohamed Nasheed .


"If the Maldives is not saved, today we do not feel there is much chance for the rest of the world,"    PresidentNasheed, told reporters after diving up from the waters in a blue lagoon in the Maldives where he and eleven Ministers staged an underwater cabinet meetingback in 2009 to publicize climate change and help pass a resolution calling for action at the Copenhagen climate change talks that year. However, the Copenhagen Conference concluded with what has been called a weak agreement that represented a step backward for the U.N. treaty process.
 

President Nasheed stood before the United Nations General Assembly that same year during the UN's High-level Climate Conference, pleading to the international community for his country's survival.  Telling over 100 Heads of state "If things go business as usual we will not live, we will die. Our country will not exist." 

 

As of today, the President said, "People living on 16 islands of the Maldives archipelago are already being relocated…"

 

The UN's environmental panel has warned that, at current rates, sea level would be high enough to make the country uninhabitable by 2100.

 

On immediate measures, the government has been building sea walls, revetments and shore protection to protect the islands from erosion and storm surges.  President Nasheed told UTNE that the capital island, Male’, is surrounded by a 2 meter sea wall, which protected the island from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. So, at least in the medium term, sea walls can protect us from the stronger storm surges and more violent weather patterns that climate change will bring. Sea walls and heavy infrastructure projects are extremely expensive, however, and we have 1,190 islands, of which 300 are inhabited or are tourist resorts. We cannot afford to build a sea wall around every island community. The government is therefore looking at soft engineering to protect the islands. These soft engineering methods include protecting each island’s coral reef, which acts as a natural water-breaker, and looking after shoreline vegetation such as mangroves, which reduce beach erosion. "  

 

"The Maldives will continue to plan for adaptation with the modest income that we have and we will work with reliable partners that have already provided us help, such as Denmark. If we are given further international assistance, then all is well and good, but we are not holding our breath."  

 

President  Nasheed has said that his government will turn the Maldives into an entirely carbon neutral nation by 2020.  

 

Unfortunately, PresidentMohamed Nasheed who is the Maldive's first democratically elected leader and is widely credited with bringing democracy to the country, has just resigned two days ago in what his party said was a coup. The President has reportedly handed power to Vice-President Mohamed Waheed HassanManikto avoid any intervention requiring force, which he said could harm civilians.  For the sake of the Maldives let's hope Mr. Manik will work in the same direction as President Nasheed with the help of the UN and partners will indeed work toward saving the Island Paradise from going under.