Faced with rising sea levels and a severe shortage of clean water, President Mohamed Muizzu of the Maldives has abandoned plans to resettle citizens.
The president is said to have pledged to combat the invasion of waves through extensive land reclamation works and the construction of raised islands. However, environmental and rights groups warn that these policies could increase flood risks.
The Maldives, renowned for its pristine white sand beaches and coral reefs, is grappling with the urgent realities of the climate crisis. Former President Mohamed Nasheed warned 15 years ago of the possibility that the Maldives would become the world’s first environmental refugees in need of resettlement.
Nasheed proposed acquiring land in neighboring countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Australia.
President Muizzu, seeking $500 million in foreign funding to protect vulnerable coasts, says Maldivians will stay at home, rejecting the need to acquire land outside. It emphasizes self-sufficiency and proposes expanding living and economic spaces through land reclamation.
While President Muizzu advocates the installation of sea walls to designate certain areas as “safe islands”, around 80% of the Maldives lies less than a meter above sea level. The fate of the picturesque, vital islands for the tourism industry which represents almost a third of the country’s economy, remains uncertain.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in 2007 that rising sea levels could make the Maldives virtually uninhabitable by the end of the century.
The Maldives is already facing the consequences of increasing salt levels contaminating drinking water. Former environment minister Shauna Aminath reveals that every inhabited islet in the archipelago relies on costly desalination plants due to depletion of fresh water sources.
President Muizzu, a British-trained civil engineer, is proposing to expand beyond the densely populated capital, Male, with ongoing rehabilitation projects that have increased the country’s land area by about 10% over the of the last four decades. However, concerns are rising as environmental and rights groups accuse authorities of neglecting environmental regulations, leading to rushed and insufficiently mitigated reclamation projects.
In a damning report, Human Rights Watch highlights cases such as the burying of 70% of the Kulhudhuffushi mangroves and the damage caused to coral reefs during the Addu rehabilitation project. Conservationists stress the need for special attention in recovery efforts to avoid further damage to island communities and delicate ecosystems surrounding the Maldives.
(with contribution from agencies)