Rising sea levels threaten to flood the Maldives and the Indian Ocean archipelago is already running out of drinking water, but the new president says he has abandoned plans to relocate citizens.
Instead, President Mohamed Muizzu promises that the low-lying nation will beat back the waves through ambitious land reclamation and the building of higher islands – policies, however, warned by environmental and tourism groups. advocacy, which could even exacerbate flood risks.
The upscale holiday destination is famous for its white sand beaches, turquoise lagoons and vast coral reefs, but the chain of 1,192 small islands is on the front lines of the climate crisis and fighting for survival.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed began his term 15 years ago by warning citizens that they could become the world’s first environmental refugees in need of resettlement to another country.
He wanted the Maldives to start saving to buy land in neighboring India, Sri Lanka or even far away in Australia.
But Muizzu, 45, while calling for $500 million in foreign funding to protect vulnerable coasts, said his citizens would not leave their country.
“If we need to increase living space or other economic activities, we can do that,” Muizzu told AFP, speaking from the crowded capital of Malé, surrounded by concrete sea walls.
“We are empowered to take care of ourselves.”
“Running out of fresh water”
The small nation of Tuvalu signed a deal this month to give its citizens the right to live in Australia when their Pacific homeland is lost beneath the seas.
But Muizzu said the Maldives would not follow this path.
“I can state categorically that we have absolutely no need to buy or even lease land from any country,” Muizzu said.
The sea walls will ensure that at-risk areas can be “classified as a safe island”, he said.
But 80 percent of the Maldives is less than a meter above sea level.
And while the fortress-like walls surrounding the densely populated settlements may keep the waves at bay, the fate of the resort islands that tourists come to visit is uncertain.
Tourism represents almost a third of the economy, according to the World Bank.
Nasheed’s predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was the first to sound the alarm about the possible “death of a nation”, warning the United Nations in 1985 of the threat posed by rising sea levels. to climate change.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in 2007 that a rise of 18 to 59 centimeters (7.2 to 23.2 inches) would make the Maldives virtually uninhabitable by the end of the century.
The lights are already flashing red.
Gayoom’s fear that his country would run out of clean water has already come true, as rising salt levels seep into the land, corrupting drinking water.
“Every island in the Maldives is running out of fresh water,” said Shauna Aminath, 38, environment minister until last week, when Muizzu’s government took power.
Almost all of the archipelago’s 187 inhabited islets depend on expensive desalination plants, she told AFP.
“Finding ways to protect our islands has been a big part of how we try to adapt to these changes,” Aminath said.
Environmental regulations “ignored”
The capital Malé, where a third of the country’s 380,000 inhabitants are concentrated on a small island, is “one of the most densely populated territories in the world”, with 65,700 inhabitants per square kilometer, according to the Ministry of the Environment .
A giant sea wall already surrounds the city, but Muizzu believes there is potential for expansion elsewhere.
Reclamation projects have already increased the country’s land area by about 10 percent over the past four decades, using sand pumped onto submerged coral platforms, totaling 30 square kilometers (11 square miles).
Muizzu, a British-trained civil engineer and former construction minister for seven years, played a key role in this, overseeing the expansion of the artificial island of Hulhumale.
Connected to the capital by a 1.4 kilometer Chinese-built bridge, with towers rising above the blue sea, Hulhumale is twice the size of Malé, and home to around 100,000 residents.
But environmental and rights groups warn that while rehabilitation is necessary, it must be done carefully.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused authorities of failing to implement their own environmental regulations, saying reclamation projects were “often rushed” and lacked proper mitigation policies.
He gives the example of an airport on Kulhudhuffushi, where 70 percent of the island’s mangroves were “buried”, and a reclamation project in Addu that damaged the coral reefs on which fishermen depended.
“The Maldives government has ignored or undermined environmental protection laws, increasing the risks of flooding and other damage to island communities,” HRW said.
Ahmed Fizal, who heads environmental campaign group Marine Journal Maldives (MJM), said he feared politicians and businessmen were seeing shallow lagoons as potential sites for reclamation to generate quick profits. .
“You have to ask yourself ‘what is the limit, what is the real cost of remediation?'” he said.
© 2023 AFP
Quote: The Maldives will fight against rising seas by building fortress islands (November 21, 2023) retrieved November 21, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-11-maldives-seas-fortress-islands.html
This document is submitted to . Except for fair use for private study or research purposes, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for information only.