As the Waves Rise

The feel­ing is rife that the Mal­dives is near­ing its end and will suc­cumb to the forces of na­ture within a cen­tury.

Southasia - - ENVIRONMENT MALDIVES - By Syed Da­nial Alam

The Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank (ADB) was es­tab­lished in 1966 with the aim to fa­cil­i­tate eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of Asian coun­tries. The mul­ti­lat­eral de­vel­op­ment in­sti­tu­tion is owned by 67 mem­bers - out of which 48 are in the re­gion - and has a mul­ti­tude of pro­fes­sion­als with ex­per­tise in a wide range of fields, such as en­gi­neer­ing, eco­nomics, en­vi­ron­men­tal sciences and so­ci­ol­ogy.

Since its foun­da­tion, the ADB has been com­mit­ted to the cause of im­prov­ing stan­dards of liv­ing, re­duc­ing poverty and en­sur­ing sus­tain­able growth across Asia and the Pa­cific. The main tools used to help achieve th­ese aims are loans, eq­uity in­vest­ments, pol­icy di­a­logue and tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance.

The Mal­dives con­sists of over 1,100 mostly thinly pop­u­lated or un­in­hab­ited is­lands, stretch­ing 900 kilo­me­ters north to south in the In­dian Ocean. With its pop­u­la­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 0.43 mil­lion peo­ple, the Mal­dives has been ben­e­fit­ting from the de­vel­op­men­tal part­ner­ship of the ADB since 1978. The ADB has played a vi­tal role in the coun­try’s’ de­vel­op­men­tal progress by pro­vid­ing it with fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance amount­ing to $201.5 mil­lion up till 2010.

In 2011, the Mal­dives was pro­moted to a mid­dle in­come coun­try and is now among South Asian na­tions with the high­est av­er­age in­come. For 2014, the ADB has pro­jected a GDP growth of 4.5 per­cent for the Mal­dives and 5.4 per­cent in 2015. The bank has ap­proved eight projects in the last five years, in­clud­ing projects to strengthen the ca­pac­ity for op­er­a­tions man­age­ment, pre­pare the outer is­lands for sus­tain­able en­ergy de­vel­op­ment and en­hance the coun­try’s tax ad­min­is­tra­tion ca­pac­ity.

How­ever, the Mal­dives is of­ten la­beled as a coun­try at risk of ex­tinc­tion as cli­matic changes threaten its very sur­vival and con­tinue to harm its econ­omy, which is heav­ily de­pen­dent on the tourism in­dus­try. In June 2014, the ADB pub­lished a book ti­tled “As­sess­ing the Costs of Cli­matic Change and Adap­ta­tion in South Asia.” Although the re­port does not fo­cus on the Mal­dives only, it men­tions how the Mal­dives will be hit the hard­est in terms of loss in GDP and may lose up to 12.6 per­cent of its econ­omy be­cause of cli­mate change in Asia. This, cou­pled with the an­nual pop­u­la­tion growth rate of 1.9 per­cent, may cause se­ri­ous eco­nomic prob­lems for the coun­try.

Another ADB re­port deal­ing specif­i­cally with the Mal­dives does not give much hope ei­ther about the changes its econ­omy is likely to face due to cli­matic al­ter­ations. The very first sen­tence of the re­port, ti­tled “Mal­dives Most At-Risk Econ­omy in South Asia from Cli­mate Change,” de­clares that “the Mal­dives, with its pan­cake-flat is­lands, is the most at-risk coun­try in South Asia from cli­mate change im­pacts, which if left unchecked, could cause an­nual eco­nomic losses of over 12 per­cent of GDP by the end of this cen­tury.” By the yeayear 2100, the es­ti­mate rise in sea level ha­has been pre­dicted to be 1 me­tre. This is ppar­tic­u­larly wor­ry­ing since the high­est nnat­u­ral point in the is­land coun­try is jjust over 2 me­tres above sea level.

This rise wouwould ad­versely af­fect the tourism in­dustin­dus­try and might also in­un­date 66 per­cent of the ar­chi­pel­ago’s to­tal land area. The re­port men­tions the pos­si­bil­ity of den­gu­dengue, al­ready en­demic in the coun­try, becbe­com­ing even more common. Dis­eases such as di­ar­rhea and malaria may aalso spread if such con­di­tions man­i­fest­man­i­fest.

Changes in the rain­fall pat­terns have been pre­dicted as well. This could pose se­ri­ous prob­lems to house­holds that are heav­ily de­pen­dent on rain­fall as the main source of drink­ing wa­ter. Storm surges, the ero­sion of beaches and the ris­ing saline con­tam­i­na­tion of ground­wa­ter sup­plies add to the dis­as­trous re­sults of th­ese cli­matic changes.

Another im­por­tant as­pect is the po­ten­tial en­ergy cri­sis that could worsen as a re­sult of cli­mate change. The av­er­age tem­per­a­ture is ex­pected to rise, which will in­crease the en­ergy re­quire­ments for cool­ing as well as ir­ri­ga­tion pur­poses. If nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, such as storms, hur­ri­canes and floods in­crease in fre­quency and in­ten­sity, then power fail­ures will be­come common, adding to the strain on the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide power and sus­tain it. The im­port of fuel and other sources of en­ergy will also need to be in­creased, wors­en­ing the coun­try’s bal­ance of trade.

If the sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues, the South Asian re­gion will have to pay $73 bil­lion ev­ery year up till the year 2100 in or­der to adapt to the chang­ing sit­u­a­tion and min­i­mize the dis­as­trous ef­fects of cli­mate change. This may be­come pro­gres­sively dif­fi­cult since the change is ex­pected to neg­a­tively af­fect the tourism in­dus­try, which plays an in­te­gral part in the re­gion’s over­all rev­enue col­lec­tion and con­trib­utes to more than 30 per­cent of the GDP.

How­ever, it should not be as­sumed that cor­rec­tive mea­sures can­not be taken. In fact, they should be en­cour­aged and con­sid­ered with ut­most ur­gency. The Copen­hagen-Can­cun Agree­ment calls for coun­tries to act to­gether and keep the rise in global tem­per­a­tures be­low 2 de­grees centi­grade. If this is im­ple­mented, the cost of adap­ta­tion and min­i­miza­tion can halve, and the im­pact on the econ­omy can be milder. The re­port men­tions sev­eral mea­sures that should be taken in or­der to re­spond to cli­mate change. Th­ese in­clude the use of re­cy­cled wa­ter, pro­tec­tion of ground­wa­ter re­sources, use of drought, flood and saline resistant crop va­ri­eties as well as im­proved dis­ease mon­i­tor­ing.

Many think that the Mal­dives is near­ing its end. It will suc­cumb to the forces of na­ture and will be ge­o­graph­i­cally swept away from ex­is­tence within a cen­tury. How­ever, the is­sue can po­ten­tially be solved or at least al­le­vi­ated if other South Asian coun­tries also con­trib­ute to the projects be­ing con­ducted by the ADB.

Tourists of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will cer­tainly need to be care­ful where they plan their va­ca­tions, at least as far as South Asia is con­cerned. The writer is a free­lance contributor. He writes on so­cial and cul­tural is­sues.

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