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.
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.