Sav­ing the Haven

The world must act to save the Mal­dives be­fore the na­tion drowns in the sea.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Ha­roon Janjua

The Mal­dives is a na­tion con­sti­tut­ing 1200 is­lands, of which only 200 are in­hab­ited. The geog­ra­phy and ge­ol­ogy presents a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge. The is­lands were cre­ated by the growth of corals over many thou­sands of years. The av­er­age el­e­va­tion of the Mal­dives is only 1.2 me­ters above sea level. As such, the the sea level presents a con­tin­u­ous peril.

There are fears that some­time soon all the is­lands of the Mal­dives will be sub­merged by the ris­ing sea, leav­ing not even a trace of the beauty that has at­tracted thou­sands of tourists and mi­grants over thou­sands of years.

The chain of fac­tors that have been iden­ti­fied as con­tribut­ing to the im­mi­nent catas­tro­phe have been clearly laid down. This in­cludes the emis­sion of green­house gases in ex­ces­sive amounts to the at­mos­phere cre­at­ing an ab­nor­mal global warm­ing process on the planet lead­ing to the melt­ing of the glaciers on the north and the south poles. The sub­se­quent rise in sea level will drown the low ly­ing is­lands.

Ab­dul­lah Ma­jeed, the Mal­dives' Min­is­ter of State for En­vi­ron­ment & En­ergy, fears that many is­lands will be wiped off the map, even if an am­bi­tious agree­ment is reached at COP 21 in Paris in De­cem­ber 2015.

The Mal­dives spends a lot of money on oil - nearly 30% of its GDP. How­ever, oil is a dou­ble-edged sword, mostly be­cause it is ex­pen­sive and con­trib­utes to pol­lu­tion. The gov­ern­ment in­tends to de­velop so­lar en­ergy and through it meet 30% of the na­tion’s daily en­ergy re­quire­ments. At present, the Mal­dives pro­duces two to three hours worth of con­sump­tion in the rel­a­tively mi­nor is­lands from so­lar en­ergy. In Malé, the cap­i­tal, they cur­rently pro­duce only about 4% of their en­ergy in this man­ner. Rais­ing it to 30% is an am­bi­tious goal and they hope to achieve it in four years.

There is an Al­liance of Small Is­land States that has 44 mem­bers, which jointly plan and de­vise strate­gies to save their is­lands from sub­mer­sion due to cli­mate change. They are all small coun­tries with weak and ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble economies and are lo­cated at very low al­ti­tudes. They lack the bar­gain­ing and ne­go­ti­at­ing power and po­lit­i­cal clout.

Mal­dives is also acutely ex­posed to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, such as the cy­clone that re­cently hit Van­u­atu. A tsunami, like the one that oc­curred in 2004, takes a few min­utes to de­stroy ev­ery­thing and it takes sev­eral years to rebuild.

An­other ef­fect of cli­mate change is that the dry and arid sea­son which used to last for three months in the past, now lasts a good five months and causes chronic wa­ter scarcity, es­pe­cially of drink­ing wa­ter on many of the small is­lands. The wa­ter sup­ply here comes from rain wa­ter and wells. At present, 53 is­lands are ask­ing for

wa­ter to be de­liv­ered from the cap­i­tal. The gov­ern­ment has to rent a cargo ship, fill it with wa­ter and send it out to sup­ply the is­lands, some of which take two days to reach by boat. This is a costly ex­er­cise that has now been go­ing on for ten years.

When the Ky­oto Pro­to­col was adopted in 1997, the small is­land states had called for a green­house gas emis­sions re­duc­tion tar­get of 25%, and they ended up with achiev­ing just 5%. To­day, sci­en­tists agree that green­house gas emis­sions need to be re­duced by at least 60 or 70% in or­der to sta­bi­lize the ef­fects of cli­mate change, such as the ris­ing sea level and the melt­ing ice caps. How­ever, the best that can hoped for this time at the COP 21 Meet in Paris is just about 40%.

Even so, many peo­ple still think it will be very dif­fi­cult to keep the rise of global tem­per­a­ture to be­low +2°C, and that the planet could end up with a rise of 4 or 5°C! In such a sit­u­a­tion there would be no fu­ture for many small is­land states.

Cer­tain de­vel­op­ing coun­tries - es­pe­cially the poor­est coun­tries and small is­land states - are of­ten seen as a "bunch of beg­gars." The de­vel­oped coun­tries ear­lier saw to their own devel­op­ment and industrial rev­o­lu­tions. Now it is the turn of the un­der­de­vel­oped coun­tries but they are de­prived of industrial devel­op­ment be­cause of re­stric­tions on green­house gas emis­sions and have also be­come the vic­tims of the past ex­cesses of de­vel­oped coun­tries. To­day, they are the worst suf­fer­ers of cli­mate change.

It is more than just a ques­tion of money. The is­land coun­tries do not have the tech­ni­cal where­withal, ca­pac­ity, or ed­u­ca­tion, nec­es­sary to deal with cli­mate change prob­lems. They need money, ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy and the means to ed­u­cate their peo­ple about the en­vi­ron­ment.

In the ear­lier stages of the UN-spon­sored meets on cli­mate change, the main prob­lem was the at­ti­tude of the United States, a big pol­luter which did not take part in the fight against cli­mate change at Ky­oto. For­tu­nately, Pres­i­dent Obama has brought the United States on board. China and the US have com­mit­ted to re­strict their car­bon emis­sion lev­els to 26-28% by 2025. They have also agreed to in­crease their use of en­ergy from ze­roe­mis­sion sources to 20% by 2030. Some progress!

Mean­while what steps can the Mal­dives take to save its is­lands from sub­mer­sion? It has two op­tions:.

It can con­struct dykes around the is­lands to keep the ris­ing sea level at bay, just like the Nether­lands, a coun­try ly­ing be­low the sea level, has done for many cen­turies. A dyke about two me­ters high has al­ready been con­structed around a half of the cap­i­tal, Male. The rest of the dyke needs to be built and its height raised by a few more me­ters. For other is­lands too, dykes need to be con­structed.

The Mal­dives can use the mod­ern is­land con­struc­tion tech­nol­ogy to in­crease the over­all el­e­va­tion of its threat­ened is­lands. Two ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands have al­ready been cre­ated by us­ing this tech­nol­ogy: Thi­la­fushi was cre­ated by dump­ing the garbage and cov­er­ing the garbage with sea sand and Hu­lumale by pump­ing sea sand from the deep sea by us­ing mod­ern high power pump­ing ma­chin­ery.

How­ever, all this re­quires a huge amount of cap­i­tal. The Mal­dives gov­ern­ment does not al­low for­eign cap­i­tal un­less the com­pany bring­ing it in teams up with a lo­cal part­ner to start a busi­ness in the coun­try. If lo­cal in­vestors are not will­ing for this, for­eign in­vestors are hand­i­capped. They can raise cap­i­tal from for­eign cap­i­tal mar­kets as Dubai had done when it cre­ated a new piece of land us­ing is­land con­struc­tion tech­nol­ogy. The Mal­dives has far bet­ter nat­u­ral beauty than Dubai. It can also ask for as­sis­tance on a gov­ern­ment to gov­ern­ment ba­sis from the US or Euro­pean coun­tries with ap­pro­pri­ate tech­no­log­i­cal knowhow to save it­self and pros­per as a tourist haven.

The writer is a free­lance jour­nal­ist.

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