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