Ali Nishan/AP
Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed

Maldives May Relocate Due to Global Warming

November 12, 2008 01:58 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Mohamed Nasheed, the island nation’s new president, has announced a plan to buy a new homeland, just in case his sinking country completely disappears.

New President Pledges to Save Country from Submersion

The new president of the Maldives, Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed, was inaugurated on Tuesday, after defeating longstanding former leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the nation’s first multiparty elections.

On Monday, he told British newspaper The Guardian that his government plans to start saving funds to buy a new homeland as a contingency plan in case the low-lying island nation sinks entirely due to climate change.

“We will invest in land,” Nasheed said to CNN. “We do not want to end up in refugee tents if the worst happens.”

Nasheed says the government will allocate some of the $1 billion a year that the country earns from its booming tourism industry to create a “sovereign fund” toward the purchase of new land on higher ground. The government has already discussed the idea with several countries. Among those under consideration are Sri Lanka, India and Australia.

Scientists predict that the coral islands that make up the Maldives, most of which lie less than five feet above sea level, will sink if climate change continues at its current pace. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that sea levels in the country will rise by at least 7.1 inches by the end of the century.

The Maldives was hit hard by the December 2004 tsunami in Asia, which left 82 killed and 26 mission after 69 islands were completely flooded, and another 30 half-flooded. Some scientists say that such extreme weather is one effect of climate change.

Related Topic: Climate refugees

Even if all goes as Nasheed plans, Maldivians will not be the world’s first climate refugees. That distinction goes to the residents of Papua New Guinea’s Carteret Island, according to a recent report by Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The agency contends that rising sea levels that have flooded plantations have devastated villagers’ food supplies. An NGO has raised funds to build new homes for the villagers at higher elevation and the government of Papua New Guinea has also raised money for relocation. But British newspaper The Independent reports that the Lohachara Island in India’s Bay of Bengal “has beaten them to the dubious distinction” of being the world’s first climate refugees.

Scientists warned last year that climate change could create 200 million climate refugees within the next century. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that temperature rises predicted by 2050 could devastate ecosystems, disturb food and water supplies and bring about the extinction of animal and plant species, in addition to rising sea levels, floods and droughts.

The troubles of the tiny, low-lying Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu has been used by some environmentalists to illustrate what could happen to the rest of us if global warming worsens. Tuvalu, where the highest elevation on the main island is only 3.7 meters above high tide, has seen rising sea levels and changes in tide patterns. Australian researcher Mark Hayes says that in Funafuti, the capital, the high tide has had a devastating effect. “With a slightly higher tide peaking at over 3.2 meters just before 5:00 p.m., polluted water flooded into their homes, and they were evacuated by the Red Cross. … Some locals told how they’d caught tilapia fish washed into their kitchens.”

Key Player: President Mohamed Nasheed

Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed is a 41-year-old former journalist and political dissident who was once named an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. A fierce critic of the long-serving former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whom left office Nov. 10 after a 30-year rule, he was arrested several times and spent long periods of time in jail for his political opposition. Nasheed outlasted four other candidates before defeating Gayoom, whom he accused of crushing dissent and engaging in widespread corruption during his reign, in a runoff election on October 28 with 54 percent of the votes. “No other citizens in the world in modern times have changed a 30-year-old regime so peacefully,” Nasheed said in address. The BBC reported on Nasheed’s rise to power: “To his supporters Mr. Nasheed is a latter day Nelson Mandela, overcoming the hardships of prison to secure an inspirational election win against the odds. But his critics say that he has little policy-making experience beyond his direct action campaigns against the government."

Reference: The Maldives


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