Rising sea levels threaten to engulf the Maldives, where fresh water is becoming scarce, but the Indian Ocean archipelago’s new president has ruled out any relocation of the population abroad, AFP reported.
In an interview with AFP, President Mohamed Muiz, a 45-year-old UK-educated engineer, promised instead an ambitious program to rehabilitate the land and uplift the island, which environmental groups have criticized.
About 80 percent of the Maldives archipelago is located at least one meter below sea level, which ranks it among the countries most threatened by sea level rise, BTA recalls.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (GIEC) warned in 2007 that sea level rise of 18 to 59 centimeters would render the Maldives virtually uninhabitable by the end of the century.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed was banking on the Maldives saving up to be able to buy land in neighboring India, Sri Lanka or even further afield in Australia to relocate its population.
However, his successor promised his compatriots that they would not leave their homeland.
“If we need to increase the habitable surface to live or to develop economic activity, we can do it,” Muise said in the island’s capital, Male, which is protected by concrete dikes.
“We are self-sufficient and able to take matters into our own hands,” he said.
“We have absolutely no need to buy or lease land in any country,” he confirmed “categorically”.
The dykes will ensure a “safe island”, he added.
The archipelago, which consists of 1,192 coral islets spread over 800 kilometers in the Indian Ocean, is a place for luxury tourism and a preferred destination for famous and wealthy individuals from around the world. Tourism is about a third of the archipelago’s economy.
Rehabilitation projects have already allowed the country’s area to increase by about 10 percent over the past four decades.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the authorities of failing to comply with their own environmental regulations, claiming that rehabilitation projects are often “rushed” and lack adequate containment policies.
“The Maldivian government is neglecting or undermining environmental protection laws, increasing the risks of flooding and other harm to the people of the island,” according to Human Rights Watch’s assessment.