Climate Change Refugees: The Maldives

Throughout my lifetime the news has been plagued with stories of environmental refugees. People who were climate refugees due to earthquakes and hurricanes or because of the crop growing climate. The 21st century will see a new phenomenon, a new branch of environmental refugees. Climate change refugees, people forced to leave by every day, human-caused environmental change. Rising sea levels and extreme temperatures will see millions displaced. The Maldives is a pre-shock of what is to come.

The Maldives is a group of more than 1000 islands in the Indian Ocean. It is well known for its white-sand beaches and clear waters, but it has a much scarier reality. Nowhere is above 2.4 metres and some pessimistic views believe sea levels could rise by up to 2m by 2100 if current global temperatures continue to rise. This could mean the Maldives could become uninhabitable by 2200. It seems unfair that despite not contributing largely to the problem, they are vulnerable and set to become the first climate change refugees. Also, the Maldives is preoccupied with more important issues since it is a middle-income country with a GDP of $10,330. It already has problems with saltwater intrusion and housing. Both problems will be amplified by rising sea levels. They may even become irrelevant. Now the Maldivian government is seeking to get refugee status for its citizens.

At the moment, the Maldives sees prominent flooding in more than 90 islands annually. This damages business, reducing the GDP and leaves people homeless. Flooding and rising sea levels can also salinize and contaminate the water supply. The Maldives main source of income is tourism, and it receives 600,000 tourists annually. If tourist resorts are destroyed, then the Maldives will lose a significant chunk of its economy. It is not just the resorts that could wash away but the airports. Two of the biggest airports in the Maldives are within 50m of the coast. Although it would be detrimental if tourism were destroyed, the impact on the natives is larger. They will have nowhere to go eventually, and higher land will become overcrowded. Furthermore, uninhabited islands would plunge the Maldives backwards as there would be no infrastructure.

The Maldivian Government has started to outline some ‘solutions’ to rising sea levels. They plan to protect groundwater and build essential infrastructure on higher land. However, nowhere is above 2.4m so this solution would only be temporary. A long term and potentially the only resolution is to grant Maldivians climate change refugee status. The president even suggested buying a new homeland. This seems hard considering the population is more than 400,000. It is more likely Maldivians would be dispersed throughout the world, destroying their culture.

Talks are underway for mass migration to India, Australia, and Sri Lanka. However, these are just talks and provide no security for lives under threat. The government also has funded so citizens can buy homeland abroad.

Ultimately, the Maldives can be considered a victim due to its low-lying land and lack of contribution to the problem. Although it has a small population of 400,000 it is unlikely they will remain together. The reality for the Maldives is disastrous, however, it is only the first. The Tuvalu and Marshall islands are set to follow. It is easy for countries who do not currently face this problem to be ignorant however low-lying cities across the globe will soon become exposed to this threat. These cities include Lagos, New Orleans, and Jakarta are set to face a similar fate. Although richer countries may be able to temporarily mitigate the impacts of rising sea levels, there is only so much they can do. Rising sea levels will affect everyone. Only if countries across the world commit to stopping climate change will these cities and millions of other settlements be saved. However, the sad reality is, it might be too late for the Maldives.

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Source URL: Google News

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