White sand circles picked out by the sun in sparkling blue seas are the first signs that my plane has arrived at the Maldives, a tropical paradise spread over almost 1200 islands.
Unfortunately, the nation is facing a rise in sea levels and the bleaching of its coral reefs – perils that made it a poster child for the consequences of climate change.
It gained publicity for the plan announced by former president Mohamed Nasheed in 2008 to purchase land elsewhere so the population could relocate should sea level rise make the islands uninhabitable.
But the mood has changed here recently. The new government, under president Abdulla Yameen, no longer seeks land to buy, but is instead determined for the nation to stay put and resist the rising seas with geoengineering projects.
The key to the new strategy is renting out islands and using the money to reclaim, fortify and even build new islands. People living on smaller lower-lying islands could then be relocated to more flood-resistant islands when needed.
City of Hope
One of those is the City of Hope being built on an artificial island called Hulhumale, near the capital Male. To build it, a state-owned company is pumping sand from surrounding atolls and depositing it on shallow reefs that surround the original lagoon. It is being fortified with walls 3 metres above sea level — which is higher than the highest natural island at only 2.5 metres above the sea.
Much of the island still looks like a construction site with mountains of sand piled up, but, according to the shiny plastic model I am shown, when finished in 2023 it will be able to accommodate about 130,000 people.
Eight such islands have already been built, and three more are planned.
Reclaiming islands is the real solution to challenges thrown up by climate change, not leaving the country, says Shiham Adam, director of the Maldives Marine Research Centre.
“Development and reclaiming of islands are necessary. People must have land to live on and they must have jobs,” says Adam. “It is possible to reclaim any island. We have seen that it takes just four weeks to reclaim about 24 hectares of land.”
“All you have to do is bring the dredgers, suck sand and pump it on the low-lying land in shallow waters,” Adam says. “It takes four weeks to build the island and a couple more to put boulders around to stabilise it. To survive we just need money.”
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Source URL: Google News