Maldives is located southwest of India. It is a low-lying chain of islands that consists of 26 atolls and about 1,200 islands. The country’s population is approximately 400,000 people and the official language is Dhivehi–a derivative of Sanskrit with Indo-Aryan roots. The highest point in the Maldives is 1.2 meters, and 99 percent of the geographical area is covered by water. Due to sea level rise, the sustenance of the Maldivian population is at risk, as their access to clean drinking water and what helps them strive in their daily lives would be endangered.
The Maldivian islands are both unique and fragile, as they are formed from broken-down coral. They formed as the result of underwater volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. This led to the formation of coral reefs; due to tides, currents, and wave patterns, broken-down coral gathered at parts of the coral reefs to form an island. These islands developed a fresh water lens with the accumulation of rainfall. With time, vegetation formed; about 4,000 years ago these islands were inhabited by maritime explorers and sailors from the neighboring countries of India and Sri Lanka. It is tides, currents, and waves that form these islands, and it is not difficult for these forces of nature to wipe them out. This became reality with the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.
Agriculture is not an industry that could sustain the needs of the Maldivian population. This is why the economy sustains mainly on the tourism sector and partially on the fishing industry, which is highly dependent on the ocean and its treasures. Global warming and sea level rise threaten these industries, as they have been proven catastrophic to the coral reefs and in turn, the fish populations of the Maldives. Not only does climate change affect the Maldivians economically, but it also threatens their mere existence. As we know, access to clean drinking water is essential to human life. With sea level rise, the fresh water lens that makes clean drinking water available to the local population deteriorates. In addition, climate change due to the global warming affects the weather patterns and the monsoon rains, their durations, and intensity, jeopardizing the supply of clean drinking water.
What can the people of the Maldives do? The former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, was hailed as a climate champion for his efforts in the COP15 Summit in Copenhagen, 2009 to bring the matter of global warming, climate change, and sea level rise to the concern of leaders of the world. Mr. Nasheed set the target of the Maldives becoming the first carbon-neutral country by 2020. Along with this, he actively made contributions to the movement, leading by example up until his government was overthrown by a coup d’état. With the later governments and their policies, they are back to square one as far as carbon-neutrality goes. The current government gives little regard to sustainable development.
While the rest of the world is still arguing whether climate change, global warming, and sea level rise is real, the people of the Maldives are deciding where they could live if the sea levels rise by just one meter. It would mean that about 90 percent of the population would be displaced, and the people of the Maldives would become climate refugees. It then becomes a loss of identity, nationality, and a sense of belonging, and also a question of human rights. Maldives is just one example of this. If there must be a reason for one to reduce their carbon footprint and urge their leaders to reduce emissions, let the loss of a population, culture, language, and a race be one.
Nayyifa Nihad is the Students Section Editor for OU Forum. Nayyifa is an international student from the Maldives who is a Davis Scholar and an alumni from the United World College of Southern Africa. She is majoring in International Studies with French and Women and Gender Studies minors. She likes travelling, reading, writing, and sharing her perspective on things she believes in through her experiences. The topic of “water” is really close to her heart, coming from a country considered to be one of the first countries to be completely submerged underwater due to the rising of sea levels.