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The Maldives Is Sinking. So, How Can It Be Saved?

Updated: May 5, 2023

Written by Yigit Efe Nas


The Maldives has been in danger of sinking due to rising sea levels over the past few decades. The low altitude and very high population density of the Maldives, which is an island country, leaves the country unprotected against any loss of land. In response to rising sea levels, the government is considering different plans and options.



Basic Information About The Maldives

Maldives is an island country located in the Indian Ocean in South Asia. While the country has no borders, its closest neighbors are India, 600 km to the north, and Sri Lanka, 645 km to the northeast. [1]

Location of The Maldives on the Map

Source: [2]


The population of Maldives is 523,787 as of 2022. [3] The country consists of 26 atolls (coral islands) and 1,190 coral islands. Along with all these islands, Maldives is the smallest country in Asia in terms of surface area. [4] Malé atoll, located in the center of the country, is the capital of the country and the most populated place (252,768). [5]

The Maldives' Capital Malé

Source: [22]


The official language of the country is Divehi and its religion is Islam. [7][8] Tourism is the country's largest industry, accounting for 28% of the annual GDP. [27] More than 1 million tourists visit the country every year. [9]



Why The Maldives Is Sinking?

Maldives is the country with the lowest altitude in the world. The average altitude of the country is only 1.6 meters. [10] This number is 1,132 meters for Turkey. [28] The highest point of the country is Villingili “Mountain” which is 5.1 meters high. [11] This height is so low that it is less than the average height of a 2-story building (5.5 meters). [29]

Maldives' Highest Point Villingili (5.1 Meters)

Source: [23]


The fact that Maldives is so low makes the country very sensitive to global warming and climate change. Global carbon emissions, which have started to increase considerably since the middle of the 20th century, have caused the melting of glaciers, causing the global sea level to rise by an average of 21 centimeters. [12,13] Due to this rise in sea level, ⅓ of the country has been submerged in the last few decades. Moreover, according to estimates, 80% of Maldives will be wiped off the map by 2050. [14]


For example, due to the tsunami in 2004, ⅔ of the country was temporarily submerged until the water subsided. As a result of this disaster, 20 islands were permanently submerged and wiped from the map. [15] Due to the tsunami, 81 people lost their lives and 21 people were declared missing. At the same time, 21,663 people had to be displaced from their homes. [30] As a result of this event, 70% of the infrastructure in the country was damaged and the financial loss caused by the tsunami was $304 million, which is more than ¼ of the country's GDP. [31][32]



How The Maldives Can Be Saved?

There are many ways that can be used to save the Maldives. However, all the ways discussed are plans that the Maldives cannot afford financially. That's why Maldives seeks financial support from more developed countries. To achieve this financial support, Mohamed Nasheed, who served as the country's president between 2008 and 2012, held a cabinet meeting in October 2009 with 11 ministers, vice presidents, and cabinet secretaries, 3.8 meters below the sea. The purpose of this meeting was to draw attention to the sunken future of Maldives. [16]



Sea Walls

As in other low-altitude countries such as the Netherlands, the Maldives is also continuing the construction of its sea walls. The aim of the work, which started in the capital city of Malé in February of 1988, is to protect the atolls against rising sea levels. [20] As of 2023, 53 atolls and islands have sea walls in either all or a certain part of them. [21]


However, the presence of sea walls negatively affects the ecosystem of the country. The economy of the Maldives is based on tourism and the fact that the tourist areas are surrounded by walls, although it will protect the locals for a certain period of time, adversely affects the economy of the country. It should be reminded that Maldives needs tourism revenues to make other options such as artificial cities a reality. [20]

Maldives Sea Walls

Source: [25]



Oil Platforms

One idea that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie is to build the Maldives on floating platforms that look like oil platforms. In the proposal submitted to the Maldives government by the Unitec School of Architecture in New Zealand, it was suggested that the country be built on platforms. Preliminary drawings and planning have been made, although the Maldives government has no intention of enacting such a plan at this time. On the idea of ​​establishing a platform country, each platform is planned to undertake different tasks such as agriculture, industry, and settlement. [26]

Maldives Platform Preliminary Drawing

Source: [26]


Maldives Platform Plan

Source: [26]


Buying New Settlements

Although it seems like a last resort, the Maldives government has been in talks for a long time to buy land from other countries. The purpose of these talks is to move the Maldivian people to another place if the country completely collapses. [17]


For this purpose, Maldives is in talks with India or Sri Lanka in particular. The reason for this is that both countries have a similar culture to the Maldives. Another option is Australia. In Australia, where it has met with a similar purpose in many other Oceanian countries, 95% of the country is unused and vacant land. [18]



Artificial Cities

Another option is to build artificial cities. The Maldives Floating City, which is currently under construction, will be located just 10 minutes from the capital Malé and will be able to host 20,000 people. The construction of the city, which is being built by Waterstudio, a Dutch company, will be finished in 2027. The Maldives stated that if the city is successful, it will continue to establish new cities. [19]

The Maldives Floating City

Source: [24]


As a result, Maldives needs social and economic assistance from other countries in order to continue its life as a country. As the lowest altitude country, the Maldives is the first country to be greatly affected by global warming and rising sea levels. Although studies continue on different projects, no definite result has been obtained so far. Time will tell if Maldives can be saved.



References:
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  2. Maldives map with resorts, airports and local islands 2023. (n.d.). Maldives Finest VIP Holiday. https://maldivesfinest.com/location-map

  3. Maldives population growth rate 1950-2023. (n.d.). Macrotrends | The Long Term Perspective on Markets. https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/MDV/maldives/population-growth-rate

  4. Sawe, B. E. (2017, November 14). The 10 smallest countries of Asia by area. WorldAtlas. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-10-smallest-countries-of-asia-by-area.html

  5. Male' city population crosses 252,000. (2021, November 29). Avas.mv - Maldives news leader. https://avas.mv/en/110613

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  9. An overview of the Maldives tourism industry in 2022. (n.d.). TRAVELTRADEMALDIVES.COM. https://www.traveltrademaldives.com/an-overview-of-the-maldives-tourism-industry-in-2022/

  10. 15. Maldives. (n.d.). https://www.fao.org/3/X6900e/x6900e0i.htm

  11. Climbing the highest point in the Maldives. (2013, November 5). National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/climbing-the-highest-point-in-the-maldives

  12. CO2 emissions. (n.d.). Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/co2-emissions

  13. Climate change: Atmospheric carbon dioxide. (n.d.). NOAA Climate.gov. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide

  14. Pal, S. (2022, May 19). Alarming! 80% of Maldives might be underwater by 2050 due to climate change. Curly Tales. https://curlytales.com/alarming-80-of-maldives-might-be-underwater-by-2050-due-to-climate-change

  15. A vanishing paradise: The Maldives expected to be swallowed by the ocean in the future. (2015, December 19). HS Insider. https://highschool.latimes.com/hs-insider/a-vanishing-paradise-the-maldives-expected-to-be-swallowed-by-the-ocean-in-the-future

  16. Omidi, M. (2009, October 17). Maldives sends climate SOS with undersea cabinet. U.S. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-maldives-environment-idUSTRE59G0P120091017

  17. Preparing for rising seas in the Maldives. (2021, April 9). https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/148158/preparing-for-rising-seas-in-the-maldives

  18. Maldives seek to buy a new homeland. (2008, November 10). the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/nov/10/maldives-climate-change

  19. The Maldives reveals plans for floating city to cope with rising sea levels. (2022, July 12). Dezeen. https://www.dezeen.com/2022/06/27/maldives-floating-city-climate-change-sea-levels/

  20. Sea wall in the Maldives and its sustainability. (2020, October 28). National Maritime Foundation. https://maritimeindia.org/sea-wall-in-the-maldives-and-its-sustainability/

  21. Fleming, S. (2021, January 18). Maldives islands with a sea wall, designed to protect. Mainly Maldives. https://www.mainlymaldives.co.uk/maldives-islands-sea-wall/

  22. Male travel. (n.d.). Lonely Planet. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/maldives/male

  23. Shangri-la's Villingili claims highest peak in Maldives. (2014, January 28). Maldives Insider. https://maldives.net.mv/10594/shangri-las-villingili-claims-highest-peak-in-maldives/

  24. (2022, March 22). Maldives Floating City. https://maldivesfloatingcity.com/

  25. Australian company to build wave farm in Hanimadhoo. (2015, September 29). Maldives Independent -. https://maldivesindependent.com/business/australian-company-to-build-wave-farm-in-hanimadhoo-117785

  26. A country of converted oil rigs: Is this how to save the Maldives? (2015, May 23). ArchDaily. https://www.archdaily.com/634314/a-country-of-converted-oil-rigs-is-this-how-to-save-the-maldives

  27. Maldives: Economy. (n.d.). globalEDGE: Your source for Global Business Knowledge. https://globaledge.msu.edu/countries/maldives/economy

  28. Climate. (n.d.). Study in Turkey. https://www.studyinturkey.gov.tr/StudyinTurkey/ShowDetailrID=QcMasl6E4Iw=&&cId=PE4Nr0mMoY4=

  29. Home, P. I. (2022, December 5). How tall is a 2 story house? (Calculation & key factors ). Pip's Island Home. https://www.pipsisland.com/how-tall-is-a-2-story-house

  30. Asian disaster reduction Center(ADRC). (n.d.). Asian Disaster Reduction Center(ADRC). https://www.adrc.asia/view_disaster_en.php?NationCode=&Lang=en&Key=792

  31. TSUNAMI: IMPACT AND RECOVERY. (n.d.). GFDRR. https://www.gfdrr.org/sites/default/files/publication/pda-2005-maldives.pdf

  32. Hays, J. (n.d.). Great tsunami of 2004 in the Maldives. Facts and Details. https://factsanddetails.com/asian/cat63/sub411/item2541.html

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