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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.

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