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Climate Change Adaptation: The Maldives – A case study

Introduction

This case study will look at the possible future impacts of climate change on The Maldives. It will look at issues such as possible changes to the physical, biological and human environments due to climate change, the types of measures that can be taken, who should take these measures and the types of adaptation strategies that can be implemented.

Background

The Maldives are a series of archipelagos made up of approximately 1,190 coral atolls which are located in the Indian Ocean, southwest of India. Of these atolls approximately 80 are used as island resorts, and have a population of approximately 400,000. Tourism is by far the biggest industry and it is estimated that over 90% of the revenue comes from this source. The highest point of any of the atolls is 2.4m above sea level, which makes the whole area vulnerable to environmental factors such as cyclones, storm surges and rising sea levels (1).

Critical Aspects of Climate Change

As the global climate changes over the next 50 years, The Maldives face an increased susceptibility to extreme weather events. According to the International Panel of Climate Change Report which was released in 2007 (IPCC) (5), we can expect sea levels to rise anywhere between 18 and 59 centimetres, depending on future emissions. Such a rise would have a devastating effect on The Maldives, as 80% of the land is at or below 1 metre above sea level. This will result in an inundation of many atolls, making the areas uninhabitable by humans and also have a profound effect on its reefs and tourism industry (2).

Expected Changes

According to the IPCC, low lying areas such as The Maldives can expect to be affected by environmental events such as

  • Rises in mean sea level
  • Increase in severity of extreme weather events (storms, cyclones etc.)
  • Increase in rainfall

The most critical expected changes for The Maldives will be the rise in sea level and also the increased severity of storms and cyclones. As the atolls are so close to sea level, any rise in the height of the water will reduce the areas that can be inhabited. This would mean that people would either have to leave the area, or relocate to other atolls in the area which are higher. However such a move would only increase pressure on these atolls (3). The increased severity of extreme weather events will also have a profound effect, as the atolls will be more vulnerable to storm surges due to their low lying nature (4).

Measures

Due to the nature of The Maldives, the measures that can be taken and the options of these are very limited. In 2010 the Maldivian Government initiated an adaptation program called ‘Integrating Climate Change Risks into Resilient Island Planning for The Maldives’ (ICCR). This program proposed different measures which could be taken, which included ‘hard’ measures (e.g. building infrastructure, engineering solutions) and ‘soft’ measures (e.g. training policy makers, increasing community resilience, environmental measures) The Maldivian Government is currently looking at both options in this regard (4). Table 1.1 shows an example of hard v soft measures:

Table 1.1 Hard v Soft Measures (4)

Climate Change Impact Hard Measure(s) Soft Measure(s)
Rising Sea Levels Construction of seawalls or tetrapods Mangrove afforestation and beach nourishment
Tidal Inundation Land reclamation Thickening coastal vegetation
Community Relocation Erection of ‘designer’ or ‘artificial’ islandsCoral propagation around existing coral islands

As The Maldives are not a very wealthy nation, the ‘hard’ measures can prove to be very costly. However due to the speed at which climate change events are occurring, it is most likely that both these measures will need to be taken and will be the most likely way in which they can adapt.

Rights and Responsibilities

The Maldives contribute less than 0.001% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions; however now find themselves at risk of losing their land, livelihood and culture due to the actions of the others. The island of Kandhilhudhoo, which lies in the north, has had 60% of the inhabitants agree to evacuate within the next 15 years. The Maldivian Government has considered buying land in other nations in the possible case of a mass evacuation in the future. Such ideas can be difficult as this raises issues such as sovereignty of other nations and the loss of culture and identity (1). A possible way to help avoid such a situation would be to create an international fund in which the bigger polluters contribute according to their emissions in order to help areas such as this to implement adaptation measures.

Costs and Benefits

There is little doubt that the costs of climate change in The Maldives will be felt by the people who live there. They face the loss of their nation, their homes, their livelihoods, their identity and their culture. As mentioned in this case study, The Maldives are low lying and small islands, so the inhabitants do not have the simple option of moving further inland. In addition to this, 90% of the national income depends on tourism. The impacts of climate change will have a profound effect on tourism numbers and the nation could face a severe reduction in its national income. This will have a magnified effect as the government will in turn have less money to spend on adaptation measures (2).

Conclusion

This case study briefly outlines what the possible impacts may be from future climate change and what the possible adaptation measures can be for The Maldives. It is important that the Maldivian Government remain vigilant regarding this critical issue, and they have shown positive intent with the implementation of the ICCR. If the nation continues to try to adapt by implementing the recommended measures, they can reduce, delay and possibly reverse the future impacts. The creation of an international fund would improve the outcomes; however the likelihood of such a fund being created and then managed correctly would be relatively small. Nations around the world would not be faced with such a dilemma if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced which would in turn reduce the speed in which the global climate is changing.

REFERENCES

1. Berringer ACS (2012). Maldives. In: Encyclopedia of Global Warming & Climate Change. SAGE, Thousand Oaks, USA. Pages 881-882. ISBN 9781412992619

2. Karthikeyhan TC (2010). Environmental Challenges for Maldives. South Asian Survey 17(2): 343-351

3. Morner NA, Tooley M , Possnert G (2004). New Perspectives for the future of the Maldives. Global and Planetary Change 40: 177-182

4. Sovacool BK (2012). Expert views of climate change adaptation in the Maldives. Climatic Change 114: 295-300.

5. IPCC (2007). IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007. Projections of Future Changes in Climate. Available online via: http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-projections-of.html


Environment | Maldives


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