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Maldives: Promoting Climate Compatible Development

Priti Kumar's picture


Photo by: Anupam Joshi/World Bank

The name Maldives brings up visions of blue seas, turquoise reefs, white sandy beaches, palm trees and people enjoying a tranquil life. But there are lengthening shadows under the Maldivian sun, as it struggles with several climate change and environmental threats. Maldives is the planet’s lowest-lying nation with 80 percent located less than one meter above sea level. The IPCC’s predicted 4.8oC increase in global temperature and 26-82 cm rise in sea level by 2100 may well make Maldives the first country to be swallowed up by the sea.

I have visited Maldives’ remote islands many times since 2010 and seen its non-glamorous, mundane side and met ordinary (poor by Maldivian standards) people earn a living by fishing or agriculture and yet struggling to get clean water or basic sanitation. On one such visit, Fathimath Nushfa, who lives in the water stressed island of Alif Alif Ukulhas said that she needs more clean drinking water during the summers as monsoons were becoming unpredictable. Her rainwater storage tank was small and the groundwater source was contaminated by sewage. It gets expensive to buy mineral water bottles for her family of nine. Her household was willing to pay a tariff if the government could augment the household drinking water supplies. People on that island also complained about solid waste problems and how it was degrading the island’s reef systems that are essential for survival of the islands. In a matter of one year, I noticed parts of the island had shrunk due to coastal erosion.

Maldives is a victim of an impending catastrophe not entirely of their making. Tourism and fisheries sectors contribute to 70 percent of employment, 50 percent of revenues, 100 percent of exports and 80 percent of GDP. Sea surface temperature increase, storm surges and rise in frequency and intensity of droughts pose severe challenges. Excessive coral mining for infrastructure, solid waste, sewage pollution and heavy imports of fossil fuel jeopardize the country’s growth prospects. Increased salinity of the freshwater lens, high cost of desalination and long dry seasons are making water resources management expensive and complex.

The exceptionality of Maldives is that it has been a frontrunner in embracing actions aimed at increasing climate resilience through global climate financing. Maldives with the help of the World Bank established a multi-donor Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF) in 2010 to channel international climate finance into domestic priorities. The European Union and Australian Government have contributed to the Fund. The fund working through the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MEE) is helping to pilot several activities and provide lessons for scaling up, such as:

  1. Introducing innovative ways to provide clean energy, which is turn will help mitigate the effects of climate change. On Thinadhoo Island, 550kWp of solar energy has displaced diesel fuel on the island.
  2. Developing co-management approaches for wetland habitats in two of the largest islands (Fuvahmulah and Hithadhoo) and coral reef monitoring in partnership with five top resorts.
  3. Augmenting the potable water supplies of Alif Alif Ukulhas with the help of community rainwater harvesting system, including a back-up desalination plant.
  4. Managing solid waste in five islands of the Ari Atoll.
The MEE is partnering with ministries of tourism, fisheries and agriculture, Environment Protection Agency, Marine Research Center, Local Government Authority, Water and Energy Utility, tourist resorts and a number of island councils for implementing the above multi-sectoral initiatives.
 
Mr. Manik, President of the Local Council of Alif Alif Ukulhas, stated that the World Bank program on climate change is helping him to meet the needs of the people and has transformed his island into a model for community rainwater harvesting and solid waste management.
 
At a more strategic level, it will be essential for Maldivian managers to mainstream climate change considerations into developmental planning. CCTF is helping to strengthen climate change capacities of the local councilors in partnership with the Local Government Authority. Experts from the Marine Spatial Biology Lab in the University of Queensland, Australia are providing technical assistance to map the nation’s coral reefs, using satellite imagery, based on historical sea surface temperatures to identify the vulnerable regions. This could help in future planning.
 
The Fund, now moving to its second phase with supplemental financing by the EU, aims to strengthen fragile coral reef and wetland habitat management; and improve solid waste management in the larger hubs. Lessons learnt from CCTF’s energy sector work have contributed to a promising initiative by the World Bank to accelerate sustainable private investments in renewable energy with Climate Investments Funds.
 
The Maldivian efforts speak a lot about their adaptation and resilience rather than falling prey to a doomsday prophecy. This I experienced on June 8, 2014 while on a speedboat ride to Alif Alif Ukulhas Island with government officials. Due to the monsoons the sea was rough; the boat was bouncing high on the waves and the normally calm 40-minute ride took well over two and a half hours. I have never faced such terror in my life. But, this event reminded me of the difficult conditions under which the Maldivians live. I get to ‘choose’ not to take the boat ride while those who are on the brink of a catastrophe are living with resolve and ingenuity to become self-sufficient and address the needs of their subsequent generations. 

Comments

Submitted by Shankar Narayanan on

Dear Priti, Thank you for providing a first hand account of what it is to be living in these fast sinking islands, day in and day out....very enlightening and well written with hard facts and glimpses of what it means to be living in these difficult conditions.... well done.....

Submitted by sandeep kohli on

Dear Priti,

Thanks for your very well written blog. I have visited the Maldives with respect to the ASPIRE, the new renewables initiative, but have not yet had the experience of traveling to the more remote outer islands. The Maldives is a unique country with a language, script and culture all its own, spread across 900 km of ocean. It is amazing how this culture remained cohesive through its pre-industrial history despite long stretches of water and no smotorized boats.

It would be a pity to let such a unique part of this planet fall prey to rising sea levels or untreated waste.

Submitted by Ashok Kumar Sharma on

Dear Priti,
Thanks for very good information and efforts being made by the WB along with Australian Government. I also visited Maldives in 2009 for a due diligence for airport and found waste management is not being handled properly and also sewage being discharged directly to Sea.
Regards, Ashok

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