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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Augmenting the potable water supplies of Alif Alif Ukulhas with the help of community rainwater harvesting system, including a back-up desalination plant.
- Managing solid waste in five islands of the Ari Atoll.
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.