Sinking island nation of Maldives to relocate entire nation?

November 11, 2008

Maldives (Chattahbox) – The new president of the Maldives is being forced to consider relocating the entire country, because the island may sink under water if the current pace of climate change keeps raising sea levels. The Maldives is an archipelago of almost 1,200 coral islands located south-southwest of India. Most of the islands lie just 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) above sea level. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has forecast a rise in sea levels of at least 7.1 inches (18 cm) by the end of the century. Much of Male, capital of the Maldives, was flooded following the 2004 tsunami.

Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed, a former political prisoner, was sworn in Tuesday after he unseated Asia’s longest-serving leader in the country’s first multi-party elections two weeks ago. He inherits an island nation with several problems including the December 2004 tsunami, which killed at least 82 people with 26 unaccounted for In the Maldives itself, from a population just over 270,000, according to the Maldives Disaster Management Center. Sixty-nine islands were completely flooded and a further 30 islands half flooded.

Nasheed, a 41-year-old one-time journalist, was among the fiercest critics of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who came to power in 1978 and ruled the Maldives for 30 years. He won the six previous elections as the only candidate on the ballot. Gayoom’s critics say his government enforced a system of ‘apartheid’ tourism that banned most Maldivians from nearly 90 luxury resorts. Nasheed was arrested several times in the last 15 years and held as a political prisoner. Shortly before election day, an auditors’ report said that millions of dollars were improperly accounted for by Gayoom’s government. He disputed the findings.

And so the tourist nation, which has white sandy beaches that lure well-heed Westerners, wants to set aside some of the billion dollars a year it receives from tourism and spend that money on buying a new homeland.

“We will invest in land,” Nasheed said. “We do not want to end up in refugee tents if the worst happens.”

Nasheed’s government has said that it has broached the idea with several countries and found them to be “receptive.”

Land owned by Sri Lanka and India are possibilities because the countries have similar cultures, cuisine and climate as the Maldives. Australia is also being considered because of the vast unoccupied land it owns.

Climate change is not the only challenge the new president will have to tackle, though. Other thorny issues include rising unemployment, corruption and a staggering drug epidemic.

By some estimates, one of every three Maldivian youth uses drugs. Nasheed said he will work to bring affordable housing and medical care for everyone. Twenty-one percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Maldivians also worry that their tiny secular nation of 370,000 Muslims could fall prey to the reach of Islamic radicals. A bombing in Male, attributed to Islamic extremists, wounded 12 tourists in September 2007.

“We have made many pledges,” Nasheed said in his inaugural address. “The citizens gave their majority vote to us to implement these.”


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