SEA WALL IN THE MALDIVES AND ITS SUSTAINABILITY
Geography and You|Issue 146, 2020
The Small Island developing states are particularly vulnerable to the peril of climate change. Sea level rise, increase in sea surface temperature, high incidences of drought and flood are some of the vulnerabilities that loom large over such island states.The republic of Maldives is one such example, which has been publicly advocating for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Despite being one of the least contributors to such emissions, the Maldives faces the highest impact of global warming. Being one of the lowest-lying island nations, it has been undertaking various steps to curb the egregious impacts of environmental catastrophes.One of the response measures taken by the Maldives is the construction of seawalls. This article discusses this, while accenting the drawbacks and benefits associated with the approach.
Ritika V Kapoor
The Republic of Maldives is an archipelago comprising approximately 1,200 islands, with more than 90 per cent being less than 0.5 sq km in area (Ministry of Environment and Energy 2015). Being one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries, the Maldives is, interestingly, the smallest country in Asia, with a land area of just about 300 sq km (Khan et al. 2002). The scattered geography allows the archipelago to boast of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of around 923,322 sq km., accounting for more than three thousand times its land area. Comprising nearly 26 atolls, located in a north to south direction on the Laccadives-Chagos submarine ridge in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives stretches between Minicoy Island of the Lakshadweep group and the Chagos Archipelago. The northernmost atoll of the Maldives, Ihavandhippolhu, lies about 130 km south of Minicoy while Addu, the southernmost atoll, lies north of the Chagos at a distance of 450 km (Ministry of Environment and Energy 2015). The Maldives is a 99 per cent water nation, with 200 out of 1,200 islands being inhabited, with 90 developed as tourist resorts, and the remaining either being used for agricultural purposes or left uninhabited (High Commission of Maldives n.d.).

Considering the geographical characteristics of the island nation, it is also the world’s lowest-lying country, with an average elevation of 1.5 m (4ft11in). Its highest elevation is just 2.3 m (7ft7 in) above sea level, making it the lowest naturally-occuring ‘highest-point’ on the planet (High Commission of Maldives n.d.). In view of the existential threats looming large upon the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as the Maldives, the perpetual concerns of climate change and the island state’s adaptive strategies are important to study. The issue becomes particularly grave in view of the 2019 Global Risk Report of the World Economic Forum, which highlighted that 90 per cent of all coastal areas across the world will be affected by varying degrees of sea level rise.

Maldives and Climate Change

The unprecedented challenges of climate change are daunting. Maldives, being amongst the least contributors to greenhouse emissions— amounting to around 0.0003 per cent of the world’s total emissions (High Commission of Maldives n.d.) is nonetheless one of the most affected. It was also the first to sign the Kyoto Protocol calling out against such emissions. The archipelago is unarguably among the most vulnerable and least defensible to climate change, particularly to the associated consequence of sea level rise.

In 2007, the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), presented by the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Water of the Government of Maldives, reported that the extreme daily precipitation of 180 mm was a 100year event, but the impact of climate change would make this event twice as often by 2050, implying that the extreme daily precipitation of 180 mm would occur twice every 100 years—making it a 50-year event (Ministry of Environment, Energy and Water 2007). Additionally, the global average sea surface temperature is expected to rise by 1.4 to 5.8°C between 1990 and 2100, with the incidents of drought and flood increasing significantly.

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