The Republic of the Maldives is a small island nation in the north-central Indian Ocean and the lowest lying country in the world. It is made up of around 1,200 small coral islands and sandbanks grouped into atolls (Luthi, E., 2021). About 200 of these islands are inhabited (Luthi, E., 2021). The Maldives are made up almost entirely of the Maldivian ethnic group which are often split into three subdivisions based on location. The HEV analysis in this website will specifically focus on the main group of Maldivians on the North Malé Atoll (Savage, A., et al., 2019). The North Malé Atoll is where the capital of the Maldives, Malé, is located. The Maldives have taken many steps to respond to the climate change emergency. They are a country that only contributes to 0.003% of greenhouse gas emissions, however, their personal national action alone will not have a major effect on climate change as a whole (Luthi, E., 2021).
The most prominent hazards are:
- Sea level rise
- Storm surges
- Changes in rainfall
- Changes in ocean-atmosphere oscillations
- Increase in disease
- Ocean and air temperature warming
- Ocean acidification
(Alsumaiei, A., et al., 2018, Charlton, K., et al., 2016, Cornwall, C., et al., 2021, Duvat, V., 2021, Manzo, D., et al., 2021, Moosa, L., et al., 2006, Nijamdeen, A., et al., 2018, Orłowska , J., 2018, Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021, Wenegrat, J., et al., 2022,).
Analysis in long-term tide gauge data at Hulhule’ island harbor illustrates a local mean sea level rise of around 4.46 mm per year with an accelerating trend (Rasheed, S., et al., 2021).
Tsunamis may be the most destructive hazard for Maldives, with predicted maximum wave heights between 3.2 to 4.5 meters over mean sea level before swell waves and storm surges hit (Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021).
The Maldives regularly experience high temperatures with a mean annual temperature of around 27.6°C/81.68°F (Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021). The projected change in temperature rise leads to potentially extremely uncomfortable and dangerous conditions. The median change for daily temperature is 3.24°C/37.832°F (Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021).
Sea surface temperature in the Indian Ocean has warmed 50% faster than the global average over the last 50 years (Wenegrat, J., et al., 2022). This warming strongly affects thermal expansion and regional weather and climate including but not limited to monsoon variability and Madden-Julian oscillation changes which leads to floods, droughts, and heat waves (Luthi, E., 2021, Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021, Wenegrat, J., et al., 2022).
Healthy coral reef ecosystems are vital in the Maldives for tourism, fishing industry, protection and more. Corals are extremely sensitive and even a 1° C increase in annual monthly temperature maximums can trigger bleaching (Cornwall, C., et al., 2021).
There have been coral bleaching and mortality events in the Maldives in: 1977, 1983, 1987, 1991, 1995, 1997, and three global coral bleaching events in 1998, 2010, and 2016 (Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021). The combined impacts of ocean warming and acidification are predicted to be amplified under higher CO2 emission scenarios (Cornwall, C., et al., 2021).
There is no decrease in annual rainfall projected under any emissions scenarios that are commonly considered (Duvat, V., 2021; Orłowska , J., 2018). The frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events are projected to increase.
The return period of a daily rainfall of 150 mm for the northern region of the Maldives is expected to change from 300 years to 23 years by the end of the century (Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021). These intense rainfall events lead to flooding across the country (Orłowska , J., 2018).
There has also been an increase in deadly communicable diseases in the Maldives due to climate change such as dengue, scrub typhus, toxoplasmosis, and acute respiratory infections (Nijamdeen, A., et al., 2018). Epidemics occur when the minimum and maximum temperatures are between 25-26 °C and 30-31 °C (Nijamdeen, A., et al., 2018).
The cost of dengue illness in the Maldives in 2015 was $2,495,747 plus an additional $1,338,141 for dengue surveillance (Bangert, M., et al., 2018). The risk of dengue lowers the country’s gross annual income by reducing the number of international tourist arrivals by 11.7% (Bangert, M., et al., 2018). Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and territories' temperature and rainfall increases keeps dengue a prominent threat (Bangert, M., et al., 2018).
Mohammed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives who was a voice for climate change, said that more than 90% of the islands have severe erosion and 97% of the country has no clean groundwater (Manzo, D., et al., 2021). Coastal risks for low-lying areas like the Maldives will increase and historically rare and extreme sea level events will be common by 2100 under all climate change scenarios (Oppenheimer et al., 2022). Over the next decades more frequent hazards due to climate change could lead to more uninhabitable atolls or no habitable atolls left at all (Storlazzi et al., 2018).
The exposure to the effects in the Maldives is lower than one might expect, however, the impacts that they do face cause major harm. The Maldives’ small size is one of the factors that decreases its exposure (Storlazzi et al., 2018). However, hazards affect a very large portion of the population since the country is so densely populated. It is the 9th most densely populated country in the world with an average of 1802 people per square kilometer (Ginnetti, J., et al., 2015). The community living on the North Malé atoll lives in the most densely populated region of the Maldives and the population of the urban capital Malé has also doubled in the past 15 years (Ginnetti, J., et al., 2015).
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami killed 102 people and displaced nearly 30,000 more. 12,000 of that 30,000 were homeless (Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021). The population density of the community combined with poor infrastructure led to greater exposure and catastrophic events.
Other aspects that affect exposure are the degree of already damaged ecosystems as well as the distance to the shoreline and building elevation and infrastructure (Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021). Some critical infrastructure includes roads, harbors, power and desalination plants, administrative buildings, schools, airports, bridges and roads all close to the coast (Ginnetti, J., et al., 2015, Luthi, E., 2021).
The Maldives has five airports and 128 harbors all along the coastline. The two international airports critical for tourism are both within 50 meters of the coastline (Moosa, L., et al., 2006).
Reef islands such as the Malé atoll are especially vulnerable to shoreline erosion, overwash, and saline intrusion (David, C., et al., 2020). Communities on these small islands are especially vulnerable due to their lack of means for retreating inland (David, C., et al., 2020). Local authorities in Dhiffushi through satellite images have estimated around 60 meters of beach lost since 2015 (Luthi, E., 2021). The island is only 0.95 km in length and just 0.2 km wide and is already facing major flooding incidents (Luthi, E., 2021).
If ocean temperature continues to rise, 100% of the corals in the world could be lost (Ferrario, F., et al., 2014). Reef crests dissipate on average 86% of wave energy (Ferrario, F., et al., 2014). Reef flats dissipate 65% of the remaining wave energy and as a whole reefs reduce wave energy by 97% (Ferrario, F., et al., 2014). Coral reefs also shelter coral islands from erosion (Oppenheimer et al., 2022). The loss of the remaining reefs of the North Malé atoll would greatly heighten their already high vulnerability to climate change.
One school in the North Malé atoll, Dhiffushi school, is located 45 minutes by boat north of the capital Malé and is 30 meters from the coastline (Ginnetti, J. 2015 et al.; Luthi, E., 2021; Moosa, L., et al., 2006). The only thing protecting the school from the rising sea level is a handful of partly collapsed coconut palms and a line of sandbags (Luthi, E., 2021). Even with precautions, the school area still floods multiple times each year. The children have to take their shoes and socks off and wade to school through the flood waters (Luthi, E., 2021). This school is the only school on Dhiffushi island and is a prime spot for exposure. The loss of education due to frequent severe flooding days and potentially the entire school in the future would be detrimental to the children in this small atoll community (Luthi, E., 2021; David, C., et al., 2020).
With an average elevation of 1.5 meters and a peak elevation of 2.4 meters (Ginnetti, J., et al., 2015) the Maldives are very vulnerable to tsunamis, storm surges, sea level rise and other flooding. They have an annual displacement rate of 3,700 with a 3.3% increase per year (Ginnetti, J., et al., 2015). The Maldives’ minister of the environment, Aminath Shauna, said that over half the national budget is spent on climate change (Manzo, D., et al., 2021).
After the Tsunami, the lack of a proper sewage system and flooding led to the almost complete contamination of the groundwater system (Heinen, J. T., 2005, Orłowska , J., 2018). Despite this contamination, the water is still used by many for washing and bathing due to a lack of other options. Additionally, there are no drainage systems on the islands so no water is being replenished (Orłowska , J., 2018). With predictions of future longer dry seasons, this could prove to be very problematic.
Poverty is one of the other challenges heightening the Maldives vulnerability to climate change. They face challenges such as a small domestic market, fragile resource base, difficulties with inter-island transport and communication, high cost infrastructure and heavy external dependence (Moosa, L., et al., 2006, World Bank, 2018).
The primary source of drinking water for the North Malé atoll community is rainwater (Alsumaiei, A., et al., 2018; Orłowska , J., 2018; Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021,) . The majority of people collect rainwater (Orłowska , J., 2018). Recently, harvesting rainwater has become more challenging due to changes in precipitation patterns (Orłowska , J., 2018). Sometimes the rain comes even a month earlier, however, it is overall highly unpredictable. These changing rains are heavier and accompanied by strong winds and followed by an extremely hot and long dry season making more necessity for drinking water and less opportunity to harvest it (Orłowska , J., 2018). Community members in the past would clean off their roofs at a certain time each year to ensure it is ready to collect water in the rainy season (Orłowska , J., 2018). Now, due to the unpredictability, North Malé atoll men who traditionally have done roof cleaning are often at work and away from home in the city when the rain occurs and nobody is able to clean their roof leading to more vulnerability of drinking contaminated water (Orłowska , J., 2018).
Tourism and in turn the local economy are extremely vulnerable to climate change. Tourism is shown to align with the general climate trend with peak season being during the dry season and the off season being the rainy season (Nijamdeen, A., et al., 2018, Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021). About 45% of the tourist resorts in the Maldives have reported varying degrees of beach erosion and other climate change indicators affecting the “ perfect paradise” tourism product (Van Bronkhorst, B., 2021).
The North Malé atoll was also found to be the worst affected area in the country affected by COVID-19 due to the same population density issues as well as being the center of power, social and economic activities (United Nations, 2020). Future diseases that will be amplified due to climate change will likely have similar, if not worse, effects than dengue fever and COVID-19 on the community (Nijamdeen, A., et al., 2018, United Nations, 2020).
The Maldives are also vulnerable to food insecurity due to their limited land area, soil quality and strong dependency on marine resources which are all climate sensitive. Almost 90% of their food is imported and especially in this more urban community there is an emphasis on nutrient poor, cheap foods.
- Combating rising sea levels - Construction of seawalls or tetrapods, mangrove afforestation, beach nourishment
- Saltwater intrusion- Elevating water tanks and storage systems, improving coastal vegetation
- Tidal inundation - Land reclamation, dune replenishment
- Community relocation- Artificial islands, coral propagation around existing islands
(Arnall, et al., 2015; Gussmann, et al., 2020; Sovacool, 2012).
Sea level rise countermeasure- The most notable example is the government constructed artificial island Hulhumalé, raised 1.8–2.0 meters above sea level adjacent to Malé. The island is 400 ha and is set to house 100,000 people, many of whom are climate refugees, by 2030 (Gussmann, et al., 2020).
-The government also revealed Dhuvaafaru Island in 2009. The once uninhabited island was raised and a villago for 4,000 climate survivors was built. The survivors' island, Kandholhudhoo, was destroyed by a tsunami. The government is split between adapting islands to climate change or building new ones with safer designs (Gussmann, et al., 2020). However, there is no guarantee that these artificial islands will be significantly less vulnerable to climate change.
-Water scarcity- Rainwater, desalinated water and expensive bottled water are the only water options. The National Disasters Management Center in Malé annually sends emergency shipments of water to about half of the inhabited islands during the dry season. This is an expensive solution and can take two weeks to arrive (UNDP).
-A UNICEF-sponsored climate change awareness program has been integrated into the national curriculum to educate the younger population of the country about the impacts of climate change (Arnall, Kothari, 2015).
There is a large lack of resources available since the Maldives are small and relatively poor. Other barriers include inconsistent political commitment, poor planning, and lack of coordination (Sovacool, 2012). A changing political environment can determine whether climate adaptation projects are prioritized or not.
The Maldives are split into two parts. Tourist resort islands populated almost entirely by tourists and staff, and those home to native Maldivians. The rich, tourist islands can afford projects like land reclamation, the second group can not. The large income gap affects what poorer communities can do in order to combat climate change (Gussmann, et al., 2020).
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