The Maldives are an archipelago of 500 islands scattered across the Indian Ocean stretching from the southern tip of mainland India. This strikingly beautiful country, captured by the Sentinel-3 Satellite above, rises just 1 meter above the sea. Over the years the Maldives have dealt with severe storms, flooding, receding coast lines, and reef deterioration. As sea levels continue to rise due to global warming the Maldives experience extreme flooding events, and damaging storms that grow worse every year.
Sea levels are predicted to rise 1m by the end of the 21st century. The looming future for the Maldives is that their country will be washed away as a consequence of climate change. The next generation of Maldivians have no security in the land they live on now. What does a country do to prepare for such a future?
For decades the country was exploited under the autocratic rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Many of the Maldives’ natural protections against flooding and storm damage were demolished to build the resorts that make the islands so popular- and its previous leader so rich. The money that the resorts made did not go to the local residents, workers, or any kind of land protection. Most Maldivians live off of $1 a day, and the land they live off of is being cannibalized, either by large developments or the sea.
Mohammad Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, has been outspoken about the effects of climate change on his country since his return from unjust exile in 2018. Since his return he has been finding ways for the government to support infrastructure projects to adapt to climate change. President Nasheed has become a global leader in addressing the existential threat of climate change to coastal peoples. At the 2018 UN Climate Talks, he spoke on the future for the Maldives and other nations like it:
We are not prepared to die. And the Maldivians have no intention of dying. We are not going to become the first victims of the climate crisis. Instead, we are going to do everything in our power to keep our heads above water — President Nasheed
This forthright declaration against death is one of the most hopeful messages for a nation facing it. A quarter of the world’s population will be facing a similar struggle. Nations and peoples that live along coast lines or on small islands are all threatened by the imminent rising of the sea. Whether through developing new adaptation technologies, or organizing major relocations to drier land; I have faith that we will keep our heads above water.