“In the worst-case scenario, we’ll have to move.”
— Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Shaheed
Located just southwest of India, the Maldives is known for its white sand and relaxing beaches. It is made up of almost 1,200 small coral islands and is home to a third of a million people. As one of the lowest-lying countries in the world at 3.3 feet above sea level, the Maldives is significantly at risk of submerging underwater due to rising sea levels and climate change.
In December of 2004, a tsunami struck the islands after an Indian Ocean earthquake. The death toll reached 82 people, including two British tourists and an additional 40 other people missing. Although the islands were not hit with destructive waves like the ones that hit Indonesia and Thailand from the same earthquake, rising surges of water took over the island, making it feel like the Maldives were sinking. Because of its low 3.3-foot sea level, there was no high or dry ground to run to and it took about five minutes for the water to retreat. The government reported that buildings and infrastructure were badly damaged, one in three people and half the homes were affected, ten percent of the islands were made uninhabitable, and development was set back two decades.
As climate change continues to exacerbate already dangerous conditions and weather extremes across the globe, the Maldives is just one of many island nations that have to ramp up its efforts to protect its coastlines from natural disasters and rising sea levels. The economy depends on two main industries, tourism and fishing, which are dependent on coastal resources. In 2014, around 30 islands were identified as severely eroded with more than 100 others reporting some erosion. Already spending around $10 million annually for coastal protection, a 2016 report by its environmental ministry estimated another $8.8 billion will be necessary to protect all its islands, creating a wary future for the Maldives.