Sink or Swim? President of the Maldives Gets Busy Bailing Out His Island Nation


Ever want to just pack up and move…your country?

If you haven’t heard by now, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives insists buying a new homeland may be the only option for the 300,000 islanders who selected him last year as the country’s first democratically-elected leader.

That’s because nightmarish climate change could drown the emerald chain of 1,200 islands and 26 coral atolls that make up the territory located 435 miles southwest of Sri Lanka in the Laccadine Sea of the Indian Ocean.

Location, location, location.

Yes, that’s the draw to this magnificent tourist escape, as well as the exact cause of the looming threat of a paradise lost under rising waters by the year 2100, as forecast by the United Nations. The ground level averages 1.5m above sea level and the highest point is at 2.3m – which is the lowest high point in the world, according to Wikipedia.

So, what’s a new leader to do? Shop and save.

“We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere,” Nasheed told the British Guardian after taking office. “It’s an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome. After all, the Israelis [began by buying] land in Palestine.”

The President told the Guardian that even a “small rise” in sea levels would inundate large parts of the archipelago.


Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed (right) and Vice-President Hamid Ansari in Male

All eyes are on this rising star of Asia and his plan to set aside a portion of the Muslim country’s billion-dollar annual tourist income to invest in a new home, perhaps in Sri Lanka, India or Australia.

The Maldives is an unbelievably exclusive travel destination with spectacular resorts visited by the rich and famous. It’s where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes went on their honeymoon; they rented a boat and just sailed around the atolls. No cameras can get to you there. It’s as far away as you can get. And naturally, those running the resorts do well as everything costs a fortune.


The Four Seasons resort at the Maldives is one of many ultra luxury hotels

Speaking out against the government once cost a fortune in terms of freedom for Nasheed, who was arrested and sentenced to prison several times for his political activism, which included writing a popular magazine called Sangu. Having ascended to power he is wasting no time advocating for his people, including unveiling a plan last month to make his country a carbon-neutral nation within the next 10 years.

According to The Observer, the plan developed by British climate change experts Chris Goodall (author of Ten Technologies to Save the Planet) and Mark Lynas seeks to establish a near-zero carbon economy by eliminating all fossil fuel use on the Maldive archipelago by 2020. Instead, it is calling for clean electricity to power homes, businesses and vehicles.

Features of the bold initiative include a new renewable electricity generation and transmission infrastructure with 155 large wind turbines, half a square kilometre of rooftop solar panels, and a biomass plant burning coconut husks. Battery banks would provide back-up storage for when neither wind nor solar energy is available.

As Goodall put it: “We don’t want to pretend that this plan is going to be easy to implement. There will be hiccups, and electricity supply will occasionally be disrupted. But we think that building a near-zero-carbon Maldives is a realistic challenge. Get it right and we will show the apathetic developed world that action is possible, and at reasonable cost.”

Norway also wants to be zero-carbon by 2030, but The Observer says the Norwegian plan lets a good percentage of global emissions to be offset by investments in forestry schemes abroad.

Meanwhile, Lynas believes Nasheed is on the “front line of climate change” as the Maldives is the most vulnerable country in the world. “It is a poor country, but here we have a government that is throwing down the gauntlet to the rich, highly polluting countries,” he said.

The price is huge, said to be about $110m a year for 10 years, but could pay for itself in time as the nation will no longer rely on imported oil products for electricity generation, transport and other functions.

As Nasheed sees it, it’s a small price when you consider the alternative of watching rich polluting world powers ruin your land.

“Climate change is a global emergency,” he reminds us. “The world is in danger of going into cardiac arrest, yet we behave as if we’ve caught a common cold. Today, the Maldives has announced plans to become the world’s most eco-friendly country. I can only hope other nations follow suit.”

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.