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Maldives bets on artificial islands

Context:

The government of Maldives, one of the most low-lying terrains in the world, is developing at least three artificial islands to tide over the rising sea-levels due to climate change, showed a report by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). 

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Climate Change and its impact)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the concerns regarding Maldives and rising sea level
  2. Case of Hulhumale
  3. Other artificial islands and other solutions for Maldives
  4. India–Maldives relations

About the concerns regarding Maldives and rising sea level

  • About 80 per cent of Maldive’s 1,190 coral islands are at an elevation of less than 1 metre (m) above sea level.
  • Globally, the annual sea-level rise is recorded at 3-4 millimetres and has been accelerating. At this rate, it is only a matter of time that many of the islands are submerged.
  • Low-lying islands will become uninhabitable by 2050 due to flooding and scarcity of freshwater according a 2018 United States Geological Survey.
  • Sea-level will rise half a metre by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced, or by 1m if they continue to rise, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had warned.

Case of Hulhumale

  • Hulhumale, located to the northeast of the archipelago’s capital, Male, has been created by pumping out sand from the seafloor onto a submerged coral platform and is now Maldives’s fourth-largest island.
  • Hulhumale, that rises 2m above sea level, could become a refuge for Maldive’s population. 
  • The government had started constructing Hulhumale in 1997 on a lagoon off Male to accommodate the capital’s population swell. Now, the island covers an area of 4 square kilometres and is home to 50,000 people. Its population could grow to 200,000 in the future.

Other artificial islands and other solutions for Maldives

  • Since the 1990s, the government has also expanded at least two other coral atolls —Thilafushi and Gulhifalhuea — through land reclamation. They are currently being used as industrial areas or landfills.
  • The natural properties of these coral atolls to resist sea-level rise offers a glimmer of hope.
  • Most of these reefs in Maldives and elsewhere “have remained stable or even grown larger in recent decades”, NASA pointed out based on data from studies.

There are a couple of theories to explain this phenomenon:

  1. One, storms and flood that sweep the islands can deposit sediments scooped up from other land masses and elevate these islands.
  2. The second theory is that the coral reefs can produce excess sediment and grow taller, outpacing the rise in sea levels.

India–Maldives relations

  • India and Maldives are neighbors sharing a maritime border and relations between the two countries have been friendly and close in strategic, economic and military cooperation.
  • Maldives is located south of India’s Lakshadweep Islands in the Indian Ocean.
  • Both nations established diplomatic relations after the independence of Maldives from British rule in 1966.
  • India has supported Maldives’ policy of keeping regional issues and struggles away from itself, and the latter has seen friendship with India as a source of aid as well as a counterbalance to Sri Lanka, which is in proximity to the island nation and its largest trading partner.

Significance

  • Maldives plays an integral role in realising the potential of Indian Ocean blue economy as a contributor to the security and sustainable development of sea resources.
  • The growing Chinese presence in the archipelago could have serious security implications.
  • The crucial oil supply coming from Gulf nations to India pass through this area.
  • There are about 25,000 Indian expatriates in Maldives who are engaged in a number of professional pursuits and their security is also of prime concern for India.

-Source: Indian Express

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December 2022
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