Climate Change and its Impact on the Maldives

Maldives is an archipelago of 25 lowlying coral atolls located in a north to south direction on the Laccadives-Chagos submarine ridge in the Indian Ocean. This chain is 860km long and the width varies between 80 to 120km. There are 1190 small tropical islands out of which 358 islands are being currently utilized mainly for human settlements, infrastructure and economic activities. The largest island is Gan in Laamu Atoll which is barely 6km. Maldives has a tropical monsoon climate. The south-west monsoon is from May to November and the north-east monsoon is from January to March. Daily temperature varies between 31 C and 23 C. The mean daily maximum temperature is 30.4 C and the mean daily minimum temperature is 25.7 C. Humidity ranges from 73 to 85% (MEC, 2004; Meteorology, 2006).

Climate change is an existential threat to the small coral islands that make up the Maldives. Over 80 per cent of the land area of Maldives is less than one meter above mean sea level; as such, a sea level rise of even a meter would cause the loss of the entire land area of Maldives (MHAHE, 2001). In the near term, the islands of the Maldives are very vulnerable to inundation and gradual sea level rise will aggravate the existing problem of beach erosion; in the recent past, 62 per cent of all inhabited islands and 45 per cent of tourist resorts reported severe beach erosion (Shaig, 2006). Rising sea levels also threaten the scarce fresh water resources of Maldives. Salt water intrusion is gradually encroaching in to the islands’ small pockets or ‘lenses’ of fresh water underground.  The coral reefs surrounding the Maldives are at risk due to gradual warming of sea water (in addition to pollution from man-made sources). Given that these reefs support both the country’s tourism and fisheries  industries upon which the people depend almost exclusively, climate change is a profound threat to its very economic base.

Islam, Faisal; Hove, Hilary; Parry, Jo-Ellen. (2011) “Review of Current and Planned Adaptation Action: South Asia.” Adaptation Patnership/International Institute for Sustainable Development, pp.108-118.