Tourism can save Maldives from climate threat, says govt

The government has revised its plan to combat the adverse effects of climate change from renewable energy and carbon neutrality to mass tourism and mega-development projects to ensure the island nation's future.

Amid opposition led rumours of the government's plan to sell an entire Atoll to the Saudi royal family for a staggering USD10 billion mega project, three top government officials outlined plans to 'The Guardian' newspaper to geo-engineer artificial islands, relocate populations and attract millions more tourists by creating 50 more resorts.

“Tourism and resorts may be the saviour of the Maldives. People are investing massive amounts of money. They are not idiots. You can build an island in four weeks with suction dredgers, and put boulders around it in a few more," Shiham Adam, director of the Marine Research Centre told the Guardian.

“The Maldives needs money to survive. Resorts are very positive for the environment. They offer better protection than community islands because they must protect at least 700m all around them. They become mini marine reserves,” he said.

Adam also down played fears sea level rise, which scientists said in the latest IPCC report was accelerating and could mean 75% of the Maldives being under water by 2100.

“It is not going to happen next year. We have immediate needs. Development must go on, jobs are needed, we have the same aspirations as people in the US or Europe," Adam explained.

His comments were backed by environment minister Ahmed Thorig who insisted that “climate change is happening but we are not leaving the Maldives to the waves."

“We are going nowhere. The dream [of making the Maldives carbon neutral] is over. We are looking to be a low-carbon country.”

“We are seeing weather patterns change. The dry season is longer, there are rainwater shortages. Now we are getting higher winds and waves. There is more salt water intrusion. Farming and fishing is affected."

“But climate change is just one problem we face. The most pressing issues are water and sanitation, waste and coastal protection. Only 31 of the Maldives’ inhabited islands have a proper sewerage system. Only six have a waste system. Now is the time for action, not promises and empty words,” he said.

The government accepts that its plans will increase climate emissions, even without counting the thousands of extra flights that will be needed each year to bring the hoped-for millions of tourists. But it argues that the Maldives only produces 0.003% of global emissions and has the right to develop.

“We want renewable energy but we do not have the physical space for solar. We can go to 30% but above that we need storage. With international help we can reduce our emissions 30% by 2030, but without climate aid only 10%. We must be realistic,” he said.

In response to the allegations over the Faafu Atoll project, housing minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu said nearly one in three of the country’s 185 inhabited islands may have to be abandoned with thousands of people relocated to larger islands which can offer schools and health clinics as well as fresh water and waste facilities.

‘[Development of Faafu] is not selling sovereignty. We hope it is a big investment. We don’t want to move slowly. We want transformational change. We want to bring better living conditions to the whole country over a small period of time,” said Muizzu.

“Relocated families will be offered free houses on larger islands,” he said. “We need a lot of investment to provide all facilities to all islands. It is not sustainable to do this. Some islands have just a few hundred people. It is not feasible to keep them there. A lot of small islands face erosion and ground water contamination. They need sewerage networks and new harbours. The priority will be the capitals of atolls,” he said.

But in place of local fishermen living modestly on the palm-fringed coral islands, Muizzu said the newly deserted coral islands could be handed to developers.

“Why not use them for tourism?” he said.

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