Low-lying Maldives seeks easier funding to battle waves

Manta rays are pictured along the shore in Male  (Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)

MALÉ, Maldives, May 25, 2024 (AFP)
– The Maldives on Saturday demanded international funding to battle rising sea levels, saying the low-lying Indian Ocean archipelago was being unfairly excluded from the most generous support measures.

“The Maldives is liable for just 0.003 percent of global emissions, but is one of the first countries to endure the existential consequences of the climate crisis,” President Mohamed Muizzu wrote in Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

“Wealthier nations have a moral responsibility to communities like ours.”

His comments came ahead of a once-a-decade conference of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) — many of them known as luxury tourism destinations but threatened by rising sea levels — he will co-chair in Antigua and Barbuda, which opens Monday.

SIDS receive “only about 14 percent of the finance that the least developed countries receive”, he said.

According to the IMF, the Maldives has a higher GDP per capita than Chile, Mexico, Malaysia or China, but Muizzu called gross domestic product a “legacy metric”.

“Thanks to the Maldives’ healthy tourism industry, we are ranked as an emerging economy and therefore shut out from the cheaper financing set aside for the lowest income countries.”

Muizzu has said that his country needs about $500 million to mitigate the effects of climate change and the tourism-dependent economy was unable to raise the money on its own.

The first SIDS meeting was in 1994, five years after Maldives’ then-president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom warned that his atoll nation of 1,192 tiny coral islets faced extinction if sea levels rose by a metre (3.3 feet).

Gayoom successfully initiated a land reclamation to build an artificial island two metres above sea level and twice the size of his congested two-square-kilometre (0.8-square-mile) capital island Male.

Muizzu, who was elected in September, has unveiled plans for a bigger man-made island with 30,000 apartments, “Ras Male”, to battle rising waves.

But the project was not eligible for climate funding as it was classed as infrastructure work, he lamented.

Muizzu is seen as pro-Beijing and according to government officials, much of the construction work is expected to be carried out by Chinese firms.