LONDON (AFP) — The Maldives' newly-elected president said in an interview Monday that his government will begin saving to buy a new homeland in case global warming causes the country to disappear into the sea.
Beloved by tourists for their white sandy beaches, palm trees and clear waters, the 1,192 coral islands that make up the Indian Ocean country risk devastation by rising sea levels caused by climate change.
Mohamed "Anni" Nasheed, who won the Maldives' first democratic presidential election last month, told The Guardian his government will start putting aside part of its billion-dollar annual tourism income in case the worst happens.
"We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere. It's an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome," he told the newspaper.
He added: "We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades."
Nasheed said he had already broached the subject with a number of countries and found them to be "receptive". India and Sri Lanka are targets because they had similar cultures and climates, while vast Australia was also an option.
He told the newspaper he intended to create a "sovereign wealth fund" from the money generated by tourism, much like Arab states had with oil revenues. "Kuwait might invest in companies -- we will invest in land," he said.
Outgoing president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest-serving leader, launched a book in April to highlight the threat to the Maldives posed by global warming.
He said at the time that they could only adapt to the problem by relocating citizens to safer islands. The alternative, building protective walls on the 193 inhabited islands, was too expensive.
The issue is - will anyone sell a chunk of their territory with full sovereignty ? What would Sri Lanka think, say, if then their Maldive Republic then did a land-for-assistance deal with the Tamil Tigers ? Or created an army and moved it to the border ? Or bought all their goods and services from Tamil Nadu, or denied their airspace to Sri Lankan tourist overflights ?
Only asking. The idea of recreating the old country elsewhere might appeal to some Brits as well as some Maldivans. Trouble is, where's habitable land to be had these days ?
Russia is one answer, or Ukraine/Belorus. Empty land, shortage of people, good soil. But I don't think the British Volga Republic is a terribly good idea, any more than Vladimir Putin is likely to. In the Tsar's day thousands of Germans moved there to farm, and a very good fist they made of it too. Come the 1917 revolution, the Volga German Autonomous Republic was created. And it was all downhill from there. The empty lands round Penza might be related to the fact that the last lot of foreign famers ended up in Siberia.