Climate change could cause annual economic losses of over 12% of the Maldives’ GDP by the end of this century, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) climate and economics report released today (August 19).
“A potential ocean rise of up to 1 meter by 2100 will have devastating consequences for this island archipelago, where the highest natural point is only a little over 2 meters above sea level,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.
The Maldives is the most at-risk country in South Asia from climate change impacts, said the report titled ‘Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia’.
Given the uncertainties of climate change, there is a slight possibility that the losses could swell to more than 38%. But if mitigation and adaptation steps are taken, the Maldives will benefit the most in the region, with annual losses limited to around 3.5% of GDP by 2100, the report concluded.
Programmes and Advocacy Manager at local environmental NGO Ecocare Maeed Mohamed Zahir, however, believes the government is currently far from taking such steps.
“There is no clear-cut adaptation strategy,” he added.
Energy supplies at risk
According to the report, the Maldives’ energy supplies are particularly at risk from climate change.
The Maldives’ energy vulnerabilities are related to the low elevation and small size of islands, the report explains. Their low elevation and narrow width makes powerhouses and associated infrastructure vulnerable to flooding and damage from severe weather events.
The report also notes that, with the commitment to become carbon neutral by 2020, the country is increasingly investing in renewable energy technologies, particularly solar power, for which there is abundant solar energy — 400 million MW per annum.
The environment ministry has recently announced a number of initiatives to minimise the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, including a pledge to convert 30 percent of all electrical use to renewable energy, and the Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Programme (SREP) set to “transform the Maldives energy sector.”
However, President Abdulla Yameen has also pledged to explore for crude oil in the Maldives as an alternative means of diversifying the economy and supplementing fuel supply.
In addition, the report highlighted that vector-borne diseases could be a major public health concern for the Maldives in the future.
Dengue is now endemic in the country with seasonal outbreaks, observed the report. Epidemiological data shows changes in the seasonal nature of dengue, spreading across the atolls, and leading finally to epidemic proportions.
Morbidity from dengue by 2090 could increase to 34,539, with 324 deaths per year, the report stated.
Moreover, although malaria is not prevalent in the Maldives, it could be future concern if left unchecked said the ADB.
During 1990–2003, the number of malaria cases averaged 16 per year, with no fatalities. However, the report warns that annual morbidity due to malaria incidence by 2090 could reach more than 200.
Ecocare’s Zahir argued that the government is at best unclear, and at worst unprepared, for climate change. Speaking with Minivan News, Zahir appealed to the government to reveal their policy for adaptation in the face of climate change.
He went on to explain that in the last four to five years there has been no clear stance on climate change from the government.
“The number one priority is to make everyone aware if they have one,” he said.
Back in 2009, former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, unveiled a plan to make the Maldives carbon-neutral within a decade. Zahir suggested that the following administration’s have been less clear on the issue.
“In the last two governments we don’t have a clear-cut climate change plans,” he argued. “From 2009 to now – it’s a disaster for us.”
Ecocare has previously accused the Maldives as being “not prepared at all” for the projected acceleration of sea level rise caused by the collapse of a glacier system in Western Antarctica.
Officials from the Ministry of Environment and Energy were not responding to Minivan News at the time of publishing.