11 January 2012

Maldives look to mass Australian migration as solution to rising sea levels

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The Maldives archipelago is perhaps more threatened by the prospect of rising sea levels than any other nation in the world; with almost 1,200 islands making up the island nation, not one is more than 6 feet above sea level. In an attempt to prepare a contingency for the eventuality that rising sea levels force the islands to be evacuated, the Maldivian government is buying land in Australia.

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If the rising sea covers the Maldives, Australia could have to accept 350,000 Maldivians as the first global warming refugees.

The Maldives are located in the Indian Ocean and, since the 1970s, have become one of the most beautifully exotic tourist destinations in the world. The biologically diverse ecosystem combined with the hundreds upon hundreds of uninhabited desert islands has seen tourism grow to be the Maldives' biggest and most important source of income.

However, as approximately 80% of the 1,200 islands are less than 3 feet above sea level, and none are above 6 feet, even the smallest rise would have a drastic effect on the nation's landscape. And with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting that sea levels will rise by as much as 23 inches in the next century, this would be catastrophic, not just for the tourism industry, but for the country's existence.

A 23 inch rise in sea levels would see the entirety of the Maldives archipelago smothered by the ocean and make the Maldivian population the first refugees of global warming.

The Maldives have been aware of this issue for a while and in 2009, announced its intentions to become completely carbon neutral within a decade by completely switching to renewable energy sources.

Although these changes might help reduce the planet's carbon levels, on their own the Maldives cannot do much to prevent the rise in sea level, prompting Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed to form a new plan that will account for the worst case scenario.

If the Maldives disappear beneath the ocean, the country's 350,000 strong population will have to evacuate the islands which, according to the president "moving was an eventuality [his] government had to plan for".

President Nasheed has set up a sovereign savings account, to be funded by continuing tourism revenues, which is being used to buy land on high ground in Australia. The plan has been put into action because Nasheed "did not want [his] people living in tents for years, or decades, as refugees".

The Maldives is not the only nation under threat, other island nations such as Tuvalu and Kiribati are also susceptible to the dangers of rising sea levels and both have already approached the Australian government to discuss the eventuality of a mass migration.

How the Australian government has reacted to these approaches, or to the Maldives' purchasing of Australian land remains to be seen but Australian immigration, particularly immigrants' rights to asylum, is a sensitive topic in Australia right now so it is likely to spark fierce debate.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people lodge their Australian visa application with the Australian High Commission

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