On most world maps, the Maldive Islands are tiny specks in the middle of the Indian Ocean. But in a few years, those dots may disappear, said Mohammed Waheed, the country’s vice president.
The nation of 1,100 small islands is slowly sinking into the Indian Ocean because of climate change, Waheed said before an audience of about 100 in Kroon Hall on Monday. He described the island state as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world.
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“Our people are constantly reminded about how susceptible they are to the forces of nature,” Waheed said. “We don’t have the luxury of engaging in a debate over whether or not the environment is transforming.”
Rising sea levels and coastal erosion are causing serious anxiety among Maldivians, Waheed said.
These climate-induced phenomena, he added, are damaging tourism and fishing, the country’s two main sources of income.
“For a country of 350,000 people living on the shores of various islands, the ocean is a source of wealth,” he said. “But now, our houses are literally falling into the sea.”
Climate change has also caused the fragile coral reefs surrounding the islands to bleach, or release their symbiotic algae and die, Waheed added. Because coral reefs protect the Maldives against wave patterns and storm surges, their death leads to increased erosion, he said. In addition, the death of the coral reefs is further hurting fish populations around the islands.
Waheed said Maldivians are committed to reducing their carbon emissions.
“One of our main goals has been to try to reeducate people and redesign infrastructure in order to achieve carbon neutrality,” he said. “It’s very important that we ‘walk the talk’ as a moral example for other countries.”
The Maldives, he added, is not the only nation affected by climate change. The recent floods in Pakistan and China are further examples of an increasingly volatile climate, he said.
“This is not about the Maldives alone,” Waheed said. “Climate change is going to affect all of us, so it’s important for universities and students to become active and involved in finding a solution to these challenges.”
The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies hosted the event. Bluepeace, an environmental non-governmental organization dedicated to increasing awareness about the plight of the Maldivians, displayed an accompanying photo exhibition.