An SOS


The Maldives government’s decision to hold an underwater Cabinet meeting is an SOS from a country that will be among the first to go under water as a result of climate change and rising sea levels. The underwater meeting was dramatic, no doubt. Some have dismissed it as a stunt. Stunt or not, it was aimed at drawing world attention to a very real threat that countries like the Maldives are confronted. It is aimed at pushing world leaders to reach agreement on combating climate change ahead of the crucial United Nations summit in Copenhagen due in December. A heated debate is on over key polluters and carbon emission cuts, over the extent to which rich countries should subsidise clean energy infrastructure in the developing world, and so on. While the world quibbles over numbers and dates, for Maldivians and others living in low-lying regions of the world, time is running out. The outcome of the summit is a matter of survival, a life and death issue. Hence the urgent cry for help from under the sea to the world to stop dragging its feet.

With an average ground level of 1.5 meters, the Maldives is the lowest country in the world. If global warming goes unchecked, rising water levels could devour this Indian Ocean archipelago within the next hundred years. The process of submergence could begin soon. Its leaders have repeatedly called on the international community to act on the issue of climate change. President Nausheed has promised to make the country carbon-neutral in a decade. He has initiated steps to purchase land in India, Sri Lanka and Australia so that his 3,30,000 people will not become climate refugees living in tents for decades. The underwater cabinet meeting is the latest of his steps to draw the world’s attention to his country’s struggle for survival.

 The fate of the Maldives, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and other low-lying lands is in the hands of the rest of the world. But two months before the start of the Copenhagen summit, the world appears to be failing these countries. It does seem that the most that can be expected of the summit is an interim agreement, leaving tricky details for later talks. At a recent UN summit Nausheed told his fellow presidents: You are not really listening. A failure at Copenhagen will prove he was right.

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