History is filled with nations losing their territory to invading forces, and it’s often the case that when the land is gone or conquered, the nation that occupied it disappears too. The island country of the Maldives is in danger of losing their territory today, but not to any invading army. The Maldives could become the first state in history to be completely erased by the sea. The Maldives nation consists of around 1200 little islands at the intersection of the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. It is also the planet’s lowest country; on average its land is only 5 feet above sea level. This puts the country at the highest risk of being partly or fully submerged by a rising ocean. If the water level keeps rising, 77% of the Maldives territory will be under water by the year 2100.
If the rate of rise gets worse, the country could be completely submerged as early as 2085. Obviously, this is a major concern for the Maldives. Officials have been warning the international community about the issue since the 80s, but as with all issues involving climate change, it’s hard to get people to listen, and harder still to get people to act. So the Maldives made a bold symbolic statement in 2009 by holding a cabinet meeting of their government underwater. In full scuba gear, President Mohamed Nasheed signed a document calling for a global reduction in carbon emissions. “If the Maldives cannot be saved today we do not feel that there is much of a chance for the rest of the world,” he said. Of course, for the Maldives the rising sea levels don’t threaten just the coastlines of the nation, but its very existence. When the territory is gone, the Maldives claim of statehood may vanish too. Officials even started building artificial islands for population movement, but international maritime law doesn’t recognize artificial lands as official territory.
Nor does it recognize those who flee lands because of climate change as climate refugees. Of course, the world has never seen anything like this before, so the its laws may have to be altered. There are a lot of hard decisions ahead for the Maldives and the international community. If we can’t reverse the effects of climate change, then we may be on the verge of watching an the first nation being swallowed by the sea. If you’d like to learn more about sea level rise and the sea ice that’s causing it, check out this informative video by our friends at DNews!.