Population Consolidation in the Maldives as a response to 21st Century Sea-Level Rise

19:00 Tuesday 28 May




Geronimo Gussmann (Germany) 1

1 - Global Climate Forum e.V.

The Maldives face extensive coastal risks. These are expected to be significantly aggravated by sea-level rise in the coming decades. With a population dispersed across 188 inhabited islands and an average land elevation of 1m above mean sea-level, consolidating the population on selected islands with increased coastal protection could serve as a long-term adaptation solution. However, allocation and decision-making processes of this adaptation strategy remain poorly understood. In fact, economic motivations and presumed economies of scale might upstage efforts to reduce coastal risks.

It remains unclear which islands are chosen for relocation and protection, how the protection standards are determined and to what extent these are sustainable against the background of 21stcentury sea-level rise. Therefore, we used process tracing to identify the causal dynamics that led to previous relocation decisions and assessed their effects on reducing coastal risks. We conducted document analyses of historic and current policies complemented with semi-structured interviews of key decision makers of current and former governments, non-governmental organizations and civil society.

Our findings reveal the policy development of population consolidation from the 1980s to present. We find a clear path dependency in the selection of destination islands with economic activity as main criterion. Furthermore, we find economic pull factors and extreme events to be the predominant reason for relocation of communities. Here, the 2004 tsunami served as a critical juncture and introduced the concept of safe islands to policy. We find post-tsunami relocation destinations to have higher protection standards and civil participation in contrast to historic and more recent relocations. We conclude that while planned relocation accompanied with increased coastal protection reduces the exposure of the population and increases economic chances, it is likely to increase the vulnerability due to the concentration of the population and possible adaptation lock-ins.