Climate is rights issue, says Maldives minister

Wednesday, 4 March 2009 08:44

Ahmed Shaheed, foreign minister of the Maldives, is calling on the world to make global warming a human rights issue and prevent his homeland from disappearing beneath the waves by the end of the century.

“If nothing is done, it is the nightmare – no Maldives. But if there are no Maldives there may be no Bangladesh, no Pakistan, no others. So we are optimistic about the possibility of change. Saving the Maldives is about saving the world as well.”

While destruction wrought by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 was the most dramatic signal of the dangers of global warming, the 1,000-island archipelago is already suffering other damaging effects from coastal erosion, growing water salinity, encroachment of tropical diseases such as malaria, and loss of coralian ecosystems that support the country’s fishing industry.

And shortly after winning the country’s first truly democratic elections last October, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed announced plans to create a sovereign wealth fund financed from tourism, the main industry, that could be used to buy a new homeland in India, Sri Lanka or even Australia for the 300,000 inhabitants of the Indian Ocean paradise.

Kiribati in the Pacific, another cluster of tiny tropical islands in even more imminent danger of submergence, has already asked Australia and New Zealand to accept its citizens as permanent refugees.

But Mr Shaheed said the Maldives government would do its utmost to avoid such a fate, with adaptation measures at home and a vigorous lobbying effort for strong international action to limit global warming.

Part of that lobbying effort was a push to have climate change treated as a human rights issue. “There’s a tendency to think in economic terms and we need to shift the focus to the moral case for tackling global warming,” Mr Shaheed said.


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