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Statement on Climate Change and Poverty – A Maldivian Perspective by HE Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed

Thank you Anita and CJ for setting the context so well. I would also like to thank the working group for having me here today it is a pleasure to speak on my nation’s behalf. The Republic of the Maldives is at the frontline of the climate change impacts. Indeed, our Nation’s livelihood, health, and homes are being directly threatened by this problem. Irreversible changes are impacting small islands developing States like the Maldives threatening not only the populations but the very existence of our Nation. Sea level rise, increased temperatures, changes in precipitation and regional weather patterns are a daily reality for us. In my country, the impacts of climate change are felt by all and particularly the poor. In my country, Climate change is not an additional vulnerability, as has been suggested but rather is the root cause of new vulnerabilities within my nation. Never before have we seen our homes destroyed, our corals bleached, or our fish stocks depleted. We are no longer only discussing changes in a distant future. The urgency of this problem urges us to address the current impacts that climate change has on the most vulnerable States of the planet, like the Maldives today. The Maldives is a nation of 1,200 islands where half of our housing structures are within 100 meters of the coastline. Over the past couple years, more than 90 islands have been flooded at least once, and 37 islands have started to flood at least once a year. The beaches make up 5% of our total land area, and 97 percent of inhabited islands and almost half the resorts in the country have reported beach erosion. In some islands the erosion has gotten so bad that the foundations of some buildings have been washed away and we have seen homes crumble as a result. With the smallness of islands and their extremely low elevation, retreat inland or to higher ground is not an option for our people. Due to this continued erosion, beach replenishment is only a temporary remedy while costal protection measures are often prohibitively expensive for many of our smaller islands. Yet, at least with this problem, there is a tangible – though expensive – solution. When it comes to the protection of our two largest industries, tourism and fisheries, we may not be as lucky. Tourism is currently the mainstay of the Maldivian economy. Providing more than 28% of our GDP, tourism also provides up to 80% of the earned revenue within the country. In fact, the first thing that many people think of when you mention the Maldives is crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, and deep blue lagoons filled with colorful varieties of coral and other marine life. The Maldivian coral reef system supports over 1 thousand species of fish, 36 species of sponges, 420 species of corals, 20 species of sharks, 7 species of dolphins, as well as turtles and other marine life. Yet these beautiful corals and tropical fish are highly sensitive to changes in temperature. Due to minor fluctuations in the sea surface temperature, coral bleaching and depletion of fish have become an issue of huge concern for the Maldivians. Being famed for our sea life and being considered one of the most exclusive tourist destinations in Asia; the tourist clientele who visit the Maldives is extremely discerning, and any loss in the vibrancy of what we have to offer will translate into drop in tourism revenue. With the resort infrastructure investment exceeding 1 billion USD, any loss or under-utilization of this infrastructure due to climate change would devastate the Maldivian economy. The depletion of fish stocks also has lasting consequences on local populations and more largely on our fisheries sector which currently contributes 14% of our GDP. Local fish consumption exceeds 50,000 metric tons each year, and many local communities are dependent on the industry as their sole source of income. While our traditional and eco-friendly method of pole and line fishing has been used since time immemorial, in recent years, the annual catch by fishermen has steadily decreased with many fishermen going into bankruptcy due to unfruitful voyages. Thus, while the fish dependency for Maldivians is of considerable importance, subsistence fishing has never been so threatened. While these are all emerging vulnerabilities resulting from climate change, there are a number of existing vulnerabilities which are being exacerbated as well. Fresh water has always been a scarce commodity in the Maldives. Recently however, the freshwater lenses of many islands have been eroded and the recent floods have resulted in the salinization of ground water leading to greater water scarcity in rural communities. Traditionally we have also collected supplemental drinking water through rainwater harvesting, though greater levels of pollution and changes in weather patterns have rendered this option insufficient to provide for local communities fresh water needs. And then again, the poorest people are the one who suffer the most. Another area in which we are vulnerable has been the spread of disease. While we have worked hard to eradicate diseases such as malaria and polio, there have been high incidents of climate sensitive diseases in the country such as dengue fever. The epidemic reached such levels in the Capital this past year, that the government mobilized the Army to lead a city wide campaign to reduce the numbers of dengue infected mosquitoes in the country. Every sector of my country from the economy to the society has begun to bear the burden of climate change. But with the rising sea levels, it is only a matter of time before the nation itself is submerged. If we forget the present and all the problems we face today, there is still the issue of tomorrow. Is world ready to accept the thought of a State without a territory? Is the world ready to accommodate the climate refugees? Maldives has only just graduated from being a least developed country, yet still more than 30% of our population lives in poverty. Climate change is the scourge of our time. And it is time we and the world acknowledge it as such.

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