SINGAPORE?The Maldives--a group of atolls in the Indian Ocean whose existence is threatened by rising sea levels blamed on global warming--is considering setting up a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) to relocate the population.
It will divert cash from tourism to buy land in case rising sea levels submerge its low-lying coral islands.
"We will invest in land," said newly-installed President Mohamed 'Anni' Nasheed, adding: "We do not want to end up in refugee tents if the worst happens."
Nasheed's government has said that it has broached the idea with several countries and found them to be "receptive."
It could buy land in Sri Lanka and India, where the culture and climate are similar to those of the Maldives. Australia, which owns a vast amount of unoccupied land, is also being considered, a CNN report said.
Vice-president Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik said the new SWF, modelled on those in oil-rich Middle Eastern states, was "part of our longer-term perspective". It would be preceded by an overhaul of state finances in the tourism-dependent country.
Eighty per cent of the Maldives' 1,200 islands, of which 200 are inhabited, are less than one meter above sea level. Studies have said the country, which has 380,000 residents, could be submerged within 100 years.
The government of Mohamed Nasheed was sworn in on Tuesday after the country's first democratic election, ending 30 years of authoritarian rule by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Gayoom had raised the link between climate change and the human rights of potentially displaced citizens in international forums.
Scott Leckie, director of Displacement Solutions, a Swiss-based refugee consultancy, told the Financial Times that other states with low-lying land, such as Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea, had also begun to feel the effects of rising sea levels.
A formal request was made by Australia's Greens Party last month for the country to grant special visas to Tuvaluan climate change refugees but the request was denied.
"The question (of relocation) needs to be sorted out by all 50 territories that stand to be affected by rising sea levels," Leckie was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
He added that there were "rumors Maldivian officials have already started to buy plots of land in Sri Lanka for the future."
Waheed said the new government would seek international help to strengthen the natural barriers of the Maldives' coral reefs, and create artificial sections of reef as a buffer against rising seas. It has also pledged to introduce solar power and seek foreign investment in other alternative energy technologies. The Straits Times-ANN