Cabinet in drowning Maldives to meet underwater

Maldives Cabinet members hold an underwater tea party to practice for their meeting later this month.
The president of Maldives, who last year proposed relocating his entire country, is set to chair an underwater Cabinet meeting this month to highlight the threat global warming and rising sea levels pose to his low-lying nation.

“It’s definitely intended to bring attention to how climate change will affect us and to call upon the entire world to come up with a concrete solution,” said Aminath Shauna, the deputy undersecretary in the president’s office, on Wednesday. President Mohamed Nasheed will head the meeting on October 17. The 14 ministers in his Cabinet will don scuba gear and descend to a table 20 feet (6 meters) underwater. To prepare, the ministers have been learning the basics of scuba diving on the weekends. Nasheed already is a certified diver. At the meeting, Cabinet members will communicate using hand gestures. The president will ratify a pledge calling on other countries to slash greenhouse emissions ahead of a U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December. “The document will be in a water-proof plate pinned on to the table,” Shauna said. Maldives is grappling with a very likely possibility that it will go under water if the current pace of climate change keeps raising sea levels. Most of the archipelago of almost 1,200 coral islands, located south-southwest of India, most of it lies just 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) above sea level.

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The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change has forecast a rise in sea levels of at least 7.1 inches (18 cm) by the end of the century. The country’s capital, Male, is already protected by sea walls. But creating a similar barrier around the rest of the country will be cost-prohibitive. Soon after his election last November, Nasheed raised the possibility of finding a new homeland for the country’s 396,000 residents. The tourist nation — whose white sandy beaches lure well-heeled Westerners — wants to set aside part of its annual billion-dollar revenue into buying a new homeland, he said at the time. “We will invest in land,” he said. “We do not want to end up in refugee tents if the worst happens.” Nasheed’s government said that it has broached the idea with several countries and found them to be “receptive.” Land owned by Sri Lanka and India were possibilities because the countries have similar cultures, cuisine and climate as the Maldives. Australia is also being considered because of the vast unoccupied land it owns. Shauna said the scuba lessons are going well. Twelve of the 14 ministers have already been trained. “It has given them a whole different perspective to what climate change can do,” she said. “We are seeing quite drastic changes in coral (reef) bleaching — and having them see it in person is a completely different thing than seeing it on TV.”