Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Maldives’ disappearing coast prompts appeal to UN space agency"

The Maldives, one of the nations most threatened by global warming, is appealing to the United Nations space agency to help the island country plan its defenses against rising sea levels.

“Beach erosion is the No. 1 problem for our country right now,” Environment Minister Abdulla Shahid said over the weekend in an interview in Vienna. The Indian Ocean nation of 385,000 people has had to relocate the populations of two of its 200 islands because of eroding beaches, he said.

The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs is meeting this week in the Austrian capital to help poorer nations get access to satellite imagery that can help them plan for environmental disasters and climate change.

Commercial photos from space, which normally cost $4,000 each, can be obtained through the UN for free, Shahid said.

The Maldives wants the images to plan sea walls and future population centers.

“The storm surges have become extreme, much worse than anything our people have seen in their lifetimes,” Shahid said.

One island lost a 1,200-foot (366-meter) long, 160-foot deep stretch of beach in the last two weeks, he said.

The Maldives is among a group of 43 low-lying nations demanding in international climate talks that developed countries slash their emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels to avert the worst effects of warming.

The Maldives lies 3 meters above sea level at its highest and is among the countries most threatened by rising sea levels caused by global warming. The government has already set up a sovereign wealth fund in case it needs to buy land abroad to resettle its civilians, President Mohamed Nasheed said on April 7.

Shahid said it would cost between $25 billion and $30 billion to build a sea wall around the island nation to mitigate against storm surges and rising sea levels.

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