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Plan for new Maldives homeland

Beach in the Maldives
Tourism is the country's biggest earner

The president-elect of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, says he wants to buy a new homeland for his people.

He says that the gradual rise in sea levels caused by global warming means the Maldives islanders may eventually be forced to resettle elsewhere.

The Maldives is the lowest nation in the world. Its highest land is little more than two metres above sea level.

The United Nations estimates that sea levels may rise globally by nearly 60 centimetres this century.

Devastation fears

The Maldives comprise more than 1,000 islands and coral atolls surrounded by the clear waters of the Indian Ocean.

map

The white sandy beaches are a major tourist attraction bringing in billions of dollars every year.

Now Mohamed Nasheed, who will be sworn in as the country's first democratically elected president on Tuesday, has said that he will set up a fund to acquire land in other parts of the region.

Mr Nasheed's spokesman, Ibrahim Hussein Zaki, told the BBC's World Today programme that the new government had to take action.

"Global warming and environmental issues are issues of major concern to the Maldivian people. We are just about three feet (0.91 metre) above sea level," Mr Zaki said, speaking from the capital, Male.

"So any sea level rise could have a devastating effect on the people of the Maldives and their very survival".

Similar culture

Over the last century, sea levels around parts of the archipelago rose by nearly 20cm. Mr Nasheed fears that even a small rise could leave some islands inundated.

Mohamed Nasheed
Mr Nasheed celebrating his recent election victory

Mr Nasheed's plan is to create a "sovereign wealth fund" using tourism revenues to buy land so that future generations will have somewhere to rebuild their lives if they have to leave.

He wants somewhere within the region, where the culture is similar - possibly India or Sri Lanka.

His fears is that if he does not take action, the future descendents of the 300,000 islanders could become environmental refugees.

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