Slow Onset Climate Change Impacts in Maldives and Population Movement from Islanders’ Perspective

Robert Stojanov, Barbora Duží, Daniel Němec, David Procházka
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This study covers outcomes from field research in Maldives, completed in 2013. The research focus is on two main questions. The first deals with islanders’ perceptions of the impacts of climatic variability within the past few years, and whether they maintain the same sense of threat from future climate change. The second question focuses on the issue of out-migration from the islands. It assesses whether migration may be evaluated as an adaptation strategy and whether local people are willing to move outside Maldives to neighboring countries because of projected sea level rise impacts. Mixed methods were used during field research, comprising in-depth qualitative interviews with local stakeholders and quantitative questionnaires among the general islander population, mostly in the capital Malé and nearby islands.

The results suggest that respondents do not perceive sea level rise to be an actual environmental challenge for their households at the present time. But they admit it could become one of the key factors affecting Maldivian society and livelihoods in the future. Quantitative research further reveals that more than 50 percent of respondents considered out-migration to be a potential need or adaptation option in the future. However, many other factors (cultural, religious, economic, and social) play an important role in the decision of whether to migrate. Moreover, the interviewed experts who participated in the qualitative interviews expressed a more complex attitude toward the adaptation-migration issue and stressed that much will need to be done to increase adaptive capacity in situ before migration becomes necessary. They perceive out-migration to be the last option, to be undertaken only after other adaptation measures are exhausted and the islands are devastated by climate change impacts.