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Bangladesh sand to help keep the Maldives afloat

Shine Jacob  |  Kolkata 

After looking to buy land in other countries, Maldives is making a last-ditch effort to avoid its citizens becoming climate refugees. It is importing sand. In this endeavour to tackle the effects of global warming, none other than Bangladesh is playing Good Samaritan. Both countries are planning to sign a deal within four months to ship sand to the Maldives. The island nation faces a real threat of being inundated if the sea level rises by even one metre.

“We have received a proposal from the Maldives government regarding this. They want to import soil from our country in defence against rising sea levels. A joint committee of both countries is looking into it and we may seal a deal in the next three to four months,” confirmed Muhammad Faruk Khan, the Bangladesh commerce minister, who was in Kolkata last week.

Maldives, a chain of 1,200 islands and coral atolls about 500 miles from the tip of India, may disappear if the present pace of global warming continues unabated. According to a United Nation’s forecast, sea levels are likely to rise by up to 59 cm by 2100 due to global warming. The archipelago is one of the lowest countries on the planet, with an average land level of 1.5 metres above sea level.

“Dredging of rivers is a necessity for Bangladesh, as a huge amount of sediment is naturally deposited from the Himalayas. The quantity of these sediments is around 1 billion cubic metres, which is why our rivers are losing their navigability. We are more than happy if the deal works out, because it will be beneficial for a brotherly nation,” Khan added.

Bangladesh is planning to start a huge river project worth over BDT 1,000 crore (Rs 638 crore) to dredge all major rivers, which will bring up huge quantities of sand in the near future. “To start this project, we have zeroed in on a place near Mongla port on the Posur river,” he said.

Earlier this year, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed had expressed interest in importing sand and earth from Bangladesh. The country, with a population of over 396,000, also had plans to buy a new homeland overseas as an insurance policy against climate change.

“We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades. Sri Lanka and India are our targets because they have similar cultures, cuisines and climates. Australia is also being considered because of the amount of unoccupied land available,” Nasheed had reportedly said. The country’s government recently held the world’s first Cabinet meeting underwater to highlight the danger faced by global warming.

“We have not decided on the financial aspects of the deal. However, Maldives should pay the minimal amount. Meanwhile, we don’t think that this dredging is going to have any impact on the Bangladesh environment,” Khan said.

Though Maldives already has sand import deals with countries like India, it was only used for construction. If the Bangladesh deal works out, it may be for the first time that imported sand might be used to shore up a nation threatened by global warming.

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First Published: Tue, December 28 2010. 00:00 IST