mathias depardon

Sand is a very precious commodity in the Maldives. The less sand there is the more devastating the rise of sea level becomes. In the Maldives where the reserves of sand derived from coral are dwindling fast, the islands are eroding at alarming rate without their natural protection barriers.

People in the Maldives have been in the middle Indian Ocean since the last 5000 years, they have a writing history that goes back 2000 years yet today the most vulnerable islands are deserted and climate refugees gathered in larger and better-protected islands.

Male the capital of the Maldives is already overpopulated and new housing are crammed together to meet the demand but absurdly the construction boom is fed by sand removal from the nearby lagoons - it is the same exact sand that is supposed to protect the islands and their inhabitants from rising water levels.

The growing city of Hope called Hulhumale is seen as a vital new settlement to alleviate the currently overcrowded Male, where more than 130,000 people live in almost 2.5 square kilometers. The new artificial island of Hulhumale was built using millions of cubic meters of sand extracted from the seabed causing extreme pressure on the local environment. The first phase of the Hulhumale land reclamation, consisting of 188 hectares, started in 1997 and was completed in 2002. Two years later, the island celebrated the arrival of its first 1,000 inhabitants. The additional reclamation of 244 hectares of land was completed in 2015, and by the end of 2019, more than 50,000 people were already living there. But the ambitions for Hulhumale are much greater and eventually it is projected to host up to 240,000 people by the mid-2020s. The enviable digital infrastructure proposals complement green initiatives and social planning of Hulhumale is seen as “Asia’s first 100% digitally enabled smart city”, with fast internet access for residents based on fiber optic technology known as GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Networks).

The city also seeks to be a sustainable urban development, with one third of its electricity supplied by solar energy and the collection of rain to guarantee the water supply. A 2020 World Bank report indicated that reefs are already degraded around Hulhumale. Today dozens of new land reclamation projects are about to emerge from the sea with drastic environmental consequences on the natural environment.

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