Hedging Bets in the Maldives 'Any Concrete Help Is Welcome'

Mohamed Nasheed, the 41-year-old president of the Maldives, discusses evacuation plans for his country, now threatened by climate change and rising seas, and how he will deal with his predecessor, who took and tortured political prisoners.

SPIEGEL: Within this century, it is possible that most of the 1,192 islands that comprise the Maldives will fall victim to rising sea levels. On the occasion of your inauguration as president last week, you said you would use the money brought in by tourism to purchase land in Australia, India or Sri Lanka so that you could evacuate your people if rising sea levels make your island uninhabitable. Is relocating 300,000 climate change refugees really going to be that simple?

Nasheed: That, of course, is still a long way off. For now, any concrete help is welcome that can help us to prevent this man-made natural disaster here and now. The general idea is to set up a "sovereign fund" and to replenish the fund with some sort of endowment from tourist arrivals.

SPIEGEL: What will happen with that money?

Nasheed: It's basically to be used as an insurance policy against any future incidents that may unfold. In the meantime, we will endeavor to play a more constructive role in lobbying against greenhouse gas emissions.

SPIEGEL: If you funnel off tourism money, then even fewer of the spoils of the country's high-end tourism will go to the people of the Maldives. Currently, 40 percent of the population of the Maldives lives below the poverty line. Corruption and drug abuse are also widespread. How do you plan to deal with those problems?

Nasheed: Our priorities remain the same: There is an urgent need to provide adequate housing at an affordable cost, provide health insurance for all and to link the atolls in a transport system. We also need to maintain the cost of goods and block the entry points for abusive drugs into the country.

SPIEGEL: And what will happen to your predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whose regime allegedly tortured hundreds of members of your Maldivian Democratic Party and also locked you up in prison for six years?

Nasheed: If we went on a witch hunt, we would also harm ourselves ultimately. You can also rest assured that we will not interfere with the judicial process in the country (if Gayoom is put to justice).

Interview conducted by Padma Rao.

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