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Lakshadweep: Don’t Go the Maldives Way!

In the fragile embrace of Lakshadweep's azure waters lies a tapestry of escalating environmental woes.

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A social media feud has ignited a controversy between the Lakshadweep islands and the Maldives after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared picturesque photos from his Lakshadweep visit. Some users praised Lakshadweep over the Maldives, leading to calls for a boycott of the latter .

This prompted a fiery response from Maldivian politicians, resulting in three suspensions and calls for business tie suspensions. Lakshadweep seemingly benefited, with a surge in online searches noted by an official Indian government account.

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The controversy began when PM Modi, promoting Lakshadweep as a travel destination, engaged in adventure activities during his official visit. Supporters urged a boycott of the Maldives, a favoured tourist spot among Indians. Over 200,000 Indians visited the Maldives in the past year. Maldivian politicians, in response, criticised Modi and Lakshadweep, leading to their suspension.

Diplomatically, the Maldivian government disavowed the remarks, emphasising their nature. Meanwhile, actions such as flight suspensions to the Maldives and discount offers to Lakshadweep were announced in India. Some actors and cricketers lauded Lakshadweep, while a traders' group in India called for business tie suspensions with the Maldives, escalating the controversy. The Indian government has not officially commented on the diplomatic repercussions or business tie calls. 

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Maldives Battling Existential Crisis Fuelled by Climate Change  

The Maldives, an idyllic archipelago of coral islands in the Indian Ocean, faces an existential threat as it grapples with the adverse impacts of climate change and numerous environmental challenges. Rising sea levels pose a grave danger to the Maldives, with its average ground level just 1.5 meters above the sea. Climate models suggest that under a two-degree warmer world, around 80 per cent of Maldives will drown by the end of the century, with a significant loss happening by 2050. The vulnerability of these low-lying islands to rising sea levels is a direct consequence of global climate change, which has led to the melting of polar ice caps and the thermal expansion of seawater.   

Ocean acidification further jeopardises the Maldives' delicate coral ecosystems, renowned for their biodiversity. Coral reefs, essential for the nation's economy through tourism and fisheries, are experiencing bleaching events due to warmer sea temperatures. The intricate balance of marine life, including fish species crucial for the livelihoods of local communities, is under threat.

Extreme weather events, intensified by climate change, present immediate challenges. The Maldives is increasingly susceptible to tropical storms, cyclones, and rising temperatures, severely affecting infrastructure, agriculture, and water resources. Erratic weather patterns disrupt traditional ways of life, affecting agricultural practices and freshwater availability. 

Waste management and plastic pollution compound the environmental struggles. As a popular tourist destination, the Maldives grapples with the influx of single-use plastics, jeopardising terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The improper disposal and management of waste contributes to environmental degradation, threatening the beauty that attracts visitors. 

Despite these challenges, the Maldives has advocated for global climate action, emphasising the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The nation has set ambitious targets for carbon neutrality and renewable energy adoption, showcasing a determination to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The Maldives stands at the forefront of the climate crisis, grappling with rising seas, coral bleaching, extreme weather events, and environmental degradation. Urgent and concerted global efforts are imperative to safeguard the Maldives' unique ecosystems and the livelihoods of its people. 

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Lakshadweep's Lament: A Symphony of Ecological Peril  

In the fragile embrace of Lakshadweep's azure waters lies a tapestry of escalating environmental woes, unravelling the very fabric of its existence. The once-thriving reef ecosystem, a kaleidoscope of biodiversity, now grapples with a relentless assault, witnessing a lamentable decline in diversity, ecosystem simplification, arrested recovery, and the unravelling of ecological functions. 

A haunting undertone pervades the discussion, emphasising the existential crossroads faced by Lakshadweep's atolls. Nestled upon ancient submarine volcanoes, these islands confront the spectre of climate change, particularly in the throes of events like El Niño, which exacerbate their vulnerability. The vivid imagery portrays a landscape teetering on the brink, its foundation crumbling under global environmental challenges.

Lakshadweep emerges as a poignant poster child of climate vulnerability, standing as a sentinel against the rising tides of a precarious future. Projections forewarn sea level rise, a relentless march that could render these paradisiacal islands uninhabitable within a mere century.

The narrative unfolds, articulating concerns about the warming embrace of the ocean, the corrosive touch of acidic waters on coral structures, and the ominous threat of colossal waves overtopping the islands, leaving in their wake coastal loss and the insidious intrusion of saline tendrils into freshwater reservoirs.

The narrative crescendos with the cataclysmic arrival of Cyclone Ockhi in 2017, a pivotal juncture that awakens the islanders to the tangible consequences of erratic weather patterns. Whispers of climate change started to enter the local narratives, marking a shift in awareness and an acknowledgement that extravagant environmental catastrophes serve as stark placeholders for the gradual, inexorable changes occurring in the lap of Lakshadweep. 

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Why Lakshadweep Should Chart Its Own Sustainable Path

Lakshadweep, an archipelago of 36 islands in the Arabian Sea, stands at a crucial juncture where careful consideration is necessary to ensure its unique identity and sustainable development. While some may be tempted to draw parallels between Lakshadweep and the Maldives, there are compelling reasons why Lakshadweep should chart its course rather than replicate the Maldivian model. 

Firstly, Lakshadweep's charm lies in its pristine and relatively untouched natural beauty. Unlike the Maldives, which has faced challenges of over-tourism leading to environmental degradation, Lakshadweep's current state offers an opportunity to learn from the Maldives' experiences. By adopting a more measured and sustainable approach to tourism, Lakshadweep can preserve its fragile ecosystems, ensuring that the allure of its white sandy beaches and rich marine life endures for generations.

Secondly, the Maldives heavily depends on tourism as a primary economic driver. Lakshadweep, however, has the chance to diversify its economy while being mindful of the potential pitfalls associated with overreliance on a single industry. By promoting sustainable fishing practices and eco-friendly initiatives and leveraging its unique cultural heritage, Lakshadweep can build a resilient and balanced economy that doesn't solely hinge on tourism. 

Thirdly, Lakshadweep can avoid the pitfalls of rapid and unplanned development that the Maldives has faced. Lakshadweep can balance development and environmental conservation by implementing thoughtful regulations and urban planning. Preserving its local architecture and traditional practices and minimising the ecological footprint of infrastructure projects can contribute to sustainable growth. 

Lastly, Lakshadweep has the opportunity to engage in proactive climate change adaptation measures, learning from the vulnerabilities faced by the Maldives. As climate change poses a significant threat to low-lying islands, Lakshadweep can mitigate risks, ensuring the long-term viability of its communities. 

(Anjal Prakash is a Clinical Associate Professor [Research] at Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business [ISB]. He teaches sustainability at ISB and contributes to IPCC reports. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Maldives   Lakshadweep 

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