What drives relocation policies in the Maldives?

The predominant responses to rising sea levels are in situ adaptations. However, increasing rates of sea-level rise will render ex situ adaptations—in the form of relocations—inevitable in some low-lying coastal zones. Particularly small island states like the Maldives face this significant adaptation challenge. Here, government action is necessary to move vulnerable communities out of flood-prone areas. Yet, little empirical knowledge exists about the governance of relocations. While the literature often highlights risks and benefits of relocations, it remains unclear how governments organized relocations and what drove relocation policy. Therefore, we examined Maldivian relocation policies from 1968 to 2018 to explain government support of relocations. For this, we used a qualitative research design and extended the multiple streams approach with the theoretical lens of historical institutionalism. To gather data, we conducted semi-structured interviews (n = 23) with relocation policy experts and locals affected by relocations. Interview data was complemented with a desk review of relevant laws, historical records, and policy documents. We find 29 completed and 25 failed cases of relocations in the 50-year period. Key drivers of relocation policies are focusing events, socioeconomic development, and institutionalized island autonomy. We find that relocations were predominantly initiated as means to facilitate economic development, not as a response to rising seas or coastal risk. With current rapid economic development and strengthened democratic institutions, relocations are not considered as a policy option anymore. We conclude that implementing relocations proactively will face significant barriers in the future, which highlights the urgency of successful in situ adaptations in the Maldives.

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Gussmann, G., Hinkel, J. (2020). What drives relocation policies in the Maldives?. Climatic Change (2020). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2020.09.028