Hazard, Resilience and Development: The Case of Two Maldivian Islands

From Firenze University Press Journal: Bollettino della Società Geografica Italiana

Marcella Schmidt di Friedberg, “Riccardo Massa” Department of Human Sciences and Education, University of Milano-Bicocca

Stefano Malatesta, “Riccardo Massa” Department of Human Sciences and Education, University of Milano-Bicocca

Elena dell’Agnese, Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Milano-Bicocca

Due to their geophysical structure, the Maldives face various natural hazards, such as coastal erosion, rising water levels, tsunamis and other climate-related disasters. In 2004, the country was affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami, with almost 12,000 displaced persons and a further 8,500 relocated inhabitants. In the context of the country’s efforts to achieve sustainable development and face climate change, disaster risk reduction and resilience capacity are key issues. The Government is working hard to implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risks Reduction 2015–2030, linked to Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. The paper considers the cases of two islands in Dhaalu Atoll — Meedhoo and Rin’budhoo — both affected by the tsunami, where social and economic resilience produced two different models of development. The tsunami hit Meedhoo hard. The island economy depends on fishing and the main threats are its small size and soil erosion. Thus, in 2006 a large area around the island was reclaimed and in 2014 larger reclamation projects were started. Rin’budhoo was also severly impacted by the tsunami; there were two victims and a lot of infrastructural damage, forcing many people to migrate. However, for years local government has promoted no land reclamation. The recovery of the island started from its historical and cultural heritage and the revival of traditional crafts and goldsmithery, involving young people. Two islands, two different resilience stories.

This paper aims to address the issue of hazard and resilience from a trans-scalar perspective. It combines the reading of global dynamics with an understanding of regional (the Indian Ocean region), national (the Mal-dives) and local processes (the two islands of Meedhoo and Rin’budhoo in Dhaalu atoll). The trans-scalar perspective is generally essential for any discussion of local community responses to environmental challenges: “Natural disasters cannot be understood at the global level alone, just as they cannot be understood at the local level alone. Community-based monitoring and indigenous observations are also significant because they fill the gaps of global science and provide insights regarding local impacts and adaptations” (Zhou 2010, 30). At the global level, following the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and the Kobe Hyogo World Conference on Disaster Reduction in January 2005, the United Nations implemented the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNIS-DR).

The next milestone (2030), which brings together the three important UN agreements (Sendai Framework for DRR 2015–2030, SDG 2030 and Paris Agreement 2015), aims, among other things, to achieve the goal of international cooperation and resilience against disasters.UNISDR defines resilience as “the ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions” (UNISDR 2009, 24). The idea of resilience as a top priority is shared by all three UN landmark agreements: in Global Target (d) of the Sendai Framework for DRR it is proposed to “substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030”. Sustainable Development Goal #9 addresses the challenge of “Build resilient infrastruc-ture, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation”.

Article 2 of the Paris Agreement “aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change […] Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development”. The issue of resilience, addressed by a wide range of interdisciplinary literature, has recently experienced the transition “from a descriptive concept to a normative agenda” (Weichselgartner, Kelman 2015, 252). Resilience is a broad and sometimes ambiguous concept that may change depending on the regional context and opportunities for political, economic and social development: “Based on vulnerability and development geography, the ability to be resilient is never distributed homogeneously within and through social groups. Instead, this ability is largely determined by social, economic and cultural factors, and, because the minority of a society often holds control over the decision-making for the majority, these factors may often be beyond society’s control” (Ibid.).

The cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary nature of this concept has been influencing the most recent debate within Island Studies, the field of study this paper mainly refers to. Kelman (2018) pointed out how this paradigm con-tributes to shape contemporary small islands narratives. Chandler and Pugh (2020) recently proposed a theoretical discussion on islands resilience and the Anthropocene. Moreover, several studies referred to resilience as a key component in the understanding of small islands’ socio-environmental momentum (Molina 2018, Scandurra et al. 2018, Trundle et al 2019, Bangwayo-Skeete and Skeete 2020). This debate brought back to the specific case of the Maldives, highlights three extremely relevant aspects: a) the need for the integration between the description of national environmental governance systems and the observation of spatial dynamics at local scale; b) the discussion of the dialectic between island vulnerability and island resilience as a driver to overcome the pervasive character of the Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) paradigm (Malatesta, Schmidt of Friedberg 2017); c) finally, the opportunity, through the study of resilience enhance-ment strategies, to have a look at the materialisation of the contemporary ideologies of develoment.In the first paragraph the supra-regional context of the Indian Ocean will be analyzed, specifically consider-ing Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) policies activated by large supranational institutions.

The second paragraph will consider the subject at national level, taking into account the situation in the Maldives, the impacts of the 2004 tsunami, the specific fragility of the coral islands, and the policies activated by the local government. In the third paragraph, we move on to the analysis of the two case studies, comparing the resilience strategies implemented locally. In the conclusion, an evaluation of the strategies adopted at local level is reconnected with the transcalar perspective.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.36253/bsgi-1087

Read Full Text: https://riviste.fupress.net/index.php/bsgi/article/view/1087



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