For as well as being blessed with sun-kissed paradise islands and pale, white sands, this tourist haven is cursed with mounting evidence of an environmental catastrophe.

To the naked eye, the signs of climate change are almost imperceptible, but the country's 360,000 citizens would be forced to evacuate. The Maldives' survival as a sovereign nation is truly at stake. 80% of its 1,200 islands are no more than 1m above sea level, within 100 years the Maldives could become uninhabitable.

No wonder it was the first country to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol, which sets targets for cuts in industrialised countries' greenhouse gas emissions. No wonder that Male, the capital, is surrounded by a 3m-high (9.8ft) wall, which took 14 years to construct at a cost of $63m. Unable to foot the bill

themselves, the government happily accepted aid from Japan, which paid for 99% of the cost. But the wall offers protection for just one of the Maldives' 200 inhabited islands - and then only against tidal surges rather than the rising sea level, the longer-term threat.

In Kandholhudhoo, a densely-populated island in the north of the Maldives, 60% of residents have volunteered to evacuate over the next 15 years - those remaining behind will eventually be compelled to do the same. Tidal surges flood their homes every fortnight, and recently hammered a 3m (9.8ft) hole in their concrete flood defences.

The country's fishermen no longer use the "Nakiy", a centuries-old weather guide based on stellar constellations which climate change has made all but irrelevant. The weather here is becoming more volatile and less predictable. The alignment of the stars no longer offers much guidance

The risk is the combination of the probability of an event and its negative consequences.

Mention the Maldives and sandy beaches, five-star resorts, colourful coral reefs and stunning scenery come to mind - a luxurious getaway.

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