The Maldives, officially the Republic of Maldives, is a small island nation in South Asia, located in the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean. They are located southwest of Sri Lanka and India, about 700 kilometers (430 miles) from the mainland of the Asian continent. The chain of 26 atolls extends from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to Addu Atoll in the south to the equator. With an area of about 298 square kilometers, the Maldives is one of the most geographically dispersed sovereign states in the world and the smallest country in Asia by area and population, with a population of about 515,696. Malé is the capital and the most populous city, which is traditionally called the "King's Island" where ancient royalty ruled because of its central location.
The Maldives archipelago is located on the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge, an extensive undersea mountain range in the Indian Ocean; this also forms a terrestrial ecoregion together with the Chagos Archipelago and Lakshadweep. With an average elevation of 1.5 meters above sea level, it is the lowest-lying country in the world, with even its highest natural point being one of the lowest in the world at 5.1 meters.
Historical Influences on the Maldives
Islam reached the Maldivian archipelago in the 12th century, consolidating it as a sultanate and developing strong economic and cultural ties with Asia and Africa. From the mid-16th century, the region came increasingly under the influence of European colonial powers, with the Maldives becoming a British protectorate in 1887. Independence from the United Kingdom came in 1965, and a presidential republic with an elected People's Majlis was established in 1968. The ensuing decades saw political instability, efforts at democratic reform, and environmental challenges from climate change.
The Maldives became a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). They are also members of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Non-Aligned Movement. The World Bank classifies the Maldives as an upper middle-income economy. Fishing has always been the predominant economic activity and remains by far the largest sector, followed by the rapidly growing tourism industry. The Maldives ranks "high" on the Human Development Index, with per capita income well above that of other SAARC nations.
The Maldives was a member of the Commonwealth from July 1982 until it withdrew from the organization in October 2016 to protest accusations of human rights abuses and lack of democracy by other nations. The Maldives rejoined the Commonwealth on February 1, 2020, after showing evidence of functioning democratic processes and support from the Population had shown.