The Maldives' Struggle to Stay Afloat

Photograph for TIME by Charlie Mahoney

Idle worship: A group of youths hangs out on a street corner in the archipelago nation's compact capital of Malé

On a plane to the Maldives, tourists sigh about the luxury resorts and sun-dappled beaches to which they are bound. From above, the country's coral-fringed lagoons in the Indian Ocean look computer-generated: arrayed in turquoise pods, they stretch over an azure expanse that would span from Rome to Budapest. Ibn Battuta, the 14th century Arab explorer, hailed the archipelago as "one of the wonders of the world." Ever since, the Maldives has enchanted shipwrecked sailors, Hollywood celebrities and Russian oligarchs fortunate enough to wash up by its shores. Yet beneath this outsiders' vision of paradise lurks a more troubled...

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