Storm surges caused extensive damage at the newly built artificial beach in Malé on Tuesday, uprooting lampposts, toppling chairs and bins, and displacing large swathes of sand inland.
The damage has revived concerns over the housing ministry’s planning of the project, with some critics saying the western edge of Malé is not suitable for a recreational beach.
Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizz, however, dismissed concerns, saying his staff had returned Rasfannu to “normal” within a few hours.
“We were not surprised,” he told online newspaper Avas. “I do not believe the damages caused were severe.” The ministry only had to replenish the sand that was washed out, he said.
The MVR40million (US$2.5million) project was announced in September, and completed by February. Contractors had to break up a protective tetrapod seawall and dredge the lagoon to create a swimming area.
Parts of the sea wall have also been removed on the southwestern edge of the city for the construction of an industrial village.
Shamau Shareef, a city councilor who had previously expressed concern over the Rasfannu project, said Tuesday’s damage “was a preview of worse to come.” The upcoming southwest monsoon brings storms and tidal surges to the Maldives.
“The tetrapod wall was constructed by the Japanese government on grant aid. Numerous surveys and assessments of Malé’s shoreline and reef were conducted. Sections of that wall should not have been removed at Rasfannu without a full impact assessment,” he said.
The US$10million wall was built after the tidal swells caused millions of dollars in damage in 1988.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed has also criticised the removal of the tetrapods, saying it “will increase the island’s vulnerability to climate change.”
Mohamed Aslam, Nasheed’s environment minister, meanwhile questioned the financial burden of maintaining the Rasfannu beach. “By the looks of it, it appears this is a cost that all consecutive governments will have to bear, perhaps several times in a year.”
He added: “The public needs to know if proper damage forecasts were conducted before construction took place on an area at the edge of the ocean. Does the government know how often this kind of damage will happen?”
Rasfannu has been a controversial project from its outset, after an environmental impact assessment report warned that the water there was unsafe for swimming because of a pipe that was dumping untreated sewage in the area.
The beach had to be closed down in March for several weeks after a sewage pipe burst. At the time, Muizz, the housing minister, accused the opposition of sabotage.