Environmentalists cry foul as Kulhudhuffushi airport project begins
Work began Saturday on a “bund wall” to mark a boundary for dredging and reclaiming the northern island’s environmentally sensitive wetland area after fast-tracked environmental regulatory processes.
Work began Saturday on a controversial airport project on the island of Kulhudhuffushi after fast-tracked environmental regulatory processes.
The state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company started digging on the beach near the island’s mangroves for a “bund wall” to mark a boundary for reclamation, a company spokesman told the Maldives Independent.
But the deadline for public feedback on an Environment Impact Assessment report – which warned of lasting and irreversible damage from reclaiming the environmentally sensitive wetland area – is Tuesday, October 31.
Ibrahim Naeem, the director of the Environment Protection Agency, confirmed that the environment ministry has approved the project after considering the EIA.
Defending the rushed process, he said: “Changes to regulations allow the ministry to give express permission for urgent projects needed by the government.”
An anonymous government official told Vnews that the normal procedure was for the EPA to approve projects based on EIA reports by private consultants. But Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim himself pushed through the approval after disregarding hundreds of complaints, the official said.
Naeem refused to say whether the minister signed the ‘decision statement’ on the EIA: “The DS is always given by the ministry and it was given by the ministry this time, too. It could be given by anyone the minister designates.”
Echoing criticism on social media, Maeed Zahir from NGO Ecocare condemned the government’s haste to greenlight the project.
“The decision statement should be made public and the public must be told how the decision was reached,” he said.
“If the project is to go ahead, it should state the mitigation measures that would be taken. And since people use the area for a livelihood activity, it should state compensation for those people.”
The mangrove is home to endangered species and serves as a natural defence system by collecting and draining rainwater. Local women also soak coconut husk at the mangrove lake to make coir rope.
Appearing on the state broadcaster last week, Environment Minister Thoriq accused the opposition of trying to obstruct the airport project by “keeping some people in front of them” and assured that mitigating measures will be taken to minimise environmental damage.
Despite the outcry from environmental groups and the “considerable negative impacts on the environment” identified by the EIA, the environment ministry’s approval appeared to be a foregone conclusion as both the MTCC and ruling party lawmakers last week announced plans to begin reclamation work in early November.
President Abdulla Yameen will officially inaugurate the project on November 12, MPs revealed. Developing an airport on Kulhudhufushi, the main population hub in the northern atolls, was a campaign pledge Yameen made in August 2013.
Reports on public opinion suggest that many islanders want the airport even at the cost of losing the unique mangroves.
MTCC CEO Ibrahim Ziyath told the press that nine hectares of the 12-hectare wetland on the northern end of the island will be reclaimed and that six hectares will be reclaimed from the lagoon. The company’s new dredger Mahaa Jarraafu arrived in Kulhudhufushi last Wednesday.
According to the EIA, the eastern side of the island was dismissed due to space limitations and the government also rejected a nearby island as an alternative site.
Noting that an airport exists 25 minutes away on the island of Hanimadhoo, the report also advised that socio-economic benefits from the project may not outweigh the negative impacts.
“There is political will to proceed with the project along with the backing and need of a vocal majority in the island. As this is a project that has long been delayed resulting in significant community issues, it does not seem the project will be delayed any further,” the report concluded.
MTCC has started prep work for reclamation of lagoon area next to #KulhudhuffushiKulhi. Environmental decision statement not made public. pic.twitter.com/WmsAYzNg0o
— Junayd 🇲🇻 (@mjunayd) October 28, 2017
Dredgers arrived, DS given. EIA was just for the name sake, the deadline for public commenting isn’t even closed. @Thoriqibrahim, resign now pic.twitter.com/GDmTa7AlXk
— Inasa Umar (@InasaUmar) October 27, 2017
Public consultation not due til Nov 1st. Destruction started before the full EIA procedure is even complete. This is an ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME. pic.twitter.com/DJ0BKvp3Yn
— KirimJehiBanas (@meynakambulo) October 26, 2017
The bund wall work of Hdh. Kulhudhuffushi airport reclamation and shore protection project commenced today at 1440 hrs. #MTCC #MTCCProjects pic.twitter.com/6ie3kObZov
— MTCC Plc (@MTCCPlc) October 28, 2017
MTCC’s Trailing Suction Hopper Dredger “Mahaa Jarraafu” #MTCC #MahaaJarraafu #RayyithungeKunfuni pic.twitter.com/JgJhwTY699
— MTCC Plc (@MTCCPlc) October 25, 2017
Today marks a major milestone in the history of MTCC. Our trailing suction hopper dredger mahaa Jarraafu has just arrived in the Maldives. pic.twitter.com/aluqIm2vPi
— MTCC Plc (@MTCCPlc) October 25, 2017
Our environment is not ours to destroy, but to preserve it for coming generations. #saveKulhudhuffushiKulhi pic.twitter.com/VExQ21bvrO
— Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (@maumoonagayoom) October 28, 2017
Sustainable development can be achieved even while protecting our unique Maldivian cultural and natural heritage. #saveourheritage pic.twitter.com/2IzGBgPqOb
— Yumna Maumoon (@yumna_maumoon) October 28, 2017
Just a few coconut husk pits in the #mangroves. Hw many livelihoods will we uproot in the name of development?#saveKulhudhuffushiKulhi pic.twitter.com/gvfYm27xIh
— Abdulla Adam (@Abdulla_Adam) October 27, 2017
Going home with heavy heart, they lost their source of income. #KulhudhuffushiKulhi #BonbiOlhu pic.twitter.com/CO6UeFDWqZ
— naxim ian haxn 🎈 (@naximian) October 25, 2017
This all will be gone soon. A culture, a tradition & a pride. @Thoriqibrahim dont u hav any responsibilities towards the country? #SaveKulhi pic.twitter.com/VYL92TE5tu
— Inasa Umar (@InasaUmar) October 27, 2017
Conversation on airport dominated by partisanship & intimidation. Ppl who oppose labelled anti-development. #kulhudhuffushikulhi #eia
— عاއިئشة (@ishahr) October 26, 2017
youth speaking up in #Kulhidhufushi are threatened. We need to step up to fight for OUR heritage.
— Sara Naseem 🎈 (@sara_naseem) October 26, 2017
When someone living in #kulhudhuffushi says the #kulhi has no benefits it shows what a failure the govt, civil society and UNDP has been.
— Shahindha Ismail 🎈 (@HindhaIsmail) October 27, 2017
What exactly are mangroves, what purpose do they serve, and why should we care?
Download high resolution version: https://t.co/sESue01NIE pic.twitter.com/O227wwphl3
— Muraka Meehun (@murakameehun) October 29, 2017
Reclamation of the Mangrove in Kulhudhuffushi will be the most significant ecosystem loss in North #Maldives … #savekulhdhufushikuhli pic.twitter.com/LI0lvIaYJf
— ECOCARE Maldives (@ecocare_mv) October 27, 2017
How is it possible for a person to be so blind that they cannot see the beauty of this place? #savekulhudhuffushikulhi pic.twitter.com/LoaEK3DxdY
— Sana Ibrahim (@Sanaiibrahimm) October 27, 2017
Even experts from the @EnvGovMv recommended to consider alternative locations for the proposed airport project on the #KulhudhuffushiKulhi pic.twitter.com/OZxMx1rdKM
— insaan🎈❔ (@pikomonster) October 24, 2017
Wetlands & Mangrove Forests are unbelievable long-term carbon sinks, storing carbon in plants themselves but more particularly in the soils. pic.twitter.com/Mc7D3KCKtk
— Bluepeace (@bluepeacemv) October 27, 2017
Our oceans, coral reefs and mangroves are an invaluable natural defense against disasters & climate change #sfdrr #switch2sendai pic.twitter.com/XacXGsOC5G
— MV Red Crescent (@maldivianrc) October 25, 2017
Read this heartfelt story by my friend&colleague @Abdulla_Adam abt his island& importance of mangroves 4 protection frm #climatechange https://t.co/SiqH1kgLD3
— Azza A (@AzzaAishath) October 24, 2017
How do mangroves serve our communities? pic.twitter.com/Tp39i0mtJR
— Muraka Meehun (@murakameehun) October 25, 2017