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Fainu islanders skeptical of environmental impact assessment

A group of Islanders have been lobbying against an airport project.



Islanders of Fainu who have been lobbying against a proposed airport have raised doubts about the environmental impact assessment conducted for the project.

Mohamed Waheed, an activist leading the #SaveFainu campaign, told the Maldives Independent the EIA report prepared by an independent consultant group was affected by a biased council and that its tree count was inaccurate.

“The consultants were escorted by the council to meet only with people who approved the airport plans, not the island community,” he alleged. “The council is very biased and acted according to the wishes of Defence Minister [Adam] Shareef, who is a relative of all the council members.”

Waheed said most Fainu islanders want a proper, unbiased report by an independent consultant, a call echoed by the environmental group Bluepeace.

“Majority of the voting population of the island have expressed concern about the airport plans,” he noted, referring to a petition submitted to the authorities with 140 signatures.

The MVR123 million (US$8 million) project was contracted to the state-owned Island Aviation Services to be financed through advance ticket sales, which have been bought in bulk by Universal Enterprises, one of the largest hospitality companies in the country.

The Environment Protection Agency published the EIA report last Wednesday and invited public feedback. The deadline for submitting comments is Tuesday.

“The EPA needs to arrange a meeting, the people of Fainu can’t submit their complaints using an online form,” said Waheed. “The [islanders] won’t know how to tweet or make island petitions, the ones who are doing it now are not from Fainu.”

More than a thousand people have signed an online petition to save the Fainu forest.

According to Waheed, residents of Fainu were unaware how much space will be needed for the runway or if they will be allowed to build houses near the area.

The rushed process shows “it is being done for someone’s benefit. It is highly questionable why the EPA has rushed to open for comments during the transitional period of an outgoing government.”

The new administration of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih will take office next week.

The EIA report warns of negative impacts, including vegetation clearing, loss of farmlands affecting the island economy, loss of biodiversity, the reclaiming of 83 hectares of land, and impacts from workforce and heavy machinery.

“Most of the negative impacts from the construction phase are long term or permanent and definite,” states the report by independent consultant Water Solutions.

Vegetation clearing “poses the highest impact significance. For this project, 38% of the islands vegetation has to be cleared,” it noted, adding that this would increase the overall temperature of island, lead to erosion of coastal zones and loss of terrestrial diversity.

“As the all the tree species in the island has not been identified, it is hard to say an entire species of trees will be wiped out. However, it may reduce the genetic diversity of trees.”

According to the report, 5,792 trees would have to be uprooted, including 20 banyan trees. This includes the largest tree on the island with an approximate height of 29 meters.

The report noted the airport plans no longer included two city hotels as this “takes up more than half (about 56%) of the island’s land and luscious vegetation including farm lands.”

The report advised a no-project alternative “considering the two existing airports in the region, and the permanent negative impacts that will be produced.”

The nearest airport at Raa Ifuru is 30 minutes away and the Baa Dharavandhoo airport can be reached in about 40 minutes.

Environmental NGO Ecocare along with several activists and conservation advocates have submitted comments to the EIA report, posing questions about unspecified plans to compensate the loss of natural resources.