A local youth group has warned of health hazards to members of the public who will be using the new artificial beach due to open in Malé’s western waterfront this week.
The Dhi Youth Movement said in a statement yesterday that sewage outflow from pipes in the area and medical waste from the nearby Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital pose serious dangers to swimmers.
DYM said that a snorkelling team from its cleanup project Damage Control had found an increase in sedimentation and dead corals since construction began. The biggest damage to the surrounding reef is caused by sewage pipes and garbage dumped into the sea, the NGO said.
“It is clear that because of the problems with the waste management system, medical waste from the hospital and disposable items are being dumped to the sea,” DYM said.
The ministry of housing and infrastructure had awarded the MVR40 million (US$2.5 million) project to the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company on August 24. The west coast artificial beach is to be developed with a recreational area, fishing pier, waterfront pavilion, beachfront park, waterfront promenade, underground parking facility, cafés, dive spots, waterfront residential mix, and a fort.
DYM noted that untreated sewage is released near the west coast beach as there is no secondary treatment plant in the capital. An Environmental Impact Assessment report of the venture last year had also flagged the presence of faecal matter in the water.
“When this was shared with the housing ministry staff, they informed us that work is being done to create a secondary treatment plant by mid-year,” DYM said. While the nearby sewage pipe has been moved out to the sea by a further 200 meters, DYM said tides and ocean currents could see waste pulled ashore.
The NGO went on to express disappointment and concern over its divers’ discovery of large amounts of syringes, medicine and tubes used for blood transfusions.
Expressing concern over longterm environmental impacts, the NGO also warned that marine life in the area could be affected. Eating fish caught from the area would pose health risks, they added.
DYM’s Damage Control project has held routine cleanups of the swimming track area, the artificial beach in Henveiru, and the west coast reef during the past three years. But the group refused to participate in a cleanup event organised by the housing ministry over the weekend.
“DYM believes it is an irresponsible waste to spend on a new artificial beach before creating such necessary systems,” the NGO said.
While more than 70 islands had run out of drinking water last year, DYM suggested that the current administration is neglecting basic services in the atolls in favour of concentrating development projects in the Malé region.
Neither the housing ministry nor the Environmental Protection Authority were responding to calls at the time of going to press.
Last September’s Environmental Impact Assessment report found that the project could cause water pollution and reef slope failure.
Malé’s west coast had been “free from direct human influence”, the report noted, but the new artificial beach has “the potential to cause damage to reefs and reef ecological system,” causing loss in organisms due to mortality and forced migration.
The EIA report had concluded that the project could be environmentally sustainable and justifiable if proper environmental mitigation measures are taken during the construction and maintenance of the new artificial beach.
“Most of the environmental impacts associated with the development of the area can be either reduced or minimised by effective environmental management and mitigation” the report advised.
Aside from the swimming track in front of the State Electricity Company building, the artificial beach on the eastern waterfront is the only swimming area currently available to residents of the capital.