Residents of Fainu will lose access to two-thirds of their island and 57 football fields worth of vegetation will be destroyed to make way for an airport and hotel project.
Activists have raised concerns about the need for the airport as Raa atoll already has a domestic one. The airport at Ifuru island, 26 kilometres away from Fainu, can be reached in 25 minutes by speedboat.
Based on the concept drawing, the Maldives Independent used Google maps and a surface area calculator tool to see how much vegetation on the island would be sacrificed.
Fainu will lose 31 hectares of vegetation in a dense jungle area which is equivalent to 57 football fields in size, including several hectares of agricultural land.
Islanders will also lose access to 2.18 kilometres of beach to the airport’s security zone and the gated hotel.
A further four hectares of land will be reclaimed for the airport.
The Fainu project has been contracted to Island Aviation Services, which operates the Maldives national airline.
The MVR123 million (US$8 million) project is being financed through advance sales of air tickets to Fainu airport that have been bought in bulk by Universal Enterprises, one of the largest hospitality companies in the country.
Fainu residents spoke to the Maldives Independent about their concerns. They wished to remain anonymous to avoid hindering their efforts to unite against the project.
“We have heard rumours of an airport since we were kids,” said a 41-year-old woman. “But then suddenly in a day the agreement is signed, the funds are raised and they are ready to start work. No one from the island knew about this. Even the island council does not have the information.”
The main worry was the destruction of the environment.
“This is the most beautiful island in the atoll,” said a 27-year-old shopkeeper. “We have an amazing beach all around us and a very thick jungle. With this project, we will lose all of this forever.
“The current drawing only shows the airport and one city hotel. But some people are saying there are going to be two city hotels. That means we will lose more land,” he added.
– ‘An open jail’ –
Last month Island Aviation said the project included an airport, two city hotels, medical facilities, a hangar for aircraft servicing and a training centre for Island Aviation staff.
“If they take our land for all of that, we will be boxed into the populated area of the island like an open jail,” said a 26-year-old woman.
Concerns about the airport project are being silenced, some islanders told the Maldives Independent.
“What happens is the defence minister is from this island and the people of our parents’ age think we should respect him by agreeing to the project, because he says it will be good for the island,” said the shopkeeper.
“Then younger people can’t publicly protest against it because they don’t want to disrespect their parents. Even if they did, it becomes a family problem.”
These problems are amplified due to the island’s small population of 318 residents.
An environment ministry spokesman told the Maldives Independent to refer questions to the Environmental Protection Agency.
An EPA spokesman said the project came under the tourism ministry. A tourism ministry spokesman was unable to immediately comment on the project.
Defence Minister Adam Shareef Umar sought to quell anger over the airport, local media reported.
He accused the media of publishing stories without talking to anyone in Fainu.
“A lot of people took part in a meeting held by Island Aviation [about the project]. Only three young kids raised any concerns and that is about the concept drawing. The island council also took part in the meeting,” Umar said.
Those who talked to the Maldives Independent said about 30 people took part in the meeting.
“It is true that only a few people talked or asked questions. If the defence minister is assuming that the silence of the other participants means they support the project, then he is right,” said the 41-year-old woman.
Was there a public vote in Fainu to establish this?
I attended the only public consultation held regarding Kulhudhuffushi Kulhi. 99.9% present voted to save the mangroves. It is on video. Why was the mangroves destroyed then?#SaveFainuhttps://t.co/qgwMwZXLEX
— Abdulla Adam (@Abdulla_Adam) June 11, 2018