Thirteen non-governmental organizations across the Maldives have called on the government to halt plans to reclaim the mangrove swamp of Haa Dhaal atoll Kulhudhuffushi island for the development of a domestic airport.
In a joint statement released by the organisations, which include the Kulhudhuffushi Youth Community, Maldives Democracy Network, and Addu Women’s Development Initiative, they declared that the mangrove swamp is one of the largest in the Maldives and a natural heritage site.
The associations harshly slated environment minister Thoriq Ibrahim, proclaiming that he is violating lawful procedures regarding environment protection.
The statement noted that under the regulations of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a period of one month must be granted to receive public opinions regarding the report. However, the government had green lighted the mangrove reclamation five days before the deadline.
The associations further questioned the independence of the EIA, pointing out that the report was compiled by a civil servant employed at the Maldives Meteorological Service, which is operated under the environment ministry.
In addition, the statement also accused Regional Airports and Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) of not complying with the reclamation project, for reasons including:
- The area to siphon sand for reclamation has not been specified
- Geotechnical tests have not been done regarding the siphoning of sand
- The project area has not been separated from the rest of the swamp
- Steps have not been taken to protect another region that is environmentally similar to the project area
- The bund wall in development does not have all the stipulated features
- Proposals have not been submitted on another system to drain flood waters in the island after heavy showers
The 13 associations stressed that destruction of the mangrove swamp ecosystem would be devastating to its inhabitants and increase the chance of natural disasters, while negatively impacting the livelihoods of island residents that depend on the swamp for coir weaving. The statement also warned that the damages to the swamp would be irreversible and directly impact the island with the consequences of climate change.
The government had initially planned to develop the airport on the seaward side of Kulhudhuffushi; however the location was switched to the mangrove area over lack of sufficient land area on the seaward side.