7th November 2017

Concerns regarding the project to reclaim Kulhudhuhfushi white mud mangrove by the Government of Maldives

On 26th of October 2017, the Government of Maldives approved reclamation work at the largest white mud mangrove (mashikulhi), in the country located at Haa Dhaal Atoll Kulhudhuffushi, to facilitate the construction of an airport of questionable need. Notably, the International airport at Haa Dhaal Hanimaadhoo is a 20-minute speedboat ride away. Several civil society advocates have called on the authorities to stop the destruction of this significant natural asset.

We are deeply concerned that environmental regulatory processes have been completely disregarded by the Minister for Environment and Energy, Mr. Thorig Ibrahim. The Minister has fast-tracked the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) approval process by signing the decision statement of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) himself on Thursday 26th October 2017. The EIA regulation require a period for public consultation on the EIA report. Nevertheless, the Minister approved the reclamation project 5 days ahead of the public commenting deadline set by EPA which usually reviews and approves EIAs.

On Saturday, 28th October 2017, Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) announced that they have commenced work on the project. Notably, the decision statement by the EPA, approving the project was only made public on Wednesday, 01st November 2017, three days after MTCCs announcement. Additionally, MTCC has only been contracted to undertake reclamation work of the mangrove.

On 18th September 2017, the Government of Maldives cancelled its initial contract with Malaysian firm, Gryphon Energy Corporation, to develop the airport. Since then, it is not known if a new contract has been awarded to develop the proposed airport on the island.

We are deeply concerned about the independence of the EIA report, which was prepared by a civil servant working for Maldives Meteorological Service, under the umbrella of the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MEE).

We have serious concerns about the many procedural irregularities and impracticable nature of the decision to begin implementing a project of this magnitude without public consultation. We strongly oppose the unsound decision statement of the EPA, which violates existing laws, regulations and basic rights of the people of Kulhudhuhfushi. We further stress that while flawed, the conditions set in the decision statement are not being followed by the project oversight body, Regional Airports (a division of the Ministry of Tourism) and its subcontractor MTCC. Some of these conditions that are being disregarded include:

  • The burrow area for the reclamation has not been specified and the necessary geo- technical studies have not been undertaken.
  • The project area has not been cordoned off from the rest of the wetland area.
  • No action taken by the developer to make arrangements to declare and manage a new protected area with similar environmental features (an unfeasible proposition).
  • The “bund wall” being built by the contractor does not meet the required conditions, as it is being built with sand as opposed to rock boulders or sheet piling.
  • To date there  has  been  no  consultation  with  stakeholders  regarding  the  building  height restrictions imposed by the aviation regulation.
  • No proposal of an alternative flood mitigation and drainage system in the (the developer has  not  initiated  any  measure  to  address  this,  exposing  the  island population to a higher risk in the event of a disaster).

A survey conducted by Kulhudhuffushi Zuvaanunge Jamiyaa (CBO) in May 2017 established that approximately 404 families depend on the mangroves for their livelihoods. They use the mangrove to make coir rope, generating an estimated annual income of MVR 8.7 million (USD 564,202.00). This significant (yet informal and insecure) industry is powered by women who are among the most vulnerable in the community. The proposed development also requires the relocation of 18 households, none of which have been informed of any relocation plans yet, according to reliable sources. We call on the Government of Maldives for immediate action to fully compensate those who have lost their sources of income and are otherwise negatively affected by the project.

The destruction of the mangrove ecosystem will result in significant loss of biodiversity, disrupt livelihood activities, increase disaster risk and cause irreversible and irreparable damage to one of the most significant ecosystems in the country. This will have a direct and negative impact in the loss of climate change adaptation potential and overall resilience of Kulhudhuffushi and its people.

We believe that the very nature of this project violates basic human rights, principles of sustainable development and good governance. This project will also be a step backwards for the Maldives in its efforts to contribute in the sustainable development agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement. This project is a strong indicator that Maldives is moving in a developmental trajectory completely alien to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Furthermore, it would undermine the efforts by the country as a prominent advocate on behalf of the Small Island Developing States.  As the incumbent Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), it is worrying that Maldives is failing to set a positive example and become a leader in the efforts to address the threat of climate change to member States.

The  project  remains  unsound  in  all  aspects –  environmental,  social,  cultural,  economic  and governance.