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State approves Maafaru Airport runway expansion

Mariyam Malsa
13 January 2020, MVT 09:15
A Maldivian flight at Maafaru International Airport. PHOTO: MIHAARU
Mariyam Malsa
13 January 2020, MVT 09:15

Minister of Environment Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan, on Sunday, approved the expansion of the runway of Maafaru International Airport.

The ministry revealed that the project was green-lighted on the condition that actions are taken to minimise the possible environmental impacts of expansion.

Furthermore, the ministry stated that development efforts must be conducted in accordance with management and monitoring plans stipulated in the ministry's report.

Prior to reaching the decision to approve expansion, the environment minister undertook a visit to Maafaru, Noonu Atoll on January 8 to discuss the matter with the council and some residents of the island.

Following its mandatory Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed nine reasons, expressly denying permission for further land reclamation in Maafaru.

"A large part of Maafaru's lagoon will be permanently lost if the land is reclaimed. Due to this, the ecosystem of the surrounding reef will be severely affected", reads EPA's EIA report.

Overall, the eco-watchdog warned that environmental damages incurred by reclamation, scheduled for a long period of time, were expected to be catastrophic.

The state proposed the expansion project citing the need to accommodate Boeing 777 aeroplanes. However, EPA asserted that the reason was insufficient, noting that the projected frequency of these flights was not specified.

In April 2019, many spoke out against the effects of major development projects on the ecosystem after a photograph of a turtle that crawled onto Maafaru and laid eggs on the airport runway went viral. Maafaru is a popular nesting site for various species of sea turtles.

Although EPA is affiliated with the Ministry of Environment, it is solely responsible for regulatory activities for protection, conservation and management of environment and biodiversity, as well as waste management and pollution prevention under the Environment Protection and Preservation Act (4/93).

As such, public concern has been raised on EPA's ability to perform the aforementioned function, given the ministry's ability to overrule the watchdog's judgement on matters of environmental protection.

Both EPA and the ministry have come under fire for failing to act in the best interests of the environment, even following the change of administration.

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