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Public concern over Bandidhoo tree grab

Ahmed Aiham
20 January 2020, MVT 16:50
The Island of Bandhidhoo, Dhaalu Atoll, as seen from an aerial photograph. The 22-hectare island remains largely barren with coconut groves on the frindes of its eastern coastline. PHOTO: BANDIDHOO / FACEBOOK
Ahmed Aiham
20 January 2020, MVT 16:50

Members of the public have begun expressing concern over the deforestation of Bandidhoo, Dhaalu Atoll, for a road development project which began on January 13.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the uprooting of 585 privately owned coconut palms on the already semi-barren island, in order to establish 11 roads as per a previously approved Land Use Plan (LUP).

The trees are to be transported to developing resort island Sun Aqua Iru Veli, Aluvifushi, Dhaalu Atoll for greenifying and landscaping purposes.

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report conducted by Commerce Development and Environment (CDE) Consulting also failed to mention the project's impact on the island's local economy.

The report did not allude to the livelihood of islanders whose income is dependent on the coconut palm and its derivatives. PHOTO: TWITTER
500 bundles of coconut leaf thatch made by women on the Island. There was no mention of this important aspect of the island's economy in the EIA report. PHOTO: AHMED HASHIU / SAVE MALDIVES

According to environmental collective 'SaveMaldives', CDE only consulted 25 individuals from the approximately 900 residents of Bandidhoo.

"The most significant impact of this project is the impact on terrestrial biodiversity", reported CDE Consulting in its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). PHOTO: TWITTER.

"Bandidhoo EIA's no-project alternative does not acknowledge that a community of people with little to no resources depend on their palm groves as an income source", said a source representing Save Maldives.

"The complete dis-service this EIA does to an uninformed community must be addressed by the government of Maldives".

Environmental experts state that due to such destructive actions, the delicate nature of the Maldivian environment is facing severe repercussions such as erosion, loss of habitat for indigenous creatures, and more.

"The Maldives comprises of oceanic atolls, and for that reason, its survival depends on the resilience of the seas, reefs and coastlines. It is our collective responsibility to protect our islands and guarantee their survival for posterity", asserted President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih during his presidential address on February 7, 2019.

"Our development plans and policies must centre around preserving our naturally beautiful nation. Our natural resources must be preserved to ensure our habitat is safe and resilient. We shall make our mark on the international arena again as a leading champion of the environment".

However, various development projects sanctioned by President Solih's government contradict the spirit of their pledges to decentralize and ensure the protection of the environment, including the controversial proposal for the development of multiple bridges to link capital city Male', suburb Vilimale', Gulhifalhu and garbage island Thilafushi as part of the 'Greater Male Industrial Zone'.

Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OOCRP) also found that Aluvifushi was leased for a discounted price during the graft of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) during the tenure of former president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Several cases of large scale vegetation being uprooted from inhabited islands to be replanted on developing resorts have surfaced. As such, 819 palms are to be uprooted and planted in different locations to clear land for three major development projects in Mulah, Meemu Atoll.

Although the government finalised the decision to amend regulations concerning tree removal, roughly eight months have passed since the administration collected public opinions on the matter. Legislative changes are yet to be proposed.

A recent movement started by local environment advocates under the hashtag #MVTreeGrab has been widely credited as having brought the issue of uprooting palm trees and "tropical deforestation" to a phase of action.

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