Environmental campaign 'Save Maldives' on Thursday criticized President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's administration for continuing to disregard sustainable development in a time of national and global crisis.
According to the campaign, the collective finds it "extremely disturbing" to witness "catastrophic loss and damage to ecosystems" by way of infrastructural projects.
"Maldives experienced its worst environmental loss and damage during the administration of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom", said Save Maldives, adding that business-as-usual remains unchanged by the current administration.
Save Maldives also highlighted the recent approval of the Maafaru International Airport expansion project, after Ministry of Planning and Infrastructure appealed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s rejection of the Environmental Impact Assessment over the runway expansion.
By overriding EPA’s decision, the situation "exemplifies how the Maldives government prioritises investor interests and unsustainable infrastructure developments at the detriment of communities, sustainable livelihoods and resilience of islands to climate change", noted the citizen-led movement.
"In this context, the decision by the Minister of Environment Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan to override the EPA and approve irreversible destruction of the remaining ecology of Maafaru is the height of irresponsibility and poor governance".
"The ministerial overreach exercised to approve the Maafaru Airport expansion project is the same process that caused irreversible destruction to the Kulhudhuffushi wetland and mangroves in 2017".
Initially hailed as a dream come true for many citizens within the region, the airport built on Maafaru in Noonu Atoll has been filled with controversy and fraudulence.
According to the EIA in 2014, contractors stripped away over 20,000 trees from the island for development. Moreover, various media outlets reported Maldives Customs Service' seizure of uprooted palm trees packed for illegal shipment to Abu Dhabi in 2018.
Developed by Tuff Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, one of the major accusations currently faced by the Singaporean company is the failure to pay subcontracted companies for the development of the airport.
The airport is being funded through free aid from United Arab Emirates. The nation handed over a sum of USD 52 million (MVR 801 million) with the cost of a V.I.P terminal and a city hotel included.
Save Maldives found "serious" malpractice within the administration, evidenced by the government's continued lack of regard towards national laws and international obligations to protect and conserve the fragile ecosystems responsible for the country’s climate resilience.
The government’s Strategic Action Plan (2019-2023) included a goal to ensure that EPA becomes independently functioning by 2020. However, Save Maldives criticized the matter, adding that implementation of the goal well into the second year of the current administration "indicates the lack of urgency given by President Solih to improve environmental governance and due diligence for the climate change vulnerable Maldives".
"We urge President Solih and the People’s Majlis (parliament) to take immediate climate action and stop ongoing willful environmental destruction in the Maldives, endorsed by the government".
In their closing statements, Save Maldives urged President Solih to take immediate action, make EPA independent and mitigate the negative impacts of climate change by strengthening environmental governance, upholding national laws and international obligations, and preventing catastrophic environmental loss and damage.