President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has officially launched the land reclamation project for the development of a domestic airport in Haa Dhaal atoll Kulhudhuffushi island.
Yameen inaugurated the project at a colourful ceremony held in the island on Sunday evening. He was warmly welcomed by the residents of Kulhudhuffushi as well as all the members of the island council, most of whom are members of main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
Six hectares are to be reclaimed from the western lagoon of Kulhudhuffushi while another nine will be reclaimed from the island’s mangrove swamp.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC)’s CEO Ibrahim Ziyath announced that the reclamation phase will be completed within a month.
Land reclamation for the Kulhudhuffushi Airport is the first project for MTCC’s newest and largest dredger ‘Maha Jarraf’, which was commissioned for USD 36 million. Measuring over 92 metres in length and 16 metres in width, the dredger can siphon sand from under 50 metres and can carry 3,700 cubic metres of sand.
Ziyath revealed that Maha Jarraf’s next project will be reclaiming land for the domestic airport to be developed in Shaviyani atoll Funadhoo island.
“This vessel will bring joy to all of the Maldives,” he declared, adding that MTCC will also increase the speed of its projects with its new dredger.
Minimal environmental impact
The prospect of reclaiming 30 percent of Kulhudhuffushi’s mangrove swamp, which is one of the largest in the northern atolls and is known for its rich biodiversity including several endangered mangrove species, had recently sparked concern and outcry from the public and environmentalists across the nation. Addressing this issue, member of ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Kulhudhuffushi South MP Mohamed Nasheed assured that the airport project will be carried out with minimal negative impact and damage to the environment.
Speaking at the inauguration, MP Nasheed declared that no one of Kulhudhuffushi island itself is against the airport, and that such objections may be being raised by those that have never visited the island.
He stressed that Kulhudhuffushi is the main hub of the north, linked to sectors such as business, education, health and transportation. He stated that from the perspective of progress, the presence of all these industries are beneficial to the island’s people, and that an airport is currently required to take Kulhudhuffushi to another level.
Noting that he had participated in the discussions regarding the airport’s location, he revealed that it was earlier considered to develop the airport on the eastern side of the island.
“But the truth is that, if we built an airport on the eastern side, it would affect around 80 homes. And by homes I mean the ones that are occupied, in addition to the empty houses,” he said.
Nasheed emphasized that the findings of the research done on the area, such as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, must be taken into account while developing the airport.
He further gave a guarantee that reclamation of 30 percent of the mangrove swamp will be undertaken such that impact and damages to the environment are kept minimum.
The MP, who had recently been disagreeing with some of the government’s decisions, added that all members of the island council including MDP members are in favour of the airport. This decision, he declared, was made on an island-level as opposed to a political party-level as the airport is imperative to Kulhudhuffushi’s progress. He assured that the council will cooperate with the government for the project.
He concluded his speech requesting the government, on behalf of all Kulhudhuffushi residents, to continue the project without any halts or bumps.
Airport to be unveiled in 2018
At the ceremony, tourism minister Moosa Zameer also moved to soothe public concerns over reclaiming the mangrove swamp. He vowed that the remaining 70 percent of the swamp will be left intact and protected, and available for the livelihoods of the people such as coir weaving.
Zameer also assured that the government is also considering solutions for the danger of flooding that may be caused as a result of reclaiming the swamp.
Proclaiming that the airport will bring about numerous indirect benefits, such as increasing resorts and guesthouse tourism in the area, the minister added that preparations are ready for the development of the airport’s runway, which will measure 1,200 metres, as soon as land reclamation finishes.
“If the work proceeds according to schedule, the airport will be completed by mid-2018,” he announced as he guaranteed the residents of Kulhudhuffushi that they will receive the promised airport, which was an electoral pledge of President Yameen.
Zameer added that the airport will provide all the services available from other domestic airport across the Maldives. However, he did not reveal to whom the project will be awarded or the project plan.