President Abdulla Yameen has announced plans to develop five resorts in the northern Haa Dhaalu Atoll next year.
Yameen said that the first islands to be developed as resorts by the current government will be located in Dhipparufushi, Vaikarumuraadhoo, Kanamana, Kudafaru, and Keylakunu islands in the country’s second-northernmost atoll.
During his visit to the northen atolls, President Yameen also talked about the government’s plans to develop an airport on Kulhudhuhfushi to further encourage the arrival of tourists.
Officials from the government promised the even distribution of resorts earlier this year following an online petition calling for the area to participate in the benefits of the country’s billion dollar tourism industry. Haa Dhaalu is currently the only atoll in the country without any operating resorts.
President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz told Minivan News of the strategic importance of Kulhudhuhfushi Island, which has a population of around ten thousand people.
“Projects like the proposed airport, resort development, and the I-Havan mega project will bring with it prosperous employment opportunities for the people residing the northern atolls, eliminating need of migrating to the capital Malé for employment,” said Muaz.
Muaz also noted that such projects, while providing numerous employment opportunities, would also develop the infrastructure in the region and improve the general living conditions in the North.
The UNDP’s most recent Human Development Report noted that disparities between the central and outer atolls were causing losses to human development, with the northern atolls reporting to suffer the most from limited job opportunities and social services.
This year’s Avaaz petition – signed by just over 500 people – noted that the economic and societal problems of the 20,000 inhabitants of the atoll could be alleviated by the development of resorts.
The petition argued that the development of the region’s “pristine uninhabited islands” would halt the “mass migration” to Malé which was “tearing up the social fabric of our society”.
President Yameen’s election campaign pledged to develop 50 operational resorts during the five year presidential term. Yesterday’s proposed 2015 budget also planned for tourism growth, with 10 new resorts proposed in a MVR24.3 billion budget plan.
Despite the total number of resorts in the country exceeding one hundred, the majority are clustered around Malé and the country’s main international airport.
After initial plans for the 40-year-old industry’s development envisioned regional hubs, the introduction of sea planes has encouraged the concentration of resorts in the now-crowded central atolls.
The government’s plans for regional development have centered around the controversial SEZ bill, which it argues will decentralise development in order to promote regional growth – though the bill’s detractors fear that the policy will come at the expense of political decentralisation.
Relaxed regulations in the SEZs are intended to attract investors for a number of ‘mega projects’, including the iHavan – or ‘Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project’ – in Haa Alif Atoll.
The project aims to take advantage of the strategic location of the Maldives’ northernmost atoll on a major shipping route – through which more than 700,000 ships carry goods worth US$18 trillion a year – and develop 5,700 hectares of land along with deep natural harbours.
Meanwhile, environmental NGO Ecocare has protested against the proposed Kulhudhuhfushi airport, pointing out that the airport’s development would destroy a mangrove area which would be reclaimed in order to build the airport.
Ecocare suggested a speedy ferry transportation system to Hanimaadhoo Airport which is just 16.6 km away after labelling the Kulhudhuhfushi airport as “economically less viable”.