An estimated 130 households may have to relocate for the construction of an airport on northern Kulhudhuffushi Island.
Blueprints shared with the Kulhudhffushi Island Council show 80 plots of land will be seized for construction. But Council President Ali Mohamed said they expect to relocate an additional 50 households, as buildings cannot be constructed to heights desired by homeowners in plots adjacent to the airport.
Establishing an airport on the most populous island in the north was a key campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen, although with a regional airport on Hanimadhoo Island – just 16.5 km or a 30 minute dhoni ride from Kulhudhuffushi, critics have questioned the feasibility and economic viability of the venture.
Environmental groups have also called the project unconstitutional, as it requires the dredging of the island’s only remaining mangrove.
The site was declared protected after the island’s second mangrove was dredged in a reclamation project in 2010. The government in February amended environmental regulations to allow dredging in protected areas.
Mohamed said islanders remains divided over the project, with supporters believing it would usher in socioeconomic development while opponents have called for affordable and reliable transport links between Kulhuduffushi and Hanimadhoo.
“Regardless, the Kulhudhuffushi Council will not obstruct the government’s plans. We have cooperated with the Housing Ministry. We will pressure the government to fulfill its pledges, and we will criticize them if they don’t build it,” he said.
However, relocating 130 households would be difficult, with families already stating they would only move with comparable compensation, he said.
According to Mohamed, people have been living on these plots for 30 years, and have invested in their homes and have started businesses including shops and carpentries on their land.
“Also, these households are on plots of land that are approximately 3,000 square feet. But new plots are only 1,400 square feet,” he said.
A possible solution would be to relocate households to the 28-hectare land that was reclaimed in 2010, but such a move would disrupt existing plans for the area, he said.
The reclaimed “New Kulhudhuffushi” is to be developed into a commercial zone with an international ferry terminal, business hubs, city hotels, a mosque and a football field, Mohamed said.
The only remaining option would be to dredge the entire mangrove to make space for the displaced households, but such a move raises further environmental implications, he said.
Approximately 10,000 people are living in 1600 households in Kulhudhuffushi, Mohamed said.
The government has said four parties have expressed interest in building the Kulhudhuffushi airport. Developers will be given a contract of 25 years and will be awarded an island for resort development for 50 years in order to subsidise the airport.
Mohamed said he expects the venture to cost at least US$25 million.