Police open detention facility in Fuvahmulah

Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed has opened a new detention centre in Fuvahmulah during a special ceremony held yesterday (April 6).

The facility – which is established within the premises of Fuvahmulah police station – can hold up to 20 detainees and consists of ten cells.

According to local media Sun Online,Commissioner Waheed said that while the police have the authority to detain persons suspected of crimes, he hoped that the facility would stay vacant most of the time.

He reportedly said that this can only be achieved if all groups work together to prevent crime in the atoll.

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Missing man from Fuvamulah found dead

The body of a missing 30 year-old Fuvamulah man, Mohamed Nafiz, has been found dead on the shore of Fuvamulah.

Nafiz was declared missing by police on January 24, at 8:00pm.

Police said the body was discovered yesterday morning at 6:27am in an area of Fuvamulah beach called ‘’Ambulu fannu’’.

Police said a forensic team and investigative team had been dispatched to the island to investigate the case, and had confirmed the body was Nafiz.

In a statement, police said fingerprints of the dead body found on the beach matched those of the missing man.

The body was discovered while Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) divers and police officers were searching for him.

Nafiz was last seen alive when he and two other friends of the same age arrived to Fuvamulah from Addu City.

Local newspaper Haveeru reported that two men have been arrested in connection with the death of Nafiz.

Haveeru reported that his family alleged he was killed by the two friends who had accompanied him to Addu.

According to ‘Haveeru’, the clothes Nafiz had been wearing were discovered on the beach, wrapped around 19 bullet-sized packets containing illegal drugs.

A councilor of Addu City, on condition of anonymity, told the paper that Nafiz may have drowned after jumping off a boat to get to shore, after attempting to avoid police officers.

Nafiz’s uncle told Haveeru that Nafiz left Fuvamulah to go fishing but later said he and his two friends had gone to Addu to traffic illegal drugs into the island.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef was not responding to calls at time of press.

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Police vehicle collides with MDP supporters on Fuvamulah, injures two

A police vehicle collided with a group of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters while it was en-route to a crime scene on Fuvamulah in Gnaviyani Atoll, where a gang had stabbed one man, injured two others and damaged parked motorcycles.

In a statement, police said the vehicle collided with a motorcycle that had turned into Ghaazee Road.

People in the area when the incident occurred vandalised the police vehicle and assaulted police officers in the vehicle, read the police statement.

Police said two persons injured in the accident, as well as the gang attack victim, were admitted to Fuvamulah Hospital.

However online newspaper ‘Kattelhi’, based in Fuvamulah, reported that the  police vehicle was returning from the crime scene at around 9:30pm when it collided with a motorcyclist, causing the driver to lose control and crash into parked motorcycles. The paper alleged the vehicle was travelling at a very high speed.

Immediately following the crash, people gathered in front of the MDP Fuvamulah Office surrounded the police vehicle, broke the glass, and attacked police officers inside the vehicle, Kattelhi reported.

Kattelhi reported that its reporters witnessed some of the officers being admitted to Fuvamulah Hospital.

The paper identified the injured two persons as Ahmed Hassan, 23 and Ali Saeed, 30 both of them Fuvamulah islanders.

According to Kattelhi one man’s head was badly injured and his body bruised, however according to Fuvamulah Hospital no one was seriously injured.

Minivan News understands that the person who received injuries to his head has been brought to Male’ for treatment.

One man suffered bruises and head injuries in the accident

Kattelhi quoted people in the area as saying that the police vehicle was travelling at an unusually high speed and that there was enough space for it in the middle of the road. MDP supporters were on both sides of road attending a meeting.

The paper identified the gang attack victim as 18 year-old Ahmed Juman, who was stabbed in the head but was not seriously injured.

Supporters of government-aligned parties later gathered near Fuvamulah Hospital and Fuvamulah Police Headquarters, claiming that they believed MDP supporters were coming to attack police, according to Kattelhi. The crowd left after police requested them to leave.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said the police statement was issued based on the information police have received so far and that the investigation into the case was ongoing.

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“I’m not a person who worships money”: Shifag defends move from MDP to PPM

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Shifag ‘Histo’ Mufeed yesterday signed for the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) during a meeting in his constituency of Fuvamullah.

The meeting was attended by the party’s leader, former President Maumoon Gayoom. Shifag was pictured in local media with the former President, draped with a garland of pink flowers.

Shifag acknowledged that charges of financial gain were likely to be levelled at any MP crossing the parliamentary divide during the political upheaval.

“I’m not a person who worships money. I feel disappointed and embarrassed that such people exist in our party. However, I want to assure you I will do whatever is in my power for you citizens, for your island, for my island, no matter which colour or which party I’ve signed on to,” Shifag said.

Shifag also explained his previous “abusive” criticism of Gayoom as the “words of a young man”who had not had any other president to compare the 30-year autocrat with.

“I was very young and politically naïve. Our history had not been written down very clearly”, he told people at a rally in Fuvahmulah yesterday.

Shifag claimed during the rally that the fall of former President Nasheed had arisen because of the actions of MDP members who had begun to act in a self-serving and dictatorial fashion.

Former Tourism Minister Mariyam Zulfa said the party had been aware that Shifag had been negotiating with other parties.

“Shifag has always been negotiating with other parties for a better deal for himself. We’ve known that he was was not one of the party faifthful, and that behind the scenes he was negotiating,” she said.

The Fuvahmulah MP had become increasingly critical of the MDP’s leadership in recent times. Last week he chose to go against the party line, attending the Majlis session in which the government’s nominees for the Vice-Presidency and the cabinet were confirmed by the coalition parties.

The official position of the MDP is that the February 7 transfer of power was orchestrated through a coup and, therefore, that the current government is illegitimate.

The MDP’s President and Vice President, Dr Ibrahim Didi and Alhan Fahmy, were removed from their posts last week after the party’s National Congress voted in support of no-confidence motions made against them. The primary reason given was the belief that the pair had been making statements in contradiction of the party’s official resolution of February 8.

Assuaging fears of further divisions within the MDP, Zulfa said that the party was “stronger than ever”.

“It is now that we should be dealing with people who are not loyal to the party philosophy. Even [former party leaders, voted out last week] Dr Ibrahim Didi and Alhan Fahmy – the time to deal with that was now. They were creating divisions at a time we need unity. As leaders they should have been uniting the party rather than questioning the way it was doing things,” said Zulfa.

All three of the parliamentary seats in Shifag’s Fuvahmullah constituency are now held by the PPM which, with the signature of Shifag, now has the largest minority representation in the Majlis with 18 members from a total of 77.

The PPM’s group leader Abdulla Yameen was confident that the party would gain more parliamentary converts, though he admitted that the “dynamic” nature of politics makes predictions difficult.

“The MDP will have to make extra efforts, they have an uphill battle to fight. They will have to arrest the movement of MPs to other parties,” he said.

The PPM’s unofficial numbers in the house became officially recognised after the victory of Ahmed Shareef in the Thimarafushi by-election in April. Prior to this, the Majlis’s PPM supporters were technically classed as independents as the party had not won any seats through the polls.

The party was formed in October 2011 after the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) split. Vice-President of the party Umar Naseer yesterday told Minivan News that he was confident the party could replace the MDP as the majority leader in the Majlis.

Unlike the rules governing the party affiliation of council members, members of the Majlis are not required to stand for re-election after changing political parties.

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Adhaalath, PPM accuses government of influencing Fuvahmulah by-election

The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and religious conservative Adhaalath Party has accused senior government officials of illegally influencing the by-election held in Fuvamulah last Saturday for a vacant atoll council seat.

In a statement yesterday, Adhaalath Party said it had received information that the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) carried out a number of activities to influence voting.

Transport Minister Adhil Saleem, Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa and Education Minister Shifa Mohamed were in Fuvahmulah on the day of the vote, Adhaalath noted, alleging that the ministers summoned Fuvamulah managers and staff at the State Trading Organization (STO) Fuvamulah branch as well as the island’s hospital and “threatened” and ordered them to vote for MDP candidate.

Education Minister Shifa phoned heads of Fuvamulah schools and asked them to vote for the MDP candidate, Adhaalath claimed.

“Fuvamulah islanders in Male’ were carried on flights to the Fuvamulah for the vote,” Adhaalath said in the statement. “When the ministers went near the area where the ballot boxes were kept to influence the election, islanders sent them away.”

PPM Media Coordinator and Vili-Maafanu MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News today that three cabinet ministers and senior officials of the State Trading Organisation (STO) were actively campaigning and “going door to door” on the day of the by-election.

“PPM calls on the Elections Commission (EC) to investigate the government’s intimidation of voters and violation of democratic principles,” he said.

Senior officials of STO told Fuvahmulah residents that work on the island’s airport could stop if they did not elect an MDP councillor, Nihan claimed.

Such actions by senior government officials cast doubt on the fairness of the by-election, Nihan argued.

Nihan said the EC should have a “better probing mechanism” to answer complaints of undue influence over elections, adding that an official should have been monitoring the situation on the ground.

Tourism Minister Dr Maryam Zulfa however dismissed the allegations today and said that the purpose of the minister’s visit was to brief the islanders and councillors about the government projects planned and ongoing in Fuvamulah.

“We did not take part in any campaign activities and the only persons we met were the island councilors and atoll councilors and we had a meeting open for all the people of Fuvamulah,” she said. “There are so many investments made in Fuvamulah and we were advised not to let it die there.”

PPM member Abdulla Mohamed Didi – who ran as an Independent as PPM had not completed the registration process – won Saturday’s by-election for the mid-Fuvahmulah atoll council seat with 861 votes (52 percent) to the 750 votes (46 percent) for the MDP candidate, Mohamed Abdulla Didi.

The seat had previously been held by MDP councillor Hassan Saeed, who was removed from the post after the Supreme Court ruled in October that his candidacy should have been disqualified over a decreed debt.

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Retreat for leaders’ spouses held in Fuvamulah

A Maldivian musical on water and a cultural village perched high on the beach were the highlights of the spousal retreat held in Fuvamulah today.

Fuvamulah, co-host of the 17th SAARC summit along with Addu City, has been the venue of activities for the SAARC Festival since the start of November.

These have included a kite festival, bashi competition (a game played exclusively by women using a badminton racket and tennis balls), and the ‘Cricket 20Twenty Cup Tournament’ among seven SAARC member nations. Beach volleyball and futsal tournaments meanwhile took place in Addu City.

“We are very happy to be part of this SAARC summit as this will open Fuvamulah to the world. Our famed thundi (southern beach) and the beauty of this island will be visible for all to see” said Ali Zaeed, Fuvamulah Councillor, ahead of today’s events.

Fuvamulah is located in the south of Maldives near Addu City, which together makes up the Southern Province. Fuvamulah is both an atoll and an island and is geographically considered to be one of the most unique islands in the Maldives, with two fresh water lakes and beaches lined with black stones, white flat pebbles, white sand and rocks located on different sides of the island.

“Indian prime minister Mr Manmohan Singh’s wife and Sri Lankan president’s wife along with spouses of foreign ministers present…is expected to come to Fuvamulah in the afternoon tomorrow” said Zaid last week. Though preparations for the spousal retreat were in full swing during the week, Zaid expected the preparations to be completed on schedule.

The spouses flew into Fuvamulah on the day that the first scheduled flights started in the newly built domestic airport.

A musical

200 secondary students performed a welcome dance near the tarmac of the domestic airport. A rehearsal of the events took place on Tuesday with first lady Laila Ali in attendance.

The dance choreographed by Munko featured a traditional dance to the song ‘Rashu Vehi’ (Island environment). The song is the first three couplets of an old Fuvamulah poem extolling the virtues of the island and its uniqueness.

After arrival the spouses proceeded to the biggest lake in Fuvamulah ‘Bandaara Kulhi.’ A newly built platform offered a splendid view of the lake where a romantic Maldivian musical was displayed.

“Performers in 11 boats in traditional attire, will depict a love story, which will show a couple falling in love, the pain of separation, before finding each other again,” said Mifraah (Mifu) Abdul Muhaimin, Fuvamulah coordinator for the official event, speaking to Minivan News last week.

“Fuvamulah has been isolated for very long, so once the hero leaves, he can’t come back easily,” Mifu said.

Coordinating rowing boats for a performance was not an easy task, though the performers from all walks of life, and ages were very enthusiastic about the musical. Though the one thing they all have in common is that they know how to swim, essential for a performance over water.

The musical takes inspiration from the story of Dhonhiyala and Alifulhu, Maldivian equivalent of Romeo and Juliette.

The soundtrack was a fusion of Maldivian songs and old forms of poetry. Among them Raivaru, a form of poetry that takes place as a dialogue between two or more people and that was used in the past to woo prospective partners.

Apart from the hero and heroine, the performers on the other boats showcased Fuvamulah handicraft, like rope weaving, weaving thatch, and making kasabu (the neckline of traditional Maldivian garment made using gold stitches)

“We have made sure that we use traditional garments and authentic stuff for all the events,” said Mifu.

Cultural display

The southern beach of Fuvamulah was the last stop for the spouses. The wide beach famous for its beauty is made up of small flat white pebbles in contrast to the white sandy beaches commonly found in Maldives.

The cultural village is on the high end of the beach with eight thatch roof huts that depicts Maldivian life of yesteryears.

“We did a lot of research to get the authentic look of each hut,” said Ali Amir, who did the concept and design of the village. MNDF created the village based on a detailed sketch of the village. Research consisted of reading what little written account was available and in reference to oral history.

“We talked to elderly people in this island. This required a lot of patience as some of them are very old and sick in some cases, so we had to meet them at times convenient to them” said Amir.

The antique furnishings inside the huts, like ashi (bench beds), swings and a 200-year-old farivalhu (container decorated with lacquer work used to serve food) among others, were sourced from different houses in the island.

The village consists of hut of fisherman, farmer, blacksmith, island chief, edhuruge (house of the only teacher) and places like a boat building hut, a yam storage place and hut of a Vaaruveriyaa (governor from central government). The latter vaaruveriya was the person charged with governing individual islands for a brief time in history until Maldives became a republic in 1953.

“The sultan would send an edict to a person he chooses appointing him as the Vaaruveriya of that island” said Ali Didi, the consultant for the project and Fuvamulah island’s resident history expert.

From that moment the Vaaruveriyaa would take charge of the running of the affairs of the island and trade from the comfort of his own house. All produce of the island, be it vegetables or fruits from trees in islander’s own backyard, had to be presented to him.

“He would not have a fixed income, but would get to keep 1/10 of all items he trades,” Didi explained.

“Most of us live in a concrete jungle now, it’s a respite to go back to the days of the past, and see the simple life again” said Amir.

The retreat come to an end with evening tea served Shiranthi Wikremasinghe, soaking in the simplicity of Maldivian lifestyle in a cultural village in one of the most beautiful spots in a unique island atoll.

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Addu Hubasaana 2011 Arts, Crafts and Food festival boosts local entrepreneurs

Minister for Economic Development Mahmood Razee inaugurated the Hubasaana 2011 Arts, Crafts and Food festival in Maradhoo Feydhoo of Addu City on Thursday, October 20. The festival, which was organized by Ministry for Economic Development (MED), will be a platform for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME).

The fair, which runs through October 22, is the culmination of a yearlong pilot project for developing local products that was conducted in the South and North of Maldives.

“The festival will showcase authentic high quality Maldivian products,” said Hamza Imad, MED’s international consultant for the project. In addition to the display of local products ranging from handicraft and woodwork to food produce, there will also be demonstrations of the making of regional delicacies like bondi (a sweet made of coconut) and kudhi gulha (fried short eat).

“The project will be expanded to other areas of Maldives next year,” said Imad.

Over 50 SMEs of nearby atolls GA, Gdh, and Fuvamulah are participating in the three-day festival, along with Addu City. Hubasaana 2011 will also be held in Hanimadhoo of Hdh atoll in early December. The event will enable SMEs from the northern atolls of HA, Hdh, Shaviyani to participate and promote their products.

Aishath Raniya Sobir, Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant for MED’s Private Sector Development Project said two Business Development Service Centers (BDSC) were set up last year in Hithadhoo of Addu City and Kulhudufushi of Hdh, to facilitate the project’s operations.

The centers provided business trainings in planning, marketing, start-up plans and technical expertise to over 5000 people from the project’s target atolls. Raniya said participants share the cost of training with MED “so that they can take ownership of this.”

Hobbies to businesses

The trainings were an important outlet for a thriving talent pool. “The islanders are very enthusiastic and talented, and a lot of time the people who came for the trainings had already been doing some handiwork as a hobby,” said Raniya.

One such person is Addu City housewife, Mariyam Naazly.

Naazly had attended various handiwork courses over the years. During a fabric painting course, Addu’s BDSC consultant gave a talk on start-up business cooperatives. Naazly said the talk motivated her to become an entrepreneur.

Joined by 10 other attendees of the course, Naazly formed the Addu Arts and Crafts Cooperative Society (AACCS), of which she is the president. The cooperative creates handicraft, like baskets of eekle broom, coconut art, bracelets from nuts found in trees and decorative items from empty rice sacks among others.

Today, Naazly’s hands are full. “We have been producing products for this fair over the past days, and we also have an order to produce 300 brooches for the Feydhoo Maradhoo schools prize giving day.”

Naazly is excited at the prospect of selling AACCS products to the resort representatives and shop owners that will come to the fair. But showing her products to fellow islanders is just as thrilling. “This is all so new here, people don’t even know what a cooperative is, I hope this fair will give us exposure and let people see the things we create.”

Discussion among islanders has innovated the crafts market.

“A participant brought a lions head done in from a pillow case, and we oriented them towards making things that exist in Maldives,” said Imad. The result was a totally new product on the market: a stuffed replica of Maldivian marine life including eels and sharks, that can be taken home as a souvenir.

The cooperative’s first workshop was held in a friend’s sitting room. Now, they share a workspace along with another cooperative provided by the BDSC. “I am also attending marketing classes at the center, for the first time I can actually make a living out of all the things I have learned,” said Naazly.

The BDSC is providing a unique professional opportunity for women, the majority of whom don’t work in the Maldives’ lucrative tourism sector due to social and religious expectations. Of the BSDC trainees, 40% have been women.

Hurdles and Opportunities

In a country that creates very little, starting a project like this had not been easy, stakeholders said. Imad and Raniya said bureaucracy and administrative work had proved to be very difficult in the initial phases. “We had to go for a change of mindset on the way people do business,” says Raniya.

But change can be a difficult lesson. “Market needs, tourist needs, we had to teach people to take this into account,” explained Raniya. Speaking of a popular Maldivian snack common in most cafes, Imad identified customer control of food as a new concept. “We can do frozen short eats, so that a person can grill it or fry it when they want to eat it,” said Imad.

A total of 60 new businesses have been started via this project, including set up of businesses and cooperatives for agriculture, arts, crafts, hydroponics, aqua culture, food processing and packaging, wood carving and goat rearing.

PADI open water certificates have enjoyed new popularity–80 locals signed up for the course. “The demand was overwhelming and we couldn’t accommodate everyone,” said IMAD. “We asked the participants to bear 20% of the costs while the government bore 80%.” Maldivians with PADI training is expected to be a huge asset to the mid-market tourism envisaged by the government.

Meanwhile, barriers between locals and resorts persist. “locals would complain that resorts had no interest in buying their product, while resorts would complain about the quality and consistency,” Raniya said.

To bridge that gap and achieve success, MED joined efforts with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Tourism, UNDP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“We also had a lot of help from Women’s Entrepreneurs Association, especially its former president late Aiminath Arif,” said Rainya.

MED will provide ongoing support to the small businesses via the BDSC in each region according to Raniya. “We will help draw up contracts and facilitate talks between the businesses and buyers. We also have introduced a loan scheme of 3 million dollars, for which we have already identified 40 beneficiaries.”

A bill that has been submitted to parliament could end up giving a huge boost to the newborn SMEs and change the face of the souvenir market in Maldives, which is at the moment flooded with foreign products. “If the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Act is passed, within 3 years 50% of products in all souvenir shops should be local,” said Raniya.

‘Made in Maldives’ could become a common thing, enabling Naazly and dozens of others like her to make a profitable business. Imad said, “We want to see a day where Maldivian local delicacies, could be marketed like Swiss chocolate.”
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Hubasaana 2011 festival will be held Maradhoo Feydhoo Social Centre in Addu city on 20-22 Oct 2011, at the SAARC Summit in Addu City from 8-10 November, and in Hanimadhoo of Hdh Atoll from 1-3 December.

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Lease to conserve?

Blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, Gnaviyani atoll Fuvamulah is also geographically unique; an atoll and an island at the same time.

One of the major attractions of the island are the two kulhi (freshwater lakes). The smaller Dhandigamu Kulhi is often used by the locals to go swimming, but Bandara Kulhi has fared worse, degrading to such an extent that few now venture near it.

“It’s almost a garbage site now, a dump site. There’s is no one to look after the place,” says Hassan Saeed, the atoll councillor.

Nevertheless Bandara Kulhi remains one of the most serene and beautiful locations on the island. Stretching across 274 meters, access to it is via marshlands and narrow paths near taro fields.

Islanders used a built a jetty off the main road seven years ago to gain access to it, however neglect has caused it to crumble to the point of being unsafe.

A novel idea

Locals enjoying
Locals enjoying

In order to reverse the damage and reopen the kulhi, a novel but controversial idea has been floated.

“We recently had [a visit from] a survey team from the ministry of fisheries and agriculture, and the report they submitted advised us that a way to generate the budget to take care of the kulhi could be to commercially commodify it,” Saeed says.

Details are sketchy: “We are just sending out feelers right now, we will consult with the agricultural ministry as well as the environmental ministry, find out which criteria we have to set, and then invite proposals,” he says.

Leasing out the land for farming or a restaurant are some of the ideas. The party who winning the lease would be entrusted the task of making sure no waste is dumped in the wetland in the area, while the money would be used to protect and maintain the kulhi.

Some are apprehensive about the idea.

“We heard about this but I’m not sure how far they have gone with the idea,” says Abdul Azeez Ismail, chairman of NGO Fuvamulah Association of Developing Infrastructure (FADI) and a member of the society for environmental awareness.

Ismail is of the opinion that leasing the land to just anybody will lead to further destruction of the place. He has reservations about opening the area to just local tourism and believes a resort should be involved

“South province state minister Mohamed Naseer once mentioned it. There are resorts in Addu and Huvadhoo Atoll, so opening it to international tourists shouldn’t be a problem,” he says, adding that mostly it is only resorts that have the capacity to care and protect the environment.

“Fuvamulah is different to other islands. So much can be done here, and the kulhi is a gift to us from nature so we have to conserve it,” he says.

Bandara Kulhi (freshwater lake): a rare sight in the tiny islands of the Maldives
Bandara Kulhi (freshwater lake): a rare sight in the tiny islands of the Maldives

Beneficial or destructive?

Islander Hassan Mohamed, 68, says “better to lease out if it could be beneficial to the islanders.”

He recalls that in the past during the governments of Mohamed Amin and Ibrahim Nasir, the kulhi was leased out: “It was well maintained at that time. There were banana plantations nearby, weeds were cut, and surroundings were kept clean.”

During Amin Didi’s time coconut husks were lowered into the kulhi, after which it was used to make choir ropes that were sold. In Nasir’s time the leasee cultivated milkfish and whenever fish was scarce they sold it to the general populace.

“In recent years nothing has been done and the place is being destroyed,” Hassan says.

Most islanders seem to agree with him.

“If done properly leasing out the kulhi area would be good,” says 32 year-old Masitha Ahmed.

Executive director of NGO Blue Peace, Ali Rilwan, says everything depends on how much the place will be altered if it were leased.

“How much mangrove will be cut? Will it be only the bank of the kulhi that is going to be leased?” he asks.

Internationally Rilwan claims it is the norm to conserve some areas as strict nature reserves, while others are regulated to ensure nature and human activities can co-exist.

“There are nature parks that are leased to private parties to protect,” he explains. However he reserves his final judgment for “when we see an environmental assessment report. Then we can talk about the merits or demerits.”

Saeed sums the argument for leasing the area. “Is it better to let the area get destroyed? Or commodify the place in order to look after it responsibly?”

Photos by Ahmed Thaumeen.

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