Precious mangrove under threat as government plans airport in Kulhudhuffushi

Environmental NGO Ecocare has expressed concern that government proposals for an airport on Kulhudhuffushi island will result in the destruction of environmentally sensitive wetland areas.

“Though the constitution it self calls for sustainable development, it is sad and absurd when politicians care less about the vulnerability of Maldives and of its ecological diversity,” read an Ecocare press release.

Minister of State for Transport and Communication Mohamed Ibrahim today admitted that, should the proposed plan go ahead, there are few options but to encroach upon the island’s only remaining mangrove.

“We don’t have the details, but the new government plans to build an airport. We have prepared concept and have shared with the atoll council and the island council, and we are awaiting their comments,” said Ibrahim.

Ecocare stated that official enquiries into the specifics of the development had yet to yield any responses.

The group pointed out that – following the complete reclamation of the island’s southern mangrove for the construction of housing -the northern mangrove had been designated to be an environmentally protected zone.

Marine biologist with local environmental consultancy Seamarc, Sylvia Jagerroos, has explained the importance of such wetlands, describing them as “one of the most threatened ecosystems on earth”.

“Mangrove support the seabed meaning they prevent erosion on beachline and also enhance protection of the island in case of storm and higher sea levels,” she said.

“They support a nursery for fish and marine fauna and aid and the reef and seagrass in the food chain. The mangrove mud flats are also very important in the turnover of minerals and recycling.

Ecocare have also raised fears that the government plans to abrogate its constitutional responsibility to protect the environment as long as the proposed plans are termed ‘development’.

“Ecocare does not believe that this is a development proposal – this is just to honour a campaign pledge…it seems that he [President Abdulla Yameen] has asked authorities to get all of these promises done in 25 months,” said Ecocare’s Maeed M. Zahir.

State minister, Ibrahim, also referred to President Yameen’s August campaign pledge, in which he had suggested that the recently developed Hanimaadhoo airport – within the same area – was not enough for Kulhudhuffushi’s development.

At just just 16.6 km – or a thirty minute dhoni ride – from the new airport, Ecocare’s statement declared: “we cannot find reason whatsoever for the construction of an Airport in the Island of HDh. Kulhudhuffushi”.

Ibrahim declined to comment on the need for an additional regional airport.

Island divided

Ecocare’s Zahir suggested that most of Kulhudhuffushi’s residents were against the development, arguing that support for the proposal came largely from “party cadres” of President Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives.

“[Ecocare] has been made aware that there is a growing population of younger more environmentally sound locals who are opposing the idea of an airport,” Ecocare stated.

In contrast, however, Kulhudhuffushi North MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa explained that a strong desire for economic development, alongside the government’s failure to promote the environmental case for preserving the wetlands, had resulted in strong local support for the plan.

“There are many many people who want the airport…My [parliamentary] election is a month ahead – my priority is to all people. Some of the people, they want to have the airport, so how can I comment against the airport,” said the opposition MP.

Asked about the potential for reclamation of the mangrove, Ghafoor suggested that economic imperatives would outweigh environmental.

“People are looking for the jobs and people are looking for better options,” he said. “Their concern is the airport so I am am also willing to have the airport.”

Ecocare’s Zahir suggested, however, aviation regulations make the development of a second airport in the region untenable, arguing that local development would be better served by improvements to the ferry network.

Ghafoor argued that, without significant government efforts to maintain the area, the mangroves were currently acting as breeding grounds for mosquitoes – furthering local indifference to the wetlands’ fate.

“So far, the government hasn’t brought [environmental importance] to public notice – through this muddy land, a lot of mosquitoes are coming. The government is not providing control and these things so people are suffering – when there is low tide, there is a lot of smell, due to the heat and all.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party MP suggested that a newly developed airport may only require the reclamation of 10-15 percent of the mangrove.

“Without my people surviving, how can my concern be on the environment?”


Q&A: MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa – Kulhuduffushi North constituency

In a series of interviews to lead into the the 2014 parliamentary elections – scheduled for March 22nd – Minivan News will be conducting interviews with incumbent MPs.

All 77 sitting members have been contacted, from across the political spectrum, to be asked a standardised set of questions with additional topicals. The interviews will be published as and when they are received.

As part of the series, Minivan News interviewed MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa.

MP Moosa represents the Kulhuduffushi North constituency and is from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), being originally elected as an independent candidate before signing for the MDP in 2010.

Daniel Bosley: What made you enter the political arena and how?

Abdul Ghafoor Moosa: In my area, in the north, during President [Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom’s regime there was no development at all, so we are joining the politics because we wanted some development of the area.

DB: Based on your attendance and work in this ending term, how would you judge your performance as an MP?

AGM: I have been in attendance at all the sessions and also have performed very well in the parliament, so I am happy about that.

DB: What are the main committees you were acting on? What particular bills did you focus on?

AGM: I have been on the Public Accounts Committee, and also the the Members Privileges Committee.

Members Privileges Committee concerns privileges of the members, the Public Accounts Committee involves the whole finance of the country and also to see what are the problems [and] where the government’s funds will be realised.

DB: What would you say are the biggest achievements within your term; in terms of what you have accomplished for your constituency and the country as a whole?

AGM: During the MDP government, we have gotten the maximum number of projects for Kulhuduffushi – like road construction and sewerage. I have looked after my people very well.

DB: What would you say is the biggest mistake or worst step you have taken in your career? Why?

AGM: In politics? So far, nothing. I don’t have anything for which I feel regret – I never did.

DB: Are you taking the optional committee allowance of an additional MVR 20,000? Why or why not?

AGM: Yes. Because my people aren’t bothered about anything I’m doing regarding the financial status – what I get I will spend to them. So they have no complaints about the salary or allowance whatsoever. There’s no complaints from my people – they never asked me not to take it.

DB: And if they did?

AGM: Then I don’t take it. There never have been any complaints regarding that. What we believe is that we are getting what we deserve. You see like government ministers, they are getting paid MVR62,000 salary, their phone bill, their car, their allowance, driver, fuel, transport – all in all it comes to around MVR180-190,000 per month. Same as court judges.

You see, if you want to go to our area, the airfare plus the transport – everything will cost about MVR6000, plus accommodation and everything. A return trip to my area will cost MVR20,000 – because, a boat cost will be MVR2500 one way, so two-way will be about MVR5000. Plus airfare is about MVR2,500.

DB: What is your view about parliamentarians and other public servants declaring their financial assets publicly for the electorate to be able to refer to?

AGM: At the moment it is there, but there is no system in the country to evaluate it. Because they are asking us to declare our assets, but there is no law – they have no right to materialise any of this legally. So what is the use? There should be a law, because the reason to declare the wealth is so they can see if there is any corruption or anything but even other government authorities don’t have any authority to check my account.

It is good to have it, but the effect is not there – there’s no income tax law here, so how can they verify my income and everything? They cannot say anything I have is illegal unless the income tax and all these things are there. The way they are doing it now – we have to declare how much money is in the account, that is my personal money which was in the account, and how much personal expenses I have, and the amount of shares I have in the company. Nothing more than that – so that is not enough to work on an investigation even.

Very rich people are in the parliament – people that don’t want to declare everything.

DB: Are you contesting in the next elections? What do you hope to accomplish should you be elected for a new term?

AGM: Yes. I have a few things to be done. Still the public health sector is lacking. What we believe is that the north is very much different from the south, and also from Malé. So we need a lot of economic activity to be done there, most important is that Hanimaadhoo airport has to invested in – because we see even Haa Dhaalu has no resort, in Haa Alif we have a few but these resorts they have paid their management four times and they’re not paying to the government or even the staff. It is not actually economically viable for these things without the airport. Airport depends on the jobs – everything. You know, we should have more economic activities, because otherwise people are not surviving there – there’s no things happening there.

So that’s my next hope, to have Hanimaadhoo airport invested in and to had Kulhuduffushi hospital developed. You go anywhere – our hospital they only have oxygen and aspirin. How can they call it a hospital? It is like a medical centre – people have to know these things very well. IGMH and  Kulhuduffushi hospitals should be at the same level. We don’t have any facilities – for everything they have to come to Malé. It is worse that when MDP was in power – there’s no proper doctors, there’s no specialists.

DB: What improvements do you feel the 18th parliament will need to make to improve as an institution?

AGM: We are in a changing process. Still things are not in a proper way. This is the first Majlis, we are sitting in the first Majlis, that has been democratically elected. So, even the government is not fully mature to have a fully democratic system. You see, whenever an authority criticises the government, even whether the the government are MDP or PPM [Progressive Party of Maldives] or whatever, the government takes it personally in the sense like they are not acting on a fact basis – and this is the problem.

They are not happy with the auditor general, they are not happy with the Anti-Corruption Commission, they are not happy with the Civil Service Commission, even the Human Rights Commission. Because the government cannot cope with these things. They always think these people are criticising they are supporting some other party – there’s no issue base. Then they don’t want to give budget to them, they are financially tightening, so many things are happening. So this is the problem we are facing today.

Even the present government is not happy with the auditor general. If there’s something wrong he has to write in the audit report. It’s nothing personal, but the government can’t cope with these things. It was happening in the MDP government also – even now we see the same things repeat.

DB: What are your thoughts on party switching – do you think it undermines the party system?

AGM: Party switching – you see we have 35 or 34 members in MDP – there are few people who was always floor-crossing. Those people are doing it, other than these we don’t have these issues with other members.

It is a problem everywhere in the world, not just in the Maldives. That same problem is continuing here and even you are likely to see in India and Pakistan this is happening.

The problem is here, the system is not working – the people they are changing the party due to some issues like the government is influencing the judiciary to attack the actions against all these and all these and these. Those things are there very much.

DB: What do you feel the major issues of concern will be for your constituents over the next five years?

AGM: As I mentioned, the health sector is very poor and there is no economic activity. Over fifty percent in the north are below the poverty level. Most of the families – maybe five or six members – only one or two persons will be earning the income – which is not more than eight or nine thousand. Still they need economic activity. If they don’t get it, it’s very difficult to survive. We have to cross the poverty level – the only option is that we have more economic activity.

The only option we are left with is the guest house policy. In the north we have very big, very beautiful islands where the locals are living, and in those islands we have ample space. A few islands we have about 5-6km beach. You know, guest house policy can work out there very nicely. But even this government is not preparing for that. That is the only option where they can get a job and be on their own island. When they can’t find a job from their island, there are a lot of other social problems – family will be living there and they will be working here [Malé] for one or two year, they went back home, there are a lot of problems.

People want to get jobs in their own place which we can do easily if the government would just support that. But those things are not happening – you know Hanimaadhoo airport? – this airport has been operating for 25 years, but still to develop it into an international airport the government doesn’t need to spend any money on this. Only thing is they have to give it to a party to do it – they can give one or two islands for that, they can give a 50 year contract for that. Last time when they called for tender, 29 parties submitted their plans but when the government changes they have all been thrown to the dustbin now. We want this airport to be a big-time airport. Tourism is the only option for the time being.

We have huge islands where agriculture can be done, plus aquaculture can also be done, but for the time being even Hanimaadhoo could be developed within one year’s time and we could have a good income there.


President Waheed inaugurates Hanimaadhoo Island road project

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has today laid the first paving stone in the road development project for Hanimaadhoo island of South Thiladhummathi atoll.

During the opening ceremony, Waheed noted that the project – the first of its kind in the island, would be finished in four or five months and would make commuting easier for locals. He also spoke of the ongoing work into a sewerage system on the island.

Yesterday, the President’s Office reported the Waheed had visited Kulhudhuffushi Island to officially open the newly completed 1.7km Ameenee Magu.

Local media reported that the President’s Office had cited the “current situation in the country over the presidential elections” as the reason for the cancellation of his engagements at the UN General Assembly in New York.


MDP and PPM clash in Kulhudhufushi during former President’s visit

A group of pro-government supporters clashed on Monday with Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters that went to Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaalu Atoll with former President Mohamed Nasheed.

According to Vice President of Kulhudhufushi Council Farooq Mohamed, a group of government supporters gathered at the harbor opposing the former president’s visit to the island.

“They gathered at the harbor before Nasheed arrived and started yelling that Nasheed would have to kill them all if he wanted to step on Kulhudhufuhsi,’’ Farooq said. “Then a boat full of MDP supporters arrived at the island and the government supporters threw stones and other things at the boat.’’

He said that MDP supporters and government supporters then clashed “and threw things at each other.”

“There were no major injuries reported but they vandalised one of the boats that arrived with MDP supporters,’’ Farooq said.

He also alleged that the police officers on the island sided with government supporters.

According to Kulhudhufushi’s online newspaper, supporters of the government tried to block former President Nasheed’s planned visit to the island and threw stones and water bottles at the boat that arrived to the island with supporters of MDP, prior to Nasheed’s arrival.

In a statement, police said that there was unrest in Kulhudhufushi when the former President arrived, but said it was controlled.

Several police officers who worked to control the unrest were injured, police said in the statement, adding that police were still active on the island to control unrest.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Media Coordinator and MP Ahmed Nihan and PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Mahlouf did not respond at time of press.

On January 25, 2011, Kulhudhufushi was the scene of the first cabinet meeting to be held outside Male’.

Nasheed’s cabinet discussed developing roads on the island, harbours, house construction, utilities and how to use recently reclaimed land on the island.

In October 2010 the dredging vessel Queen of the Netherlands increased the size of the island by a third within two weeks.

The growth of the island has left islanders a little disconcerted, Kulhudhuffishi Councillor Jamsheed Mohamed told Minivan News at the time.

“When we wake up in the morning, the island is bigger than we left it the night before,” Mohamed said.

Not everybody was pleased with the island’s expansion. Fisherman Mohamed Iqbal said the new harbour “is very far from where people live, which means that anybody wanting to buy fish has to walk a longer distance on Kulhudhuffushi than they ever have had to before.”


Government ‘speeding up’ island development projects: President Nasheed

Island projects including provision of utilities services like water and electricity, establishing sewerage systems, and roads construction projects, are being hastened by public-private partnerships, said President Nasheed in his weekly radio address.

The President launched three major development projects in Kulhudhuffushi on Thursday including roads, housing and water supply projects.


A little about Alison, IVP volunteer

Alison Warnock is a 24 year old from Edinburgh, Scotland. She describes herself as “a very over-enthusiastic Scottish girl” and says she absolutely loves the Maldives.

She is starting her second year teaching at Jalaluddin School in Kulhudhuffushi Island in Haa Dhaalu Atoll, in the upper-north province, as part of the International Volunteer’s Program (IVP).

She was working at a cancer charity in Scotland when her friend Sarah, who was also a volunteer in 2009, heard about the IVP. She asked Sarah if she could come along for the interview and got the job. Alison “saw what an incredible opportunity it was and took it.”

Her friends and family were all very excited about her coming, and some of them were slightly jealous. She says “there’s a misconception that every single island will look like the resort islands, with houses on stilts in the water and long, white sandy beaches.”

Even though she knew there would be some home comforts that she would miss, she packed her bags and flew half-way around the world.

Coming to Kulhudhuffushi

Alison arrived in the Maldives in May 2009 and taught until November of the same year. She then went home for five weeks and returned to the Maldives in January 2010.

Coming from a city like Edinburgh to a small island like Kulhuduffushi would be a great challenge for many people, but Alison says she “thrives in small communities”. She attended St. Andrew’s University, a soon-to-be 600 year old university in Scotland, which has “about 3,000 people less than the island.”

“I’m quite used to the small community feel where everybody knows your name. I like knowing where everything is and who everybody is. I love being in small communities, especially when everybody is so welcoming and friendly and everything is so beautiful.”

She says the entire community has been very supportive of her.

“If my washing machine isn’t working or I don’t know how to cook something, they all help me.” She says she never feels alone.

She is picking up some Dhivehi, but says she can understand a lot more than she can speak.

“My accent doesn’t help,” she says with a giggle, “it makes words sound completely wrong, and sometimes it just means a completely different thing.”

Her neighbour finds Alison “hilarious” and they have bilingual conversations in the mornings.

Jalaluddin School

Alison is currently teaching three biology classes at Jalaluddin School: two grade 9 classes and one grade 10 class. One of her grade 9 classes is one she also taught last year, and she says they work like a “well-oiled machine” now: “I’m getting used to them and they’re getting used to me.”

The school’s head of department gave her an “idea of what needs to be taught and over what time-frame” at the beginning of the term. The departments then have weekly meetings where they discuss what the students have been learning.

“You can’t choose what to teach, but you have freedom to do it in whatever way you want,” she says, adding that her students enjoy films and slideshows. She’s teaching them about the heart this week.

The program has provided her with everything she needs and she says “even the things I didn’t think I would need I can get easily on the island.”

The school went on a science trip once, and Alison says it was nice to be around her students in a non-classroom environment which allowed her to get to know them better.

“Everybody is really friendly, and we have been on some really nice staff trips. They have been some of the best days here for me, going on picnics to uninhabited islands.”

Home Sickness?

Alison has travelled to Canada and Thailand, among other places, but she has never been away from home for so long. “I’m really enjoying it, it’s an amazing country, it’s wonderful.”

The school organised a house for her, with bright purple and aqua walls, which is less than a five minute bicycle ride from the school.

“The house is so uplifting: I never feel depressed,” she says.

Although every now and then she gets a craving for something (unhealthy) to eat from back home, “some ice cream or chocolate or popcorn,” she says she loves Maldivian food. “It’s so healthy and tasty; just looking at my skin I can see how good the food is for me.”

Alison also tutors a girl after class and says the girl’s mother has just about adopted her. “She’s always checking up on me and she gives me dinner.”

Alison says she’s very lucky that the school has really good internet access.

“The internet just makes the world so much smaller. I can keep in touch with everyone,” she says. She speaks to her parents every Friday so she doesn’t “feel so far away.”

She loves the lifestyle, the colours, the food, the weather, the view, and her job. And she says if she ever gets stressed, she just has to walk 500 feet and she’s at a spectacular beach: “What’s not to like?”

Alison will continue to teach until November this year, when she will decide whether or not to renew her contract for a third year. “I don’t know if I will renew it again,” she says. “It’s something about the Maldives, I don’t have to look too far ahead.”

There are currently fourteen other education volunteers in different islands throughout the Maldives working through the IVP.

The International Volunteer’s Program (IVP) began operating in 2009 in a partnership between Friends of Maldives (FOM), the Ministry of Health and Family, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is coordinated principally by the Maldivian High Commission in London.

Its intent is to recruit qualified teachers and health professionals from overseas. The education volunteers teach in local schools in small island communities.