Government calls for Environmental Impact Assessment for new waste yard in Malé

Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure is seeking parties to conduct an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) to construct a waste yard on the south of Malé, local media have reported.

The Ministry will hold an information session on Thursday (May 8) for interested parties, who will be asked to submit the financial and technical proposals before 11:00 a.m. on 15 May, Housing Ministry said in an announcement on Monday.

In an effort to alleviate the long overdue waste management issue in the capital, the government is seeking to reclaim the lagoon area opposite Maafannu Stadium.

Waste is now collected on a barge docked near the Vilimalé ferry terminal, a temporary arrangement made after the City Council’s failure to empty the waste grounds in a timely manner, local media report.


Meedhoo dredging halted for noncompliance with environment regulations

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has stopped dredging in Meedhoo, Dhaalu atoll, after the recently started project failed to take measures to protect its environmental impact.

Director General of the agency Ibrahim Naeem told Minivan News that the project was approved by the agency after completing an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), but that the dredging was carried out against the conditions under which it was approved.

The US$10.8 million government project to have 17.5 hectors of land reclaimed and a 485 metre revetment constructed in Meedhoo is being implemented by Netherlands’ Boskalis International.

It was inaugurated last week by President Abdulla Yameen and is expected to be completed within eighteen months of commencement.

Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz had told local news agency Sun today that the dredging had been halted in order for the vessel to be brought to Malé to repair a pump.

Acknowledging that dirt was sprayed on to the island while dredging, he said that safety measures will be taken in the future.

Minivan News was unable to obtain a response from the Ministry of Housing regarding the issue at the time of press.

According to the EPA, one of the main issues leading to the project’s halting was the failure to build a ‘bund wall’ to contain the excess dredge spoil from spilling into the ocean. Another key issue was using the rainbowing technique – the propulsion of materials through the air in a high arc – instead of using pipelines to take the the sand closer to the land.

“If it is required, action will be taken as per regulations,” Naeem explained.

Local environmental NGO Ecocare which – also looking in to the issue – said the organisation is currently communicating with head office of the Royal Boskalis Westminster in the Netherlands,  who are also “concerned and very much alarmed about the situation”.

“As soon as we got information from the island we informed the authorities and we are communicating with Boskalis as well. It is very sad that such an incident happened,” said Maeed M. Zahir of Ecocare.

“Boskalis has a reputation for implementing their projects in a sustainable and environment friendly manner and follow international standards. They are also investigating the incident,” he added.

He said from the reports and pictures from the area, the failure to take mitigation measures had resulted in a negative impact on the island.

“The whole shoreline vegetation is covered in sea water and sand. It is all white now. In addition to this, trees inland have also been affected by this. Leaves are falling off many trees,” Maeed explained, noting that  people living there have also been directly affected by the incident.

According to Ecocare, rainbowing has left “fine sediments ‘raining’ on rooftops and on the vegetation cover near shore and inland”.

A statement issued today by the NGO said that layers of sedimentation found on some rooftops were 2-3 inches thick, large trees on the shoreline and inland had also been affected and are now drying and dying.

“The implications to the environment are frightening while property both public and private are at risk,” the statement added.

Applauding the swift action taken by the EPA concerning the issue, Maeed expressed concern that such an incident had happened on a government project.

“It is very important for them to monitor such projects even if it has been handed over to a private company,” he said.


ACC uncovers corruption in flagship housing programme

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has uncovered corruption in the flagship-housing programme Veshifahi Malé, with officials accused of violating the programme’s publicised vetting procedures in grading applications.

The Veshi Fahi Male’ de-congestion programme was a project of the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) under its manifesto pledge to provide affordable housing.

The project was launched on November 10, 2010 to ease congestion in the capital and develop the Greater Male’ Region, composed of Hulhumale’, Vili-Male’, Thilafushi industrial island and Gulhifalhu.

In a statement on Thursday, the ACC ordered the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure to invalidate applications of 139 of 448 individuals who had been deemed eligible for flats under the category C.

Long-time residents of Malé City are eligible for flats under the C category.

Officials had accepted incomplete and or falsified information and failed to cross check the validity of documents in grading applications in the categories of period of residency in Malé, period registered on Malé City’s municipal roster, duration of marriage and employment, salary, spouse’s salary and number of children under 18, the ACC said.

According to the ACC, of the 139 invalid applications, 111 of the applicants or their spouses already owned a plot of land measuring 600 square feet or had already received a flat under a separate government housing programme.

A further 33 were not even registered on the Malé City’s municipal roster. An additional eleven had submitted false information and the police have been asked to take action, the ACC said.

The ACC has ordered the Ministry of Housing to annul the list of individuals eligible for flats under category C and restart the grading process.

Approximately 125,000 people are believed to reside in about 16,000 households in Male’- the total number of households in the Maldives is estimated to be 46,000.


Home Ministry ask police to take over Usfasgandu area

Minister of State for Home Affairs Mohamed Fayaz has told Sun Online that the Police have been asked to take over the Usfasgandu area following the non-compliance of Male’ City Council (MCC) in handing the area over to the Ministry of Housing and Environment.

He is reported as saying that the police have been requested to do this as soon as possible, although discussions are said to be ongoing.

The raised area behind the Dharubaaruge convention centre is currently being used as the base for the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protests. Most recently, weekly marches around Male’ originate and terminate at Usfasgandu.

The jurisdiction of the area has been under question for weeks, with the Housing Ministry first making clear its intentions to claim the area April 9. The ministry informed the MCC by letter that it had three days to remove the MDP from the area.

The Ministry argues that leasing the area to a group for political purposes contravenes the deregulation act under which the land was granted to the MCC.

In a precursor to this issue, the previous area at Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu used for the staging of the MDP’s operations, dubbed ‘Justice Square’, was dismantled by police and the MNDF on March 19. The subsequent court case was dismissed on a technicality and, after being re-submitted, has recently been delayed once again following for a similar reason.

The MCC has remained defiant, last week writing to the Police, the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) and the Housing Ministry, arguing that the area was fulfilling a pressing need for large numbers of people to conduct political activities without inconveniencing residents of Male’ City. It also dismissed the legal right of the government to claim the area.

Just last week Sun reported the police’s denial that they would take over the area, following rumours that their arrival was imminent.

The Housing Ministry has also recently removed Sultan Park and the artificial beach area from the council’s jurisdiction.

“Maldives Police Service believes that such SMS’s can create fear in the society; there is no truth in the stories being spread that the Police are planning to take over Usfasgandu. Police are not making any preparation in this regard,” Sub-inspector Hassan Haneef told Sun.


Cabinet creates administrative framework on land use

The Cabinet has decided on an administrative framework on land use, which was put in place yesterday.

The framework includes how the government can use and manage the country’s land, including sandbanks and lagoons.The Ministry of Housing, Transport and Environment will keep a register of all the lands in Maldivian territory.

The framework stipulates that islands given for government ministries can be given to a third party only with the Cabinet’s approval.

The Cabinet also discussed their 2007 decision to build five airports in different islands, and decided to continue to construction of all five airports.


Residential Properties Bill accepted by Parliament

The Residential Properties Bill intended to regulate the housing rental industry has been accepted by Parliament.

Independent MP for Kulhudhuffushi-South, Mohamed Nasheed originally presented the bill to the Parliament in November 2009, which aims to protect the rights of both tenants and landlords. It has been in the queue system since.

The bill was widely based upon the Residential Tenancies Act (1987) of New South Wales, Australia, and proposes the creation of a tenancy deposit scheme, with deposits made at the start of a tenancy to be held by the government rather than individual landlords.

There would be a limit on how much the deposit could be and tenants would have the right to appeal if they believe they are not getting a fair rental price.

When he first presented the bill in 2009, Nasheed told Minivan News stricter housing regulations are necessary in a city as overcrowded as Malé, where demand for accommodation dramatically outstrips supply, leaving tenants vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords.

Even then, Nasheed admitted the bill was controversial and said he was unsure it would be passed as it was, but now that it has been accepted by the Majlis, Nasheed said he has “greater hope that a compromise will be reached between those who agree with it and those who don’t.”

“I basically looked at it from a consumer protection point of view,” he said. “So far [housing] has been regulated by ordinary terms of contract.”

Nasheed said he wanted to protect the rights of both the tenant and the landlord, and hopes the bill will help the market by leaving “less room for undue influence.”

The bill was accepted by 45 votes, “seven votes above majority,” Nasheed noted. It will now be sent to a committee before being sent back to Parliament for approval.

“I hope it will all be over in six months,” Nasheed added.

knocking down house
Demolishing a house in Malé

A holistic approach to the housing crisis

Minister for Housing, Transport and Environment, Mohamed Alsam, said the bill “has got rather ridiculous things in it. It’s very foolish to control the market.”

Aslam said the government was trying a more “holistic approach” to the housing crisis in Malé by “diverting demand elsewhere.”

He said the best thing to do was to improve services in other islands and provinces, so people would want to move out of Malé and back to their homes.

“It’s a national development issue,” he said. “Other parts of the country aren’t attractive enough.”

Aslam said that is where the government’s decentralisation plan comes into play. “We have always seen the issue of housing as a broad development issue, not an isolated thing. If we leave Malé as it is, no law will regulate it.”

Although the minister did admit “certain elements of [the bill] are good,” he said “I don’t think I would go with it.”

Housing in Malé

With a growing population of over 100,000, Malé is among the most densely populated cities on the planet, and the housing crisis is only getting worse as more people migrate from other islands and demands grow, allowing rental prices to spike.

Due to the high demand and low supply for housing in Malé, many people who own land choose to rent it out for extra income, either by renting a part of their house or giving the land for the construction of apartment buildings.

A 2008 report by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) found that 68 percent of families in Malé were living in accommodation that “qualifies as slums by UN definitions.”

Additionally, they found survey participants spent 85 percent of their income on rent and utilities in Malé and Vilingili. They also found some landlords were increasing rent “at will” and forcibly evicting tenants if they were unable to meet their ever-increasing demands.

Effects of overcrowded areas

There are many other issues with overpopulation besides money and rental control; health problems, psychological welfare and even sexual abuse have all been directly connected to living in overcrowded areas.

Dr Jorge Mario Luna, World Health Organization (WHO) representative to the Maldives, wrote: “Several social problems are also faced within the household including child abuse, psychological impact in growing up in areas of overcrowding, breakdown of many families due to the hardship faced by them stimulating a ripple effect of social disorder for the families, particularly the children caught in the situation.”

Buildings in Malé
Buildings in Malé

Dr Luna added: “It is important to note that the major drivers, or social determinants, of health in urban settings are beyond the health sector, including physical infrastructure, access to social and health services, local governance, and the distribution of income and educational opportunities.”