Environmental preservation not significant for state?

A new year has commenced and many of headed into 2018 with a set of to-do lists and resolutions that they jotted down for self improvement or for the betterment of the community as a whole.

Speaking of community, it would be unwise to exclude the environmental setting surrounding the community and how it contributes to the livelihood of the humans taking up shelter around it.

Last year has been a remarkable year for Maldives in economical and social growth. However it had also been a tumultuous one for many others as well; especially for environmentalists and environment protection groups.

This article intends to shed light into a powerful and sensational story that made the headlines of every local newspaper of Maldives in 2017. It is the story of Kulhudhuffushi airport development.

Back in 2013 when the current president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom was campaigning with the support and backing of his elder half brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom along with several high-profile political members, he had graced the island of Kulhudhuffushi and delivered a promise of establishing an international airport in the island.

The news indeed was a surprising but a promising one and it had acted as the perfect catalyst to garner votes in favor of Abdulla Yameen from the northern-hub; Kulhudhuffushi.

But the promise was a bland and hollow one for nearly four years since Yameen swore to president's office.

Then in 2017, came the news of Maldives Transport and Contracting Company's (MTCC) gargantuan hopper-suction dredger getting completed and on its way to Kulhudhuffushi. Its purpose? To commence the land and mangrove reclamation project in the island to develop the airport - which many have come to identify as an airstrip.

This had almost instantaneously sparked outrage among several environmentalists and key environment protection groups as well as within the younger generations who have been environmentally conscious.

Many took on to Twitter to release their anger and frustration while several pro-environment individuals promoted the preservation and protection of local mangroves and their cultural values as heritage sites.

Several environmentalists had shared their expert opinion and views on the importance of protecting natural trenches which acts as drainage systems to islands that are formed in 'bowl' shape. While others were adamant to send their opinion to relevant government authorities to abandon the destruction of environment for the sake of progress.

But as natural and obvious as any sensational issue goes ahead in Maldives, the situation quickly became politicized by several pro-government members entering into the debacle with stern choice of words and a seemingly arrogant stance against pro-environmentalist notions.

Government officials were constantly reiterating the importance of keeping true to president's manifesto of developing an airport at Kulhudhuffushi while they were almost all of the time, vague about their remarks on the apparent destruction of a 22-hector swamp area.

Among the reasons why the reclamation of 6 hectors from mangrove sparked criticism includes the large swamp being the only clay-bed (Mashi) mangroves in Maldives as well as it is considered one of the largest fresh water landscapes in the country.

One of the most notable moments during the #SaveKulhudhuffushiKulhi came when a prolific southern political member had expressed such vacant grounds as "useless" venues.

Amid the constant complains from environmentalist groups and individuals pro-government parliamentarians and members maintained their "no-nonsense" yet a certain disrespectful attitude towards answering to the vox populi.

While the people of Kulhudhuffushi along with several pro-environment groups had failed to succeed in stopping the government in their attempt to reclaim the mangrove, it is important to place the question of why the state refuses to properly acknowledge people's concerns and their opinions before proceeding with such grand-scale projects.

This year will mark an end to president Yameen's first term, and he is strapping the belt up to run for office for a second term. But throughout his administration, the government had exercised a rather inconsiderate governing system; that refuses or refrains from taking people polls or voices into concern.

Yameen's cabinet as well as his sympathizing elites in the government or parliament had constantly ignored questions raised against the destruction of environmental sites for developmental projects. Often at times, receiving a vague and an undesirable response from them.

The critical nature of reclaiming such vegetative site came into broader light when recently an international organization named Mangrove Action Project (MAP) had written a letter to president Abdulla Yameen, highlighting on the importance of preserving such a large natural landscape and its environmental contribution. The organization had also recommended to seek alternatives in developing the airport which would leave the mangrove site from getting damaged any further.

But based on precedent track records of the incumbent state, it is safe yet sad to claim that the government will take heed of any of these claims or recommendations. However a low lying country that gets tossed across the waves of any drop in climatic temperature or facing the barrel of the gun over any rise in the sea level, could benefit from having a government that upholds the important values of preserving and protecting the environment.

For a country like Maldives - that advertises its sandy beaches and crystal clear waters for the world to come and get a taste of - there may not be any left if we continue to annihilate the surrounding blessings in the name of development.