Environment minister issues greenlight for Maafaru airport expansion

The Minister of Environment Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan has given the green-light to carry out the expansion of Maafaru International Airport despite the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) advising against the move.

Based on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted by EPA on the project, the agency concluded that the reasons listed as justifications for expanding the airport to be able to land twin jets of Boeing-777s are not reasonable in comparison to the negative environmental impacts that will be caused by pursuing the project. The frequency of Boeing 777 aircraft that would operate to Maafaru Airport is also unknown, noted EPA.

While a large percentage of the Maafaaru lagoon will be lost permanently if the project is pursued, it will have an impact on the surrounding eco-system of the lagoon, said the report. Maafaru is also a popular site at which turtles lay eggs, therefore, the expansion of the airport will directly impact that aspect of the environment, said EPA. Additionally, over 22,000 trees currently existing on the island will be affected, noted the report.

Environment Ministry on Sunday said the decision to go ahead with the project was taken after extensively reviewing the addendum to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report issued by EPA on the proposed project after the Planning Ministry appealed the EPA recommendation at the Environment Ministry. This can be done under the regulations on preparing EIA reports. According to the regulations on the preparation of EIAs, if an appeal is filed on the recommendation made in an EIA, a decision taken on the appeal by the minister must be shared with the appellant within 15 working days. The issue was appealed by the Planning Ministry at the Environment Ministry on December 30.

"Under Article 15 of the regulations, the issue was reviewed by an officer from the Environment Ministry who prepared a report on his findings. Said report, along with the second addendum to the proposed airport development project at Maafaru, specifically the last paragraph of the report's conclusion that states that, "it is recommended to implement the project such that mitigation measures to minimise the negative environmental impacts of the project, a management plan and alternatives as well as monitoring plans are specified,", and the findings of the team from Environment Ministry who visited Maafaru island to research the issue from January 7-8 and the discussions undertaken by the team with the island council, citizens and atoll councillors were taken into account, in addition to the discussions conducted with the heads of Civil Aviation Authority, Maldives Association For Tourism Industry (MATI) on January 9," said the statement issued by the Environment Ministry announcing their minister's decision.

The ministry said the permit was issued by the Minister of Environment on condition that mitigation measures to minimise negative impacts are undertaken, and a management plans and monitoring plan as recommended in the EIA report is carried out.

An international airport was officially opened on Maafaru island earlier this year by the current administration. Although the development of the airport on the island with a population of 1257 people was initiated by the previous administration under former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom's tenure, attempts were made even prior to that to develop an airport on the island since 2007. The Maldives government entertained the idea of developing an airport at Maafaru for about 15 years.