Economy is now more imperative than the environment

The former president, Yameen Abdul Qayyoom’s administration was mainly criticised for prioritising development over the damages caused to the environment. He was criticized for paying more importance to economic growth at any cost, whether it be sacrificing green lands, wetlands, and or coral reefs.

On the contrary, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had policies that opposed it and had heavily criticised the former government for their decisions that negatively impacted the environment. When bore holes were drilled to construct Sina-Male’ Bridge connecting Male' and reclaimed suburbs Hulhumale', the then opposition MDP voiced its concern over the environmental impact. There was fury over the decision to develop an airport in Kulhudhuffushi City after reclaiming a wetland.

MDP is the main-ruling party of the present administration, and boasts a supermajority at the parliament, with which comes the unyielding power over the decision making.

One of the projects being pursued by the current administration includes the relocation of Male' Commercial Port to industrial island Thilafushi. A large area of the lagoon will be reclaimed for the project. While the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has raised concern over the impact it will have on coral reefs, the matter became even more complicated after the Planning Minister, who used to be an environment advocate, announced that the project will be carried out despite any environmental impacts that stem from the project.

Planning Minister Mohamed Aslam said the government is conscious of the environmental impact due to the Gulhifalhu project, and told the parliament’s Committee on Environment and Climate Change that all development projects such as land reclamation, harbour development and construction of airports have huge environmental impacts. However, the projects are crucial for economic development, said the minister - which apparently trumps any effects it may have on nature.

“The project’s economic value and its positive impact on the nation are way too high. Our government believes that there is no other way that we can widen the door for importing and exporting in the Maldives”, sad minister Aslam.

Vilimale’ - a ward of Male' city on a separate island- lagoon is being used for various school activities and as an area the public can use freely for leisure.

However, since the beginning of the reclamation work in Gulhifalhu, Vilimale's lagoon has become muddy and unclear. The sandy water is being deposited on the reefs of Vilimale’. The issue was noted in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report previously as well. The project is still being implemented, and all measures recommended in the report to minimise the impact on the environment are being disregarded.

Environment Minister Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan said tests are being conducted to study the extent of the water getting soiled and that he will ensure that the matter is handled as per the EPA’s instructions.

"The government wants to ensure that it does not go above [alert] level 5, which is the acceptable level. However, there is nothing that can be done to stop the work when it is within the permitted level”, said the minister.

Contrary to that, as per the letter sent by Maldives Coral Institute to the parliament, the reclamation work of Gulhifalhu is being carried out without taking measures to minimise the impact on the environment. The corals and underwater species are being threatened due to the project. The coral reefs are getting covered by the sandy mud and damaging it. The dive site of the region has also been affected.

"These days there is an increasing concern that coral reefs of the Maldives are bleaching and this issue is an added concern. The relevant authorities have the legal power to stop the project without any compensation if irrecoverable damage is caused”, stated in the letter.

According to the government, the majority of the public’s interest is linked to economic gain. Even though the construction of the bridge and airport were rebuked , today, its gains and advantages are higher. Ofcourse, the Gulhifalhu project will be considered an important investment in the future - but at what cost? While the project continues to be implemented, giving a ‘deaf ear’ and ignoring concerns are still wrong.

The earlier talks of environment and preferring environment over economic gain has now changed. The underwater protests and other fancy stunts are no longer in play. What the country is now left with is a home that may be destroyed for good - all in the name of development.