Marine Reclamation in Maldives : debt, destruction and damage in a climate emergency
Video documenting Gulhifalhu and Addu reclamation ecocide, released by #SaveMaldives Campaign
On 14 January 2023, the #SaveMaldives Campaign held an event in Male’ to release a video documenting two ongoing infrastructure projects in the Maldives that threaten several marine protected and sensitive areas in the country. The Gulhifalhu reclamation project and Addu Atoll reclamation project are multi-million dollar projects contracted to two global dredging corporations, Royal Boskalis and Van Oord of Netherlands. The Gulhifalhu reclamation is expected to cost US$120 million while Addu Atoll reclamation cost is an estimated US$84 million. Only the Addu Atoll reclamation ecosystem loss and damage has been partially valued in its environmental impact assessment, at between US$343 to US$858 million. These projects will cause irreversible ecological loss and damage to natural marine defences endangering the future climate resilience and security of communities in the Maldives. They also threatened to destroy sustainable natural ecosystem services and livelihood resources of those dependent on these assets, which include both small and large tourism and fishery sector stakeholders.
The #Maldives is among the world’s lowest lying nations, with most of its coral islands lying one meter above mean sea-level. As global climate breakdown and sea-level rise poses an existential threat to the country, Maldives has been raising its climate vulnerable status at international forums for the past three decades. In February 2020, the Maldives parliament, the People’s Majlis declared a Climate Emergency in the country. In May 2021, President Solih ratified the Maldives first Climate Emergency Act, which fails to address the most pressing environmental issue affecting the country. This is the consistent and constant, irreversible destruction of natural defences and ecosystems in the name of development that is unsustainable.
Consecutive governments in the Maldives continue to destroy critical reef defence systems while simultaneously calling for global climate financial assistance to address climate vulnerability. The government of Maldives has been engaging in significant ecosystem destruction to build debt-intensive infrastructure projects that fail to support local communities and basic services. For more than a decade, the government has engaged global dredging corporations Royal Boskalis and Van Oord of Netherlands to conduct increasing large-scale, environmentally unsustainable and ecologically irreversibly destructive reclamation projects. The government has also been expanding the dredging capacities of its own state owned enterprise, MTCC Plc. The vast majority of reclaimed land in the country remains unused, over a decade after the projects. These projects are also notable for their failure to adequately consult local communities and those that would be most affected by the destruction. They are also notable for completely disregarding the concerns of the few key stakeholder they do consult.
This video production focuses on two major current reclamation projects that endanger multiple critical marine ecosystems including long-standing nationally marine protected areas. This short 14 minute documentary highlights the planned ecocide of Gulhifalhu lagoon to build a contested port, and the planned extensive reclamation of Addu Atoll, which was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2020. Both projects are debt intensive during a time of debt distress experienced by the Maldives, which suffered significant economic challenges due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The Gulhifalhu and Addu Atoll reclamation projects are multi-million dollar debt contracts with global banks and dredging corporations. While laws exist to protect the environment in the Maldives, these laws are not being enforced or implemented. The Maldives Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a token, non-independent institution under the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology. In both these cases, the EPA which has little to no capacity to monitor the projects, nor studies their impacts, had given their approval to continue the projects. Concerns expressed by civil society stakeholders including the #SaveMaldives Campaign, who have called to stop these projects have been ignored by the authorities. The situation is worsened by a lack of accountability of state institutions and significant concerns about endemic and embedded corruption in government projects and activities.
The government’s wilful destruction of reef defences undermine the future climate security of communities unaware and uninformed about the impending impacts of global climate breakdown. These projects also inflict loss and damage to sustainable natural livelihood resources, which have not been adequately valued or accounted. Through this video, the #SaveMaldives Campaign seeks to highlight the debt, destruction and damage by unsustainable development practices that threaten to undermine natural defences, livelihood assets and expose communities to climate disasters. As we all face climate uncertainty and an existential threat to life in Maldives, this story highlights reckless disregard to climate security and sustainability by the government of Maldives.
The #SaveMaldives Campaign wishes to thank all the contributors to this initiative. We would like to extend a special thanks to Afrah Ismail, Co-Founder of Zero-Waste Maldives and Dr Ibrahim Mohamed who provided his independent expert opinion on environmental and related social issues in the Maldives. Their contributions towards this project makes this production all the richer. We thank civil society and media stakeholders who accepted our invitation and joined the release event on Saturday. Last but not least, we thank the Madhoship team for their skilful weaving of this critical message which we hope will reach audiences both in the Maldives and abroad.