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Airport and hotel project on Fainu island, Maldives


Residents of Fainu are concerned that a new airport and hotel project, suddenly announced at the end of May 2018, will swallow up most of their island. The concept drawing shows the development taking up about two-thirds of the island land area with the airport runway extending along the entire southern coastline. The Maldives Independent calculated that 31 hectares of vegetation would be lost, an area equivalent to 57 football fields and encompassing a dense jungle area and agricultural land. Land earmarked for a gated hotel is shown on the concept layout as an area adjacent to the airport.

A female resident of Fainu speaking anonymously to the Maldives Independent said that rumours of an airport on the island had circulated since she was a child, but all of a sudden the airport agreement was signed, funding allocated and work about to commence, yet even the island council did not have information. Another woman said “If they take our land for all of that, we will be boxed into the populated areas of the island like an open jail”. Residents also stand to lose access to 2.18 kilometers of beautiful beach to the airport security zone and hotel. Islanders opposing the airport are concerned that even more land might be taken for a second hotel [1].

The Maldives government gave the lease of Fainu island to Island Aviation Services to construct and operate the airport [2]. Residents only realised exactly what was planned when a drawing of the plans was leaked [3]. Additional airport-related developments, namely a medical facility, hangar, lounges and restaurants have been mentioned [4].

Residents acted quickly to form a campaign opposing the airport: SaveFainu. On 3rd July 2018 a petition was submitted to the Tourism Ministry, Universal Enterprises and Island Aviation, signed by 140 people and calling for more transparency from the Tourism Ministry, proper consultation with islanders and an independent EIA. Some of the islanders travelled to the capital, Malé, to submit the petition. Mohamed Waheed, a leading activist in the SaveFainu campaign said that some residents did not sign the petition for fear of losing their jobs, but were worried that such a large amount of the island would be lost to the airport and concerned about the secrecy and lack of transparency regarding the project. People who signed the petition believed the lack of consultation is aimed at “stifling the voice of Fainu people and deceiving them.”

Before the petition was submitted a number of islanders said their concerns were being silenced with threats of dismissal from government jobs. Islanders are worried that loss of farmland to the airport would mean the loss of farming livelihoods. Waheed said job opportunities at the airport would not match the incomes made by people working on farms and pointed out that a comparable airport on Kudahuvadhoo island only employs 29 people. Opponents of the airport consider it unnecessary. Raa atoll already has a domestic airport just 26 kilometres away from Fainu at Ifuru island, which can be reached in 25 minutes by speedboat [5].

Fainu Airport is one of 17 planned new airports in the Maldives and three new airports - on the islands of Kulhudhuffushi, Funadhoo and Maafaru - are already under construction. Environmental and socio-economic damage of the type that appears to be imminent on Fainu island, including deforestation, loss of rural livelihoods destruction of coastal ecosystems due to land reclamation, are already evident, as documented in the Irreversible Damage, Destruction and Loss in the Maldives report by Save#Maldives [6]. ECOCARE Maldives raised concerns that the Fainu Airport project might repeat the problems with construction of other airports, with failures to minimise damage, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) recommendations not being followed and mitigation measures not being implemented [4].

On 7th November 2018 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the EIA forFainu Airport, prepared by Water Solutions consultants.[7] Mohamed Waheed criticised the rushed consultation period; the deadline for submitting comments was just six days later on 13th November. He also said that the consultants who prepared the EIA only met with people who approved the airport plans and that islanders wanted an unbiased report prepared by independent consultants. The EIA noted that the airport plans no longer included two ‘city hotels’ which would have taken up a large area of vegetation including farmland.

According to the report 5,792 trees would be uprooted for the airport project, with loss of banyan trees which live for hundreds of years, including the largest on the island standing at 29 meters. ECOCARE Maldives and several activists and conservation advocates submitted comments on the EIA including questions about unspecified plans to compensate for loss of natural resources.[8]

On 14th November the EPA rejected the EIA.[9] On the day of this announcement members of SaveFainu protested outside the environment ministry and the statement by the EPA echoed their concerns, describing the EIA as “poor quality”, incomplete and failing to meet requirements. Stakeholders whose livelihoods would be affected were not consulted and the chapter on impacts and mitigations wasinadequate. Required information on several aspects was missing, including impacts on beaches, coastal erosion patterns, future climate risks and the number and types of trees that would be removed. [10]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Airport and hotel project on Fainu island, Maldives
State or province:Raa Atoll
Location of conflict:Fainu island
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Ports and airport projects
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Land
Sand, gravel

Project Details and Actors

Project details

A domestic airport is planned on Fainu island, to serve existing and planned tourism resorts on Raa Atoll. Universal Enterprises, one of the largest hospitality companies in the Maldives operating several resorts on Raa Atoll, is financing Fainu Airport through bulk purchase of advance sales of air tickets. In May 2018 Island Aviation Services, owner and operator of Maldivian, the government-owned largest carrier in the Maldives, was awarded the US$8 million contract to develop and operate the airport. Construction of Fainu Airport was scheduled to begin in August 2018.[11] The three-phase construction project was scheduled to be completed in 12 months.[3] Rejection of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on 14th November 2018 is likely to stall the project.[9] The airport plan covers about 31 hectares of land and also includes about 4 hectares of land reclamation.[1]

Project area:35
Level of Investment for the conflictive project8,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:Approximately 400 residents
Start of the conflict:11/06/2018
Company names or state enterprises:Universal Enterprises from Maldives - Universal Enterprises has funded Fainu Airport project through advance prucahse of air tickets
Island Aviation Services Limited (IAS) from Maldives - Awarded the contract to construct and operate Fainu Airport
Water Solutions from Maldives - Prepared EIA for Fainu Airport that was rejected by the EPA
Relevant government actors:National government of the Maldives
Ministry of Tourism (Maldives)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:SaveMaldives -
ECOCARE Maldives -

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Desertification/Drought
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsHealth problems caused by pollutants emitted by aircraft
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Fainu Airport project could be stalled following the decision by the Environment Protection Agency to reject the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) following campaigns and protests by residents and NGOs.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[7] ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSSESSMENT For the Development of a Domestic Airport in Fainu, Raa Atoll, Maldives, water Solutions PV. Ltd., November 2018

[9] Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejects Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for Fainu Airport, 14 November 2018

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[6] Irreversible Damage, Destruction and Loss in the Maldives, #Save Maldives, 5June 2018

[1] Swathes of jungle to be destroyed in Fainu airport project, Maldives Times, 2 June 2018

[2] Raa Atoll Fainu Airport Development Lease Honoured to Island Aviation Services, The Islandchief, 31 May 2018

[3] Public petition against Fainu airport project, Avas, 3 July 2018

[4] Raa Atoll airport project handed over to Island Aviation, Maldives Independent, 31 May 2018

[5] Fainu airport plan draws anger and defiance, Maldives Independent, 3 July 2018

[8] Fainu islanders sceptical of environmental impact assessment, Maldives Independent, 13 November 2018

[10] Environmental impact assessment for Fainu airport rejected, Maldives Independent, 15 November 2018

[11] Construction of R.Fainu Airport scheduled to start in August, Corporate Maldives, 5 July 2018

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Facebook - SaveFainu

Twitter - SaveFainu

SaveFainu submits petition on 3rd July 2018, photo album by Dying Regime on Flickr

Meta information

Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3659



Fainu Airport - map

Fainu Airport concept layout shows the airport taking up the southern half of the island, with land for a gated hotel shaded in purple

Petition against Fainu airport plans

The petition called for more transparency over the airport project and an independent EIA. Photo: Dying Regime

Petition opposing Fainu airport plans

140 residents signed the petition and some residents traveled to the capital to deliver it. Photo: Dying Regime

Submitting petition

On 3rd July 2018 a petition was submitted by SaveFainu. Photo: Dying Regime

Fainu island coastline

Dense forest, farmland and white sand coastline would be destroyed for the airport

Aerial view of Fainu island

Source: Maldives Independent

14th November 2018 protest

Members of SaveFainu protested against the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Source: Navaani

SaveFainu petition

The petition was submitted to the Tourism Ministry, Universal Enterprises and Island Aviation Services. Photo: Dying Regime