Airport development features heavily in a plan for tourism-oriented megaprojects on Little Andaman Island, the southernmost island of the Andaman archipelago. Graphics below, from the 58-page ‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island – Vision Document’, show: Zone 1, on the eastern coast, featuring an Aerocity, housing an international airport, envisaged as ‘the catalyst for development of the district’; Zone 2, on the southern coast, including a Leisure Zone and Tourism SEZ (special economic zone) with casinos, theme park and beach hotels; Zone 3, on the western coast, a Nature Zone containing super-luxury resorts and hotels, with an airstrip for private charter flights.
Sudden news of the plan, in January 2021, alarmed conservationists. The ‘Vision Document’, thought to have been finalised a few months previously but not in the public domain, is included in ‘A MONUMENTAL FOLLY: NITI Aayog’s Development Plans for Great Nicobar Island (An evolving archive of reports, information and documents)’, compiled by Panjaj Sekhsaria and published by Kalvpavriksh Environmental Action Group. The total project area is nearly 240 sq km, 35% of the island; the three zones would take up 107 kilometres of the island’s coastline. Development of this scale would have major impacts on indigenous people and the island’s unique biodiversity and forests. Little Andaman is home to the Onge tribe, living on the island for more than 50,000 years, the population dwindling since 1900. Now numbering an estimated 125 people the Onge tribe is categorised as one of India’s Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG). According to the plan the Onge Tribal Reserve would be reduced by 31%; the Vision Document states that steps would be taken to relocate and protect Onge people but no detail is given. An anthropologist pointed out that bringing areas where Onge, with nomadic origins, do not live into the proposed development would still impact them, saying “the Onges have a close attachment with their territory be it inhabited or not”.
The Divisional Forest Officer of Little Andaman raised concerns that the major diversion of forest land for the project would cause irreversible damage to the island’s forests, entailing the loss of more than 2 million trees. An official source said there are over 2.4 million trees in the “vast tract of forests” in the areas where development is proposed. Removal of trees would cause topsoil erosion and reduce rainfall, impacting on the small area of the island with cultivable soil. Uprooting more than 2 million trees for the Little Andaman plan would also result in carbon emissions and carbon stock losses. Carbon pools were calculated for the four forest types in the development areas: nearly 136 sq km of Evergreen/Semi Evergreen and smaller areas of Deciduous, Swamp/Mangrove and Plantation forests. A study estimated that implementation of the ‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman – Vision Document’ would result in carbon stock loss of 2,996.286 tonnes from five categories of carbon pools: 55% from woody debris and soil organic matter, 32% from above ground living biomass, 9% from below ground biomass, 3% from dead mass of litter and 1% from dead wood.
Nesting sites of Giant Leatherback Turtles, the world’s largest turtles growing over 6 feet in length, with many populations in precipitous decline, are threatened by the Little Andaman plan. South Bay and West Bay on Little Andaman are both high-intensity nesting sites and among the most important in the entire island chain. Along with other nesting beaches on the islands, the two sites are specifically mentioned as ‘Important Marine Turtles Habitats in India’ in the National Marine Turtle Action Plan. There are fears that implementation of the ‘vision’ would push the leatherback turtles to the brink of extinction. A 2019 report on a long-term monitoring programme at Little Andaman island identified previously unknown migratory routes of Great Leatherback Turtle nesting in the region, highlighting their dependence upon foraging and nesting sites that are thousands of kilometres apart. Nine tracked turtles traversed much of the Indian Ocean, as far southeast as Western Australia and towards the eastern coast of Africa. The turtle travelling the furthest, close to the western coast of Mozambique, covered 13,237km in 266 days; it was also the fastest, travelling an average of 49.8km per day.
More information about the Little Andaman plan has been published on EJatlas, the world’s largest, most comprehensive online database of social conflict around environmental issues: Little Andaman Development Plan
Lio Tourism Estate, a masterplanned luxurious development in El Nido, on the northern tip of Palawan – owned by Ayala, one of the largest conglomerates in the Philippines, and operated by one of its many subsidiaries, Ten Knots Philippines Inc. (TKPI) – encompasses a large 325-hectare site. As well as high-end hotels the resort contains its own private airport, Lio Airport, owned and operated by TKPI for the exclusive use of its aircraft. As with most airports worldwide the response to Covid-19 led to Lio Airport reducing operations, but by March 2022 about 600 passengers were flying in and out each day. AirSwift Philippines operates flights between Lio Airport and Manila. There is also a jetty port for visitors to embark on island-hopping boat trips. The tourism project, on a former copra (coconut) farm, began with construction of the airport and seaport to provide access, followed by accommodation and retail facilities. Shown below are satellite imagery and a site development plan published by a property firm.
But the Tagbanua Tandulanen Indigenous People (IP) claim that the project encroaches on their ancestral lands. In April 2021 their attorneys requested that the Department of Tourism (DOT) and Local Government Unit of El Nido cancel, revoke or deny applications for building permits and licenses for more than seven Ayala-owned businesses and projects in El Nido, including Lio Tourism Estate and Lio Airport. The IP group claimed ‘rampant and widespread’ proliferation of illegal transfers and conversion of their ancestral domain. On 15th March 2022, following reports of projects and activities that did not comply with Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) requirements, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) intervened in the land dispute, issuing a cease-and-desist-order (CDO) ordering temporary halt of projects in Barangays Libertad and Pasadeña. After issuing four notices to comply with the CDO NCIP issued a show cause order to TKPI on 13th February 2022. In March Tagbanua Tandulanen IP’s legal counsel said the group been sending letters to TKPI for two years without receiving a serious response and urged NCIP to maintain the CDO.
Extending northwards of the tourism estate developed area and Lio Airport is a 4.2 kilometre stretch of white sand beach, also part of the resort. In September 2017 the management of Lio Tourism Estate dismissed accusations that its recently opened upscale resort had blocked access to the public beach in front of it for residents of Barangay Villa Libertad. The issue stemmed from a complaint to the Palawan Provincial Board’s Environment Committee. A month previously Board Member Winston Arzaga said they had been asked by local officials to help resolve the issue, saying “The cause of it all is the access of local fishermen to their traditional fishing grounds which the Ayala management had somehow restricted.” A Safeguards Due Diligence Report for El Nido tourism development, prepared by the Tourism Infrastructure and Economic Zone Authority (TIEZA) for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), published in May 2021, includes notes of a consultation on fisheries management concerns and livelihood projects with Barangay Officials of Villa Libertad, which covers Lio beach, part of Lio Tourism Estate. Dwindling fish catch was the major fisheries issue identified by informants, resulting from overfishing and a reduced fishing area. Declining fish catch and reduced access to fishing grounds was also mentioned in relation to three other Ayala resorts in El Nido, on the islands of Miniloc, Pangulasian and Lagen.
More information about the land dispute and issues with access to fishing grounds related to Lio Tourism Estate and Lio Airport has been published on EJatlas, the world’s largest, most comprehensive online database of social conflict around environmental issues: Lio Tourism Estate and Lio Airport
Construction of a major new airport on the Albanian coast, along with tourism development on adjoining sites, is imminent. A map of the Vlora Airport project plan shows an airport adjoined by several development areas – naturalistic area, sport area, winery area, hotel and resort area, new marina, residential and agricultural area, beach and wooded area. The project is opposed by many organizations, as outlined in a description of the case on EJatlas, the world’s largest, most comprehensive online database of social conflict around environmental issues.
A wide range of groups are concerned over damaging impacts on unique wildlife habitats. The site lies within the Vjosa-Narta Protected Landscape, one of the largest near-natural wetland complexes along the Adriatic coast, encompassing the Vjosa River (one of few remaining free-flowing rivers in Europe), Narta Lagoon and other wetlands, marshlands, reed beds, woodlands, islands and sandy beaches. The area designated for Vlora Airport and associated development is at the mouth of the Vjosa River, next to Narta Lagoon which is populated by many bird species, most notably flamingos and the endangered Dalmatian pelican. The coastline forms part of the ‘Adriatic Flyway’, a migration corridor which runs across the Balkans, the Adriatic and Southern Italy over to North Africa and is a followed by water birds of Central, Northern and Eastern Europe. During migration hundreds of thousands of birds forage and shelter in the area. Aeroplane flightpaths would be incompatible with flocks of flying birds, in particular large birds like flamingos, pelicans, herons and gulls. Birdstrikes, collisions with aircraft, might occur, placing both air passengers and birds at risk.
Local NGO Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) researched the plans and raised awareness about threats posed to local ecosystems. EuroNatur called for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) meeting global standards. A broader alliance criticising the airport land developed. In March 2021 a letter to the European Commision and Parliament by a coalition of NGOs, calling for support in urging the Albanian government to reconsider plans for the airport and tourism resorts in order to protect Vjosa-Narta, was signed by more than 40 organisations. The concession to build Vlora Airport was awarded to a consortium led by Mabetex Group in March 2021, on very generous terms. If Vlora Airport’s passenger numbers and profits are not as high as expected the project could cost Albanian taxpayers EUR 138 million. Clauses in the contract state that taxpayers must pay up to this sum should the concession fail or be unprofitable.
Despite constant pressure from national and international NGOs, the Albanian government persists in supporting the Vlora Airport project. On 28th November 2021 President Edi Rama opened the construction site. When the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was published a preliminary anaysis by experts from Albanian environmental and scientific researchs organisations siad it was ‘baised’ and identified striking deficiencies. The most important aspects not addressed by the EIA were:
The designated area is in an internationally recognised nature reserve could result in sanctions under the provisions of the Bern convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats
Lack of involvement of international experts in the decision-making process
Risk of natural disasters such as floods, anticipated to increase due to climate change, not taken into account
Speaking in a TRT World video environmentalist Jon Vorpsi questioned the necessity of a new international airport with the country’s main airport located just an hour and a half away. Mirjan Topji of the Birds of Albania group said that Narta lagoon is vital for the survival of Dalmation pelicans and raised concerns over air safety should aircraft collide with birds. Owner of a nearby fish restaurant, Arsen Lambro, disagreed with government claims that the new airport will boost tourism, saying the destruction of ecosystems, flora and fauna would reduce the number of visitors. Yet construction of Vlora Airport is set to begin soon. In January 2022 local ornithologists said noise from trucks and excavators was already scaring pelicans and flamingos away.
In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, on 15th April 2020, officials from the Indonesian government and the East Java province attended a virtual groundbreaking ceremony for a new airport in the Kediri regency. The event marked the official start of construction works that had actually begun three months earlier in January when heavy machines were levelling soil, following several delays that were partly caused by some affected residents refusing to release their land for the project due to unpaid compensation. Fewer than 20 families, in the villages of Bedreck and Bulusari, remained in the area. A villager told The Jakarta Post “If we accept the price, we won’t be able to buy land and build a house of similar value to what we have now”. She said none of the villagers wished to hamper development of the airport, they simply wanted fair compensation. The Kediri administration said that only 0.6 per cent of the 400 hectares of land required to build the airport had not been acquired.
The Kediri Airport project (also referred to as Dhoho Airport) was approved in 2018. The first of the satellite images above shows the airport site area in April 2018, consisting of villages and farmland. The second image shows the same area in June 2020 after earthworks had levelled large areas of land. The third satellite image is from November 2020, by which time earthworks had progressed and impacted upon a larger area, transforming the landscape from verdant green to a pale expanse of crushed and compacted rock. Adjoining this area, extending to the southwest, additional earthworks and construction of roads can be seen. This airport-adjacent development is shown in the fourth and final image in the slideshow, a graphic of the Kediri Master Plan visualising a future tourism and residential complex in this area. Produced by ARKDESIGN Architects and Planners, the ‘MASTER DEVELOPMENT PLAN, PLANTATION RESORT & RESIDENCES’ shows two commercial development areas, a warehouse, utility complex and parking adjoining the airport terminal and cargo buildings. Extending to the southwest is an area allocated for hotels, residences and various tourism facilities including five lakes. Progress of construction of the one of these artificial lakes, near the centre of the planned development, can be seen in the satellite images. The graphic indicates proximity to Mount Wilis, a solitary volcanic massif amidst the surrounding low-lying plains. The route of a future toll road is shown extending from the southeast of the project site, between the airport and the adjacent development.
Controversy over land acquisition for Kediri Airport dates back to 2017, when residents, aware of large-scale land acquisition, questioned whether it was a government or private project. In March 2019 residents of one of the affected villages, Jatirejo, hung dozens of banners along village roads, stating their refusal to accept the prices offered by land buyers for agricultural land, that they said were too low. In October 2019 37 head of family residents of Bedrek Selatan hamlet, Grogol village, had not released their land for the airport project as they had not agreed compensation. The airport plan had caused the price of land around the project site to soar. Land prices had also gone up in Bulusari village where some residents were confused over where to relocate to. Some who had received compensation were experiencing difficulties in finding places to relocate to because of soaring land prices. A shift in the location of the airport runway had required acquisition of additional land, leaving residents with difficulties finding land to relocate to. In January 2020 45 residents of Grogol village rejected land acquisition, protesting over a drop in the compensation offer that would only be sufficient for them to buy land in far away suburbs. Residents’ coordinator said they were being pressured to give up their land for the airport. In February 2020, just two months before the groundbreaking ceremony, some residents had still not agreed to the compensation offers for land acquisition. Ten families were refusing eviction because, while the price of land in their village had dropped drastically, the price of land in new locations where they might settle had risen; they faced the prospect of a huge loss. A resident of Bedrek spoke of repeated visits by land buyers over several months and being pressured to accept the price offered for land.
At the time of writing some residents are still unwilling to leave their homes and suffer the impacts of airport construction works. Several villages – Tarokan, Tiron, Bangkan, Jatirejo and Grogol – have been demolished for the airport project and most of the inhabitants had left. Tugiyem, one of few villagers remaining in Mbandrek Selatan, spoke in the midst of swirling dust and roaring engines of construction vehicles, staring at a pile of dredged rocks. She had lived there since the 1960s and used to work gazing livestock, but her animals were left dying as the construction company had fenced off the land and she could not reach them. A metal fence erected on one side of Grogol, ostensibly to deter trespassing and reduce pollution from construction works, limits residents’ access to their village. One of the main roads connecting Grogol village has been blocked off to aid construction works. This had forced farmers taking their crops to the city to take longer routes and food stalls and shops near the road had to shut down. Within a month of closing access to the road four shops had gone bankrupt. Owners of surviving shops have to rely on custom from their neighbours, including Siti Anggirawan who was forced to close her textile shop. Waiting for customers outside her grocery store, Sri Katun said air quality in Grogol had deteriorated, “When a strong wind blows, construction dust drifts into the house. I often cough.” But she had no thoughts of giving up the land she had bought after years of saving up money, saying, “This house is witness to my ups and downs alongside my husband. We want to die on this land that has been part of our history.”
Earthworks for the airport project consisted of a cut and fill excavation up to 35 metres high. Rivers are being diverted away from the runway via two enormous box culverts, one 570 metres in length and the other 470 metres, made from reinforced concrete. A 3,300 metre runway is being built, to acommodate the largest world’s largest aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350. Construction of the airport proceeds even though plummetting air traffic since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic casts doubts on the feasibility of traffic predictions. And the projections for Kediri Airport, as reported in ACI World Airport Development News, Issue 4 2020, are ambitious. Upon completion of the first phase of construction, scheduled for April 2022, Kediri Airport is projected to handle 1.5 million passengers per annum, eventually rising to more than 10 million annually. A Transport Ministry offical said Kediri Airport would serve domestic flights for tourism, and might also be used for cargo related to possible future agricultural and industrial activity in East Java. Kediri Airport is the first in Indonesia to be fully funded by the private sector. Tobacco company Gudang Garam will spend up to USD732 million to acquire 457 hectares of land and a subsidiary, Surya Dhoho Investama, will oversee development of the airport.
Two tourism developments on the Red Sea coast, Amaala and the Red Sea Project, will not live up to claims of ecological sustainability. Both resorts will have dedicated airports, sending carbon emissions soaring and hardwiring fossil fuel dependency.
An aerotropolis of sorts, a tourism resort with its own dedicated airport, is emerging on the Red Sea coast of northwestern Saudi Arabia. Amaala is a planned tourism gigaproject covering 4,155 square kilometres of terrain on land and sea, with more than 2,500 hotel rooms and over 800 residential villas. On 26th June renderings for the terminal and control tower of a luxury airport to serve Amaala were unveiled by UK-based Foster + Partners.
Luxury and exclusivity characterise the three main components of Amaala: Triple Bay – a luxury wellness resort and sports facilities including golf, equestrian, polo and falconry; Coastal Development – a cultural district featuring a museum of contemporary arts, film and performance arts venue and a biennial park and The Island – one of the world’s ‘most exclusive enclaves’ featuring botanical gardens, artworks, sculptures and private residences surrounded by landscaping. Amaala aims to attract ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs), specifically targetting the very wealthiest, ‘the top 2.5 million ultra-high net worth individual luxury travellers’. This really is high-end tourism; Amaala’s target market segment is the wealthiest 0.03 per cent of the world’s total population of more than 7.8 billion. The resort will have its own ‘special regulatory structure’ to attract the super-rich.
Taking premium tourism to new heights, Amaala’s own dedicated airport will be as luxurious as the resort. Chief executive of Amaala, Nicholas Naples said: the ‘gateway to Amaala…will be a unique space that personifies luxury and marks the start of memorable experiences for the world’s most discerning guests’. Scheduled to open in 2023, coinciding with opening of the first phase of the resort, Amaala airport will initially serve private jets and charter flights, before expanding to accommodate commercial airlines. When fully complete, by 2028, Amaala Airport terminal, a ‘spacious light filled courtyard’, will have capacity for 1 million passengers per year.
Zero carbon (but what about the flights?)
Listing a mutlitude of ecological features – including an organic farm, utilising biodegradable materials, preventing plastic pollution, protecting iconic species, renewable energy including solar fields, recycling, treating wastewater for use in agriculture – Amaala claims it will ‘set an example for sustainability and eco-conservation in the region’. CEO Nicholas Naples, said ‘energy requirements will be met by using renewable sources, with the entire Amaala development having a zero-carbon footprint’. All these laudable ecological measures will be undermined by the impacts of travel to and from the resort. Amaala will be heavily dependent on aviation; an estimated 80 per cent of visitors will arrive by air. Flying is the most carbon intensive mode of transport and the carbon footprint of travelling by private jet is far higher than comparable journeys by commercial airliner; some estimates quantify the differential at 10 times the amount of carbon per passenger.
Foster + Partners’ design for Amaala Airport, a ‘sleek mirrored edifice’ inspired by ‘the optical illusion of a desert mirage‘, received a lot of publicity. The angular, shiny roof is indeed striking but its just an ostentatious example of superficial architectural flourishes that are typical of airport design, a fancy veneer disguising a functional concrete box. Gerard Evenden of Foster + Partners said: “The passenger experience through the entire building will be akin to a private members club … The design seeks to establish a new model for private terminals that provides a seamless experience from resort to airplane”. Passengers will be enclosed in a bubble sealed off from the real world. Damaging environmental impacts of emissions from private jets will be externalised, inflicted on other people, predominantly the poorest, living elsewhere and in the future. As less privileged people contend with extreme weather private jets owned by UHNWI’s parked at Amaala will be protected from the slightest climactic variation, in climate-controlled hangars.
Architects criticise Amaala Airport
In Architects Journal, Greg Pitcher queried whether Foster + Partners’ involvement with the Amaala airport project aligned with the firm’s carbon reduction pledges, in particular commitment under the Architects Declare banner to ‘evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown’. Sustainability expert and consultant Simon Sturgis said: ‘These sort of projects suggest that Foster + Partners is still engaged with 20th rather than 21st century thinking … This represents a climate betrayal’. Another consultant, Robert Franklin, weighed in on the Architects Declare movement, describing it as ‘a calculated, cynical insult to anyone who understands the lease nuanced interpretation of sustainable’.
Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) polled network members asking them about their thoughts on Foster + Partners’ involvement in Amaala Airport. A clear majority opposed the scheme and ACAN wrote an open letter to voice concerns, arguing that architecture practices working to expand aviation goes against pledges to ‘Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown’. ACAN also questioned how the airport project could be reconciled with Foster + Partners being a signatory of Architects Declare commitments recognising rapid decarbonisation as a global imperative.
Superyachts and luxury cruises
For those arriving at Amaala by sea there will be facilities for yachts, specifically ‘luxury yachting’. Naples spoke to Superyacht News about Amaala. Explaining that Amaala is part of a ‘yachting strategy for the Red Sea’ whilst acknowledging that while ‘yachting and environmentalism often aren’t seen to go hand-in-hand’ he was ‘confident that the project will be considerate to its surroundings’. Such confidence is unwarranted as travellers on superyachts, luxury vessels with price tags upwards of $100 million, leave ‘oversized personal carbon footprints‘ in their wake. The carbon footprint of one Superyacht, Venus, the result of 51,796 kilometres travelled in 2018, was estimated at 4,571 tonnes. This astonishingly massive figure is 279 times the average Australian citizen’s annual carbon footprint – for all their activities, not just transportation – and 594 times the average Chinese citizen’s carbon footprint.
Amaala will also be a calling point for boutique luxury cruises. Each passenger on board these boats will wield an even larger carbon footprint than the thousands of people crammed on board cheaper vast cruise ships that resemble floating cities. And Amaala’s facilities for arrivals by sea, marinas to accommodate international races and regattas, are likely to have negative environmental impacts on the pristine Red Sea coastal ecosystems. Large concrete structures and air and water pollution from boats could compromise biodiverse ecosystems that provide havens for whales, turtles and healthy coral reefs.
Neom megacity and the Red Sea Project
Amaala is situated between two other developments on the Red Sea coast: Neom megacity to the north and the Red Sea Project to the south. Vivian Nereim and Donna Abu-Nasr reported for Bloomberg on their visit to Neom in July 2019. They explored an eminently desirable setting for development, an area blessed with ‘stunning untouched shorelines with waves rippling in the turquoise water’ against a backdrop of purple volcanic mountains. Residents were uncertain and divided over whether benefits from Neom megacity would accrue to them: ‘Many of the locals who have lived there for years are looking forward to some prosperity, while others are concerned they will be removed and their homes bulldozed.’ Rumours swirled of large-scale resettlement to make way for luxury villas and office complexes and Neom stated that under current estimates more than 20,000 people would be moved. Megaprojects including a ‘huge port’ and a causeway to Egypt were in the works. A small airport serving Neom opened in June 2019.
The massive Red Sea tourism project, comprising resorts on 22 islands and six inland sites, will, like Amaala, be served by its own dedicated airport. In July 2020 infrastructure contracts for Red Sea International Airport were awarded to two Saudi firms: Nesma & Partners Contracting and Almabani General Contractors. And Foster + Partners is also involved in the airport. In July 2019 the firm was awarded the design contract. As with Amaala airport a whimsical architectural facade will evoke the surroundings, ‘the form of the roof shells is inspired by the desert dunes’.
Although not built for private jets the ‘design of the terminal aims to bring the experience of a private aircraft terminal to every traveller by providing smaller, intimate spaces that feel luxurious and personalised’. Visitors will be funnelled from the airport to the resort via ‘an immersive experience of the highlights at the resort’ in a Welcome Centre and ‘departure pods’ with spas and restaurants. Red Sea International Airport’s projected number of air passengers is identical to Amaala airport: 1 million per year. And the emphasis on environmental policies, such as zero waste-to-landfill and ban on single-use plastics, is similar to Amaala. Red Sea Project developers ‘want it to become one of the world’s most succussful sustainable tourist resorts’. Visitors will be given personal carbon footprint trackers to encourage them to think about sustainability. If these trackers were to include flights visitors would see their carbon emissions exceeding that of the majority of the worlds’ people who have never flown, before they even step off the plane into the luxury terminal.
A New Civil Engineer article, proclaiming the airport to be ‘eco-friendly‘, states that ‘the entire infrastructure of the Red Sea Project, including its transport network, will be powered by 100% renewable energy’. Conversion of transportation systems is one of the most difficult aspects of transition to renewable energy. Flights powered by renewable energy are not even remotely on the horizon. Much-hyped biofuels only provide a minute proportion of aviation fuel, just 0.01 per cent. Scaling up aviation biofuel production would destroy forests and other ecosystems and trigger land grabbing for plantations. Many airports have installed solar panels on unused land surrounding runways, providing a proportion of the power requirements for ground operations. But solar flight is a distant dream. The only solar-powered planes to successfully fly long distances, Solar Impulse 1 and 2, carry just one or two people at speeds rarely reaching 100 kilometres per hour.
Like Amaala, Neom and the Red Sea Project are supported by the Public Investment Fund KSA (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, and all three projects are part of the Saudi Vision 2030 programme. Spanning various sectors including tourism, real estate and entertainment Saudi Vision 2030 aims to diversify the economy away from dependency upon oil. Tourism is a prominent sectoral focus, anticipated to increase from the current 3 per cent of gross domestic product to 10 per cent by 2030. Yet Amaala and the Red Sea Project, flagship tourism developments, are heading in the opposite direction from reducing dependency on oil. Dedicated airports serving these two resorts might not draw upon Saudi Arabia’s depleting oil deposits. But both facilities will require prodigious amounts of oil extracted from somewhere.
A global map of socio-environmental conflicts and justice movements related to aviation-related projects includes 60 cases that have already been analyzed. The map provides a wealth of information on how people and the environment can be negatively impacted by new airports and expansion of existing airports. Affected communities contend with a multitude of injustices: eviction, land dispossession, loss of farmland and fishing grounds, destruction of ecosystems, construction work impacts and health damage from aircraft pollution and noise once airport projects become operational. More than 300 such cases around the world have been registered in the research project, conducted by the EnvJustice project and the Stay Grounded network.
Several aerotropolis or airport city projects, i.e. substantial commercial and/or industrial development constructed or planned on land surrounding or adjoining an airport, are documented and analyzed. Examples include Kertajati Airport and New Yogyakarta International Airport in Indonesia, both of which involved forcible eviction of communities from several villages from their homes and farmlands. In Cambodia, the government has approved a plan for a new Phnom Penh Airport, one of the world’s largest airports by land area, along with an associated ‘airport city’. The proposed site, predominantly agricultural land, encompasses land that Kandal Stueng villages have resided on for two decades, including communally held wetlands. About 2,000 families could be affected and hundreds of people have protested against the development.
In India, Andal Aerotropolis is a private airport city development that was stalled by sharecroppers protesting delays in receiving compensation for land taken for the project. Landowners from seven villages in Purandar sustained resistance against loss of their homes and farmland for a new airport since the location of the project was announced in 2016. Then in 2018 it was reported that the state government was forming a consortium to drive investment in an ‘airport city’ around the airport. Villagers’ resistance against displacement from their farmland for Bhogapuram Aerotropolis, also referred to as an ‘aerocity’, succeeded in reducing the land area allocated to the project from 6,000 hectares to 1,122 hectares, along with securing higher compensation for a group of farmers.
A plan for a new airport on the Arial Beel wetlands in Bangladesh is an example of a aerotropolis-type megaproject that was halted by mass mobilisation. A vast swath of land had been earmarked for development, 10,117 hectares for the airport and an accompanying ‘satellite city’, and the farming and fishing livelihoods of thousands of people were set to be seriously affected with wetlands paved over. The government cancelled the project after major protests, the largest of which involved 30,000 people. In the Philippines, mangroves, coastal wetlands providing a vital habitat for many species and protection from erosion and flooding, have already been destroyed to make way for the proposed Bulacan Aerotopolis which threatens to destroy fishing livelihoods. Airport projects can entail deforestation. In Nepal, the proposed Nijgadh Airport, a massive 8,000 hectare aerotropolis, raises the prospect of over 2.4 million trees being felled.
A number of airport projects shown on the map are key components of tourism development schemes that are based upon aviation dependency. A proposed new airport on the Island of Fainu, in The Maldives, is accompanied by a plan for an adjoining hotel. The project would destroy a long stretch of white sand coastline, dense forest and agricultural land, the airport and hotel projects combined swallowing up much of the small island. Another example is the Philippine island of Sicogon where, in the aftermath of the devastation wreaked by Typhoon Yolanda, developers seized upon the opportunity for tourism development, the first phase of which includes an airport specifically for tourism along with beachfront accommodation. Disaster capitalism is also evident in the Caribbean island of Barbuda where land clearance for construction of a new airport, intended to support tourism growth in particular high-end resorts, began shortly after residents were evacuated following Hurricane Irma.
The map includes two major airports built to support fossil fuel projects. Uganda’s second international airport, Hoima Airport, currently under construction, is a key component of the 29 square kilometre Kabaale Petrochemical Industrial Park. With a 3.5 kilometre length runway, capable of accommodating the world’s largest cargo aircraft, it is envisaged that in its first phase of operations Hoima Airport will handle delivery of heavy equipment for the oil refinery on the site. In a similar vein, Komo Airfield, in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea, has the country’s longest runway and was built for delivery of heavyweight and outsize equipment for the ExxonMobil led PNG LNG (liquefied natural gas) project.
A number of cases shown on the map involve allocation of larger areas of land than would be required for aviation operations, increasing the number of people potentially facing displacement due to land acquisition, but without clear information on what the excess land might be utilized for. For example, in Nigeria the Cross River State government intends to acquire 900 hectares of land for a proposed Obudu International Passenger and Cargo Airport and people have been evicted from their homes and farmlands. In a similar case in Nigeria, bulldozers arrived without warning to clear 4,000 hectares of farmland where crops including cocoa, palm trees and bananas were cultivated for a cargo airport in Ekiti. This airport project is one instance of a successful court case where affected people secured a court victory that halted the airport project. Also in Nigeria, about 5,000 people from 20 villages could be affected by a proposed Ogun cargo airport and hundreds of farmers protested against land-grabbing.
The map of aviation-related conflicts and environmental justice movements is an ongoing project in development coordinated by the EnvJustice (ICTA-UAB) project and the Stay Grounded network. In addition to the 60 airport-related cases already included, a great many further cases have been registered as meriting further investigation. A total of 300 cases have been registered. The information gathered for the global map has been provided by a wide variety of organizations, local collectives and academics. The research team is coordinated by Rose Bridger (Stay Grounded) and Sara Mingorria (ICTA-UAB). This already substantial database and interactive map related to airports is part of Ejatlas, the biggest global inventory of socio-environmental conflicts around the world. As of 11th July 2019 2,831 cases were registered on Ejatlas and this is anticipated to increase to 3,000 cases by the end of the year.
A proliferation of new airport projects in the Maldives is destroying unique coastal ecosystems and threatens devastating impacts on communities and livelihoods. As many as 20 new airports, several accompanied by hotel developments, are planned and under construction, and many projects are government funded.
In October 2017 a dredger, newly acquired by Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) and at 92 metres in length the largest in its dredging fleet, began land reclamation for a new airport on Kulhudhuffushi, an island in the north of the Maldives. By early January 2018 land reclamation for the new airport was complete. Sediment dredged up from the ocean bed had been dumped on the largest white clay wetland and mangrove in the Maldives and destroyed a unique ecosystem. The Kulhudhuffushi mangrove system was the most biodiverse in the Maldives, hosting eight IUCN Red List species. Kulhudhuffushi mangroves had also provided a livelihood for over 400 people, predominantly women, and their families, who soaked coconut husks in the mangrove mud as part of a coir rope making industry sustained over many generations.
The impacts of construction of Kulhudhufushi and two other new airports in the Maldives – on Funadhoo and Maafaru islands – are documented in an excellent booklet, Irreversible Damage, Destruction & Loss #SaveMaldives published by SaveMaldives a civic movement that has emerged in response to a government drive for new airports and tourism resorts. After destroying mangroves to make way for Kulhudhuffushi Airport MTCC was then awarded the contract to build facility’s 1.2 kilometre runway. Then MTCC’s new dredger moved southwards to Funadhoo island where it was deployed to reclaim land from the north west lagoon for another new airport. Upon completion of this operation MTCC was contracted to build Funadhoo Airport runway, apron and taxiway. Funadhoo is an environmentally sensitive area, sharing a reef with its twin island, Farukolhu, that includes extensive mangroves. Dredging and reclamation proceeded near to Farukolhu’s nesting grounds supporting several bird species and a bay that serves as a marine breeding site for sharks and rays.
Construction of Maafaru Airport is nearing completion and test flights are imminent. Lush vegetation has already been decimated. Ecosytems highlighted as at risk in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and now irreversibly removed, include 20,000 trees, mangroves, marshland, coral colonies and seagrass beds. The EIA flagged up the necessity of relocating mangroves but there is no evidence that any such mitigative measure has been implemented. Maafaru Airport is larger than Kulhudhufushi and Funadhoo airports. Its 2.2 kilometre runway is long enough to accommodate Boeing 737 planes with a regular terminal along with facilities for parking private jets and a hotel. Maafaru Airport is part of a US$60 million agreement with the Abu Dhabi Fund to develop ultra-luxurious tourism in Noonu atoll.
The Irreversible Damage, Destruction & Loss #SaveMaldives report draws attention to various aspects of regulatory failure which have allaowed airport projects without the obligatory safeguards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to act as an independent authority but has been stripped of its powers to regulate tourism-related projects, effectively becoming a ‘rubber stamp’ legitimizing destructive infrastructure projects. A key EPA task is to assess, approve and monitor compliance with EIAs, but new airports and tourism projects resulting in irreversible damage to fragile ecosystems have been approved. New airports already under construction in Kulhudhuffushi, Funadhoo, Maafuru are just the beginning of an ecocidal aviation expansion frenzy. The Maldives government is planning a total of 20 new airports across the archipelago. Land reclamation also looms for a proliferation of new tourism resorts. The aviation and tourism drive expansion drive is obliterating white sand beaches and pristine coastal ecosystems, the very assets that are key to the the popularity of the Maldives as a tourist destination.
New airport threatens to swallow up Fainu island
The concept drawing for a new airport on Fainu island shows the airport taking up about two-thirds of the island land area with the runway extending along the entire southern coastline. The Maldives Independent calculated that 31 hectares of vegetation would be lost, including a dense jungle area and agricultural land. The airport plan also includes about 4 hectares of land reclamation. Land earmarked for a gated hotel is shown on the map below as an area adjacent to the airport and shaded in purple.
A woman speaking anonymously to the Maldives Independent said that rumours of an airport on Fainu 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 paopulated ares 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. Additional developments, namely a medical facility, hangar, lounges and restaurants have been mentioned. Islanders opposing the airport are concerned that even more land might be taken for a second hotel.
Residents acted quickly to form a campaign opposing the airport, SaveFainu and a petition submitted to the Tourism Ministry, Universal Enterprises and Island Aviation was signed by 140 people, about half of the population of Fainu island. Universal Enterprises, one of the largest hospitality companies in the Maldives, is financing Fainu Airport through bulk purchase of advance sales of air tickets. Island Aviation, owner and operator of Maldivian, the largest carrier in the Maldives, has been awarded the US$8 million contract to develop the airport. The SaveFainu petition called for more transparency from the Tourism Ministry, proper consultation with islanders and an independent EIA.
Mohamed Waheed, a leading activist in the SaveFainu campaign said some residents did not sign the petition for fear of losing their jobs, but are worried that such a large amount of the island would be lost to the airport and the secrecy and lack of transparency regarding the project. People 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.
More land reclamation, more new airports
Land reclamation has already created space for a new airport on Muli island. On 11th July 2018 President Yameen pledged to develop an airport on Muli island and attended a ceremony marking completion of the land reclamation project. MTCC has been paving the way for an airport on Muli island for some time. A land reclamation agreement was signed in 2014 and reclamation of 40 hectares of land was reported as completed in May 2017. An aerial photo shows an ideal site for an airport runway already in place, a strip of reclaimed land running along almost the entire eastern shoreline of Muli island, encompassing the southern tip and extending along about a third of the western coast.
MTCC has also been contracted to reclaim land for a new airport in Hoarafushi in Haa Alif Atoll, the northernmost atoll in the Maldives. The project, anticipated to cost over US$4 million, will be funded by the state budget. MTCC has already started development of an airport on Maavarulu island, a project costing US$ 3.7 million funded by the state budget, with tarring of the 1,200 metre runway scheduled to commence by the end of July. Maarvarulu is an island on Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, where a second new airport is to be built, on Faresmaathoda, an uninhabited island situated on the south of the atoll. Tourism developer ‘Champa’ Mohamed Moosa, gave a US$4 million loan to the government to develop the airport and a press conference at the beginning of June marked the signing of a US$2.5 million contract with Gulf Cobla, a UAE based dredging company, to begin land reclamation for the project.
Mohamed Moosa is chair of Kuredu Holdings, a major resort operator which has been awarded a contract to develop another new airport, on Madivaru island, in the tourism hotspot of Lhaviyani atoll, which will entail reclaiming three hectares of land from Madivaru lagoon. Kuredu Holdings is expected to develop a hotel to support Madivaru airport operations. More land reclamation, and yet another new airport, looms in Bileyfahi, where President Abdulla Yameen pledged to reclaim land and build a domestic airport, explaining that this additional facility, together with the new Funadhoo Airport, which is located just 40 kilometres away, will make Shaviyani atoll a tourism hub.
The necessity of the new airports, many of which are generously funded by the government, is highly questionable. The Maldives already has 12 airports and all three new airports in the #SaveMaldives report are being constructed even though an existing airport is easily accessible by speedboat, a journey of 45 minutes in the case of Funadhoo Airport, 40 minutes on the case of Maafuru and just 25 minutes away from Kulhudhuffushi Airport. In a similar vein, SaveFainu campaigners regard an airport on Fainu island to be unnecessary as an existing airport in Raa atoll, 26 kilometers away on Ifuru island, can be reached by speedboat in just 25 minutes.
Climate impacts from aviation expansion, land reclamation and loss of mangroves
The Maldives government continues its drive to build new airport projects even though the country is on the front line of the battle against climate change. Rising seas are lapping at the shores of many low-lying islands. The Irreversible Damage, Destruction & Loss #SaveMaldives report points out the inconsistency of the Maldives government on the international stage when in November 2017, Environment Minister, Thoriq Ibrahim, traveled to advocate for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) at the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). A key issue for small islands is their vulnerability to rising seas caused by climate change. Yet the government driven and funded aviation expansion drive is a climate double whammy; with aviation expansion increasing greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft and land reclamation increasing vulnerability to climate change induced flooding from rising sea levels, severe storm surges and more intense rainfall due to removal of vegetation which serve as a buffer absorbing excess water.
Destruction of mangroves for new airports compounds the climate impacts, because these unique ecosystems play a unique role in carbon sequestration, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing in their biomass for long periods and laying down soil that acts as a carbon sink. The Maldives government pursues environmentally devastating airport projects in the face of widespread opposition from civil society, even though it is a recipient of large amounts of donor funds for climate change mitigation and resilience. International organizations and development partners such as UNDP Maldives have remained silent.
Construction of an airport on the island of Barbuda began without residents’ approval. A larger land grab looms; moves are afoot to revoke residents’ collective tenure and allocate land to private investors.
On the night of 6th September Hurricane Irma, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean, an unprecedented Category 5, made landfall on the small Caribbean island of Barbuda. 185 miles-per-hour winds wreaked havoc. A two-year old child was killed, land was flooded and shorn of trees, homes were left without roofs and walls or completely flattened and the island’s road, energy and communications infrastructure were destroyed. An estimated 90 per cent of buildings were damaged. Two days later all of Barbuda’s 1,800 residents were forcibly evacuated, ferried to Antigua which only suffered minor damage.
Two and a half months after the catastrophic storm most Barbudan residents remained with relatives and friends or in impromptu shelters such as a cricket stadium in Antigua, or abroad. Only a small number of islanders were allowed to return, for a few hours at a time. Efforts to rebuild houses were piecemeal. People were patching up roofs using plywood and corrugated iron salvaged from the wreckage. Hardly anything had been done to re-establish essential services. Water and electricity supplies had not yet been restored; returned residents relied on generators and desalinated water provided by humanitarian aid organizations. Schools and the hospital remained closed. But bulldozers had been working day and night for weeks, flattening land in preparation for construction of an international airport.
In a Channel 4 report Leslie Thomas QC said development of the airport is unlawful as it had not been approved by the Barbuda Council and consultation with the Barbudan people had not taken place. Work on the airport, which will have serious negative ecological impacts on the coral fringed island renowned for its seabird colonies, had commenced without the requisite Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Already, forest, wildlife habitats and land used for livestock grazing had been destroyed for the runway.
Bulldozing land in preparation for construction of the new airport is evidently so highly prioritized by the government that it began even before Barbuda’s existing small airport had been re-fenced and resumed operations. Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne dismissed residents’ legitimate concerns that the new airport is evidence of a land grab. His text message to Channel 4 in response to coverage of the issue directed a string of insults at citizens: “The deracinated Imbeciles, Ignorant elements, say that by building Barbudans an airport, we are stealing their land. 😂😂😂 These are what we call dunce elements.”
A land grab paving the way for privately-owned resorts
Prime Minister Gaston Browne is exploiting the chaotic after-effects of Hurricane Irma to attempt to erode Barbudans’ land rights. Within days of the disaster he proposed that Barbudans returning to their homes buy freehold title deeds to their land for $1, which could be used as collateral for bank loans to get mortgages to rebuild their homes, claiming that creating an “ownership class” would be “empowering”. Barbudans objected that this would force them to buy land they have owned collectively for nearly two centuries, since 1834, when Britain abolished slavery in its colonies.
Post-Irma disarray is being used to launch the latest in a series of attempts to undermine the 2007 Barbuda Land Act, which confirms that Barbudans share common title to the land and requires their consent for commercial development. The entire island is owned collectively and managed by an elected council. As co-owners citizens have rights to utilize the island’s resources, including for grazing animals, hunting and fishing. Individual citizens, whether resident on the island or not, have the right to a plot of land for a house, to farm and for commercial enterprise. Browne refuses to recognize Barbudan’s communal land rights. He refers to islanders as “squatters” in a New York Times mini-documentary showing how people’s difficulties in retaining shared land rights are compounded by relentless struggles to retain community cohesion and rebuild their own lives.
Barbuda resident and marine biologist John Mussington maintains that the line being put out, that Barbudans do not have the means to rebuild their homes, is a myth that is being perpetuated to justify a land grab. People managed to rebuild after a hurricane in 1995. Under the current land tenure system residents are not burdened with mortgages and high land prices, so they are able to channel their resources directly into rebuilding their homes. Furthermore, there have been generous donations from international aid agencies and there will be a substantial payout from an OECD insurance scheme that Barbuda is a member of.
Collective tenure is not a barrier to recovery
Liz Alden Wily, an independent land tenure specialist, maintains that if the government succeeds in forcing Barbudans to buy title deeds to their land this will result in many citizens losing their property. Without a sufficient and steady income – difficult for people to secure when their lives have been severely disrupted by the hurricane – people may not be able to secure loans or will not be able to afford the repayments, a plight that would force them into distress sale of their plots. She refutes Browne’s insistence that individual, private land ownership is a precondition of post-Irma recovery and the only way for Barbudans to secure bank loans for reconstructing their houses. Collective title is not a barrier to securing a mortgage. Another option would be for the government to follow successful examples of establishing forms of credit, such as a credit union, which would not place people’s homes, often their main or only asset, at risk.
The privatization agenda being pushed by Browne’s government will enable developers to acquire land, in particular lucrative beach-front parcels, at low prices. In marked contrast with many Caribbean islands, including Antigua, where tourism revolves around all-inclusive beach resorts and cruise ship ports, tourism on Barbuda is small-scale. The vast majority of the coastline remains undeveloped, the beaches remain unspoiled. Residents have approved some tourism projects, maintaining a high degree of community ownership and control. Weakening the Barbuda Land Act would enable land purchase by Antiguan and foreign interests, to establish privately owned resorts. Browne admits that the airport will open up Barbuda for investors and is pushing for a cruise ship port on the island as well as an airport, to support tourism growth.
Dispossession and disaster capitalism
A land grab is looming in Barbuda, and it is bigger than the new airport and citizens’ plots of land. Imposition of individual freehold title would result in Barbudans losing their rights to most of the island. Only a minority of the land is designated as housing, farming and commercial plots; the majority of the land is long established as a communal resource which is of particular importance to poorer islanders’ livelihoods. Removal of Barbudans’ rights to this land would convert it to easy pickings for investors. Furthermore, Barbudans without land would no longer have rights to acquire plots, and nor will islanders’ descendants. Alden Wily said “The government is asking Barbudans to surrender collective ownership of the whole island for just a few parcels of land in (the capital) Codrington”. Back in October she had warned that:
“Repeal of the Barbuda Land Act would free up most of the island for allocation to investors. Overall, it is difficult to see this move as other than a classical land grab by the stronger elite, and the end result of which could well turn the island principally into foreign-owned resorts.”
Kendra Beazer, featured in the New York Times film and a member of Barbuda Council and the Barbudan People’s Movement, slammed the government’s opportunistic moves to change land tenure laws, while its people are traumatized, scattered and scrambling to rebuild their lives, as an example of ‘disaster capitalism‘: the exploitation of citizens’ vulnerability in the wake of crises – including extreme weather, war and terrorist attacks – to consolidate state and corporate power in order to drive through neoliberal policies of privatization, austerity and deregulation. Naomi Klein explores the imposition of these so-called ‘free market’ policies over the course of four decades, in the aftermath of catastrophic events including Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, in her book The Shock Doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism, published in 2007. She commented on the post-Irma construction of Barbuda airport on Twitter:
On 12th December, in a brazen attempt to subvert democracy, the first reading of the Barbuda Land (Amendment) Act took place in parliament. The Bill, seeking to repeal and replace the Barbuda Land Act and dismantle the communal tenure system, did not appear on parliament’s agenda until moments before its introduction under an accelerated review process. Leslie Thomas said the act was tabled with no consultation whatsoever. Many Barbudans – returners to the island, the disapora, and their supporters – moved to resist the land grab enabling legislation. A petition against the Act has already garnered over 2,500 signatures and dozens of people joined a picket outside parliament.
An injunction seeking permission for a judicial review of the government’s attempt to expedite amendments to the Barbuda Land Act has been heard by the Antigua and Barbuda High Court of Justice, presented by Leslie Thomas. Broader resistance is gathering momentum with formation of the Barbuda Silent No More movement, working to strengthening Barbudans’ voices as they work to protect communal land rights, determine their own future and conserve Barbuda’s heritage, culture and environment.
But the airport land grab is progressing. John Mussington, who refused to leave the island after Hurricane Irma struck because he suspected underhand motives for the evacuation, and filmed bulldozing of land for the new airport that was used in the Channel 4 report, now reports that a huge area of land is being cleared and parceled up. The government claims that the land clearance is for an airport, but it is clear that what is taking shape is not just an airport. Water and electricity services have still not been restored, schools and the hospital remain closed. He says the “attack on our land tenure system is unconscionable” and it is clear that “powers that be” want Barbudans out of the way with the intention of a creating a “private island” for the enrichment of real estate speculators.
Regulation to pave the way for a mega-resort
Erosion of Barbudan’s land rights, and imposition of major tourism developments, already looms with government support for a mega-resort called ‘Paradise Found‘. On the site of an abandoned hotel project, islanders had cautiously welcomed proposals for redevelopment, but became concerned when the government approved extension of the 251 acre footprint of the resort by granting a lease for an additional 140 acres. Funded by famous film actor Robert de Niro and Australian billionaire businessman and investor James Packer, the plan for the $250 million luxury beachfront resort features upmarket cottages each with a private pool and a yacht marina, along with an airport.
A referendum approved the Paradise Found project, but only by a narrow majority, and the Barbuda People’s Movement challenged the result as unlawful on the basis that non-Barbudans were permitted to vote. The government pushed through laws to facilitate the resort project. In 2015 the Antigua and Barbuda parliament passed the Paradise Found (Project) Act, the provisions of which specifically support development of the resort, exempting the De Niro-Packer project from time limits on development and granting a 198 year lease along with the right to freehold tenure should this become instantiated in law. The debate on the bill attracted 400 protesters; critics warned that it stripped away the rights of the elected Barbuda Council to consider and approve large-scale property deals on the island. The Paradise Found Act also doled out a cluster of tax breaks for the two business partners; on corporate income, dividends, stamp duty and property.
The future of the Paradise Found project is uncertain, protest and litigation have bogged it down. Barbudans may well succeed in fending off the Barbuda Land (Amendment) Act which threatens to open the gate to a multitude of privately-owned resorts. The drive to revoke collective tenure goes against the grain of a positive global trend. Around the world thousands of communities have secured legal rights to shared land tenure, controlling, regulating and leasing commonly held property as they see fit. In 2018 a global declaration on the rights of the world’s rural communities, making collective ownership and governance a founding right, will be presented to the United Nations Assembly.
Residents of five villages threatened with the loss of their homes for a second airport on Jeju island have set up a protest camp and their resistance is garnering support from many organizations.
Plans for a second airport in Jeju, an egg-shaped island off the south coast of South Korea, have met with vigorous and sustained resistance since the sudden announcement of the project two years ago, in November 2015. The proposed site is in Seongsan on the east coast of the island and residents of the five villages that would be affected, losing their homes and farmland – Susan-ri, Sinsan-ri, Nansan-ri, Goseong-ri and Onpyeong-ri – were not even consulted. Resistance has intensified in recent weeks and on 10th October a group of residents and representatives of civic groups opposing the new airport assembled a protest tent outside the Jeju island government hall and began a sit-in. The vice-chair of Seongsan people’s committee against the 2nd Jeju airport project, Kim Kyung-bae, began an indefinite hunger strike and fellow protesters began relay fasting to show their support.
The Jeju Provincial Government threatened to remove the protest tent, delivering a warning letter to the organizations protesting Jeju’s second airport, which stated that, if the protest tent was not removed by 17th October the government would forcefully dismantle it and claiming that the protesters are “illegally occupying the roads and causing traffic problems”. Protesters countered that their protest tent is located far enough from the road to avoid causing inconvenience to vehicles or pedestrians, as can be seen in the photo below.
Airport opponents only resorted to this sit-in protest because the Jeju Provincial Government refuses to communicate with them and the resistance camp remains, demonstrating protesters’ determination to maintain a visible presence, make their voice heard, and prevent imposition of the project. The photo below was taken on 21st October, marking the 12th day of the anti-airport sit-in and hunger strike. At the time of writing the protest continues on its 14th day, as does the succession of visitors finding out about the campaign and showing their support.
Airport plans are being pushed forward without involving the people who would be most seriously affected, the villagers facing the threat of eviction from their homes and loss of agricultural livelihoods. The protest camp builds on a series of small victories, recent actions which have successfully stalled the airport project, blocking a land survey and environmental impact assessment. More recently, on 18th September 2017, demonstrators brought a briefing session on the 2nd Jeju airport to a halt. The briefing session was organized without consulting residents of Seongsan where the airport would be built and held far away in the city of Seogwipo, a distance of about 60 kilometers. More than 70 people, residents from the affected villages and representatives of civic groups, staged a protest, challenging the procedural legitimacy of the briefing session, criticizing it as merely a tool for advertising the project and demanding a complete reassessment of the airport plans. The video below shows protesters gathering outside the meeting with a display of banners, then attempting to take the stage to make their voices heard, only to be blocked by a large number of officials.
Two years of resistance against a second Jeju airport
Over the two years since the second airport plan was announced there has been a series protests and rallies, with the participation of hundreds of people. Most of the site earmarked for the proposed airport, about 70 per cent, is a farming area so the project threatens agricultural livelihoods and food production. If the airport is built over 75 per cent of villagers of Seongsan would lose their homes and other villages would also be severely impacted. Anti-airport actions have drawn on shamanic traditions, channelling a multitude of spiritual energies such as the three founding fathers of the island and Youngdeung, the goddess of the wind and sea. Two years of resistance have seen houses sporting posters in their windows and streets bedecked with red and yellow flags and banners extending as far as 20 kilometers along the roads leading to affected villages.
Scores of villagers face being forced to leave their homes and farmland, sustaining their battle against the airport as they persevere with the cycles of rural life. In February 2017, as villagers were busy harvesting radish crops, Kang Wan-bo, chair of the Seongsanup Second Airport Opposition Committee, said that the government had failed to make any concessions regarding affected villagers’ objections and was attempting to force the airport plan through, even though Jeju’s 15 environmental NGO’s had joined forces to oppose it. When Governor of Jeju Province, Won Hee-ryong, made his first visit to the area for a year, villagers told him they felt as if they were being sacrificed for the tourism industry. Kang argued that continuing to expand the tourism on the island would be “ridiculous”, that citizens’ rights and protection of the environment should take priority over pursuit of an increase in tourist dollars.
A poll purported to show that a majority of respondents, 63.7 per cent, agree with the second airport plan. But the poll result was skewed because it only offered the two options of agreeing or disagreeing with building the second Jeju airport. Organizations protesting the new airport said that, in order to get a result that is more representative of people’s opinions, a range of options should be considered: building a second Jeju airport, expanding the capacity of the island’s existing main airport or reusing Jeongseok Airport, a facility near Hallasan National Park that is mainly used by private jets. Results of a poll conducted by organizations opposing the second airport showed just 24.4 per cent of respondents agreeing to the second airport. A higher proportion of respondents, 36.6 per cent, supported expansion of Jeju Airport and 20.8 per cent supported reusing Jeongseok Airport.
Plans for tourism megaprojects and an ‘Air City’
Airport planners and proponents envisage a second airport bringing an enormous influx of tourists to Jeju. But it would jeopardize the pristine natural environment that makes the island such an attractive tourism destination. Honinji Pond, a sacred historical area where farming on the island is thought to have originated, is near the proposed site. In addition the tranquility of a most unusual geological feature, UNESCO protected Seongsan Ilchulbong, also called ‘Sunrise Peak’, a visually striking volcanic cone 182 metres high with a green crater rising from the sea, would be ruined if aircraft flew nearby. A second airport would also support a suite of mass tourism megaprojects. Mainstream commercial tourist traps are in the pipeline, such as retail complexes, casinos and golf courses, along with theme parks and resorts commodifying Jeju’s distinctive ecological assets and unique heritage.
Plans for a second airport are also of megaproject proportions. Jeju Governor, Won Hee-ryong, stated that the new airport would be the largest project in the history of the island, costing US$3.5 billion and scheduled to be complete by 2025. Planners envisage a single runway facility with capacity for 25 million passengers per year, equivalent to current traffic levels at Jeju’s existing airport but the airport could be expanded with the addition of a second runway.
The airport would be the beginning of and focal point for an even larger development; an ‘Air City’, another term for an aerotropolis, is planned around the airport, comprising shopping malls, convention facilities and financial centres. Anti-airport campaign leaders have voiced concerns that ecological destruction caused by the airport is set to be compounded by urban sprawl from the accompanying aerotropolis. Another tourism-oriented megaproject plan connected with the ‘Air City’ scheme, for a high speed network of rail and bus routes linking the island’s main established and upcoming tourism centres – with the second airport among the key nodes – has raised concerns regarding the environmental impacts of construction activities.
Solidarity with the Jeju peace movement
Anti-airport campaigners are also concerned that a second airport might be linked with militarization of the island. Many airport serve both civilian and military functions, and in March 2017 former Air Force Chief of Staff Jeong Gyeong-du, said the second airport should have a search and rescue facility (SAR), perceived by some commentators as code for an Air Force base. Military intentions were confirmed in when Air Force Director of Public Affairs, Lee Sang-gyu stated that a feasibility study into constructing an air base would commence in 2018. In 2012 a scheme for an air base near the southwestern tip of the island, using an airfield in Daejeong-eup, was abandoned after a public outcry and the proposal for an air base at the second airport met with equally fierce protest. The Ministry of Transport Plans hastily contradicted the statements made by senior military officials, denying plans for an Air Force base.
In spite of these denials and an apparent U-turn many people are still suspicious that a second Jeju airport would be used as an Air Force Base. These concerns have galvanized support for the airport opposition from peace campaigners active in the long-standing resistance campaign against Gangjeong Naval Base – Save Jeju Now. Gangjeong campaigners joined Seongsan residents at the briefing session protest on 18th September, and have made regular solidarity visits to support the current protest camp. Links have been forged between movements opposing overdevelopment and militarization and are becoming stronger.
Construction of the enormous naval base in the tiny fishing village of Gangjeong on the southern coast of the island, with capacity for 24 warships, met with a sustained non-violent struggle. A decade of campaigning and direct action, blocking bulldozers and delivery of equipment, at the site entrance and taking to the sea in kayaks, repeatedly stalled construction. Gangjeong Naval Base was approved against the will of the 94 per cent of the village population who voted against it in a referendum. Jeju has a deep rooted culture of peace activism, it is known as the ‘island of peace’, and the naval base goes against this by militarizing the area and strengthening the country’s alliance with US defence interests. Construction of the naval base also caused environmental damage. Unique and delicate marine ecosystems were destroyed with serious impacts on marine food sources such as abalone (sea snails) and fishing livelihoods.
Since the naval base became operational, with the first US Navy vessel docking at the facility in March 2017, resistance continues with peace campaigners maintaining a lively presence outside the entrance gates. Gangjeong Naval Base is also linked with expansion of mass tourism; as a joint military and civilian port it is anticipated to begin docking giant 150,000 tonne cruise ships in the near future. The second Jeju airport project is over ten times larger than the naval base and the budget four times higher. But hopefully the scale of the project can be outdone by the strength of the opposition it has triggered. Hopefully the determination of the Seongsan residents who do not want to leave the homes, combined with the convergence of many individuals and organizations expressing support for their struggle, will lead to the cancellation of the airport project.
The scale of forced evictions is shocking, threatening more than 70 million people worldwide. Eviction for tourism projects – including hotels, theme parks, resorts, cruise ship ports and airports – is a growing problem that is gaining recognition. Individuals and communities who are affected are invited to submit cases to an important international event which will make recommendations for effective actions and help build solidarity across the globe.
The International Tribunal on Evictions (ITE) has issued an International Call for Cases of Evictions due to Tourism. Any individual or community that has been evicted or is facing the threat of eviction for tourism development is invited to submit their case of eviction or displacement. The deadline for submissions is 15th July 2017. To submit a case of eviction please complete the online form. The selected cases will be examined at the sixth session of the ITE, which will specifically focus on cases of eviction and displacement for tourism development, to be held in Venice, Italy, from 28 to 30 September 2017.
The ITE is a peoples’ and opinion tribunal established in 2011 by the International Alliance of Inhabitants and civil society organizations to practically and interactively end forced evictions around the world, is calling on the international community to report cases of evictions and displacement in the context of tourism development. The ITE’s call for action reads:
“Is your home threatened with destruction because developers want to build a hotel? Do they want to clear your community, your neighbourhood, and your land for a resort, a golf course, a stadium, a port, or an airport for tourism? Are you and your community threatened by the precariousness of rental contracts resulting from AirBnB? Tourism development is attacking your rights where you have chosen to live in peace and dignity!”
At the ITE a jury consisting of representatives of civil society, international organizations and academics will select the cases and evaluate the claims in the light of international legal instruments relating to enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights, with particular regard to the right to housing and land security. The ITE verdict will take the form of recommendations drafted by a jury of international experts, and will serve as a road map for the cases judged and as a reference point for building international solidarity. Recommendations will be made to stakeholders, including the United Nations, governments, the economic and institutional actors responsible for the evictions, and will be monitored on regular basis.
An article on the ITE website, Why the ITE Session on Tourism? Growing human rights violations caused by over-tourism, provides useful background information on the problems host communities have contend with due to the current trajectory of rapid tourism growth. Globally, tourist numbers reached 1,235 billion in 2016 and the the number of forced evictions for this industry is growing. Entire communities are evicted for infrastructure to support mobility for tourism – ports, roads and airports. Indigenous communities are evicted from forests and coastal ecosystems under the pretext of environmental preservation or preventing natural disasters. Urban residents are displaced for gentrification schemes and escalation of rentals of private homes for tourism pushes up rental costs for residents. Authorities often view tourism as an engine of development and disregard human rights.
It is fitting that the ITE is to be held in Venice; this unique city has been dubbed the ‘global capital of resistance to tourism evictions‘. Massive tourism development has been the key factor in reducing the number of inhabitants from 175,000 in 1953 down to just 54,000 in 2017. Meanwhile, Venice is undergoing continued tourism pressure, with 9 million overnight tourists and 24 million commuter visitors in 2016. The fishing island of Pellestrina is a particularly striking example, where landlords no longer rent to residents but only to tourists. It is encouraging that, countering this negative trend, determined and vibrant civil society movement has emerged thoughout the city, organizing daily activities to support resistance against evictions for tourism projects. The ITE session will include visits to a number of islands and districts of “resistance Venice”.