The Maldives government has ignored or undermined environmental protection laws, increasing flooding risks and other harm to island communities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Tuesday, launching its 21-page report titled “‘We Still Haven’t Recovered’: Local Communities Harmed by Reclamation Projects in the Maldives.” Reclamation projects are often rushed, lack proper mitigation and monitoring, and proceed without adequate public consultation, the organisation said, urging President-elect Mohamed Muizzu to ensure that human rights and the protection of the environment are central to development policies.

The report documents how the Maldives’ governments have failed to consult local communities ahead of development projects, heed environmental impact assessment (EIA) mitigation requirements, and provide resources for ongoing monitoring of development projects in the northern island of Kulhudhuffushi and the southern atoll of Addu. These deficiencies have further harmed residents already at risk from the effects of changing weather patterns and rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity, coastal erosion, and increased flooding, HRW said.

“While the international community needs to do more to help the Maldives adapt to climate change, the Maldives doesn’t get a free pass to ignore its own environmental laws and international obligations,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, with the report urging that international climate finance providers require robust evaluation of reclamation and other development projects for potential harm, and implementation of appropriate mitigation measures.

Land reclamation projects have ignored or undermined environmental protection laws, increasing the risks of flooding and other harm, such as storms, floods, tsunamis, and rising sea levels, to island communities, the report outlined.

The report highlighted that, in Kulhudhuffushi, the government overrode environment regulators and buried 70 percent of the island’s mangroves to construct a new airport, with the loss of the mangroves harming already at-risk local communities, in many cases devastating livelihoods and pushing people into poverty.

“We used to grow bananas—the trees were torn up for development… Now we have to import bananas. Development to us means imported fruits no one has the money for,” the report quoted one small business owner in Kulhudhuffushi as she described the economic impact on herself and other women when the wetland was destroyed for the airport.

Although the Maldives has been a strong voice in international forums on climate-related issues, the government’s domestic policies belie its call for global action on climate change, as it has undermined or bypassed key mitigation measures in pursuit of tourism and other infrastructure development projects, the report said.

“The new Maldives government has an opportunity to reverse development practices that have posed a growing threat to livelihoods and a safe environment. The Muizzu administration should adopt practices that respect people’s rights in affected communities and protect the Maldives from further environmental degradation,” Gossman said.