Inter Press Service » Integration and Development Brazilian-style http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 10 Dec 2016 06:40:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Subway Will Modernise – and Further Gentrify – Historic Centre of Quitohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/subway-will-modernise-and-further-gentrify-historical-centre-of-quito/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=subway-will-modernise-and-further-gentrify-historical-centre-of-quito http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/subway-will-modernise-and-further-gentrify-historical-centre-of-quito/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:44:10 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148017 In the Plaza de San Francisco, where the church and convent of the same name stand, fences have blocked off the construction site for the Quito subway for months, as work has been stalled while archaeological finds are assessed. Quito’s historic centre is the biggest in Latin America. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In the Plaza de San Francisco, where the church and convent of the same name stand, fences have blocked off the construction site for the Quito subway for months, as work has been stalled while archaeological finds are assessed. Quito’s historic centre is the biggest in Latin America. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
QUITO, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Success can kill, when it comes to cities. Spain’s Barcelona is facing problems due to the number of tourists that it attracts. And the historic centre of Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, a specially preserved architectural jewel, is losing its local residents as it gentrifies.

This paradox was pointed out by Fernando Carrión, president of the Latin American and Caribbean Organisation of Historic Centres (OLACCHI) and a professor at the Latin American Social Sciences Institute (FLACSO) in Ecuador.

“Quito’s historic centre lost 42 per cent of its population over the last 15 years, a period in which it gained better monuments and lighting, and became cleaner,” he said. According to official census figures, the population of the old city dropped from 58,300 in 1990 to 50,982 in 2001 and 40,587 in 2010.“The subway is a good solution, which will reduce the use of private buses that pollute, and will help solve congestion in a city where the traffic passes through the north-south corridor.” -- Julio Echeverría

The effort to revitalise the historic centre was based on a “monumentalist policy,” on the restoration of churches and large buildings, which led to a process of gentrification, driving up housing prices and the conversion of residential into commercial property and pushing out low-income residents, he told IPS.

“I fear that the subway will drive away more people,” exacerbating the tendency, he added.

Two stations of the first subway line in Quito started to be built in 2013 by the Spanish company Acciona. “Phase two”, the construction of a 22-kilometre tunnel and 13 other stations, got underway in January 2016 and is to be completed by July 2019.

The consortium that won the bid is made up of Acciona and Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company, which has built subway lines in several Latin American countries.

Only one station, in the Plaza de San Francisco, will be located in the historic centre. “Projections estimate that 42,000 passengers per day will pass through that station,” that is to say that “with the subway the same number of people will arrive but by a different means of transport,” Mauricio Anderson, the general manager of the Quito Subway Public Metropolitan Company (EPMMQ), told IPS.

Underground transport “will reduce traffic congestion, vibrations and pollution” by replacing cars and buses, he said.

The aim of the new mass transport system is to improve the quality of life of people in Quito, by reducing travel time, generating socioeconomic inclusion of people in the lower-income outlying neighbourhoods, saving fuel, cutting the number of accidents and creating a cleaner environment, according to EPMMQ.

“Each day about 400,000 people in Quito will use this system,” said Anderson. “This will help optimise other services and increase the average travel speed in Quito, which for surface transport is now 13 kilometres per hour, and by subway will be 37 kilometres per hour.”

A dedicated lane system trolley bus and one of its stations, in Ecuador’s capital. Critics of the subway in Quito argue that it would be better for the city to extend and improve the tramways. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A dedicated lane system trolley bus and one of its stations, in Ecuador’s capital. Critics of the subway in Quito argue that it would be better for the city to extend and improve the tramways. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

As Ecuador’s capital has an elongated shape, stretching from north to south, the 22-kilometre subway line with 15 stations will enable most of the city’s residents to take the subway or catch a bus that hooks into the system within less than four blocks of their homes or workplaces, according to studies that guided the system’s design.

The subway, with trains that will hold up 1,500 passengers each, “will connect the entire integrated transport system.”

According to 2014 statistics, there were 2.8 million daily trips in the public transport system of the Metropolitan District of Quito, most of them by conventional buses and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which uses bus-only lanes.

Opponents of the subway argue that by optimising the BRT system, which serves the same north-south route, it could transport more passengers than the subway, with a significantly lower investment.

But “Quito’s surface is saturated, there are no real dedicated lanes and the roads are narrow,” said Anderson, stressing the greater speed and efficiency of the subway, which benefits both passengers and the environment.

Building the subway will cost just over two billion dollars, “that is 89 million dollars per kilometre, a figure that is below the region’s average,” said the manager of the Quito subway.

The project was designed by the Spanish public company Metro de Madrid. A fare of 45 cents of a dollar will cover the first line’s operational and maintenance costs, according to the company.

But Ricardo Buitrón, an activist with Acción Ecológica, said “They will cost much more than that,” noting that building a subway in Quito is complex and arguing that it cannot be cheaper than in Panama, for example, where each kilometre cost 128 million dollars to build.

The Cerro del Panecillo hill, which divides north from south of Ecuador’s capital, seen from the Museum of the City, at the heart of the historic centre. The rugged topography represents a challenge to mobility in this highlands city. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Cerro del Panecillo hill, which divides north from south of Ecuador’s capital, seen from the Museum of the City, at the heart of the historic centre. The rugged topography represents a challenge to mobility in this highlands city. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Besides, with what is being invested in the subway “260 kilometres of exclusive lanes for electric buses plus 40 kilometres of tramways could be created, like the system being built in Cuenca,” in southern Ecuador, he told IPS.

And a 45 cent fare will require subsidies, which he estimated at 100 million dollars annually. In other countries, the operational cost per passenger is over 1.5 dollars, he said.

“Subsidies are inevitable in public transport, but they should contribute to improving the system,” said Buitrón. In Quito, for example, they should bolster the use of electric buses, remedying the setback represented by the replacement of electric articulated buses with diesel-run buses that are more economical, he said.

In Ecuador, diesel fuel is poor quality and heavily polluting, as seen in the black smoke they emit, he said.

“The subway is a good solution, which will reduce the use of private buses that pollute, and will help solve congestion in a city where the traffic passes through the north-south corridor,” said Julio Echeverría, executive director of the Instituto de la Ciudad and former professor of political science in several universities in Ecuador and Italy.

But this responded to a “linear and longitudinal” moment in Quito’s urban development which is long past. Now the city has changed, it is “scattered, fragmented, it stretches toward the valleys and other agricultural areas of great biodiversity,” he said.

Quito, with an estimated total population of 2.5 million, has the largest and least altered historic centre in Latin America, having been declared in 1978 a Cultural Heritage of Humanity site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Founded in 1534 on a long and narrow plateau on the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains next to the Pichincha volcano, some 2,800 metres above sea level, Ecuador’s capital has a very well preserved centre with more than 50 churches, chapels and monasteries, and dozens of squares.

The negotiated relocation of some 7,000 street vendors to formal markets in 2003, and a pedestrianisation of the historic centre program carried out in the first decade of the century, bringing art to the squares and streets every Sunday, helped to attract local residents and growing numbers of tourists.

The great impact of building a subway under the old city worries many people. “The subway is not a good thing for the poor; it is faster than the trolley bus, but more expensive,” said 52-year-old Manuel Quispe, who earns a living cleaning shoes in Plaza de San Francisco.

Jorge Córdoba, another shoe shiner in the square, agreed that the subway is faster, but told IPS he believes it will be impossible to build, since “Quito was built on filled-in gullies” and it will be hard to open tunnels. He complained, like Quispe, of the many months that the works have been stalled, blocking half of the square and reducing their already meagre incomes.

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Coal Entrenches Poverty, Drives Climate Change: Reporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-entrenches-poverty-drives-climate-change-report/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coal-entrenches-poverty-drives-climate-change-report http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-entrenches-poverty-drives-climate-change-report/#comments Fri, 18 Nov 2016 05:22:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147837 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-entrenches-poverty-drives-climate-change-report/feed/ 1 Opposition to Oil Pipeline in U.S. Serves as Example for Indigenous Struggles in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 16:07:05 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147730 The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is fighting the construction of an oil pipeline across their land in North Dakota. The movement has gained international solidarity and has many things in common with indigenous struggles against megaprojects in Latin America. Credit: Downwindersatrisk.org

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is fighting the construction of an oil pipeline across their land in North Dakota. The movement has gained international solidarity and has many things in common with indigenous struggles against megaprojects in Latin America. Credit: Downwindersatrisk.org

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 11 2016 (IPS)

Canadian activist Clayton Thomas-Muller crossed the border between his country and the United States to join the Native American movement against the construction of an oil pipeline, which has become a model to follow in struggles by indigenous people against megaprojects, that share many common elements.

“It’s an amazing movement. Its number one factor is the spiritual founding of cosmology. There are indigenous people all around the world that share the cosmology of water. There is a feeling on sacred land. This is the biggest indigenous movement since pre-colonial times,” the delegate for the Indigenous Environmental Network told IPS.

Thomas-Muller, of the Cree people, stressed that the oil pipeline “is one of the major cases of environmental risk in the United States” fought by indigenous people.

“We see many parallels in the local indigenous struggles. When indigenous people arise and call upon the power of their cosmology and their world view and add them up to social movements, they light people up as we’ve never seen,” he told IPS by phone from the Sioux encampment that he joined on Nov. 6.

“This struggle is everywhere, the whole world is with Standing Rock,” he said.

Standing Rock Sioux is the tribe that heads the opposition to the 1,890-km Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in the state of North Dakota, along the Canadian border.

The 3.7 billion dollar pipeline, which is being built by the US company Dakota Access, is to transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken shale formation.

The opposition to the pipeline by the Sioux, or Dakota, Indians has brought construction to a halt since September, in a battle that has gained thousands of supporters since April, including people from different Native American tribes, environmental activists and celebrity advocates, not only from the U.S. but from around the world.

Their opposition is based on the damages that they say the pipeline would cause to sacred sites, indigenous land and water bodies. They complain that the government did not negotiate with them access to a territory over which they have complete jurisdiction.

Some 600 flags of indigenous peoples from around the world wave over the camp on the banks of the Missouri River where the movement has been resisting the crackdown that has intensified since October. Of the U.S. population of 325 million, about 2.63 million are indigenous people, belonging to 150 different tribes.

The movement has served as an example for similar battles in Latin America, according to indigenous leaders.

Map of the Sioux territory affected by the oil pipeline in the U.S. state of North Dakota. Credit: Northlandia.com

Map of the Sioux territory affected by the oil pipeline in the U.S. state of North Dakota. Credit: Northlandia.com

In the northern Mexican state of Sonora, the Yaqui people are also fighting a private pipeline threatening their lands.

“We were not asked or informed. We want to be consulted, we want our rights to be respected. We are defending our territory, our environment,” Yaqui activist Plutarco Flores told IPS.

In a consultation held in accordance with their uses and customs in May 2015, the Yaqui people – one of Mexico’s 54 native groups – voted against the gas pipeline that would run across their land. But the government failed to recognise their decision. In response, the Yaqui filed an appeal for legal protection in April, which halted construction.

Of the 850-km pipeline, 90 km run through Yaqui territory – and through people’s backyards. In October, a violent clash between opponents and supporters of the pipeline left one indigenous person dead and 14 injured.

For Flores, the indigenous struggle against megaprojects has become “a paradigm” and protests like the one at Standing Rock “inspire and reassure us because of our shared cultural patterns.”

Also in Mexico, in the northern state of Sinaloa, the Rarámuri native people have since January 2015 halted the construction of a gas pipeline across their lands and the bordering U.S. state of Texas, demanding free prior and informed consultation, as required by law.

Unlike the U.S., Latin American countries are signatories to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which protects their rights and makes this kind of consultation obligatory in the case of projects that affect their territories.

But in many cases, according to indigenous leaders consulted by IPS, this right has not been incorporated in national laws, or is simply not complied with, when projects involving oil, mining, hydroelectric or infrastructure activities affect their ancestral lands.

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, during her visit to Mexico City for an international conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation on projects that affect their lands. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, during her visit to Mexico City for an international conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation on projects that affect their lands. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Both the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, requested in September that the U.S. government consult the communities affected by the oil pipeline.

“The fact that they’re not being consulted means a violation to their rights. The arrests that have taken place are too a violation of the right of free assembly,” Tauli-Corpuz told IPS Nov. 9, at the end of a visit to Mexico.

During her three days in the country, the special rapporteur participated in a conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation, promoted by the the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.

Tauli-Corpuz also met with representatives of 20 indigenous Mexican communities affected by gas pipelines, hydropower plants, highways and mines. The Mexican government announced that in 2017 it would officially invite the special rapporteur to assess the situation of indigenous people in Mexico.

The U.N. official said a recurring complaint she has heard on her trips to Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Panama and Peru is the lack of free, prior consultation that is obligatory under Convention 169.

In Costa Rica, the Maleku people, one of the Central American country’s eight indigenous groups, who total 104,000 people, are worried about the expansion of the San Rafael de Guatuso aqueduct, in the north of the country.

“A fake consultation was carried out. Also, the people do not want water meters, because they would have to pay more for water,” Tatiana Mojica, the Maleku people’s legal representative, who is thinking about filing an appeal for legal protection against the project, told IPS during the colloquium.

Since September, Sarayaku indigenous people from Ecuador, Emberá-Wounaan from Panamá, and Tacana from Bolivia have visited the Sioux camp to protest the oil pipeline.

Thomas-Muller said “We have the opportunity to stop it. I’m optimistic that we will be victorious here. These movements are the hammer that will fall over oil infrastructure owned by the banks and big corporations. We want political will to make an appearance,” he said.

A major Nov. 15 protest is being organised to demand that the government refuse a permit for the North Dakota pipeline.

“This struggle will go through all the steps that it has to. We will make sure that the Sonora pipeline is not built,” said Flores.

Meanwhile, Mojica said “we are uniting to fight against megaprojects that affect us. We are making ourselves heard.”

Tauli-Corpuz said “Opposition to pipelines is a common feature of indigenous people. It’s a magnet that attracts solidarity from all over the world.”

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Cities Address a Key Challenge: Infrastructure Needshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/cities-address-a-key-challenge-infrastructure-needs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cities-address-a-key-challenge-infrastructure-needs http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/cities-address-a-key-challenge-infrastructure-needs/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2016 21:37:44 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147540 One of the concerns about compliance with Habitat III is how to finance the new public works, taking into consideration the considerable investment required. In the image, a photocomposition of European cities in a Habitat III exposition in Quito. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

One of the concerns about compliance with Habitat III is how to finance the new public works, taking into consideration the considerable investment required. In the image, a photocomposition of European cities in a Habitat III exposition in Quito. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
QUITO, Oct 27 2016 (IPS)

“We as mayors have to govern midsize cities as if they were capital cities,” said Héctor Mantilla, city councilor of Floridablanca, the third-largest city in the northern Colombian department of Santander.

He told IPS that “citizens not only demand public services, but also infrastructure; and environmentally and financially sustainable construction works are needed.”

Mantilla, who took office in January, participated in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Housing and Urban Development (Habitat III), held Oct. 17-20 in the capital of Ecuador, which produced the “Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All,” known as the New Urban Agenda (NUA).

At the summit, organised by U.N. Habitat every 20 years, Mantilla talked about infrastructure needs and management.In 2015, 54 percent of the world population lived in urban areas, a rate that will climb to 66 percent by 2050. The Americas will be the most urbanised region in the world, with 87 percent urban population.

Floridablanca, population 300,000, is part of the Bucaramanga metropolitan area, together with two other municipalities. To address people’s demands, the local administration built two highway interchanges and a paragliding park.

The mayor’s experiences and expectations reflect the concerns of governments, particularly local administrations. In fact, one of the NUA’s major challenges is the environmental and financial sustainability of the infrastructure required to meet the commitments made in Quito with regard to housing, transport, public services and digitalisation.

For Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the priorities are mobility, water and sewage, adequate housing, resilience, renewable energy, promotion of digitalisation and the fight against segregation and inequality.

“There is a lack of infrastructure. It is not sufficiently integrated. We have two scenarios: the United States with high car use rates, or the European, with smaller cities, where the use of private cars is discouraged,” she told IPS.

Bárcena said that “a certain kind of infrastructure and planning is required” in order for cities to be “resilient”, a concept touted in recent years by international organisations such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), defined as the capacity of an ecosystem to absorb environmental stress without undergoing fundamental changes.

In 2015, 54 percent of the world population lived in urban areas, a rate that will climb to 66 percent by 2050. The Americas will be the most urbanised region in the world, with 87 percent urban population. The projected proportions are 86 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean; 74 percent in Oceania; 82 percent in Europe; 64 percent in Asia; and 56 percent in Africa.

Mayor Héctor Mantilla (right) spoke at Habitat III about the infrastructure needs in midsize cities, in his case, Floridablanca, in Colombia’s northern department of Santander. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mayor Héctor Mantilla (right) spoke at Habitat III about the infrastructure needs in midsize cities, in his case, Floridablanca, in Colombia’s northern department of Santander. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The report “Latin America and the Caribbean. Challenges, dilemmas and commitments of a common urban agenda”, released at the Quito summit, observes that, despite the significant expansion in infrastructure in recent decades, the deficit in cities remains one of the main challenges for developing countries in general.

The document, drafted by the Forum of Ministers and High-level Authorities of the Housing and Urban Development Sector in Latin America and the Caribbean (MINURVI), ECLAC and U.N.-Habitat’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, points out that Latin America and the Caribbean have an investment rate of two percent of GDP, compared to eight percent of regional GDP in Southeast Asia.

The overall rate of investment in infrastructure “has declined in the last three decades, blaming a reduction in public investment, a marginal increase in private investment and the retraction of multilateral financing.”

In the developing South, large cities face challenges like pollution, exposure to climate change, chaotic growth, traffic congestion, informal employment and inequality.

There have been different attempts to calculate the scale of infrastructure needs. The IDB’s Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative estimates a need for 142 billion dollars in priority investments in urban infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance (CCFLA) estimates a global need of 93 trillion dollars in investment in low-carbon climate resilient infrastructure over the next 15 years.

The NUA mentions the word “infrastructure” 33 times, although it outlines no means or goals to develop it.

Money is short

A recurring question is where the funding for infrastructure will come from, given that regions such as Latin America are experiencing an economic downturn, after a decade of growth that made it possible to fight poverty and expand public works.

Andrés Blanco, a Colombian expert on urban development and housing with the IDB, proposes several mechanisms, including “land value capture”: capturing the increases in property values for the state. This refers to a municipality’s ability to benefit from the rise in real estate value generated by infrastructure improvements (access to highways, the paving of roads, public lighting, sewers, etc.) or the implementation of new land-use rules (e.g., from rural to urban).

“The main idea is to use this resource to finance infrastructure. But this has not been done, because there is a cash flow problem. The cost is paid by the government and the communities, but only private property owners benefit,” he told IPS.

In three Brazilian cities, the IDB found that investing one dollar per square metre in drinking water pipes increased the land value by 11 dollars, while three dollars per m2 invested in sewage brought up the value to 8.5 dollars, and 2.58 dollars per m2 invested in paving raised the value by 9.1 dollars. In Quito, the transformation of rural to urban land enhanced the value by 400 percent.

In the Ecuadorean capital, the IDB released the report “Expanding the use of Land Value Capture in Latin America”.

In Floridablanca, the local government recovered 30,000 dollars of a total of 175,000, that the owners of 100 plots of land must pay for having benefited from investment in urban improvements.

“The main challenge facing the New Urban Agenda is how to find funding. We as mayors have to prioritise small-scale projects, but we need major infrastructure in outlying areas,” Mantilla said.

For Bárcena, Habitat III leaves an immense financing task. “Land use could be more profitable. States cannot do it alone. For this reason, there has to be a grand coalition between governments, companies, and organisations to make urban and public space more habitable, and to make cities more connected,” she said.

ECLAC, which is carrying out a study on time use in cities, proposes mechanisms such as: public policies on land value capture, to increase revenue collection and guide the way urban infrastructure is developed; the issue of municipal bonds to raise capital for long-term infrastructure projects; and platforms to draw private investment.

The United Nations Environment Programme’s “Global Outlook on Walking and Cycling”, released in Quito, calls for countries to invest at least 20 percent of their transport budget on infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, in order to save lives, curb pollution and reduce carbon emissions.

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Few Families Overcome Forced Displacement by Hydropower Plants in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/few-families-overcome-forced-displacement-by-hydropower-plants-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=few-families-overcome-forced-displacement-by-hydropower-plants-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/few-families-overcome-forced-displacement-by-hydropower-plants-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 10 Oct 2016 20:10:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147297 Students from the school in Vila Nova Teotônio, that now has half the students it used to have, wait for the bus that takes them to their nearby homes, or – in the case of those who live on the other side of the Madeira River – for the boat that crosses the Santo Antônio dam in the municipality of Porto Velho, in northwestern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Students from the school in Vila Nova Teotônio, that now has half the students it used to have, wait for the bus that takes them to their nearby homes, or – in the case of those who live on the other side of the Madeira River – for the boat that crosses the Santo Antônio dam in the municipality of Porto Velho, in northwestern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
PORTO VELHO, Brazil, Oct 10 2016 (IPS)

The construction of mega-hydropower plants in Brazil has been a tragedy for thousands of families that have been displaced, and a nightmare for the companies that have to relocate them as required by local law.

But the phenomenon is not exclusive to this country. According to a 2005 study by Thayer Scudder, who teaches anthropology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), of 44 dams worldwide whose outcomes were assessed by the report, a majority of the resettled population was further impoverished in 36 of the cases.

In fact, just three of the plants helped to improve people’s lives. In the other five cases, people managed to maintain their previous standard of living.

Of the 50 power plants that were studied, 19 were in Asia, 10 in Latin America, and the rest in other regions. (In six cases, insufficient data was available to evaluate outcomes.)

Two giant hydroelectric power plants recently built on the Madeira River where it crosses the city of Porto Velho in the’ Amazon rainforest in northwest Brazil are adding to the negative data, in spite of the efforts made, investing millions in resettling people.

Six years after their displacement due to the construction of the Jirau and Santo Antônio plants, the third and fourth largest dams in the country, respectively, the resettled families still depend on support from the companies that built the dams, and a small portion have given up their new homes.

The school in Vila Nova Teotônio has only half of the nearly 300 students that it had in its previous site, and the number “is going down every year,” despite the more modern and spacious facilities, Vice Principal Aparecida Veiga told IPS.

The population of the fishing village that emerged seven decades ago next to the Teotônio waterfall dwindled together with the student body, after the families were resettled to a higher spot safe from the flooding from the Santo Antônio dam, built from 2008 to 2012, six kilometres from the city of Porto Velho, the capital of the municipality and of the state of Rondônia.

“We have classrooms with five students in the morning, in contrast with the up to 42 students we used to have in the old school, with teachers that are needed in other schools being underutilised,” said Veiga.

“Down below,” as they refer to the submerged village, “the community was very connected with the school, which strengthened education. Here, we are having problems with drugs, pregnant girls. They were removed from their roots, their culture,” she said.

Empty houses in Vila Nova Teotônio, where 47 families remain, according to the company that built the Santo Antônio hydropower plant, which also constructed a community of 72 houses, 17 of which were transferred to the settlers’ associations for the school, health centres and other services. Some of the families that were resettled in this town in the northwestern Brazilian state of Rondônia have already left. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Empty houses in Vila Nova Teotônio, where 47 families remain, according to the company that built the Santo Antônio hydropower plant, which also constructed a community of 72 houses, 17 of which were transferred to the settlers’ associations for the school, health centres and other services. Some of the families that were resettled in this town in the northwestern Brazilian state of Rondônia have already left. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One loss was the waterfall, which was submerged by the dam.

With the perspective of a businessman, Carlos Alfonso Damasceno, a 48-year-old father of six, says “it is not a question of whether or not people like the new village; it’s about a lack of income sources.”

“There are no fish, the river has dried and silted up…Also, the road was extended 11 km, having been rebuilt to go around a jutting out part of the reservoir, and that keeps tourists away.”

With fish scarce and access more difficult, besides the mosquitoes that proliferate in the stagnant water, Teotônio no longer attracts the visitors that used to come to enjoy the local food, beaches and waterfall, said Damasceno, who owns the village’s largest store and restaurant.

He believes that rebuilding the old road, by filling in with earth the submerged section, would be enough to overcome the local economic decline, returning to an acceptable distance of 30 km between the village and Porto Velho, a market of 510,000 people.

Only 48 families from the original village of Teotônio accepted resettlement on the new site, and “just 18 families remain, but some of them were not among the initial families,” said Damasceno.

But the Santo Antônio Energía Consortium (SAE), which built the plant and holds a concession to operate it for 35 years, provides different statistics. There are 47 families now living in Vila Nova Teotônio, the company informed IPS, and of the 72 houses that were built, 17 were transferred to the Settlers’ Association and other institutions.

Carlos Damasceno in his store, which provides gas, food and other goods to the people of Vila Nova Teotônio. The town was built with 72 houses to resettle the villagers who lived along the Madeira River, in communities that were flooded by the Santo Antônio hydropower plant reservoir, in the northwest of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Carlos Damasceno in his store, which provides gas, food and other goods to the people of Vila Nova Teotônio. The town was built with 72 houses to resettle the villagers who lived along the Madeira River, in communities that were flooded by the Santo Antônio hydropower plant reservoir, in the northwest of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“Less than five families sold their homes,” said the consortium, which describes the village as a “model case”, with a tourism potential which is reflected in the events held there, and facilities built by SAE, such as an artificial beach, a wooden pier, an eco-trail, and lodging houses.

Fish farming of the tambaqui (Piaractus macropomus) – also known as black pacu, black-finned pacu, giant pacu, or cachama – the most profitable Amazon fish for breeding, has not yet taken off because the group of settlers chosen for the activity has rejected the offered project, with training, materials, tanks and necessary vehicles, said SAE.

Each family in Teotônio is still receiving a monthly allowance of 1,250 Brazilian reals (380 dollars) from the company, set by the environmental agencies, since the families are not yet able to support themselves, after six years in their new concrete homes built on 2,000-square-metre lots and equipped with sewage, running water and other basic services.

Similar difficulties in adaptation in have been experienced in the other six resettled villages built by SAE and the two by Sustainable Energy of Brazil (ESBR), which constructed and operates the Jirau hydropower plant, 120 km from Porto Velho.

View of Nova Mutum Paraná, a development of 1,600 houses built in a deforested area far from the Madeira River, where people displaced by the Jirau hydropower plant have been resettled. The settlement has brought culture shock to the riverine population that is deeply connected with the river and the forest. Credit: Courtesy of ESBR

View of Nova Mutum Paraná, a development of 1,600 houses built in a deforested area far from the Madeira River, where people displaced by the Jirau hydropower plant have been resettled. The settlement has brought culture shock to the riverine population that is deeply connected with the river and the forest. Credit: Courtesy of ESBR

In the New Life Rural Resettlement built by ESBR, only 22 of the initial 35 families remain. Late this year they are to start breeding tambaqui in tanks dug below ground, whose wastewater will be used to fertilise vegetable gardens and fruit orchards, following the pilot project carried out for the last six years.

ESBR has also resettled some of the people displaced by the dam in Nova Mutum, an urban development of 1,600 houses built mainly to accommodate its employees.

In this landscape of tree-less grasslands and cattle pasture, the company tried to resettle hundreds of families from the old Mutum Paraná, a village of riverine people in close connection with the forest, which was flooded by the Jirau dam.

Far from the river and its fish, the forest and its fruit, with concrete homes instead of their wooden houses, and a pool instead of their traditional river beach, the resettled people suffered from culture shock and found it hard to adapt.

Some of the families left, trying to reconstruct on their own their previous way of life, in Vila Jirau, a small riverside community.

But Nova Mutum is one of the few success stories among forced resettlements, according to Berenice Simão, co-author of the paper “Socioecological Resilience in Communities Displaced by Hydroelectric Plants in the Amazon Region“, together with ecologist Simone Athayde, from the University of Florida, United States.

The small community of resettled people is “organised, and has very active associations of local residents and women,” which are persistent in their negotiations, fighting and not giving up on their demands,” Simão told IPS.

The presence of a large number of shopkeepers and civil servants among the resettled people contributes to its success. Moreover, Nova Mutum is the ESBR’s showcase, and the company seems intent on investing whatever is necessary to develop the community, she said.

The company created the Environmental Observatory of Jirau, a social organisation with community participation that promotes environmental education, through gardens and reforestation, and cooperativism among farmers.

A furniture factory is being set up in the town, in a warehouse that has been empty since the dam was finished. “This could be the start of an industrial hub” – which was included in ESBR’s plans but never emerged – generating jobs and boosting the development of the community, said Simão.

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Amid South Africa’s Drought, Proposed Mine Raises Fears of Wetlands Impacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact/#comments Tue, 04 Oct 2016 20:06:46 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147212 A stream meanders through a wetland in Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga. The region is a Strategic Water Source Area, the segments of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that make up 8 percent of land area but account for 50 percent of water supply. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A stream meanders through a wetland in Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga. The region is a Strategic Water Source Area, the segments of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that make up 8 percent of land area but account for 50 percent of water supply. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

By Mark Olalde
JOHANNESBURG, Oct 4 2016 (IPS)

The dam supplying Johannesburg’s water sits less than 30 percent full. Water restrictions have been in place since November and taxes on high water use since August. Food prices across South Africa have risen about 10 percent from last year, in large part due to water shortages.

“If you’re going to have a large coal mine in [a protected area], what’s the point really?” -- Melissa Fourie
In the midst of one of the country’s worst droughts in recorded history, the government continues to permit new coal mines and coal-fired power plants. One mine in particular is gaining increased scrutiny, as it has been given nearly all the permits necessary to mine in a high yield water area called the Mabola Protected Environment in the Mpumalanga province.

Indian mining company Atha-Africa Ventures (Pty) Ltd’s proposed Yzermyn Underground Coal Mine would sit 160 miles southwest of Johannesburg in the catchments of three major rivers: the Vaal, the Tugela and the Pongola. The surrounding area also falls within a Strategic Water Source Area, the eight percent of land in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that accounts for 50 percent of water supply.

The proposed mine site is in the midst of numerous other protected and high importance demarcations such as the endangered Wakkerstroom Montane Grassland and the South Eastern Escarpment National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment Priority Area. The Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan labels the habitat of the proposed site as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.”

A southern masked weaver sits on a branch in the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve and Crane Sanctuary, a local tourist destination. The area is known for several endemic crane species, and the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan identifies it as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.” Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A southern masked weaver sits on a branch in the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve and Crane Sanctuary, a local tourist destination. The area is known for several endemic crane species, and the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan identifies it as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.” Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Because the mine would tunnel underneath Mabola, the Protected Areas Act prohibits mining unless a company obtains written permission from the directors of both the Department of Mineral Resources, DMR, and Department of Environmental Affairs, DEA.

The DMR signed off on the project when it granted a mining right in September 2014, just eight months after Mabola was declared protected. However, at a September hearing of the South African Human Rights Commission, a representative of the DMR falsely asserted under oath that the department would not allow mining in the area. The DEA has given no indication of Minister Edna Molewa’s plans regarding the mine.

Neither the DMR nor the DEA responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Melissa Fourie is the director of the Centre for Environmental Rights, which is spearheading litigation to slow the mine’s progress through the permitting procedure. She said the whole process has been “slight of hand” and “a lot of smoke and mirrors.”

“If you’re going to have a large coal mine in [a protected area], what’s the point really?” Fourie told IPS. “It affects not just that area, but it affects the whole country’s water resources and a whole lot of downstream users.”

The Vaal River System ultimately provides water for most of the country’s coal-fired electricity generation, as well as the country’s most populous province of Gauteng, and Fourie fears pollution from the mine would impact the system.

The underground Yzermyn mine would cover about 2,500 hectares of Atha-Africa’s 8,360 hectare mining right. Surface infrastructure would be kept to a minimum, although plans indicate a pollution control dam is to be built on a wetland.

Atha-Africa’s senior vice president Praveer Tripathi said, “The evidence that mining in that area is going to disturb the functionality of the wetland as well as any apprehensions about acid mine drainage were very, very scant.” According to Tripathi and the environmental authorisation, mitigation will include recharging wetlands, onsite water treatment and sealing of the shafts post-closure.

Tripathi argued that a nearby abandoned mine is dry, which would suggest Yzermyn might not flood and cause acid mine drainage. However, it took several iterations of consultants’ reports to reach the conclusion that the mine would have minimal environmental impacts. “There was concerns raised by our own specialists about some of the negative effects of some activities,” Tripathi said.

Farmer and chairman of the Mabola Protected Environment Oubaas Malan points out his farm from the proposed mine site. Because the mine would tunnel under a legally protected environment, it requires the written approval of the ministers of both the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Environmental Affairs. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Farmer and chairman of the Mabola Protected Environment Oubaas Malan points out his farm from the proposed mine site. Because the mine would tunnel under a legally protected environment, it requires the written approval of the ministers of both the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Environmental Affairs. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Angus Burns, senior manager for the Land and Biodiversity Stewardship Programme at WWF-SA, was active in the movement to demarcate protected areas. “The precedent that can be set by the allowance of this kind of activity within a protected environment opens up, I believe, a floodgate of opportunities for any mining company to challenge protected environments,” he said.

The water use license granted to Atha-Africa allows the company to use 22 Olympic size swimming pools-worth of water annually, dewater the underground area it would mine and pump a limited amount of treated effluent into wetlands.

In a statement, Tsunduka Khosa, the director of water use licensing at the Department of Water and Sanitation said: “The water use licence granted contains a set of conditions aimed at mitigating the possible impacts…South Africa is water scarce country. Therefore all activities that have a potential to impact water resources are considered serious to the Department and all available water resources are sensitive.”

Mining opponents also claim political ties helped push this mine through a stringent permitting process. One of Atha-Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment partners called Bashubile Trust has several trustees with connections to President Jacob Zuma. Sizwe Zuma, one of the trustees, is alleged to be the president’s relative – although Atha-Africa denies this – and in court documents Sizwe Zuma listed his residential address as the presidential estate in Pretoria.

Bashubile did not respond to requests for comment. Mpumalanga’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs, which acknowledged all the protected areas yet still granted the environmental authorization, also did not respond.

Regardless of permits, much of the population in nearby Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga, is afraid that mining would severely impact the current economy, which is reliant on livestock farming and ecotourism.

Johan Uys works on his family’s farm near Wakkerstroom and said his children will be the sixth generation to farm there. “Most of the people that are from Wakkerstroom are against mining, but there are the people that don’t have jobs that are for the mining because there are these promises that are made,” he said, citing the racial disparity between wealthy white landowners and poor black communities in town.

Wakkerstroom residents from the black community said they would only want mining if Atha-Africa pledged environmental protection and sustainable job growth. The company estimates that 500 direct jobs will be created and 2,000 indirect, although the mine is only expected to operate for 15 years.

“We know from very bitter experience that this hardly ever transpires,” Fourie said of the job creation estimates. “So often those jobs are not local jobs.”

Mark Olalde’s mining investigations are financially supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Additional support was provided by #MineAlert and Code for Africa.

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New Government Inherits Conflict over Peru’s Biggest Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru/#comments Sat, 17 Sep 2016 01:37:38 +0000 Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146972 Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar
LIMA/CHALLHUAHUACHO , Sep 17 2016 (IPS)

Of the 150 socioeconomic conflicts related to the extractive industries that Peru’s new government inherited, one of the highest-profile is the protest by the people living near the biggest mining project in the history of the country: Las Bambas.

The enormous open-pit copper mine in the district of Challhuahuacho, in the southern department of Apurímac, is operated by the Chinese-Australian company MMG Limited, controlled by China Minmetals Corporation, which invested more than 10 billion dollars in its first project in Latin America.

Peru, where mining is the backbone of the economy, is the third-largest copper producer in the world and the fifth-largest gold producer.

Las Bambas, which started operating in January, is projected to have an initial annual production of 400,000 tons of copper concentrate.

The conflict reached its peak in September 2015 when three people were killed and 29 wounded in a clash between local residents and the police. The former government of Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) assembled a working group to address local demands.

The working group’s first meeting since conservative President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski took office on Jul. 28 was held on Aug. 22.

“We don’t want conflicts. But if we give you the mine, we have to set conditions,” Daniel Olivera, a local farmer from the community of Ccayao, told IPS with regard to the neglected demands of people living around the mine, which has reserves of 7.2 million metric tons of copper, in addition to molybdenum and other minerals.

The working group was set up in February, to address four issues: human rights, environment, sustainable development with public investment, and corporate social responsibility.

The only concrete result achieved so far, according to the representatives of the Quechua communities surrounding the mine, was compensation for the families of the three people killed in the violent clash.

The last session took place Sep. 7-8, but it mainly dealt with technical aspects. The head of the Front for the Defence of the Interests of the Province of Cotatambas, Rodolfo Abarca, told IPS that he expects the next meetings, scheduled for October, to deal with “substantive issues”.

The mine’s three open pits and the processing facilities are located 4,000 metres above sea level in the Andes mountains, between the Cotabambas and Grau provinces in the Apurímac region.

The Front demands that an independent study be carried out in order to shed light on the origins of the conflict: the changes approved by the Ministry of Mines and Energy to the environmental impact assessment of the project, without consulting the local population, in spite of the potential impact on the water sources, soil and air.

The most controversial move was made in 2013 when the authorities allowed the transfer of the plant that separates molybdenum from copper, from Tintaya in the neighboring region of Cuzco, to Fuerabamba, in Cotatambas.

 Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS


Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

The transfer meant new studies were necessary to measure the potential environmental impacts at the new site. But this step was disregarded in the supporting technical report, according to the environmental engineers who went through the more than 1,500 pages of project records with the team from the investigative journalism site Convoca.

While the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the mining company Las Bambas saw these changes as minor and involving insignificant impacts, the experts said they were significant modifications that required a closer analysis.

The supporting technical report is part of a simplification of requirements carried out by Humala’s government in 2013 through decree 054-2013-PCM, aimed at accelerating private investment in the country.

Among the simplifications was a new rule that the local population no longer has to be consulted before allowing changes in environmental impact studies, on the assumption that these changes only affect secondary components of the project or expansions for technological improvements.

Convoca’s journalists told IPS that the environmental engineers informed them that in the case of Las Bambas, the technical supporting report was used to rapidly justify changes, without having to conduct specific studies to prevent potential environmental impacts, and to avoid consulting local communities.

The technical supporting report also made it possible for the minerals to be transported by truck, instead of only through pipelines as in the past. As a result, the trucks have been throwing up clouds of dust since January, a problem that has further fuelled the local protests.

The company told Convoca via email that they use “sealed containers” and that they spray the roads with water before the trucks drive by.

With the removal of the requirement for pipelines went the hopes of people in the 20 farming communities and four small towns in four different districts, who expected to lease or sell the lands crossed by the pipelines that were projected in the initial environmental impact assessment.

The decision “hit us like a bucket of cold water… It’s very sad,” added Olivera, who is from a community where the pipelines were supposed to cross.

The environmental engineers argued that what should have been done was a study of the environmental impact caused by the transport of minerals by truck instead of through a pipeline.

They also said a health impact assessment was needed after the relocation of the filtration plant, “since besides copper, molybdenum is also processed and produced, which is harmful to human health,” causing liver failure and different types of arthritis.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy said by email that the relocation of “the molybdenum plant, as well as the filtration area and the concentrate storage facility,” only required a technical supporting report because the management plan approved for the plant was not modified.

Moreover, they said the area of influence of the project was reduced, and argued that a plan approved to recirculate the mining process water was an “improvement.”

The company said that before submitting their report, it “identified and evaluated the impacts that would be generated in each case,” and concluded that “they would not be significant.”

In his inaugural address, President Kuczynski said he would demand compliance with all environmental regulations and would respect the views of every citizen regarding a project’s environmental impact.

But the former vice minister of environmental management, José de Echave, pointed out to IPS that “there is no mechanism for public participation,” even when local residents are not opposed to a project.

According to the ombudsperson’s office there are 221 unresolved social conflicts in Peru, 150 (71 percent) of which are centered on territories where extractive projects are being carried out and have an environmental component.

De Echave said the government should create strategies to monitor social conflicts and deal with them through dialogue with government agencies.

Access to land is another issue behind the social conflict in Las Bambas.

There are 16 families in the village of Taquiruta, on the edge of the town of Fuerabamba, who live very close to the centre of operations of Las Bambas and refuse to leave their homes and parcels of land until the company provides them with fair compensation. The minerals are under the ground where their houses sit.

They are the only ones that until now have not left. Over the last two years, more than 400 families have been relocated to a new settlement, half an hour away from the community, named Nueva Fuerabamba (new Fuerabamba).

De Echave said the government should implement a land-use planning law to anticipate potential conflicts over access to natural resources.

With reporting by Alicia Tovar (Lima).

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Fish Farming, a Challenge and Opportunity for Small Farmers in Brazil’s Amazonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/fish-farming-a-challenge-and-opportunity-for-small-farmers-in-brazils-amazon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fish-farming-a-challenge-and-opportunity-for-small-farmers-in-brazils-amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/fish-farming-a-challenge-and-opportunity-for-small-farmers-in-brazils-amazon/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 15:32:56 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146919 One of the seven tanks on Domingo Mendes da Silva’s farm in Santa Marta, in the northwestern Brazilian state of Rondônia, full of pirarucús or arapaimas, one of the biggest fish in the Amazonian jungle, which are ready to be sold when they reach 14 kilos, and which jump when they are fed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One of the seven tanks on Domingo Mendes da Silva’s farm in Santa Marta, in the northwestern Brazilian state of Rondônia, full of pirarucús or arapaimas, one of the biggest fish in the Amazonian jungle, which are ready to be sold when they reach 14 kilos, and which jump when they are fed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SANTA RITA, Brazil, Sep 14 2016 (IPS)

Domingo Mendes da Silva has lost track of how many visitors he has received at his 10-hectare farm in northwest Brazil. He estimates “more than 500,” including aquaculture technicians, government officials, peasant farmers, journalists and other people interested in fish farming.

The attraction is the pirarucu or arapaima (Arapaima gigas), one of the largest fish in the Amazon jungle, which he breeds in seven black canvas fish tanks, “two for breeding and five for fattening.” Each tank contains 500 fish that are ready for sale in just over a year, when they reach around 14 kilos. In their natural habitat, they can weigh over 100 kilos.

“These fish grow very fast, gaining 10 kilos per year on average. Besides, you can use every part of the arapaima: the skin, the scales and even the faeces,” said Mendes, who for years had dreamed of becoming a fish farmer.

The opportunity came when he settled in Santa Rita, an agricultural community that received 153 families displaced by the San Antonio dam, one of two big hydroelectric plants built on the Madeira River, one of the Amazon River’s biggest tributaries.

Mendes, 57, a former “garimpeiro” or informal miner, told IPS on his farm that he became a farmer in 1999 when “gold became scarce” and he was settled under the Brazilian government’s land reform programme in Joana D’Arc, on the banks of the Madeira River, 120 kilometres from Porto Velho, the capital of the northwestern state of Rondônia.

Later he was resettled in Santa Rita by the company that built the dam, Santo Antônio Energía (SAE), because the land was going to be flooded by the reservoir.

“The soil is not very fertile here, but we have better access, since it’s near a paved road and the capital city,” said Mendes. His farm is five kilometres from interstate highway BR-364 which crosses Brazil from southeast to northwest, and Santa Rita is 54 kilometres from Porto Velho.

These factors encouraged him to breed arapaima in canvas tanks eight metres in diameter, which can produce 50 kilos of fish per cubic metre of water, compared to just one kilo by conventional methods, according to the rural technical assistance agency of Rondônia (Emater-Ro), which supports the project.

“The system is viable, but it’s hard work, the water has to be changed daily,” Mendes said. The wastewater does not pollute the river because it is used to irrigate the plantations of the açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea), whose fruit is widely consumed at a local level and is also exported.

Six hectares of the farm are devoted to growing fruit and vegetables.

 Domingo Mendes stands next to one of the tanks where he holds wastewater from raising pirarucú or arapaima fish, used to irrigate vegetable gardens, fruit trees and açaí palm trees, which he grows on part of his farm in Santa Rita, in northwest Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Domingo Mendes stands next to one of the tanks where he holds wastewater from raising pirarucú or arapaima fish, used to irrigate vegetable gardens, fruit trees and açaí palm trees, which he grows on part of his farm in Santa Rita, in northwest Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But the project runs the risk of a premature death, despite the commendations of Emater-Ro and the SAE. Mendes feels he is on his own. Fish farming with “fertigation” – the application of soluble fertilisers by means of an irrigation system – did not draw the hoped-for level of participation and has not received the necessary support from the state for a refrigeration plant and marketing mechanisms, he complained.

With the participation of 30 fish farmers organised in a cooperative, as was anticipated in the initial plan, costs could be cut and better prices achieved, making the business more productive and profitable and benefiting the diet of the local population, he said.

Aquaculture and food security

Fish is becoming more and more important for world food security, and aquaculture has been fundamental in increasing the food supply, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Aquaculture production provided only seven percent of the fish for human consumption in 1974, a proportion that went up to 26 percent in 1994 and to 44.1 percent in 2014. From 2009 to 2014 it grew 32.5 per cent, while capture fisheries amounted to 3.5 percent, according to the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, published this year by FAO.

This trend will become more pronounced in the next 10 years. In Latin America, fisheries are tending to stagnate, while fish farming is projected to grow nearly 40 percent.

This is a factor that drives up the costs of the breeding of arapaima, which is widely consumed in Brazil.

Ilce Oliveira, coordinator of Aquaculture and Fisheries in the Rondônia Secretariat of Agriculture (Seagri), told IPS that “their feeding costs are too high for a family farmer, government subsidies are needed.”

Arapaima need to be fed 40 percent protein, compared to 28 percent for other species, said Mendes. But this does not make production unprofitable because of how quickly they fatten, he explained.

Fish farming is a priority for the Rondônia state government, which is developing a programme to promote the activity, particularly breeding in net pens in hydropower reservoirs.

Seagri expects aquaculture production to reach 80,000 tons this year. In 2010 output amounted to just 12,000 tons. Production could grow fast because of the 8,000 rural properties with the infrastructure for fish farming, only half are selling part of what they produce.

The two problems that Mendes said he faces – feeling that he is on his own, and the high feeding costs – do not affect the alternative chosen by the Collective Rural Resettlement of Jirau, the other dam on the Madeira River, 120 km from Porto Velho and 110 km upstream the Santo Antônio dam.

Their Income-Generation Pilot Project combines fish farming and crop irrigation using wastewater. But they opted for the tambaqui or pacu (Colossoma macropomum), the Amazonian fish most widely consumed and farmed.

 Domingo Mendes stands next to one of the tanks where he holds wastewater from raising pirarucú or arapaima fish, used to irrigate vegetable gardens, fruit trees and açaí palm trees, which he grows on part of his farm in Santa Rita, in northwest Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Domingo Mendes stands next to one of the tanks where he holds wastewater from raising pirarucú or arapaima fish, used to irrigate vegetable gardens, fruit trees and açaí palm trees, which he grows on part of his farm in Santa Rita, in northwest Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“It is the local species that has best adapted to tank breeding,” said Juliana Oliveira, in charge of socioeconomic affairs in ESBR, the consortium that built the Jirau hydroelectric plant.

Each of the four in-ground tanks produces up to five tons of fish per year, about 2,500 fish weighing two kilos on average, Miguel Lins, agronomist and environmental analyst for ESBR, told IPS.

The breeding tanks were built on high ground so water can drain on crops by gravity. However, this “fertigation” system is unusual, because the water with faeces and waste from fish farming contains too much ammonium, a fertiliser that in excess can damage crops, said Oliveira.

The project, financed by the company, seeks to assess the financial and environmental viability of this method of fish farming, while persuading and empowering the 22 families that are left in the resettlement, organised in the New Life Association. In 2011, 35 families were resettled but 13 have left.

The pilot project already provides a small income for the families, selling around 400 kilos weekly in nearby markets. That is not much when divided between all the families. But the plan is to build more tanks on the 75-hectare family plots, each of which contains 60 hectares of forest reserves.

They’re also making an effort to diversify production, with horticulture, fruit trees and forage plants adapted to the local ecosystem. The Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA, which played a fundamental role in Brazil’s agricultural development, is taking part in the project, testing varieties of bananas, pineapples and Amazonian fruits.

The undertaking is promoted by ESBR as a way to compensate for the environmental and social damage caused by the dam, and it is also supported by the Rural Producers’ Cooperative of Jirau, which groups 131 families displaced by the dam and resettled in other surrounding communities.

A structure like this, which ensures financial, technical and commercial support, is perhaps what Mendes’ isolated project – named “Piraçaí”, joining the names pirarucú and açaí palm – needs. Boosting its scale, through cooperatives or private and public investment, could turn it into a profitable business.

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When It Comes to Conservation, Size Mattershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 22:58:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146835 A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

When the communities living in the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park in the west of Colombia organised in 1996 to defend their land and preserve the ecosystem, they were fighting deforestation, soil degradation and poaching.

Twenty years later, local residents, farmers and community organisations have created four reserves, a brand of coffee and a community radio station, while making progress in conservation of this part of the Chocó-Darién conservation corridor along the border with Panama, although threats persist.

“One of the factors is sustaining the reserves in the long-term and generating benefits for local communities,” said César Franco, founder and director of the community environmental organisation Corporación Serraniagua.“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects.” -- Grethel Aguilar

The ecologist told IPS that “everything is under threat,” especially from megaprojects, like gold mining and oil prospecting, the loss of secure tenure on community-owned land, and the encroachment of agribusiness plantations, “which destroy family systems.”

Serraniagua is a collective of owners of nature reserves, associations of agrecological farmers, rural women’s networks, and local environmental groups in an area of 2,500 sq km inhabited by some 40,000 people, including indigenous and black communities.

The work of Franco and his fellow activists earned them one of the 15 prizes awarded to “Hotspot Heroes” for their outstanding conservation efforts, by the U.S. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) during the 2016 World Conservation Congress (WCC) held in Honolulu, Hawaii in the first 10 days of September.

The case of the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park shows the importance of small-scale protection efforts that benefit the environment and local residents, in comparison to large-scale infrastructure works and their enormous impact on ecosystems.

Local action is one of the main themes at this year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years, organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). On this occasion it is hosted by the U.S. state of Hawaii, and has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, which groups 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism.

Three of the resolutions address conservation and the impact of major infrastructure projects like highways, hydroelectric dams, ports, mines and oil drilling.

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

In the northwest Mexican state of Nayarit, Heidy Orozco, executive director of the non-governmental Nuiwari Centre for Social Development and Sustainability, emphasises the advantages of allowing the San Pedro River, the last free-flowing river in Mexico’s western Sierra Madre mountains, to remain dam-free.

“The area contains sacred places, mangroves and a biosphere reserve,” the activist, who lives near the river, told IPS in Honolulu. “It is still considered an area of biological and cultural wealth.”

Small farmers produce crops along the middle stretch of the river, while fishing communities make a living on the lower parts.

But the local ecosystem and agriculture, livestock and fisheries are under threat by the government CFE power utility’s plans to build the Las Cruces hydropower dam 65 km north of the city of Tepic, the capital of Nayarit.

The plant is to have an installed capacity of 240 MW and a 188-metre-high dam with a reservoir covering 5,349 hectares.

The Náyeri Indigenous Council and the Intercommunity Council of the San Pedro River, which emerged to fight construction of the dam, complain that it would hurt the Marismas Nacionales Biosphere Reserve, the most extensive mangrove forest system along Mexico’s Pacific coast.

They also complain that it would destroy 14 sacred sites and ceremonial centres of the Náyeri or Cora indigenous people, the Huichol or Wixáritari people, and the Tepehuán people.

In addition, it would flood the town of San Blasito.

The dam’s environmental impact study acknowledges that subsistence farming and small-scale livestock-raising would be lost in the area, but says it would be replaced by new opportunities for fishing in the reservoir.

In Bolivia, small-scale community conservation initiatives coexist dangerously with the construction of megaprojects.

For example, in a mine in the Natural Integrated Management Area of San Matías, in Bolivia’s Pantanal region in the department of Santa Cruz along the border with Brazil, only one hectare has been used over the last 10 years to mine ametrine, also known as bolivianite, a kind of quartz that is a mixture of amethyst and citrine.

This small-scale mine contrasts with the large-scale gold mining in the north of the country.

“Small-scale development is a solution. A number of lessons have been learned, such as the need for benefit-sharing, the creation of effective conservation mechanisms, and respect for laws and agreements that have been reached,” Carmen Miranda, Amazon region coordinator with the Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA), told IPS.

In Guatemala, Q’eqchí communities near the Lachuá Lagoon National Park, in the northern department of Alta Verapaz, have restored the forest, grow organic cacao which benefits 150 farmers and their families, to be expanded to 500 this year, produce honey, and make sustainable use of the forest.

“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects,” said Grethel Aguilar, the regional coordinator of the IUCN office for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Citing an example for IPS, she said that next January the IUCN would launch a project in the jungle in the south of Mexico and northern Guatemala and Belize, with close to nine million dollars in financing from the German Development Bank (KfW), to protect the forest and offer productive opportunities for local residents, who are mainly indigenous.

Franco said “we want to expand the areas under community management. Serraniagua proposes identifying key actions for conserving the forests, which protect the water sources of rural communities.”

Orozco, who is waging her battle a few hundred kilometres to the north, is not willing to accept any hydropower dam. “We will not benefit economically. We want development, public works that will take care of the water, but that don’t affect our culture and identity,” said the activist, whose network has brought several lawsuits against the Las Cruces dam.

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Olympic Games End Decade of Giant Mega-projects in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/olympic-games-end-decade-of-giant-mega-projects-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=olympic-games-end-decade-of-giant-mega-projects-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/olympic-games-end-decade-of-giant-mega-projects-in-brazil/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 17:28:35 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146383 Modern office buildings and stores, all empty, are among the “white elephants” in the city of Itaboraí, near Rio de Janeiro, left by an aborted petrochemical and oil refinery complex in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Modern office buildings and stores, all empty, are among the “white elephants” in the city of Itaboraí, near Rio de Janeiro, left by an aborted petrochemical and oil refinery complex in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO , Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

An era of mega-events and mega-projects is coming to a close in Brazil with the Olympic Games to be hosted Aug. 5-21 by Rio de Janeiro. But the country’s taste for massive construction undertakings helped fuel the economic and political crisis that has it in its grip.

It is no mere coincidence that President Dilma Rousseff, suspended during her ongoing impeachment trial over charges of breaking budgetary regulations, will face the final vote in the Senate this same month.

Over the past decade, large-scale investment projects and public works, some not yet finished, others even abandoned, have driven the economy, triggered controversies, and fed the dreams and frustrations of Brazilians, mirroring and accelerating the rise and fall from power of the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).

The country’s economic growth and the international prestige of then-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) played a decisive role in the 2007 choice of Brazil as host of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Two years later, Rio de Janeiro was selected as the venue for the 2016 Olympic Games.

In 2007 Rio hosted the Pan American Games, which kicked off the string of sports mega-events in Brazil, including the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013.

The wave of mega-infrastructure projects also began at the same time, in response to the needs of the energy and transportation industries, mainly for the export of mining and agricultural commodities.

Large hydropower dams, railways, ports, the paving of roads and the diversion of the São Francisco River to ease drought in the arid Northeast, as well as numerous public works in cities, formed part of the Growth Acceleration Programme (PAC), which included tax breaks and credit facilities.

Rousseff, who also belongs to the PT, succeeded Lula in the presidency after an election campaign in which she was referred to as “the mother of PAC” – an allusion to her skill in implementing and managing the programme that involved thousands of construction projects around the country, as Lula’s chief of staff.

In the oil industry, the 2006 discovery of enormous offshore petroleum deposits below a two-kilometre thick salt layer under rock, sand and deep water in the Atlantic prompted the launch of another major wave of construction, including four large refineries, two petrochemical complexes, and dozens of shipyards to produce oil drilling rigs, offshore platforms and tankers.

The two biggest refineries, in the Northeast, were cancelled in 2015, resulting in some 800 million dollars in losses. Another is partially operating.

Work on the last one – and on the petrochemical complex of which it forms part, near Rio de Janeiro – was interrupted, leaving empty a number of office buildings and hotels that were built in surrounding towns and cities to service an industrial boom and prosperity that never arrived.

The Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, under construction in 2015. The mega-project is to be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, under construction in 2015. The mega-project is to be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Most of the shipyards went under or shrunk to a minimum. In Niterói, Rio de Janeiro’s sister city, half of the 10 shipyards closed and over 80 percent of their 15,000 workers were laid off.

Possibly the house of cards of this fast-track development would have come tumbling down regardless, but several destructive factors compounded the problem and accelerated the approach of the disaster.

Oil prices plunged in 2014, simultaneously with the outbreak of the Petrobras bribery scandal that has ensnared hundreds of legislators and business executives.

In addition, the governments of Lula and Rousseff attempted to curb inflation by blocking domestic fuel price increases – another blow to the finances of Petrobras, the state oil company, which almost collapsed under the weight of so many difficulties.

The railways did not fare any better. Construction of two railroads – one private and another public – designed to cross the impoverished but fast-growing Northeast at different latitudes ground to a halt and are candidates to become white elephants due to the suspension of mining industry projects, whose output they were to transport.

As a result, the construction of a new seaport and the expansion of two others were also suspended. 

At least the hydroelectric plants are in the process of being completed. But they are suffering the ups and downs of the power industry. There are delays in the installation of power lines and electricity consumption has slumped as a result of the economic recession that broke out in 2014, expanding spare capacity and driving up losses in power generation and distribution plants.

The four largest hydropower plants, built on fragile rivers in the Amazon rainforest, are facing accusations of causing environmental damage and violating the rights of local populations: indigenous people, riverbank dwellers and fishing communities.

Belo Monte, the world’s third-largest hydroelectric dam, with a capacity to generate 11,233 MW, was accused of “ethnocidal actions” against indigenous people by the public prosecutor’s office and is facing 23 lawsuits on charges of failing to live up to legal requirements.

At the same time, it is also criticised by proponents of hydropower, because it will generate, on average, only 40 percent of its potential. With a relatively small reservoir, an alternative that was chosen to reduce the environmental impact, it will be at the mercy of the marked seasonal variations in water flow in the Xingú River, where the flow is 20 times lower in the dry season than the rainy season.

Roads have not formed part of the recent wave of mega-projects. Although they are being paved and widened, they were originally built in earlier waves of construction projects, in the 1950s and 1970s.

Brazil’s addiction to massive construction projects was probably born with the emergence of Brasilia, built in a remote, inhospitable location over 1,500 km from the biggest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, in just five years, during the administration of Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961).

This bold feat was completed with the construction of roads running from the new capital in all directions.

But these long roads that cut across the country didn’t become paved highways, with proper bridges, until decades later.

Seen as a success story, Brasilia has prompted politicians to seek to make their mark with major construction projects, although the city was only part of the broader plan of Kubitschek, who pushed forward the development of Brazil’s steel industry by spurring the growth of the automotive industry.

The widespread belief that Brasilia was the big driver of settlement and development of the west and north of the country ignores the role played by the expansion of agriculture.

The 1964-1985 military dictatorship later fed the ambition of turning Brazil into a great power, with a nuclear programme that took three decades to build two power plants, the construction of two of the world’s five biggest hydroelectric plants, and roads to settle the Amazon.

The Trans-Amazonian highway, which was designed to cut across northern Brazil to the Colombian border but is incomplete and impassable for large stretches during the rainy season, is a symbol of failed lavish projects that helped bring down the dictatorship.

The origins of the megalomania can also be traced to the 1950 FIFA World Cup, for which the Maracana Stadium was built in Rio de Janeiro – for decades the largest in the world – holding held up to 180,000 spectators back then, more than double its current capacity.

The historic defeat that Brazil suffered at the hands of Uruguay in the final match in 1950, a devastating blow never forgotten by Brazilians, did not keep this country from hosting the 2014 World Cup, building new stadiums to suffer yet another shattering defeat, this time to Germany, which beat them 7-1 in the semi-finals.

Now, in the grip of an economic crisis expected to last for years, Brazil is unlikely to embark on new megaprojects. And the hope that they can drive development will have been dampened after so many failed projects and the heavy environmental, social and economic criticism and resistance.

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Lessons from Germany for Latin America’s Energy Transitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/lessons-from-germany-for-latin-americas-energy-transition/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2016 20:02:13 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146344 A house with solar panels on the roof in a town in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany - a common sight in this European nation, but still rare in many countries of Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A house with solar panels on the roof in a town in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany - a common sight in this European nation, but still rare in many countries of Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
DÜSSELDORF, Germany, Aug 1 2016 (IPS)

Germany has been undergoing an energy transition for over 20 years, and it can offer valuable lessons to Latin America with regard to promoting renewable energy and moving towards a low-carbon economy.

Germany’s transformation formally began in 2011, based on six laws that foment alternative energies through a surcharge for suppliers, the expansion of the power grid to boost the incorporation of renewables, and cogeneration, to use energy that goes to waste in power plants that run on fossil fuels.

There are twice as many laws that bolster the generation and consumption of renewable sources worldwide as there were at the start of the century, and Latin America is no exception to this trend.

“Other countries, including those of Latin America, should probably look at Germany’s experiences and learn from both the good and the bad,” Sascha Samadi, an analyst with the German Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, which carries out research on the energy transformation, told IPS.

The expert said that “at the start of the energy transition, everything was about how to rise up against the big energy companies that so many people hated,” while now the main driver of support for the transition is concern about climate change.

To move towards a low-carbon energy mix, “in the countries of Latin America, other aspects can be more important on the agenda, such as reducing dependence on imports or making supplies more stable,” he said.

In Germany, renewables accounted for 30 percent of the electricity produced in 2015 and this European nation is the third-largest producer of renewable energy – not including hydropower. It is third in wind energy and biodiesel and fifth in geothermal.

It is also a leader in per capita solar power, despite its relatively low amount of sunlight.

In the last decade, strides have been made in developing renewable energies in Latin America, a region highly dependent on fossil fuels, either because the countries are major producers of them, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, or because they depend on imports, like the nations of Central America or Chile.

Most countries in the region have included plans to foment the energy transition, policies to make production and consumption more efficient, and targets for the generation of renewable energy.

Reaching Germany’s goal, a low-carbon economy, requires social change and modifications in consumption patterns and industrial policies, and will force plants like the ThyssenKrupp steel mill in the city of Duisburg to replace coal with cleaner sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Reaching Germany’s goal, a low-carbon economy, requires social change and modifications in consumption patterns and industrial policies, and will force plants like the ThyssenKrupp steel mill in the city of Duisburg to replace coal with cleaner sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

For example, Mexico passed in December an energy transition law, Chile has its 2050 energy plan, and Uruguay has a 2005-2030 energy policy. This legislation includes medium to long-term goals for the generation of renewable energy, tax incentives, and other actions aimed at a cleaner energy mix.

In 2015, Brazil drew more than 7.1 billion dollars in investment in renewables – 10 percent less than the previous year; Mexico drew 4.0 billion – double the 2014 level; and Chile, 3.4 billion – an increase of 150 percent, according to the report “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016”.

Nations like Honduras and Uruguay also received over 500 million dollars in investment in renewables in 2015, according to the study produced by the United Nations Environment Programme Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.

The study reports that investment in Brazil climbed from 800 million dollars in 2004 to 7.1 billion in 2015.

Without counting the region’s leading producer, Latin America captured 1.7 billion in investment in 2004, rising to 12.8 billion in 2015. But last year’s capital flows fell from 2014 levels, due to factors such as political instability in some countries and low oil prices.

The region generates 209,419 MW of renewable energy, of which hydropower represents 171,960.

To promote a low-carbon energy mix, there is an element in which Latin America should try to emulate Germany, Sophia Schönborn, an analyst with the German multisectoral organisation on energy KlimaDiskurs.NRW e.V, told IPS.

“Germany’s transition shows the importance of bottom-up decision-making and listening to the public’s concerns. It was not imposed; society pushed for changes in the energy model,” said the expert.

In the hands of the market

Germany has reached the point where it is producing excess renewable energy. As a result, parliament revoked fixed rates for renewables as of January 2017, and created auctions for all sources of clean energy.

The reform of the renewable energy law that will go into effect at that time rewards suppliers that have the lowest prices, sets caps on energy generation, and leaves fixed rates in place only for cooperatives and small-scale producers.

Germany’s energy transition has included facilities for wind and solar power generated by cooperatives and private citizens, such as the innovative bioenergy park in Saerbeck, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Germany’s energy transition has included facilities for wind and solar power generated by cooperatives and private citizens, such as the innovative bioenergy park in Saerbeck, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Under the German model, citizens can generate their own electricity, and can even sell it to the grid, as part of the construction of what experts and organisations are referring to as the “energy citizenship”. But that is far from being the reality in Latin America.

The fixed rates, which included a surcharge to support suppliers of renewables, helped fuel the expansion of alternative sources in Germany.

In Latin America, countries such as Ecuador, Honduras, Panama, Peru and Uruguay use surcharges or mix them with net metering, which allows consumers who produce their own electricity to use it at any time, rather than when it is generated. The consumers only pay the difference between what they consume and what they generate.

And countries like Chile, Mexico and Peru have put in place renewable energy auctions since 2015, which have led to a drop in prices per kilowatt-hour, partly due to their vast renewable sources, according to the Global Status Report 2016 released in June by REN21, the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.

According to experts, the recent swings are a signal to Latin America with respect to the handling of the renewable energy market, to avoid risks of over-production or excessive payments to suppliers.

Samadi stressed that “the costs of the expansion of renewables are paid by consumers in Germany.”

“This might not be a good mechanism for the countries of Latin America, where low energy prices could be important for social development and cohesion,” he said. With this in mind, he suggested taxes or special funds.

There is another lesson too. “If the huge growth in renewables was just starting now in Germany, with today’s low technological costs our overruns for generation would be lower than what we pay now.”

In his view, “the countries that start to invest heavily today in wind and solar energies will not face the same high costs as Germany, especially when the solar potential in most of Latin America is taken into account.”

Schönborn concurred, stressing the competitive costs of renewable sources. But she warned of the risk of “social division” for those who cannot generate their own energy and must buy it from the grid.

This inequality “requires intervention by the state to guarantee access,” she said.

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No Medals for Sanitation at Rio Olympicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics/#comments Wed, 27 Jul 2016 19:24:11 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146273 Raw sewage stains in Jacarepaguá lagoon alongside the Olympic Park, where the Olympic Games are to be held August 5-21 in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Foul mud was to be dredged from the lagoon but this was not carried out because of funding cuts. Credit: Courtesy of Mario Moscatelli

Raw sewage stains in Jacarepaguá lagoon alongside the Olympic Park, where the Olympic Games are to be held August 5-21 in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Foul mud was to be dredged from the lagoon but this was not carried out because of funding cuts. Credit: Courtesy of Mario Moscatelli

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 27 2016 (IPS)

The biggest frustration at the Olympic Games, to be inaugurated in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on August 5, is the failure to meet environmental sanitation targets and promises in the city’s beaches, rivers, lakes and lagoons.

The opportunity to give a decisive push to the clean up of Rio’s emblematic Guanabara bay and its lagoons has been lost. The drive against waterborne pollution was part of the proposal which won the city the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

This failure may hardly register in the awareness of residents and visitors, given the higher visibility of the urban transport projects and the revitalisation of Rio’s central district.

What happened confirms the national tradition of giving sanitation low priority on the government agenda. So far only half the Brazilian population has access to piped water, and only a small proportion of transported water is treated.

“The environment pays no taxes and neither does it vote, therefore it does not command the attention of our political leaders nor of society as a whole,” complained biologist Mario Moscatelli, a well known water issues activist in Rio de Janeiro.

The Olympic Park, which is at the heart of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, was built on the west side of the city on the shores of Jacarepaguá lagoon, yet not even this body of water has been adequately treated. Filthy water from rivers and streams continues to flow into it all the time, Moscatelli told IPS.

Most of the foreign Olympic athletes and spectators from abroad will arrive in Rio at Antonio Carlos Jobim international airport, also known as Galeão. Planes touch down here on the edge of one of the most polluted parts of Guanabara bay, although visitors may not realise it.

The airport , on the western tip of Ilha do Governador (Governador Island), which was home to 212,754 people in 2010 according to the official census, is close to canals  taking untreated effluent and rubbish from millions of people living on the mainland, brought by rivers that are little more than open sewers.

Fundão canal can be glimpsed from the southbound highway towards the city centre. It is full of raw sewage and bad smells in spite of recent dredging, because it is still connected to the polluted Cunha canal.

Sergio Souza dos Santos stands on the jetty built by Tubiacanga fisherfolk to get their boats out into Guanabara bay, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Silting now makes it impossible to bring their boats close inshore, where decades ago there was a beautiful beach. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Sergio Souza dos Santos stands on the jetty built by Tubiacanga fisherfolk to get their boats out into Guanabara bay, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Silting now makes it impossible to bring their boats close inshore, where decades ago there was a beautiful beach. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Five rivers converge in the Cunha canal after crossing densely populated areas including several “favelas” (shanty towns) and industrial zones.

North of Galeao airport, the fishing village of Tubiacanga illustrates the ecological disaster in Guanabara bay, which has a surface area of 412 square kilometres and stretches from Copacabana beach in the west to Itaipu (Niterói) in the east.

At the narrowest point in the channel between Ilha do Governador and the adjacent mainland city of Duque de Caxias, “there used to be a depth of seven or eight metres; but now at low tide you can walk along with the water only chest-high,” 66-year-old Souza, who has lived in Tubiacanga for two-thirds of his life, told IPS.

Landfills, silting by rivers and rubbish tipping have all reduced the depth of the bay, he said.

“Tubiacanga is at a meeting point of dirty water from tides rising at the bay entrance, from several canals including Fundão, and from rivers. Sediments and rubbish pile up in front of our village,” where the white sandy beach has become a quagmire and rubbish dump over the past few decades, Souza complained.

Guanabara bay receives 90 tonnes daily of rubbish and 18,000 litres per second of untreated waste water, mainly via the 55 rivers and canals that flow into it, according to Sergio Ricardo de Lima, an ecologist and founder of the Bahia Viva (Living Bay) movement.

Rio’s Olympic bid announced a target of cleaning up 80 percent of the effluents reaching the bay. The actual proportion achieved was 55 percent, Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani said at a press conference with foreign journalists on July 7.

“I only believe in what I see: out of the 55 rivers in the basin, 49 have become lifeless sewers,” said Moscatelli, voicing the scepticism of environmentalists.

The 80 percent target was not realistic; completely decontaminating the bay would require 25 to 30 years and sanitation investments equivalent to six billion dollars, André Correa, environment secretary for the state of Rio de Janeiro, admitted on July 20 at the inauguration of an “eco barrier” on the river Merití, one of the polluting waterways.

Once this was a white sandy beach close to the fishing village of Tubiacanga, in Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro international airport. The city’s population contributes to pollution and silting in this emblematic Brazilian bay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Once this was a white sandy beach close to the fishing village of Tubiacanga, in Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro international airport. The city’s population contributes to pollution and silting in this emblematic Brazilian bay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The barriers are floating interconnected booms that are an emergency measure to ensure that aquatic Olympic sports can take place in some parts in the bay. Trash scooping vessels or “eco boats”  collect the floating debris that accumulates against them and send it for recycling.

Seventeen eco barriers have been promised, but these will be woefully inadequate, and in any case they should be anchored where floating garbage is most concentrated, like Tubiacanga, not close to the Guanabara bay entrance where water sports will be held, Lima complained.

The barrier in the Merití river is suitably placed, in Lima’s view, but it is “palliative action only.” The real solution is to promote selective garbage collection at source, that is, in households, shops and industries, and recycle as much solid waste as possible, as stipulated by a 2010 law.

“At present only one percent of the garbage produced in the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region (which has a population of 12 million) is recycled,” Lima said.

Cleaning up Guanabara bay is a longstanding ambition. It was the goal of a project begun in 1995 that has already cost the equivalent of three billion dollars at the current exchange rate, but that has not prevented environmental deterioration of local beaches and water resources.

Eight wastewater treatment stations were built or expanded to improve water quality. However, they have always operated well below capacity, because the main drains needed to collect wastewater and deliver it to the treatment stations have never been built, according to Lima.

Pollution of the bay is exacerbated by oil spills. There is a refinery and petrochemical hub on the banks of the lagoon in Duque de Caxias; in addition, all along the Tubiacanga waterfront the bay is increasingly crisscrossed by pipes carrying crude oil, refinery subproducts and natural gas.

The effects of a large oil spill in January 2000 are still felt today. It had a direct impact on Tubiacanga and on the fish catch.

“We fisherfolk are the ones who suffer most from the consequences of pollution, and who best know the bay; but we are not listened to, we are penned in and threatened with extinction,” said Souza dos Santos, who is encouraging his four sons to take up trades other than fishing.

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Germany’s Energy Transition: The Good, the Bad and the Uglyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2016 12:19:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146128 In Germany, wind and solar energy coexist with energy generated by burning fossil fuels. A wind farm next to one of the electric power plants fired by lignite in the Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Germany, wind and solar energy coexist with energy generated by burning fossil fuels. A wind farm next to one of the electric power plants fired by lignite in the Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
COLOGNE, Germany, Jul 19 2016 (IPS)

Immerath, 90 km away from the German city of Cologne, has become a ghost town. The local church bells no longer ring and no children are seen in the streets riding their bicycles. Its former residents have even carried off their dead from its cemetery.

Expansion of Garzweiler, an open-pit lignite mine, has led to the town’s remaining residents being relocated to New Immerath, several kilometres away from the original town site, in North Rhine-Westphalia, whose biggest city is Cologne.

The fate of this small village, which in 2015 was home to 70 people, reflects the advances, retreats and contradictions of the world-renowned transition to renewable energy in Germany.

Since 2011, Germany has implemented a comprehensive energy transition policy, backed by a broad political consensus, seeking to make steps towards a low-carbon economy. This has encouraged the generation and consumption of alternative energy sources.

But so far these policies have not facilitated the release from the country’s industry based on coal and lignite, a highly polluting fossil fuel.

“The initial phases of the energy transition have been successful so far, with strong growth in renewables, broad public support for the idea of the transition and major medium and long term goals for government,” told IPS analyst Sascha Samadi of the non-governmental Wuppertal Institute, devoted to studies on energy transformation.

Renewable electricity generation accounted for 30 percent of the total of Germany’s electrical power in 2015, while lignite fuelled 24 percent, coal 18 percent, nuclear energy 14 percent, gas 8.8 percent and other sources the rest.

This European country is the third world power in renewable energies – excluding hydropower – and holds third place in wind power and biodiesel and fifth place in geothermal power.

Germany is also renowned for having the highest solar power capacity per capita in photovoltaic technology, even though its climate is not the most suitable for that purpose.

But the persistence of fossil fuels casts a shadow on this green energy matrix.

“The successful phasing out of fossil fuels entails a great deal of planning and organisation. If we do not promote renewables, we will have to import energy at some point,” Johannes Remmel, the minister for climate protection and the environment for North Rhine-Westphalia, told IPS.

Germany has nine lignite mines operating in three regions. Combined, the mines employ 16,000 people, produce 170 million tonnes of lignite a year and have combined reserves of three billion tonnes. China, Greece and Poland are other large world producers of lignite.

A part of the Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine, in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the greatest challenges facing the energy transition in Germany is the future of this polluting fuel. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A part of the Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine, in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the greatest challenges facing the energy transition in Germany is the future of this polluting fuel. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Garzweiler, which is owned by the private company RWE, produces 35 million tonnes of lignite a year. From a distance it is possible to see its cut-out terraces and blackened soil, waiting for giant steel jaws to devour it and start to separate the lignite.

Lignite from this mine fuels nearby electricity generators at Frimmersdorf, Neurath, Niederaussen and Weisweiller, some of the most polluting power plants in Germany.

RWE is one of the four main power generation companies in Germany, together with E.ON, EnBW and Swedish-based Vattenfall.

Coal has an expiry date

The fate of coal is different. The government has already decided that its demise will be in 2018, when the two mines that are still currently active will cease to operate.

The Rhine watershed, comprising North Rhine-Westphalia together with other states, has traditionally been the hub of Germany’s industry. Mining and its consumers are an aftermath of that world, whose rattling is interspersed with the emergence of a decarbonized economy.

A tour of the mine and the adjoining power plant of  Ibberbüren in North Rhine-Westphalia shows the struggle between two models that still coexist.

In the mine compound, underground mouths splutter the coal that feeds the hungry plant at a pace of 157 kilowatt-hour per tonne.

In 2015 the mine produced 6.2 million tonnes of extracted coal, an amount projected to be reduced to 3.6 million tonnes this year and next, and to further drop to 2.9 million in 2018.

The mine employs 1,600 people and has a 300,000 tonne inventory which needs to be sold by 2018.

“I am a miner, and I am very much attached to my job. I speak on behalf of my co-workers. It is hard to close it down. There is a feeling of sadness, we are attending our own funeral”, told IPS the manager of the mine operator, Hubert Hüls.

Before the energy transition policy was in place, laws that promoted renewable energies had been passed in 1991 and 2000, with measures such as a special royalty fee included in electricity tariffs paid to generators that are fuelled by renewable energy sources.

The renewable energy sector invests some 20 billion dollars yearly and employs around 370.000 people.

Another measure, adopted in 2015 by the government in Berlin, sets out an auction plan for the purchase of photovoltaic solar power, but opponents have argued that large generation companies are being favoured over small ones as the successful bidder will be the one offering the lowest price.

Energy transition and climate change

Energy transition also seeks to meet Germany’s global warming mitigation commitments.

Germany has undertaken to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent in 2020 and by 95 per cent in 2015. Moreover, it has set itself the goal of increasing the share of renewable energies in the end-use power market from the current figure of 12 per cent to 60 per cent in 2050.

In the second half of the year, the German government will analyse the drafting of the 2050 Climate Action Plan, which envisages actions towards reducing by half the amount of emissions from the power sector and a fossil fuel phase-out programme.

In 2014, Germany reduced its emissions by 346 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 27.7 per cent of the 1990 total. However, the German Federal Agency for Environment warned that in 2015 emissions went up by six million tonnes, amounting to 0.7 per cent, reaching a total of 908 million tonnes.

Polluting gases are derived mainly from the generation and use of energy, transport and agriculture.

In 2019, the government will review the current incentives for the development of renewable energies and will seek to make adjustments aimed at fostering the sector.

Meanwhile, Germany’s last three nuclear power plants will cease operation in 2022. However, Garzweiler mine will continue to operate until 2045.

“There are technological, infrastructure, investment, political, social and innovation challenges to overcome. Recent decisions taken by the government are indicative of a lack of political will to undertake the tough decisions that are required for deep decarbonisation”, pointed out Samadi.

Companies “now try to mitigate the damage and leave the search for solutions in the hands of the (central) government. There will be fierce debate over how to expand renewable energies. The process may be slowed but not halted”, pointed out academic Heinz-J Bontrup, of the state University of Applied Sciences Gelsenkirchen.

Meanwhile, the regional government has opted to reduce the Garzweiler mine extension plan, leaving 400 million tonnes of lignite underground.

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Building Africa’s Energy Grid Can Be Green, Smart and Affordablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/building-africas-energy-grid-can-be-green-smart-and-affordable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-africas-energy-grid-can-be-green-smart-and-affordable http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/building-africas-energy-grid-can-be-green-smart-and-affordable/#comments Thu, 16 Jun 2016 15:24:55 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145650 A Congolese man transports charcoal on his bicycle outside Lubumbashi in the DRC. An estimated 138 million poor households spend 10 billion dollars annually on energy-related products such as charcoal, candles, kerosene and firewood. Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

A Congolese man transports charcoal on his bicycle outside Lubumbashi in the DRC. An estimated 138 million poor households spend 10 billion dollars annually on energy-related products such as charcoal, candles, kerosene and firewood. Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

By Friday Phiri
PEMBA, Zambia, Jun 16 2016 (IPS)

It’s just after two p.m. on a sunny Saturday and 51-year-old Moses Kasoka is seated outside the grass-thatched hut which serves both as his kitchen and bedroom.

Physically challenged since birth, Kasoka has but one option for survival—begging. But he thinks life would have been different had he been connected to electricity. “I know what electricity can do, especially for people in my condition,” he says.

“With power, I would have been rearing poultry for income generation,” says Kasoka, who is among the estimated 645 million Africans lacking access to electricity, hindering their economic potential.

“As you can see, I sleep beside an open fire every night, which serves for both lighting and additional warmth in the night,” adds Kasoka, inviting this reporter into his humble home.

But while Kasoka remains in wishful mode, a kilometer away is Phinelia Hamangaba, manager at Pemba District Dairy milk collection centre, who is now accustomed to having an alternative plan in case of power interruptions, as the cooperative does not have a stand-by generator.

Phinelia has daily responsibility for ensuring that 1,060 litres of milk supplied by over a hundred farmers does not ferment before it is collected by Parmalat Zambia, with which they have a contract.

“Electricity is our major challenge, but in most cases, we get prior information of an impending power interruption, so we prepare,” says the young entrepreneur. “But when we have the worst case scenario, farmers understand that in business, there is profit and loss,” she explains, adding that they are called to collect back their fermented milk.

Moses Kasoka sits in his wheelchair outside his grass-thatched hut in Pemba, Zambia. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Moses Kasoka sits in his wheelchair outside his grass-thatched hut in Pemba, Zambia. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

The cooperative is just one of several small-scale industries struggling with country-wide power rationing. Due to poor rainfall in the past two seasons, there has not been enough water for maximum generation at the country’s main hydropower plants.

According to the latest Economist Intelligence Unit report, Zambia’s power deficit might take years to correct, especially at the 1,080MW Kariba North Bank power plant where power stations on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi River are believed to have consumed far more than their allotted water over the course of 2015 and into early 2016.

The report highlights that in February, the reservoir at Kariba Dam fell to only 1.5 meters above the level that would necessitate a full shutdown of the plant. Although seasonal rains have slightly replenished the reservoir, it remained only 17 percent full as of late March, compared to 49 percent last year. And refilling the lake requires a series of healthy rainy seasons coupled with a moderation of output from the power plant—neither of which are a certainty.

This scenario is just but one example of Africa’s energy and climate change nexus, highlighting how poor energy access hinders economic progress, both at individual and societal levels.

And as the most vulnerable to climate change vagaries, but also in need of energy to support the economic ambitions of its poverty-stricken people, Africa’s temptation to take an easy route through carbon-intensive energy systems is high.

“We are tired of poverty and lack of access to energy, so we need to deal with both of them at the same time, and to specifically deal with poverty, we need energy to power industries,” remarked Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the 2016 African Development Bank Annual meetings in Lusaka, adding that renewables can only meet part of the need.

But former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan believes Africa can develop using a different route. “African nations do not have to lock into developing high-carbon old technologies; we can expand our power generation and achieve universal access to energy by leapfrogging into new technologies that are transforming energy systems across the world. Africa stands to gain from developing low-carbon energy, and the world stands to gain from Africa avoiding the high-carbon pathway followed by today’s rich world and emerging markets,” says Annan, who now chairs the Africa Progress Panel (APP).

In its 2015 report Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities, the APP outlines Africa’s alternative, without using the carbon-intensive systems now driving economic growth, which have taken the world to the current tipping point. And Africa is therefore being asked to lead the transition to avert an impending disaster.

The report recommends Africa’s leaders use climate change as an incentive to put in place policies that are long overdue and to demonstrate leadership on the international stage. In the words of the former president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, “For Africa, this is both a challenge and an opportunity. If Africa focuses on smart choices, it can win investments in the next few decades in climate resilient and low emission development pathways.”

But is the financing mechanism good enough for Africa’s green growth? The APP notes that the current financing architecture does not meet the demands, and that the call for Africa’s leadership does not negate the role of international cooperation, which has over the years been a clarion call from African leaders—to be provided with finance and reliable technology.

The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) mourns the vague nature of the Paris agreement in relation to technology transfer for Africa. “The agreement vaguely talks about technologies without being clear on what these are, leaving the door open to all kinds of false solutions,” reads part of the civil society’s analysis of the Paris agreement.

However, other proponents argue for home solutions. According to available statistics, it is estimated that 138 million poor households spend 10 billion dollars annually on energy-related products, such as charcoal, candles, kerosene and firewood.

But what would it take to expand power generation and finance energy for all? The African Development Bank believes a marginal increase in energy investment could solve the problem.

“Africa collects 545 billion dollars a year in terms of tax revenues. If you put ten percent of that to electricity, problem is solved. Second, share of the GDP going to energy sector in Africa is 0.49 percent. If you raise that to 3.4 percent, you generate 51 billion dollars straight away. So which means African countries have to put their money where their mouth is, invest in the energy sector,” says AfDB Group President, Akinwumi Adesina, who also highlights the importance of halting illicit capital flows out Africa, costing the continent around 60 billion dollars a year.

While Kasoka in Southern Zambia’s remote town awaits electricity , the country’s Scaling Solar programme, driving the energy diversification agenda, may just be what would light up his dream of rearing poultry. According to President Edgar Lungu, the country looks to plug the gaping supply deficit with up to 600 MW of solar power, of which 100 MW is already under construction.

With the world at the tipping point, Africa will have to beat the odds of climate change to develop. Desmond Tutu summarises what is at stake this way: “We can no longer tinker about the edges. We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow. For there will be no tomorrow. As a matter of urgency we must begin a global transition to a new safe energy economy.

“This requires fundamentally rethinking our economic systems, to put them on a sustainable and more equitable footing,” the South African Nobel Laureate says in the APP 2015 report.

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Uruguay Seeks Future as Oil Producer in Ultra-Deep Watershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/uruguay-seeks-future-as-oil-producer-in-ultra-deep-waters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguay-seeks-future-as-oil-producer-in-ultra-deep-waters http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/uruguay-seeks-future-as-oil-producer-in-ultra-deep-waters/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2016 20:19:31 +0000 Veronica Firme http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145553 The Maersk Venturer drillship, which is drilling the Raya-1 well that set a new world record in terms of water depth, and will determine the existence of commercially viable oil and gas reserves on Uruguay's continental shelf. Credit: Ancap

The Maersk Venturer drillship, which is drilling the Raya-1 well that set a new world record in terms of water depth, and will determine the existence of commercially viable oil and gas reserves on Uruguay's continental shelf. Credit: Ancap

By Veronica Firme
MONTEVIDEO, Jun 9 2016 (IPS)

Uruguay is just weeks away from finding out if it will have a chance to stop being totally reliant on oil imports at some point in the future, when the first offshore exploration well in national waters – which set a new world record in terms of water depth – is completed.

Since Mar. 30, the consortium headed by France’s Total has been prospecting 250 km from the Atlantic coast, in more than 3,400 metres of water, and 3,000 metres below the seabed.

The Raya-1 well in Block 14, drilled with an investment of some 200 million dollars in ultra-deep waters on the continental shelf, is hunting for commercially viable oil or gas reserves.

On Thursday Jun. 8, the representative of Total in the country, Artur Nunes da Silva, said the drilling would be done in about two weeks and the samples would be sent to France for analysis. Only then, he said, would the results be announced.

The next day, the local media reported that, according to information from the industry, only water was found in Raya-1, although that did not fully rule out the existence of oil and gas on the continental shelf.

The drilling represents a major turning-point for this South American country of 3.4 million people, because it will soon know if it has a future as an oil producer. The effort to find oil here was not stalled by the oil-price crisis, which has discouraged investment at a global level, especially in high-risk ventures such as deepwater drilling.

“When the current drop in prices began, most of the contracts had already been signed,” Víctor Bacchetta, a journalist who specialises in environmental issues and who edits Uruguay’s Mining Observatory publication, told IPS.

The contracts form part of the goals set by the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining’s 2005-2030 energy policy, which, although it puts a priority on strengthening renewable energies, also paves the way for exploration and prospecting for oil and natural gas.

The state oil company Ancap is responsible for implementing the policy, which also requires attempts at participating in joint ventures for exploring deposits in other countries.

Geologist Ethel Morales told IPS that the first attempts to find fossil fuels in Uruguay dated back to the 1950s, when exploratory wells were drilled in the Northern Basin, which covers some 90,000 sq km in this country of 176,220 sq km.

A screenshot from a presentation by geologist Ethel Morales, showing the contracts granted so far on Uruguay's continental shelf, to the right. The second from the top is Block 14, awarded to French oil major Total. Credit: Uruguay Round

A screenshot from a presentation by geologist Ethel Morales, showing the contracts granted so far on Uruguay’s continental shelf, to the right. The second from the top is Block 14, awarded to French oil major Total. Credit: Uruguay Round

Exploratory wells were also drilled on the continental shelf in the 1970s, said Morales, a professor at Uruguay’s University of the Republic. But shallow water prospecting ended in 1976, after two wells were declared dry.

Besides the energy policy itself, Morales said another factor that fuelled offshore exploration was the appearance of the so-called pre-salt deposits, located beneath a two-kilometre-thick salt layer under rock, sand and deep water, to the north of this country’s continental shelf, off the coast of Brazil.

These huge deposits drew the oil corporations’ attention to the South Atlantic. Morales said Brazil’s Santos basin, where the pre-salt deposits are located, and the Uruguayan basin “share the same origins,” although their later evolution was different.

In this context, Ancap began to search for partners to drill exploratory wells in Uruguayan waters, although its spokespersons stress that the chances of finding commercially viable reserves stand at just 15 percent.

Uruguayan Minister of Industry, Energy and Mining Carolina Cosse (3rd-left) with high-level officials from the state oil company Ancap, during their visit to the drillship that is exploring for oil in ultra-deep waters 250 km off the coast of Uruguay. Credit: Ancap

Uruguayan Minister of Industry, Energy and Mining Carolina Cosse (3rd-left) with high-level officials from the state oil company Ancap, during their visit to the drillship that is exploring for oil in ultra-deep waters 250 km off the coast of Uruguay. Credit: Ancap

The Uruguay Round 1 bidding process was launched in 2009, offering continental shelf blocks, followed in 2011 by Round 2, in which eight contracts were signed, including the one with Total.

“Up to 2012 there was no 3D (tridimensional) seismic, and now we have nearly 40,000 sq km covered in the area of greatest prospectivity, which reflects a quantitative and qualitative leap with respect to the information available,” Ancap reported in late 2015.

Oil industry analysts stress the participation in the exploration here of the world’s leading oil companies, and note that the contracts assign a large proportion of the profits to the Uruguayan state.

Ancap and the Ministry of Industry decided to launch Uruguay Round 3, whose chief aim is the same: to determine whether there is oil and gas on the continental shelf, and if there is, whether it is commercially viable.

Total’s partners in Block 14 are the U.S. ExxonMobil (which has a 35 percent share) and Norway’s Statoil (15 percent), and the state will take 70 percent of the earnings, if the presence of light crude reserves is confirmed.

But even if the results from Raya-1 are positive, between two and three dozen additional wells will have to be drilled in the 6,900-sq-km block, and some six billion dollars will have to be invested if there is mainly oil, and 20 billion if there is mainly gas.

It could take up to six years before the start of commercial production of oil or gas, according to Total.

The oil companies granted contracts in the two bidding rounds held so far have invested a combined total of up to one billion dollars in exploration and prospecting.

The most important thing, in Ancap’s view, is that “after a period of nearly 30 years with no exploration” for fossil fuels, the oil companies are interested in investing in Uruguay, at their own expense and risk.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mega Dams Remain Controversial Source of Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/mega-dams-remain-controversial-source-of-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mega-dams-remain-controversial-source-of-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/mega-dams-remain-controversial-source-of-energy/#comments Mon, 06 Jun 2016 03:04:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145454 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/mega-dams-remain-controversial-source-of-energy/feed/ 0 Achieving Universal Access to Energy; Africa Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Placehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/achieving-universal-access-to-energy-africa-caught-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=achieving-universal-access-to-energy-africa-caught-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/achieving-universal-access-to-energy-africa-caught-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place/#comments Mon, 30 May 2016 14:52:06 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145363 African Heads of State during the official opening ceremony of the AfDB Annual meetings in Lusaka. Credit: Yoka | @vandvictors

African Heads of State during the official opening ceremony of the AfDB Annual meetings in Lusaka. Credit: Yoka | @vandvictors

By Friday Phiri
LUSAKA, May 30 2016 (IPS)

“It is unacceptable that 138 years after Thomas Edison developed the light bulb, hundreds of millions of people cannot have access to electricity to simply light up the bulb in Africa,” says Africa Development Bank (AfDB) Group President, Akinwumi Adesina, mourning the gloomy statistics showing that over 645 million people in Africa lack access to electricity, while over 700 million are without clean energy for cooking.

Adesina attributes Africa’s poverty and the perennial migration of youths to Europe in search of a good life, to lack of energy. “Even insects run from the dark to where there is light. Our youths are running away, hundreds of them drowning but the future of African’s youth does not lie at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea,” he declared during the official opening of the just ended 51st AfDB annual meetings held in Lusaka, from 23-27 May under the theme, ‘Energy and Climate Change’.

It is for this reason that top on the list of the bank’s strategies for all—referred to as the High fives (5s), is Light Up and Power Africa, with the goal of achieving universal access to energy for Africa within ten years through expansion of grid power by 160 gigawatts to connect 130 million people, and 75 million people to off-grid systems.

“Africa is simply tired of being in the dark,” said Adesina, outlining AfDB’s strategy to achieve universal access to energy which he believes, would unlock Africa’s potential to feed itself, achieve industrialisation, integration and ultimately improve the quality of life for the people.

However, ambition alone is not enough—it requires a realistic roadmap. And for the bank, the plan is to increase investment into the energy sector. “To deliver on the New Deal on Energy for Africa, the African Development Bank will invest $12 billion in the energy sector over the next five years,” he said, adding that, with this investment, the bank expects to leverage $45-50 billion.

But with the 2015 Paris climate agreement centred on a transition to renewable energy, Africa may have to re-think its strategies on how to achieve its ambitious dream. And this was one key question that divided opinion at the 2016 AfDB annual meetings—Should Africa lead the way on Green growth or follow a carbon intensive path that the developed countries took to achieve industrialisation?

Former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo argued for Africa’s right to do so. “We in Africa must use what we have to get what we need. The West used coal to develop and I think we should also be allowed to pollute a bit and then, we will all join in cleaning up,” said Obasanjo during a panel discussion on Africa’s New Deal on Energy, one of the bank’s initiatives launched during the annual meetings.

While Obasanjo’s line of thought seemed out of place considering the world’s renewable energy push, there was a sense of support for the continent’s right to develop as it pleases, especially that big polluters are seemingly elusive on financial support and emission cuts.

“We first have to get access to energy for us to know which one is clean and which one is dirty,” said Chadian President, Idris Derby, the current African Union Chairman, before the host President, Edgar Lungu summarised Africa’s dilemma.

“It is always challenging to make a choice when you don’t have what to choose from…while we need to provide universal access to energy, climate change hinders our efforts, as some approaches are considered dirty,” said Lungu, highlighting his own country’s energy challenges emanating from poor rainfall in two consecutive seasons leading to low water levels for electricity generation at its main hydro power stations.

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, were more concerned as to whether renewable energy is a realistic option in relation to the industrialisation agenda on the continent.

“For us, we think renewable energy and climate change are serious but development of our people is a priority. Africa’s situation is unique, for example, we have been talking about industry here which requires base load power and this might require countries to put up hundreds of hectares of solar plants to achieve the needed power,” said Osinbajo, whose sentiments seemed to sum up those of Paul Kagame and Uhuru Kenyatta as expressed during a televised panel discussion.

The underlying tone of African leaders in these discussions pointed to inconsistent flow of climate finance and technology transfer—a subject of debate at the core of the continent’s development, in relation to climate change.

Climate change is real and it is unanimously agreed by both the North and the South that Africa is at the receiving end. This therefore entails climate justice through finance for the continent which has been short changed by climate change.

The argument is that Africa must be supported financially to adapt to negative effects of climate change ravaging its people, but at the same time play a key role in mitigation efforts. However, the much debated climate finance has not been forthcoming.

“Very little money is flowing into adaptation and the bank is concerned with this trend…wants to see more resources also being channeled to adaptation as the case is with mitigation where a huge chunk of resources is being invested,” observes Kurt Lonsway, the AfDB Manager of the Environment and Climate Change division.

The inconsistent flow of financial resources, coupled with lukewarm emission cut commitments by the developed world, could be the cause for African leaders’ defying tone to take a lead on renewable energy despite being fully in support of the Paris climate deal.

Mary Robinson making a point during a round table discussion of African Presidents.

Mary Robinson making a point during a round table discussion of African Presidents.

And former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson is alive to this state of affairs. However, she wants African leaders to use their collective voice to demand for climate justice.

“Climate finance is no longer about aid to Africa but the means by which to serve the world from catastrophic climate change. I therefore plead with you, African leaders to use your collective voice to get what you want,” stressed the former Irish President who now heads the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice.

But former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan’s concern is African leaders’ political will. “The transformation we seek also requires decisive action on the part of Africa’s leaders in reforming inefficient, inequitable and often corrupt utilities that have failed to provide firms with a reliable power supply and people with access to electricity,” said the former top UN diplomat, who now chairs the Africa Progress Panel.

Whichever route Africa takes to achieve its ambition of universal access to energy, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Executive Secretary, Carlos Lopez wants Africa to do it with its own money because “donor money has been a disappointment, slow and not reliable.”

For Caroline Kende-Robb, Executive Director of the Africa Progress Panel, African countries will have to choose an energy mix that suits them because “we cannot certainly expect Africa just to drop from fossil fuels while there are other countries at the top polluting the world.”

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Natural Capital Investment Key to Africa’s Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 17:49:31 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145267 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/feed/ 0 Biomass Could Help Power Africa’s Energy Transitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/biomass-could-help-power-africas-energy-transition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biomass-could-help-power-africas-energy-transition http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/biomass-could-help-power-africas-energy-transition/#comments Wed, 11 May 2016 10:55:33 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145058 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/biomass-could-help-power-africas-energy-transition/feed/ 1 The Waves of the Pacific Are on Chile’s Energy Horizonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 16:21:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud and Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144960 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon/feed/ 1