Inter Press Service » Integration and Development Brazilian-style http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 30 May 2017 10:56:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.18 Millions of Homes in Mexico Suffer from “Energy Poverty”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/millions-of-homes-in-mexico-suffer-from-energy-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=millions-of-homes-in-mexico-suffer-from-energy-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/millions-of-homes-in-mexico-suffer-from-energy-poverty/#comments Mon, 29 May 2017 18:23:18 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150643 A house with a solar panel in the municipality of Tula, in Hidalgo, a state adjacent to Mexico City. Non-conventional renewable sources are considered an instrument to combat energy poverty. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A house with a solar panel in the municipality of Tula, in Hidalgo, a state adjacent to Mexico City. Non-conventional renewable sources are considered an instrument to combat energy poverty. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 29 2017 (IPS)

Energy poverty afflicts millions of homes in Mexico, with many social, economic and environmental impacts for the country.

These homes, located in both urban and rural areas in this Latin American country of 122 million people, have difficulty satisfying their needs for energy for cooking, lighting, heating and entertainment.

“Not only is it a problem of access, since the population needs other consumables, to cook, take a bath, for family entertainment. Access to energy is a key indicator of well-being and in this respect it is important to know how many families lack this service,” expert Boris Graizbord told IPS.“We have to regionalise the response, which requires a different combination of inputs and expenses. If we invest in solar water heaters or in other renewable energy sources, we’ll reduce spending on gas, we’ll decrease the power distribution. Those scenarios are possible if there is a decentralisation of power generation.“ -- Boris Graizbord

The academic from the Centre of Demographic, Urban and Environmental Studies at the public College of Mexico pointed out that some groups in small localities, even those who have their own incomes or remittances sent home by relatives in the United States, are unable to access natural gas or other energy sources.

The concept of energy poverty is new in Latin America, although it emerged in the 1990s in Britain, to describe the situation when a poor family spends more than10 percent of their income on energy.

But in countries such as Mexico the concept has been adapted to take into account cultural and social differences. Here the concept includes lack of access to energy, poor quality services, or energy inefficiency.

In a pioneering study, Graizbord and his colleague Roberto García, from the public College of the Northern Frontier, found that nearly 37 per cent of households –about 11 million homes– suffer from a shortage of energy in terms of “economic goods” such as thermal comfort, an efficient refrigerator or a gas or electric stove.

The study “Spatial characterisation of energy poverty in Mexico. An analysis at a subnational level,” published in 2016 in the magazine Economy, Society and Territory, found that the main factors behind the phenomenon are income level, the size of the town and of the house, and the educational level and gender of the head of the household.

This “represents a major social problem, due to the effect that the use of clean, affordable energy has on improving the quality of life and reducing poverty among the local population,” points out this study by Graizbord and García, who has worked on this issue in the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca present the highest average levels of energy poverty, as well as the highest overall poverty rates.

In Mexico, 46 per cent of the population lived in poverty in 2014, when the latest National Survey of Household Incomes and Expenditures was carried out – a rate that has likely increased since then, according to experts.

The Energy Ministry identifies the most important end uses in the residential sector as water heating, cooking, refrigerator, lighting, air conditioning/heat and entertainment.

In 2015, firewood produced 252,840 petajoules. The joule is the measuring unit for energy which equals one watt per second and estimates how much heat is necessary to carry out an activity. A petajoule represents one quadrillion (10^15) joules.

Gabriela Niño, climate change coordinator for the non-governmental organisation Polea, said there is a close link between energy poverty and its social and environmental impacts, such as the emission of polluting gases, soil degradation and deforestation.

“With biomass there is a big health risk, since people are exposed to local pollutants by burning biomass indoors,” she told IPS.

Since August 2014, Mexico has embarked on a major energy reform that opened up oil exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution and sale of oil and its by-products to local and foreign private investment.

But the question remains whether these changes will result in a reduction of energy poverty, insofar as the government leaves important activities of the electricity sector in private hands, who are profit driven, and not focused on social objectives.

Also, the country has committed to the goals set by Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll), the programme to be implemented during the United Nations 2014-2024 Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.

This global initiative intends to guarantee universal access to modern energy services, double the rate of improvement of global energy efficiency and increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Also, like the rest of the international community, it has adopted one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 7, which aims “to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” as part of the 2030 Agenda.

Graizbord proposes a response in Mexico differentiated by region, given the variations, including climatic, in different parts of the country.

“We have to regionalise the response, which requires a different combination of inputs and expenses. If we invest in solar water heaters or in other renewable energy sources, we’ll reduce spending on gas, we’ll decrease the power distribution. Those scenarios are possible if there is a decentralisation of power generation,” he said.

For Niño, addressing energy poverty poses several challenges.

“We have to research, generate indicators, identify causes and possible solutions, on how energy is generated, how it is used,” she said.

In her opinion, “the democratisation of energy should also be promoted, the government should generate actions that respond to a public policy objective, focused on access to new technologies, such as solar panels, for people who are isolated from the grid or who are not able to produce their own power or meet their needs.”

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 97 per cent of the population has access to energy. This means that 23 million people still lack electricity, according to data from late 2016 of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Nevertheless, the IDB predicts that this will be the first developing region to achieve universal energy access.

In Mexico, more than two million people have no electricity. According to the IDB, the countries in the region with the largest proportion of the population lacking energy access are Haiti – where only 40 percent have electricity – Honduras, Peru, and Mexico.

Meanwhile, leading the region in terms of greatest access are Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile, in that order.

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When It Comes to Fracking, Argentina Dreams Bighttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big/#comments Tue, 09 May 2017 00:53:36 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150346 Two drilling rigs in the Loma Campana deposit, in Vaca Muerta, in the Neuquén Basin, in south-west Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Two drilling rigs in the Loma Campana deposit, in Vaca Muerta, in the Neuquén Basin, in south-west Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, May 9 2017 (IPS)

Since a US Energy Information Administration (EIA) report announced in 2011 that Argentina had some of the world’s biggest shale oil and gas reserves, the dream of prosperity has been on the minds of many people in this South American nation where nearly a third of the population lives in poverty.

The question that hangs in the air is whether it is really possible for Argentina to become South America’s Saudi Arabia, or if it is just a fantasy.

Six years after the release of the report, although Argentina is still, like then, a net importer of oil and natural gas, the hope would appear to remain intact for centre-right President Mauricio Macri.

When Macri visited the United States on Apr. 25-27 he stopped over in Houston, Texas, described as the “Oil Capital of the World”. There, he urged the executives of the world’s top energy companies to make the huge investments that Argentina needs to exploit its reserves.“Today in Argentina there are more than 1,500 boreholes that are being exploited by the fracking method, not just in Vaca Muerta, but also in other deposits in the area. In the next years, this number is expected to multiply.” --
Diego de Rissio

“Argentina is among the countries with the greatest potential in the world. We want the best companies to come and partner with us,” Macri told oil executives at lunch in Houston on Apr. 26, before flying to Washington, where he met with his US counterpart Donald Trump at the White House.

“The delays in exploiting non-conventional fossil fuels in Argentina are inherent to the process, from a technical standpoint. The oil and gas industry operates in the long term,” said Martín Kaindl, head of the Argentine Oil and Gas Institute (IAPG), a think tank supported by oil companies in the country.

“We have to do things well for this opportunity to become a source of wealth for Argentina,” he told IPS.

So far, however, what seems to have grown more than the investments are the social movements opposed to hydraulic fracturing or fracking, in which rock is fractured by the high-pressure injection of ‘fracking fluid’ (primarily water, as well as sand and chemicals,) to release natural gas and oil from shale deposits..

This process has environmental and socioeconomic effects, according to experts quoted by environmentalists.

The greatest achievement so far by the opponents of fracking in Argentina came on Apr. 25, when the legislature of the central-eastern province of Entre Ríos banned fracking and other non-conventional methods.

It became the first province in the country to reach this decision, which was preceded by local laws in dozens of municipalities. Entre Ríos has no oil industry tradition, but it is included in the long-run exploration plans of Argentina’s state-controlled company YPF.

“Entre Ríos is a province that lives mainly off of agriculture and tourism, where there is a tradition of environmental activism”, sociologist Juan Pablo Olsson, who is part of the Argentina Free of Fracking movement, told IPS.

“We must not forget that a few years ago, there were up to 100,000 people protesting against the pulp mills on the international bridge,” he added, referring to the 2005-2010 conflict with Uruguay over the construction of two paper factories, due to the environmental impact on the Uruguay River, which separates the province of Entre Ríos from the neighbouring country.

Pear trees in blossom in a farm in Allen, a city in the province of Río Negro, located next to a shale gas deposit. Fruit producers and other traditional sectors of that province are concerned about the negative impacts of the oil and gas industry in Vaca Muerta. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Pear trees in blossom in a farm in Allen, a city in the province of Río Negro, located next to a shale gas deposit. Fruit producers and other traditional sectors of that province are concerned about the negative impacts of the oil and gas industry in Vaca Muerta. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

According to the latest EIA data, Argentina has recoverable shale reserves that amount to 802 trillion cubic feet of gas and 27 billion barrels of oil. It is only second to China in shale gas reserves, and in fourth position after the US, Russia and China, in shale oil.

Of these reserves, 38 per cent of the gas and 60 per cent of the oil are concentrated in the geological formation of Vaca Muerta, where commercial exploitation began in 2013, in the Loma Campana deposit, by YPF and US company Chevron in the province of Neuquén.

This 30,000-sq- km deposit is located in the area known as the Neuquén Basin (a sedimentary basin which has traditionally been the main oil-producing area in Argentina), spreading over four provinces (Neuquén, Río Negro, Mendoza and La Pampa) in the country’s southwest.

The extraordinary potential of Vaca Muerta is one of the few things in which the current president and his centre-left predecessor, Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) have agreed on, with neither having made any reference whatsoever to the environmental risks posed by fracking.

The former president did not hide her enthusiasm when talking about the deposit, which in 2013 she suggested renaming as “Vaca Viva” (living cow) , instead of “Vaca Muerta” (dead cow), since “we are now extracting oil from it.”

Macri, meanwhile, said that Vaca Muerta “is changing the country’s energy future,” since it has “abundant, cheap and exportable” resources.

This was in January, when he announced the signing of an agreement with oil industry trade unions which allows a reduction of up to 40 per cent of labour costs, to attract investments.

Later, the president decreed a minimum price for shale gas, higher than the market price, reinforcing the strategy launched by his predecessor of maintaining domestic fossil fuel prices at levels making it possible to tap into non-conventional deposits.

In addition, during his stay in Washington he announced a 35 per cent reduction in the import tariffs on used oil industry machinery, which will favour the arrival of equipment that fell into disuse in the U.S-Mexican Eagle Ford Formation, due to the fall in international prices.

The minister of Energy and Mining, Juan José Aranguren, who went to Houston with Macri, said that currently between six and eight billion dollars a year are invested in Vaca Muerta, but that the government’s goal is to reach 20 billion in 2019.

“Today in Argentina there are more than 1,500 boreholes that are being exploited by the fracking method, not just in Vaca Muerta, but also in other deposits in the area. In the next years, this number is expected to multiply,” Diego di Risio, a researcher from the Oil Observatory of the South, an organisation of professionals from different disciplines interested in the energy issue, told IPS.

“But we believe that the environmental and social impacts should be debated, since it is a fruit-producing agricultural region,” said di Risio. One of the localities engaged in the production of fruit near Vaca Muerta, where shale oil is being extracted, is Allen, in the province of Río Negro.

Juan Ponce, a fruit jam manufacturer in Allen, told IPS: “Oil production overrode fruit-producing farms. There were 35 fruit warehouses, and now there are only five left.”

He also told IPS by phone that “most people buy bottled water, because our water is not drinkable anymore, despite the fact that we have the longest river in the Patagonia region, the Rio Negro.”

“The best evidence of the pollution that is being generated by the oil and gas extraction is that the owners of surrounding farms are receiving subsidies from the companies, since they can no longer produce good quality fruit,” he added.

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Mega-Projects Have Magnified Corruption in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/mega-projects-have-magnified-corruption-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mega-projects-have-magnified-corruption-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/mega-projects-have-magnified-corruption-in-brazil/#comments Sat, 06 May 2017 02:44:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150322 Former Brazilian presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff take part in an Apr. 29 demonstration in defence of the shipbuilding industrial hub in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, one of the oil projects in Brazil on the verge of bankruptcy, due to the crisis plaguing the state-run oil company Petrobras due to the corruption scandal and the drop in oil prices. Credit: Stuckert/Lula Institute

Former Brazilian presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff take part in an Apr. 29 demonstration in defence of the shipbuilding industrial hub in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, one of the oil projects in Brazil on the verge of bankruptcy, due to the crisis plaguing the state-run oil company Petrobras due to the corruption scandal and the drop in oil prices. Credit: Stuckert/Lula Institute

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 6 2017 (IPS)

It cannot be categorically stated that corruption has increased in the country in recent years, because there is no objective information from earlier periods to compare with, according to Manoel Galdino, executive director of Transparency Brazil.

But recent revelations give the impression of a drastic increase in corruption, involving unprecedented amounts of money, nearly the entire political leadership of the country, and numerous state-run and private companies.

The Odebrecht conglomerate, led by Brazil’s biggest construction company, admitted to having paid 3.39 billion dollars in bribes to politicians between 2006 and 2014.

And that is only part of the scandal. More than 30 companies, including other large construction firms, are allegedly involved in the embezzlement of funds from the state oil company Petrobras, the initial focus of the “Lava Jato” (Carwash) investigation launched by the Public Prosecutor’s office, which has been exposing Brazil’s systemic corruption over the last three years.

The proliferation of mega-projects in the energy and transport sectors since 2005 coincides with the apparent rise in illegal dealings, with the collusion of politicians and business executives to maintain shared monopolies of power and excessive profits.

The 2006 discovery of huge oil deposits under a thick layer of salt in the Atlantic Ocean, known as the “pre-salt” reserves, sparked a surge of mega-projects, such as two big refineries and dozens of shipyards to produce drillships, oil platforms and other oil industry equipment.

Those projects came on top of petrochemical complexes that had already been projected.

In the following years, two big hydropower plants began being built on the Madeira River, and in 2011 the construction of another huge plant, Belo Monte, got underway on the Xingu River. This turned the Amazon region into a major supplier of energy for the rest of the country.

Three railroads, over 1,500-km-long each, ports all along the coast and others on the riverbanks were added to highways in the process of being paved or expanded to reduce the country’s deficit of transport infrastructure.

“Mega-projects always have a big potential for corruption. In Brazil we have always had a lot of corruption, which has now become more visible, thanks to the activity of oversight bodies and the media,” Roberto Livanu, president of the independent I Do Not Accept Corruption Institute, told IPS.

“But we cannot say that there is more corruption now than before, there is no way of measuring the magnitude, amounts and people involved,” said Livanu, who also works with the prosecution in the judicial proceedings.

Because of the very nature of the crime, “we only have subjective perceptions created by the visibility of the cases, which is now increased by the involvement of people in power, attracting much more interest from the press,” he said.

Besides, due to their complexity, mega-projects tend to fail – 65 per cent of them fail in at least one of four main aspects: cost, deadlines, objective and quality – says Edward Merrow, head of the U.S. consultancy Independent Project Analysis (IPA), in his book “Industrial MegaProjects”.

This complexity, he says, also contributes to corruption, at least in countries such as Brazil, with multiple opportunities for fraud presented by the thousands of contracts signed with suppliers of goods, services and financing, and regulatory and tax authorities.

On Apr. 24 the Senate passed a law penalising abuse of authority, with the aim of avoiding the need for further probes like “Lava Jato”, which is investigating one-third of the members of the Senate on corruption charges. Credit: Lula Marques/AGPT

On Apr. 24 the Senate passed a law penalising abuse of authority, with the aim of avoiding the need for further probes like “Lava Jato”, which is investigating one-third of the members of the Senate on corruption charges. Credit: Lula Marques/AGPT

“It is likely that with the greater circulation of money, in a growing economy, with major investments, corruption may have increased in Brazil, but it is not possible to confirm it,” said Galdino, from Transparency Brazil.

This is because we don’t know the proportion that corruption represented in the past with respect to GDP, because there was no research that made it possible to obtain the results available today, he explained.

“Supervisory bodies have made a lot of progress in the past 15 to 20 years and this is what led to the Lava Jato operation,” also underpinned by a mobilised civil society, Galdino said.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office was strengthened and its investigations began to be carried out together with specialised judicial bodies, the Federal Police, tax authorities and financial oversight bodies, since corruption flourishes along with money laundering, he said.

The plea bargains that encourage cooperation with the justice system in exchange for reduced sentences were a key instrument for the success of Lava Jato, with 155 such agreements reached with people under investigation.

The law allowing for plea bargains was passed in 2013, in response to popular protests that shook cities across Brazil in June that year, said Galdino, the head of Transparency Brazil, a non-governmental organisation whose aim is to improve institutions through monitoring and public debate.

“Until the 1990s the focus was on combatting administrative irregularities, but this approach did not lead to jail sentences for anyone,” he compared, citing as an example the case of lawmaker Paulo Maluf, a symbol of corruption ever since he was elected governor of the southern state of São Paulo (1979-1982), but who was convicted abroad, not in Brazil.

However, there are studies that show an increase in corruption when there is an abundance of public resources, as well as greater tolerance of those engaging in corruption during times of prosperity.

A ten per cent rise in transfers of resources from the central government to small municipalities increased by 16 per cent the serious cases of corruption in the city governments in questions, according to a study by Brazilian economist Fernanda Brollo, a professor at the British University of Warwick, together with four Italian colleagues.

The study was based on figures from 1,202 municipalities with a population of less than 5,940, during two periods of government between 2001 and 2008. The mayors who benefitted from the increased funds were re-elected in a greater proportion than the rest, despite the corruption.

“He steals but he gets things done” was the informal slogan of a former São Paulo politician, Adhemar de Barros, who governed that state during several periods between 1938 and 1966. In 1950 he was so popular that he was seen as a strong candidate to the presidency of Brazil, but he did not run.

Building large works, such as highways, hospitals and power plants has always been a source of popularity, as well as, according to popular suspicion, illicit wealth.

The proliferation of mega-projects during the governments of leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), with dozens of works involving investments of over one billion dollars, in some cases over 10 billion dollars, with huge cost overruns, appears to confirm their direct relation with an increase in diverted resources.

Lava Jato initially investigated the oil business. But the corruption affected other projects in varied sectors, such as hydroelectric plants, the Angra-3 nuclear plant (under construction), railways and stadiums built or upgraded for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, according to that and other investigations carried out by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

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No Trace of the Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:40:11 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150149 In April 2017, three years after this road was created to mark the official start of the construction of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal in Brito, on the country’s Pacific ocean western coast, it remains unpaved, and is only used by horses from nearby farms. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

In April 2017, three years after this road was created to mark the official start of the construction of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal in Brito, on the country’s Pacific ocean western coast, it remains unpaved, and is only used by horses from nearby farms. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

By José Adán Silva
PUNTA GORDA/BRITO, Nicaragua, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

Less than three years from the projected completion in Nicaragua of a canal running from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, there is no trace of progress on the mega-project.

IPS traveled to both ends of the routet: Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast in eastern Nicaragua, 383 km from Managua, and Brito, on the Pacific coast in the southern department of Rivas, 112 km from the capital.

In the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, IPS traveled by boat from Bluefields, the regional capital, to the town of Punta Gorda to the south.“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned." -- Anonymous indigenous leader

There are 365 small scattered indigenous settlements along the banks of the rivers, in a region divided into two sectors: the Southern Triangle, facing the sea, and the Daniel Guido Development Pole, along the banks of the Punta Gorda River – the Caribbean extreme of the projected canal.

According to the plans of the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND) group, in charge of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, in this sparsely populated jungle area bordering the territory of the Rama indigenous people, a deep-water harbour must be built, as well as the first locks on the Caribbean end for the ships that cross to or from the Atlantic Ocean.

The entire Great Canal project, according to HKND, is to include six sub-projects: the canal, the locks, two harbours, a free trade zone, tourist centres, an international airport, and several roads.

Other connected works are a hydroelectric power plant, a cement factory, and other related industrial facilities to ensure the supply of materials and the successful completion of the canal in five years, counting from 2014, when the project officially got underway.

But in Punta Gorda there are no infrastructure works, no HKND offices, and among the local population nobody is willing to openly talk about the subject.

“The silence is a matter of caution, people think you might be a government agent,” a local indigenous leader of the Rama and Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K), an autonomous organisation of indigenous communities that own the lands that will be affected by the canal, told IPS on condition of anonymity.

In the days prior to IPS’ visit to the region, army troops and the police carried out operations against drug trafficking, and there was an overall sense of apprehension.

The members of the GTR-K are divided between supporting and opposing the project, but negotiations with the government representatives have been tense and conflict-ridden, to the extent that complaints by the local indigenous people demanding respect for their ancestral lands have reached the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned,” said the indigenous leader of this remote territory that can only be accessed by boat or helicopter.

Silence on the subject is not just found among the locals. There is no talk anymore at a government level about what was once a highly touted project.

Fishermen and stevedores on one of the docks on the Punta Gorda River, near where it runs into the Caribbean Sea, the projected Caribbean extreme of the interoceanic canal, where local residents have not seen any visible sign of progress on the works officially launched more than two years ago. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

Fishermen and stevedores on one of the docks on the Punta Gorda River, near where it runs into the Caribbean Sea, the projected Caribbean extreme of the interoceanic canal, where local residents have not seen any visible sign of progress on the works officially launched more than two years ago. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

However, Vice President Rosario Murillo, the chief spokesperson of the government of her husband Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua since 2007, announced this month that with Taiwan’s support, a deep-water harbour, not connected to the plan for the canal, would be built in the same area with an investment that has not yet been revealed.

María Luisa Acosta, coordinator of the Legal Aid Centre for Indigenous Peoples, told IPS that the Special Law for the Development of Infrastructure and Transportation in Nicaragua Relating to the Canal, Free-Trade Areas and Associated Infrastructure, known as Law 840, was passed in June 2013 without consulting local indigenous and black communities.

A year later, on July 7, 2014, HKND and the Nicaraguan government announced the route that had been chosen for the canal, running from the Rivas Isthmus across Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua, to Punta Gorda.

The route would negatively affect the indigenous communities of Salinas de Nahualapa, Nancimí, Veracruz del Zapotal, Urbaite de las Pilas and San Jorge Nicaraocalí, along the Pacific, while in the Caribbean region it would impact the Creole communities of Monkey Point and Punta Gorda, as well as the Rama people of Wiring Kay, Punta de Águila and Bangkukuk Tai, home to the last speakers of the Rama language.

According to leaders of different indigenous communities, government representatives began to pressure them to give their consent over their lands to allow the canal to be built, giving rise to a still lingering conflict.

The canal is to be 278 km in length – including a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca – 520 metres wide and up to 30 metres deep.

It was to be built by the end of 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars – more than four times the GDP of this Central American country of 6.2 million people, 40 per cent of whom live in poverty.

The construction of a harbour, the western locks and a tourist complex is projected in Brito, a town on the Pacific coast in the municipality of Tola.

The town is named after the Brito River, a natural tributary of Lake Cocibolca, which winds through the isthmus until flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The works were officially inaugurated in Brito in December 2014.

The president of HKND, Wang Jing, together with Nicaraguan government officials, appeared in the media next to the construction equipment to inaugurate the work on a 13-km highway, which would be used to bring in the heavy machinery to build the initial infrastructure.

It was the last time Wang was seen in public in Nicaragua.

There is no new paved highway, just a dirt road which in winter is difficult to travel because it turns into a muddy track.

No heavy machinery is in sight, or vehicular traffic, workers or engineering staff.

Here, as in Punta Gorda, people avoid talking about the canal, and if they do it is on condition of anonymity and in a low voice.

“In Rivas we drove out the Chinese with stones when they tried to come to measure the houses, and after that, the police harassed us. They disguised themselves as civilians – as doctors, vendors and even priests, to see if we were participating in the protests,” said one local resident in Brito, who was referring to the 87 protest demonstrations held against the canal in Nicaragua.

In Managua, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the state Commission of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, said briefly to a small group of journalists, including IPS, that studies on the canal continue and that “the project is moving ahead as planned.”

However, Vice President Murillo announced in January that a 138-km coastal highway would be built along the Rivas Isthmus, to cater to the tourism industry and improve transportation, at a cost of 120 million dollars – with no mention of the canal.

One month later, government machinery was moved to Rivas to begin building the road where the canal was supposed to go.

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Gold Mine Aggravates Tensions in Brazil’s Amazon Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/gold-mine-aggravates-tensions-in-brazils-amazon-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gold-mine-aggravates-tensions-in-brazils-amazon-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/gold-mine-aggravates-tensions-in-brazils-amazon-region/#comments Fri, 07 Apr 2017 22:22:18 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149859 The main street of Ressaca, a town of garimpeiros or artisanal gold miners, on the right bank of the Xingu River, along the stretch called the Volta Grande or Big Bend, where a large-scale mining project, promoted by the Canadian company Belo Sun, is causing concern among the local people in this part of Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The main street of Ressaca, a town of garimpeiros or artisanal gold miners, on the right bank of the Xingu River, along the stretch called the Volta Grande or Big Bend, where a large-scale mining project, promoted by the Canadian company Belo Sun, is causing concern among the local people in this part of Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RESSACA, Brazil, Apr 7 2017 (IPS)

The decline of this town is seen in the rundown houses and shuttered stores, and the few people along the streets on a Sunday when the scorching sun alternates with frequent rains at this time of year in Brazil’s Amazon region.

“There is still a lot of gold here,” said Valdomiro Pereira Lima, pointing to the ground on a muddy street in the town of Ressaca, to emphasize that the riches underground extend along the right bank of the Xingu River at the 100-km stretch known as Volta Grande or Big Bend, which could restore the local economy.

This drew Belo Sun, a transnational Canadian mining corporation that intends to extract 60 tons of gold in 12 years through plants that separate gold from rock, in what is to be the largest open-pit gold mine in the country.

But the mine has given rise to a new wave of concern among the locals of Ressaca and other communities downstream, where the local population has already been affected by the impacts of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, operational since late 2015 and set to be completed in 2019.

Valdomiro Pereira Lima, a garimpeiro or informal miner, says there is gold beneath the streets of the town of Ressaca, as in many other areas along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. But the residents of this rundown town in Brazil’s Amazon region are opposed to a large-scale gold mining project. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Valdomiro Pereira Lima, a garimpeiro or informal miner, says there is gold beneath the streets of the town of Ressaca, as in many other areas along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. But the residents of this rundown town in Brazil’s Amazon region are opposed to a large-scale gold mining project. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The 64-year-old Pereira Lima has been mining for gold since 1980, when at the age of 27 he left farming in Maranhão, his home state in northeastern Brazil, to become a “garimpeiro” or informal artisanal miner in Brazil’s Amazon region.

He worked in Sierra Pelada, in the northern state of Pará, and in Volta Grande, which lured near 100,000 miners in the 1980s, as well as in the state of Roraima, along the border with Venezuela, before settling in Ressaca.

But the gold that gave rise to this village and brought it prosperity, as well as to other towns and settlements that emerged around nearby mines, started to become less accessible, while the garimpeiro way of life deteriorated, IPS noted, talking with all the interested parties during a one-week tour of the Volta Grande.

“There were over 8,000 garimpeiros when I arrived here in 1992, today there are just 400 to 500 left,” said 53-year-old José Pereira Cunha, vice president of the Mixed Cooperative of Garimpeiros from Ressaca, Itatá, Galo, Ouro Verde and Ilha da Fazenda.

“We used to find up to two kg of gold per week, now it’s only one per year,” said the garimpeiro leader, known by the nickname of Pirulito, because he is a small man. He has been a miner since the age of 17, and also got his start in Sierra Pelada.

But everything collapsed after 2012, when the police and environmental inspectors began to crack down on the garimpeiros, driving out many of them, he said. Moreover, the mining authorities did not renew the operating permits for the cooperative, outlawing the miners, who are still active in some mines.

Dozens of them have filed lawsuits in faraway cities.

“We have turned to the justice system to secure our rights,” said Cunha, who blames the campaign on Belo Sun and the municipal and state governments, interested in collecting more taxes, since the persecution began two years after the company began investigating potential gold deposits along the Volta Grande.

The village of Ilha da Fazenda depends economically on the town of Ressaca, where many families have left due to the decline of small-scale gold mining, added to the impact of the nearby Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The village of Ilha da Fazenda depends economically on the town of Ressaca, where many families have left due to the decline of small-scale gold mining, added to the impact of the nearby Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The company obtained an advance license in 2004, which recognises the environmental viability of the project. And on Feb. 2 the Environment and Sustainability department of the state of Pará granted it a permit to build the necessary plants.

But just two weeks later, the justice system suspended the permit for 180 days, demanding measures to relocate the affected population and clarification about the land acquired for the mine, presumably illegally.

Belo Sun claims that it has met all the requirements and conditions. The company keeps a register of the local population in the directly affected area, which it continually updates, because “the garimpeiros come and go,” according to Mauro Barros, the director of the company in Brazil.

João Lisboa Sobrinho, 85, a baker from Ilha da Fazenda who “only” has ten children. Until recently, he used 50 kg of flour a day to make bread, but now uses just three – a reflection of the decline and depopulation of this island village along the Xingu River, in the northern Brazilian state of Pará.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

João Lisboa Sobrinho, 85, a baker from Ilha da Fazenda who “only” has ten children. Until recently, he used 50 kg of flour a day to make bread, but now uses just three – a reflection of the decline and depopulation of this island village along the Xingu River, in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“It is not necessary to remove the population, we can even operate with everybody staying in their homes, if that’s what they want. All over the world there are active mines next to cities,” said Barros, a lawyer with previous experience in other mining companies.

But he said, in an interview at the company’s headquarters in the nearby city of Altamira, that those who are relocated will be provided with all the services, access to the river and support to earn an income. “We want to develop the region,” he said, adding that at least 80 per cent of the company’s employees will be locals.

The company will generate 2,100 direct jobs at the peak of the installation phase, and 526 once the mine is operational, he said. The promise is to train the garimpeiros to work in mechanized mining.

According to estimates from Belo Sun, there are probable reserves of 108.7 tons of gold.

It takes a ton of rocks to obtain a gram of gold.

Barros ruled out the risk, which has raised concern among the local population and environmentalists, that the mine will pollute the waters of the Xingu River, which has already been contaminated and has a reduced water level due to the Belo Monte mine. He guaranteed that Belo Sun would only use rainwater, and would hold its waste products safely.

But the conflict with the miners’ cooperative, community leaders and indigenous people who live along the Volta Grande has already begun.

“Either Belo Sun throws us out of here or we throw them out,” said Cunha, vice president of the cooperative.

The town has not received the promised compensation from Norte Energía, the company that holds the concession to run Belo Monte, nor services from the municipality, because “it would be pointless, since we are supposed to be resettled,” said Francisco Pereira, head of the Association of Ressaca Residents.

A map from Belo Sun showing the area where the Canadian mining company intends to extract 60 tons of gold. In blue, the Volta Grande or Big Bend in the Xingu River, where the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant has been built, in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A map from Belo Sun showing the area where the Canadian mining company intends to extract 60 tons of gold. In blue, the Volta Grande or Big Bend in the Xingu River, where the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant has been built, in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The town of about 200 families still has no basic sewage. “The wastewater runs into the river, we have no drinking water or sports field, and at the school the heat is unbearable,” and nothing will be done because of the uncertainty created by Belo Sun, said Pereira, a 58-year-old garimpeiro who is now working as a farm labourer.

The uncertainty and decline are also affecting the roughly 50 families that live in Ilha da Fazenda, a village dependent on Ressaca and separated from it by a two-kilometre stretch of a tributary of the Xingu River. Children from the fifth grade and up and sick people can only go to school or receive healthcare in the town of Ressaca, which they reach in small boats.

“In the good old days of the ‘garimpo’ (informal mining), there were dozens of bars in Ilha da Fazenda. They extracted gold in Ressaca and came here to spend their money,” said 85-year-old baker João Lisboa Sobrinho, who has “only ten children” and is a living history of the island village.

“I used to use 50 kg of flour a day to make bread, now I use three at the most,” he said, standing next to the brick oven made by his father in 1952.

“Ninety-five per cent of the people on the island want to move away,” because if Ressaca disappears, it will be impossible to live in Ilha da Fazenda,” said Sebastião Almeida da Silva, who owns the only general store on the island.

More than 20 families have already left the village.

But “I will only leave if I am the only one left,” said Adelir Sampaio dos Santos, a nurse from José Porfirio, the municipality where the mining area is located. “We will only be left isolated if we don’t take action,” she said, urging her fellow villagers to struggle for the school, medical post, water and electricity that are needed in the village.

“With the garimpo in better conditions, supported by the government, with state banks buying our gold, we could bring life back to local cities and towns, we could pay taxes, we could all stay and prosper,” said Divino Gomes, a surveyor who worked with environmentalist organisations before becoming a garimpeiro.

“I have seen mining companies elsewhere, they take all the wealth and leave craters. We have to think about it ten times over before accepting their projects,” he concluded.

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Brazilian Dam Causes Too Much or Too Little Water in Amazon Villageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/brazilian-dam-causes-too-much-or-too-little-water-in-amazon-villages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-dam-causes-too-much-or-too-little-water-in-amazon-villages http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/brazilian-dam-causes-too-much-or-too-little-water-in-amazon-villages/#comments Sat, 01 Apr 2017 21:42:59 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149744 A chicken coop in the village of Miratu, flooded because the Xingu River rose much more than was announced by Norte Energía, the company that built and operates the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, whose main reservoir is some 20 km upstream from the Juruna community in Brazil’s northern Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A chicken coop in the village of Miratu, flooded because the Xingu River rose much more than was announced by Norte Energía, the company that built and operates the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, whose main reservoir is some 20 km upstream from the Juruna community in Brazil’s northern Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Apr 1 2017 (IPS)

The Juruna indigenous village of Miratu mourned the death of Jarliel twice: once on October 26, when he drowned in the Xingu River, and the second time when the sacred burial ground was flooded by an unexpected rise in the river that crosses Brazil’s Amazon region.

Their cries are also of outrage against the Norte Energía company, the concession-holder for the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which determines the water flow in the Volta Grande stretch of the Xingu River, a 100-km area divided in three municipalities, with five indigenous villages along the riverbanks.

Jarliel Juruna, 20, was very good at what he did: catch ornamental fish, which have been increasingly scarce since the dam was inaugurated in November 2015. Apparently the need to dive deeper and deeper to find fish and help support his family contributed to the fatal accident, according to his siblings Jailson and Bel.

The company had ensured that the rise in water level in that area would be moderate, since the flow was divided between the Volta Grande and a canal built to feed the main Belo Monte generating plant, near the end of the curve in the river known as Volta Grande or Big Bend.

The markers showing how high the water would rise were surpassed early this year, due to heavy rains and a limited diversion of the water to be used by the hydroelectric plant, which will be the third largest in the world in terms of capacity once it is completed in 2019.

The unexpected rise also caused material losses. Boats and equipment were carried away by the high water. “My manioc crop was flooded, even though it was on land higher than the markers,” said Aristeu Freitas da Silva, a villager in Ilha da Fazenda.

Despite the excess of water, this village of 50 families is suffering a lack of drinking water.

“The river is dirty, we drink water from a well that we dug. The three wells drilled by Norte Energía don’t work because the water pump broke eight months ago,” said Miguel Carneiro de Sousa, a boatman hired by the municipality to ferry students to a nearby school.

The school in Ilha da Fazenda only goes up to fourth grade, and in Brazil education is compulsory up to the ninth grade.

Bel Juruna, a Juruna indigenous leader from the village of Miratu along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. The 25-year-old woman is an impressive defender of indigenous rights, against the Belo Monte hydropower plant and inefficient government authorities, in this territory in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Bel Juruna, a Juruna indigenous leader from the village of Miratu along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. The 25-year-old woman is an impressive voice in the defence of indigenous rights, against the Belo Monte hydropower plant and inefficient government authorities, in this territory in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Deiby Cardoso, deputy mayor of Senador José Porfirio, one of the municipalities in Volta Grande, admitted that water supply is a municipal responsibility, and promised that the problem would be resolved by late April.

He did so during a Mar. 21 public hearing organised by the public prosecutor’s office in the city of Altamira, to address problems affecting Volta Grande. IPS attended the hearing as part of a one-week tour of riverbank and indigenous villages in this area.

Taking over the Xingu River for energy purposes, to the detriment of its traditional users, such as indigenous and riverine peoples, has cost Norte Energía many obligations and complaints in its area of influence in the northern state of Pará, where local people sometimes confuse its role with that of the government.

The company is required to carry out a plan for compensation and mitigation of social and environmental impacts, with conditional targets, and the number of complaints about non-compliance is increasing.

Local residents of Ilha da Fazenda had reasons to complain at the hearing. The health post is filthy and abandoned, the ambulance boat has a broken motor, and the electricity produced by the village generator is only available from 6:00 to 10:00 PM.

The deputy mayor accepted the complaints about the delays, which he said were due to the short period that the municipal government has been in power, since January.

The dilapidated, unkempt health post in Ilha da Fazenda, one of the villages on the banks of the Xingu River affected by the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, in the state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The unkempt health post in Ilha da Fazenda, one of the villages on the banks of the Xingu River affected by the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, in the state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But holding the key to the Xingu River, opening or closing spillways and activating or shutting off its turbines, Norte Energía dictates the water level downstream, especially in the Volta Grande. At the hearing, it seemed clear that they do it without considering the human and environmental impacts.

“The water level drops and rises all of a sudden, without warning,” complained Bel Juruna, a 25-year-old community leader and defender of indigenous peoples’ rights who talked to IPS during the visit to the village of Miratu.

“These abrupt fluctuations in the volume of water released in the Volta Grande produce changes in the water level in the river that confuse the aquatic fauna, disoriented by the availability of space to feed and breed,” said ecologist Juarez Pezzuti, a professor at the Federal University of Pará.

And once the hydroelectric plant starts to operate normally, the water flow will be permanently reduced, he added.

The local people are informed daily, through phones installed by the company in many houses, about the volume of water that enters Volta Grande. But this information about cubic metres per second means nothing to them.

“The information has to be useful,” adding the water level in the river in each village, the local indigenous people told the authorities present at the hearing, who included prosecutors, public defenders and heads of the environmental and indigenous affairs agencies.

There is a “failure of communication” that Energía Norte needs to fix, it was agreed during the hearing, where there were no representatives of the company.

Indigenous houses, practically submerged by the unexpected rise of the Xingu River. These traditional houses of the Juruna people give support to the “canoada”, a tourist and political event that the native people organize each September along the Volta Grande, in the northern Amazon state of Pará in Brazil.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Indigenous houses, practically submerged by the unexpected rise of the Xingu River. These traditional houses of the Juruna people give support to the “canoada”, a tourist and political event that the native people organize each September along the Volta Grande, in the northern Amazon state of Pará in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Safety of navigation is another demand by the Juruna and Arara native people, who live on the banks of the Volta Grande. The damming of the river exacerbated the “banzeiros” (turbulence or rapids), which have already caused one death, early this year.

The local indigenous peoples are demanding large vessels, one for each of the five villages, to cross the reservoir to Altamira, the capital of the Medio Xingú region, without the risks that threaten their small boats.

They are also asking for support equipment for the most turbulent stretches of the Volta Grande, from August to November, when small dangerous rocky islands emerge due to the low water level.

The reduced water flow has made navigation difficult in the Volta Grande, the traditional transport route used by local people, increasing the need for land transport.

An access road to the routes that lead to Altamira is a chief demand of the Arara people.

“It was a condition of the building permit for Belo Monte, to this day unfulfilled. We have been waiting for that road since 2012,” protested José Carlos Arara, leader of the village of Guary-Duan.

They rejected the handing over of a Base of Operations that Norte Energía built for the National Indian Foundation, the state body for the defence of indigenous rights, to protect their territory. “With no land access, we won’t accept the base, because it will be incomplete,” said Arara, supported by leaders of other villages.

To improve territorial protection and the participation of indigenous people in the committees that deal with indigenous issues and those involving Volta Grande within the programmes of compensation and mitigation of impacts of Belo Monte is another common demand, submitted to the hearing in a letter signed by the Arara and Juruna people.

The need for protection was stressed by Bebere Bemaral Xikrin, head of the association of the Xikrin people, from the Trincheira-Bacajá indigenous land.

Since mid-2016, the waters of the Bacajá River have been dirty, which has killed off fish. The reason is the “garimpo” or informal surface mining along tributary rivers of the Bacajá, on the outskirts of the Xikrin territory.

And things will get worse with the construction of a road to bring in machinery for the garimpeiros or informal miners, if the Protection Plan, which was to be ready in 2011 “but hasn’t made it from paper to reality, is not fully implemented soon,” said Bebere Bemaral.

The Xikrin people do not live along the Volta Grande, but everything that happens in that stretch of the Xingu River affects the Bacajá, a tributary of the Xingu, which this people depend on for survival, he explained.

The rivers which were the lifeblood of local indigenous and riverine people became a risk factor with the implementation of a hydropower megaproject, to which could be added the Belo Sun mining project, also on the banks of the Volta Grande.

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Barefoot Solar Warriors Take On Gender Injustice and Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/barefoot-solar-warriors-take-on-gender-injustice-and-climate-change/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 02:05:19 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149284 Engineer Magan Kawar (wearing pink), who left school after third grade, teaches a class of international students in solar technology. Kawar has trained 900 women from over 20 countries. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Engineer Magan Kawar (wearing pink), who left school after third grade, teaches a class of international students in solar technology. Kawar has trained 900 women from over 20 countries. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
TILONIA, India, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

On a summer morning in 2008, Magan Kawar decided to leave her village for a job. The very next day, her parents-in-law excommunicated her.

“They were very angry,” says the 52-year-old mother of two from Bhawani Khera village of Rajasthan’s Ajmer, a district 400 kms west of New Delhi."The world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories.” --Magan Kawar

“Women never stepped out of the home alone. To go outside of the village and work in an office alongside men was a disgrace. My parents-in-law said I had brought upon them that disgrace.”

But even as angry relatives and shocked neighbors watched in utter dismay, Kawar traveled to Tilonia, a village an hour away. Here, along with her husband, she became a technician at a rural innovation centre. As the world shut its doors behind her, her husband assured her: “Everything would be alright one day.”

Eight years later, Kawar who never studied beyond the third grade, is one of India’s top renewable energy experts. She is a lead instructor at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, a unique innovation and training centre where rural women from across India and the world are trained in solar technologies.

A college for barefoot engineers

The Barefoot College of Tilonia was established four decades ago by Bunker Roy, a visionary educationist and environmentalist who envisoned a place where women with little or no formal education could learn livelihood skills and play a leadership role in their communities.

The skills taught here are many, including sewing, welding and carpentry, among others, but the flagship programme of the college is a six-month biannual course in solar technology.

The course accepts women of 35 years and older, mostly from economically or socially underprivileged communities living in areas that have no electricity. There are two separate learning centres for Indian and international trainees who are called ‘Solar Mamas.’

Each of the Solar Mamas is selected by her own community and sent to the college by their respective governments where they are provided a fellowship by the government of India. It covers their cost of their stay at the college campus, including food and accommodation.

Currently, there are 30 Solar Mamas from 13 countries of Asia and Africa, including India, Myanmar, Syria, Mali, Sierra Leone and Botswana. The latest group is slated to graduate on Mar. 15 – the day they will receive 700 dollars as a stipend for the six months they spent here. For many, this is also an amount they can use as seed money to start a business in their home country.

Amarmani Oraon, an indigenous woman from the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh in India, learns to make the circuit for a solar lantern. Oraon, who is not able to read or write, will soon become a Solar Mama - a barefoot solar engineer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Amarmani Oraon, an indigenous woman from the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh in India, learns to make the circuit for a solar lantern. Oraon, who is not able to read or write, will soon become a Solar Mama – a barefoot solar engineer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Learning through sign language

On the final Sunday of February, a group of local youths graduated from the Barefoot College after learning some livelihood skills. At their graduation ceremony, each of the students was presented with a solar lantern – made by the women solar technicians of the college.

The circuit of the lantern is complex, with dozens of minuscule electronic chips assembled on a 4-inch long plate. To teach this complex technology to the trainees when neither teacher nor student speak English or share a common language may seem extremely daunting to others, but the barefoot instructors have their own innovative methodology.

Explains Magan Kawar, “We first make a list of the most important parts and equipment and begin by making each trainee learn by heart the names. That is essential. After that, we communicate by pointing at a part, signs and actions. For example, I will take a circuit plate, point at a part and say, ‘press’. Or, I will then take a cable from the power testing machine, touch this to the plate, show it to the trainees and say, ’power testing’. They follow suit.”

There are no certificates awarded to the graduates, but then, this college is not a place that upholds formal educational norms. Instead, it practices a “very, very simple” method that champions imparting education that “truly empowers,” says Bunker Roy, who is also the director of the college.

“Imagine a woman who never traveled out of her village. Can’t read or write. Takes a flight and travels for 19 hours…comes to a strange country, strange food, strange language and in six months, she becomes a solar engineer using sign language. She knows more about solar engineering than a college graduate. What can be more exhilarating than this?” asks Roy.

Women from local villages in India with solar lanterns made by Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women from local villages in India with solar lanterns made by Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Honing climate leadership skills

Elizabeth Halauafu, 42, is from Tonga, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean which considered is the third most vulnerable country on earth to rising sea levels from climate change. Despite its high vulnerability, however, the country has been slow in adopting climate adaptation measures, including renewable energy.

But as Tonga finally wakes up to play a stronger role in climate action, Bayes could become one of the pioneers in rural solar technology thanks to her training at the Barefoot College.

“I have already learned about solar installations. I can build a circuit, assemble and repair solar lights. Once I return to Tonga, I will be happy to join a job that will allow me to use my skills. I and my husband may also start a solar venture,” says Bayes, before recalling that when she returns home, the season of oceanic storms will begin when electricity will be scarce.

A place to share, forget and rise above

Solar Mamas Hala Naseef and and Azhar Sarhan are from Damascus. The government may try to show Damascus as an oasis in an otherwise war-torn Syria, but the ground realities are different: there are frequent power outrage and everyone lives in fear of a total collapse of the grid. Solar technology is not very popular, but could soon become the only source of power if the war does not end soon, says the duo.

It has been a long journey from Damascus to the Barefoot College for both Sarhan and Naseef, but both are quick to point out that the past five months, despite daunting odds, have been a very enriching experience.

“I miss home and the food…but to see other women who have come from difficult places, we forget our own struggle,“ says Naseef.

Lila Devi Gujjar, who teaches alongside Magan Kawar, says that most of their trainees come from conflict zones and carry a ‘burden of pain.”

“Many of them are survivors of abuse, violence and are broken in spirit. But here they find a way to forget their past and get new hope to rebuild their lives,” says Gujjar.

Kawar shares the story of Chantal, one of her recent trainees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was raped several times in her home country. “It was her first escape from the violence. She first cried for days, then just immersed herself in learning. Somehow, she found our informal learning environment very soothing.

“And we also realized that the world over, the lives of women are the same – there are too many challenges, but together, we can help each other rewrite our stories,” says Kawar, who wrote her own story a few years ago by sending her two children to universities and inviting her parents-in-law to visit the Barefoot College.

“They came, saw me teaching and my mother-in-law said, ‘But it is just women educating each other!’ That day, she welcomed me back into the family,” says the barefoot engineer with a smile.

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Expansion of Renewable Energies in Mexico Has Victims, Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:34:19 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149013 In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
KIMBILÁ, Mexico, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

The growing number of wind and solar power projects in the southern Mexican state of Yucatán are part of a positive change in Mexico’s energy mix. But affected communities do not see it in the same way, due to the fact that they are not informed or consulted, and because of how the phenomenon changes their lives.

“We have no information. We have some doubts, some people say it’s good and some say it’s bad. We have heard what is said in other states,” small farmer Luis Miguel, a Mayan Indian, told IPS.

He lives in Kimbilá, a town in the municipality of Izmal, which is the site of an up-to-now failed private wind power venture that has been blocked by opposition from the area’s 3,600 inhabitants and in particular from the ejido or communal land where the wind farm was to be installed.“There is a lack of information going to the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities.” -- Romel González

“We fear that they will damage our crops,” said Miguel, whose father is one of the 573 members of the Kimbilá ejido, located in the Yucatán Peninsula, 1,350 km southeast of Mexico City.

The questioned project, run by the Spanish company Elecnor, includes the installation of 50 wind turbines with a capacity of 159 MW per year.

The company installed an anemometric tower in 2014, but the local population, who grow maize and garden vegetables, raise small livestock and produce honey for a living, did not find out about the project until January 2016.

Since then, the ejido has held two assemblies and cancelled another, without reaching an agreement to approve a 25-year lease on the lands needed for the wind farm.

Meanwhile, in February 2016, the members of the ejido filed a complaint against the Procuraduría Agraria – the federal agency in charge of protecting rural land – accusing it of defending the interests of the company by promoting community assemblies that were against the law.

The wind farm is to have an operating life of 30 years, including the preparatory phase, construction and operation, and it needs 77 hectares of the 5,000 in the ejido.

The company offered between five and 970 dollars per hectare, depending on the utility of the land for a wind farm, a proposition that caused unrest among the ejido members. It would also give them 1.3 per cent of the turnover for the power generated. But the electricity would not be used to meet local demand.

“We haven’t been given any information. This is not in the best interests of those who work the land. They are going to destroy the vegetation and 30 years is a long time,” beekeeper Victoriano Canmex told IPS.
This indigenous member of the ejido expressed his concern over the potential harm to the bees, “because new roadswould be opened with heavy machinery. They said that they would relocate the apiaries but they know nothing about beekeeping. It’s not fair, we are going to be left with nothing,” he said.

Canmex, who has eight apiaries,checks the beehives twice a week, together with four of his six children. He collects about 25 30-kg barrels of honey, which ends up on European tables. Yucatan honey is highly appreciated in the world, for its quality and organic nature.

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables.  Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Yucatán, part of the ancient Mayan empire, where a large part of the population is still indigenous, has become a new energy frontier in Mexico, due to its great potential in wind and solar power.

This state adopted the goal of using 9.3 per cent non-conventional renewable energies by 2018. In Yucatán, the incorporation per year of new generation capacity should total 1,408 MW by 2030.

Leaving out the big hydropower plants, other renewable sources account for just eight per cent of the electricity produced in Mexico. According to official figures, in December 2016, hydropower had an installed capacity of 12,092 MW, geothermal 873 MW, wind power 699 MW, and photovoltaic solar power, six MW.

According to the Mexican Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, in Mexico there are at least 31 wind farms located in nine states, with a total installed capacity of 3,527 MW of clean energy for the northeast, west, south and southeast regions of this country of 122 million people.

Besides the lack of information, and of free, prior and informed consent, as the law and international conventions require, indigenous people complain about impacts on migratory birds, rise in temperatures in areas with solar panels and water pollution caused by leaks from wind towers.

For Romel González, a member of the non-governmental Regional Indigenous and Popular Council of Xpujil, a town in the neighboring state of Campeche, the process of energy development has legal loopholes that have to do with superficial contracts and environmental impact studies.

“There is a lack of information for the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities,” González told IPS.

He said that in the region, there are “previously untapped” natural resources that are attracting attention from those interested in stripping the communities of these resources.

The state is experiencing a clean energy boom, with plans for five solar plants, with a total capacity of 536 MW, and five wind farms, with a combined capacity of 256 MW. The concessions for the projects, which are to operate until 2030, have already been awarded to local and foreign companies.

In the first national power generation auction organised by the government in March 2016, four wind power and five solar power projects won, while in the second one, the following September, two new wind projects were chosen.

The change in the electricity mix is based on Mexico’s energy reform, in force since August 2014, which opened the industry to national and international private capital.

Local authorities project that by 2018, wind power generation will amount to 6,099 MW, including 478 from Yucatán, with the total increasing two years later to 12,823 MW, including 2,227 MW from this state.

Yucatán will draw a projected 52 million dollars in investment to this end in 2017 and 1.58 billion in 2018.

The Electricity Industry Law, in effect since 2014, stipulates that each project requires a social impact assessment. But opponents of the wind power projects have no knowledge of any assessment carried out in the state, while there is only evidence of two public consultations with affected communities, in the case of two wind farms.

“The electricity will not be for us and we don’t know what will happen later (once the wind farm is installed). That is why we have our doubts,” said Miguel.

People in Yucatán do not want to replicate the “Oaxaca model”. That is the southern state which has the largest number of wind farms, which have drawn many accusations of unfair treatment, land dispossession and lack of free, prior and informed consent.

“The authorities want to do this by all means, they are just trying to get these projects approved,” said Canmex.

González criticised the government for failing to require assessments. “We have asked for them and the government has responded that there aren’t any. The community response to the projects will depend on their level of awareness and social organisation. Some communities will react too late, when the project is already underway,” he said.

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Energy Access Builds Inclusive Economies and Resilient Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/energy-access-builds-inclusive-economies-and-resilient-communities/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:34:56 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148974 More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

Jaipal Hembrum runs three one-man home enterprises – a bicycle repair shop, a tiny food stall and a tailoring unit in Kautuka, a remote village in eastern India. Sewing recycled clothes into mattresses late into the evening, the 38-year-old father of three girls says two light bulbs fed by a solar power system have changed his life.

Given the trajectory of development India is currently pursuing, energy access for its rural population could bring dramatic economic improvement. Yet 237 million people — a fifth of its 1.3 billion people, many of them in remote villages with few livelihood options — do not have any access to it.The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements while also meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

The Delhi-based research organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) stipulates that if even half of households deemed electrified through the national power grid are not receiving the guaranteed six hours uninterrupted supply, the number of people who are electricity-poor in India totals 650 million.

In this scenario, renewable energy-based mini-grids, particularly in remote villages, are considered the best option to manage local household and commercial energy demand efficiently by generating power at the source of consumption.

This is being proven true by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) initiative in two of India’s poorest states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where 16 and 36 percent of households respectively are electrified. In India, 55 percent rural households have energy access, often of unreliable quality.

Started in 2014, the SPRD project has helped set up close to 100 mini-grid plants, covering the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and lately, in Jharkhand too. According to Rockefeller Foundation sources, these plants are serving a customer base of around 38,000 people. Over 6,500 households are benefitting, along with 3,800 shops and businesses, and over 120 institutions, telecom towers and micro-enterprises.

Over 2014 – 2017, the Rockefeller Foundation aims to make a difference to 1,000 energy-poor villages in India, benefitting around a million rural people. For this effort, the Foundation has committed 75 million dollars, partnering and funding Smart Power India (SPI) a new entity designed to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders who help scale-up the market for off-grid energy.

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

What can mini-grids can do? Plenty

A recent evaluation of the mini-grids’ impact on communities they serve in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh already show a broad range of economic, social and environmental benefits.

Entrepreneurship and new businesses have grown, with 70 percent existing micro-businesses reporting increased number of costumers after connecting to the mini-grids and 80 percent planned to expand.

Nine in 10 household users said their children’s daily study time has increased by two hours since they got the lights. Women said they had increased mobility after dark and theft cases had fallen. Use of kerosene and diesel has fallen dramatically — to virtually zero, according to Khanna.

Micro-businesses like cyber cafes, fuel stations, mobile and fan repair shops, banks, schools and hospitals are the fastest growing commercial customer section of mini-grids constructed under Smart Power India.

In Shivpura village of Uttar Pradesh, where TARA Urja, a small energy service company (ESCO), started providing reliable electricity from a 30-KW solar plant, Sandeep Jaiswal set up a water purification processor in 2015. In just over a month he was rushing 1,200 litres of water on his new mini-truck to 40 customers. TARA, also a social business incubator, has financially supported Jaiswal with 530 dollars, in return for a one-year contract to source electricity from TARA.

Smart Power India supports the development of rural micro-enterprises through loans, community engagement and partnerships with larger companies with rural value chains, for instance, city malls that source vegetables from rural farms.

India confronts a demographic youth ‘bulge’ with 64 percent in the working age group in 2020, requiring 10 million new jobs every year in the coming decade. Using green mini-grids to create rural livelihoods can also reduce urban migration.

Innovating a business model that propels construction of mini-grids

Mini-grids are a decentralized system providing a renewable energy-based electricity generator with a capacity of 10 kilowatts or more, with a target consumer group it supplies through a stand-alone distribution network.

The sustainability of private companies in the rural power supply sector depends on generating sufficient revenue long-term. To make it profitable for smaller-scale ESCOs to bring electricity to rural parts of the developing world, the Smart Power model ensures fast-growing sectors with significant energy needs such as telecom towers in rural areas, to provide steady revenue. In return, the ESCOs provide contractual guarantee of reliable power supply to the towers.

“There is an opportunity to catalyze the telecommunication and off-grid energy sectors. Currently cell phone towers in rural areas are often powered by expensive diesel generators and companies are looking for cheaper alternatives, thereby creating the possibility for a strong anchor,” says Ashvin Dayal, Managing Director, Asia, of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Telecom towers — by becoming the ‘anchor’ customers – help make ESCOs bankable. They then can expand supply into rural household lighting and local enterprises.

Government figures say 2 billion litres of diesel is annually consumed by the 350,000  existing telecom towers in India, including those in remote rural regions. The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements without compromising environmental sustainability, while meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

Solar power cost per unit has fallen in India to 0.045 cents, which makes it increasingly feasible to shift to renewable powered mini-grids, saving substantial subsidies spent on fossil fuels. The government in 2016 decided to construct 10,000 mini-grids in the next five years of 500 megawatt (MW) capacity, but this is clearly not enough, say experts.

India has a potential for 748,990 MW of solar power. Fourteen states, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, receive irradiance above the annual global average of 5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day.

Around the world, approximately 1.3 billion people lack access to reliable and affordable means of electricity without which, growing their incomes, improving food security and health, educating children, accessing key information services becomes a major challenge. Energy access is critical to achieving several UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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Corruption Brings Down an Empire: Odebrecht in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 00:29:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148966 The American Airlines Arena, a stadium and entertainment complex in Miami, Florida, is one of the many projects carried out by Odebrecht in the United States, where prosecutors have begun to produce figures reflecting the scope of the company’s corruption. Credit: Odebrecht

The American Airlines Arena, a stadium and entertainment complex in Miami, Florida, is one of the many projects carried out by Odebrecht in the United States, where prosecutors have begun to produce figures reflecting the scope of the company’s corruption. Credit: Odebrecht

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

People in Brazil have been overwhelmed by the flood of news stories about the huge web of corruption woven by the country’s biggest construction company, Odebrecht, which is active in dozens of fields and countries.

The business empire built by three generations of the Odebrecht family is falling apart after three years of investigation by the Lava Jato (car wash) operation launched by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s office in Brazil, which is investigating the corruption that diverted millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for major public works contracts from the state-run oil giant Petrobras.The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

Marcelo Odebrecht, who headed the company from 2008 to 2015, was arrested in June 2015 and was initially sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In October he and the company reached plea bargain deals to cooperate with the investigation. A total of 77 former and present Odebrecht executives provided over 900 sworn statements to Lava Jato prosecutors, causing a political earthquake in Brazil and throughout Latin America.

In December, the U.S. Justice Department revealed that Odebrecht allegedly spent 1.04 billion dollars in bribes to politicians and government officials in ten Latin American and two African countries, including Brazil, which accounted for 57.7 per cent of the total.

The United States is carrying out its own investigation, which could end in criminal convictions, since several Odebrecht subsidiaries, such as the petrochemical company Braskem, operate there, and their shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

That is also happening in the case of Petrobras, implicated in the corruption scandal and under investigation at the initiative of shareholders in the U.S.

The U.S. and Switzerland, where banks were allegedly used to funnel bribes or launder money, signed cooperation agreements with legal authorities in Brazil, as part of the ongoing offensive against corruption in Latin America’s giant.

The impacts are overwhelming. In Brazil, the revelations about Odebrecht are expected to provoke a tsunami in the political system. Two hundred parliamentarians and government officials may have received bribes, including senior members of the current administration and legislature.

The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

That estimate is based on more than 100 projects carried out or in progress in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, plus Angola and Mozambique in Africa.

Part of the Caracas valley seen from the San Agustín Metrocable, one of the many works assigned to Odebrecht in Venezuela during the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), when the Brazilian company became the biggest construction firm in the country. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

Part of the Caracas valley seen from the San Agustín Metrocable, one of the many works assigned to Odebrecht in Venezuela during the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), when the Brazilian company became the biggest construction firm in the country. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

The arrest warrant issued by a court in Peru against former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), who has been living in the United States, and allegations implicating current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, are just the tip of the iceberg.

What was revealed by Odebrecht executives and former executives, as well as former directors of different departments, such as external affairs, infrastructure, industrial engineering or logistics, has not yet been made public.

New figures involving alleged bribes are expected to come out over the next few months, added to those already disclosed in the United States, including 599 million dollars distributed in Brazil, 98 million in Venezuela, 92 million in the Dominican Republic, 59 million in Panama and 50 million in Angola.

In Peru the total revealed so far is “only” 29 million dollars since 2005. The sum is small, considering that for the Southern Peru pipeline – still under construction – alone, the projected investments amount to seven billion dollars. The Peruvian government has decided to terminate the contract with Odebrecht for the project.

Besides Odebrecht, the Inter-Oceanic Highway, which runs across southern Peru from the Brazilian border to Pacific Ocean ports, is being built by three other Brazilian construction firms – Camargo Correa, Andrade Gutierrez and Queiroz Galvão – which are also under investigation for suspicion of corruption.

During the presidency of Alan Garcia (2006-2011), Peru and Brazil signed an agreement for the construction of five large hydropower plants in Peru, which was cancelled by his successor, Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), who, however, is suspected of receiving three million dollars from Brazil for his election campaign.

Odebrecht, which has a concession to manage Chaglla, the third biggest hydroelectric plant in Peru, with a capacity of 462 MW, was to be the main construction company in charge of building the new plants.

The growing wave of local and industry scandals sheds light on the reach of Odrebrecht’s tentacles. Braskem is accused of distributing 250 million dollars in bribes to sustain its leadership position in the Americas in the production of thermoplastic resins, with 36 plants spread across Brazil, Mexico, the United States, as well as Germany.

The empire, born in 1944 as a simple construction company, started diversifying in the last half century into activities as diverse as the sugarcane business, the development of military technologies or oil services, logistics or shipbuilding companies.

In the early 1970s the group built the Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, sealing a connection that led to the current disaster which destroyed the reputation of the company that was so proud of its “Entrepreneurial Technology”, a set of ethical and operational business principles to which its fast expansion was attributed.

But Odebrecht’s success could actually be attributed to a strategic vision and a modus operandi that proved successful until the Lava Jato operation. Part of its methods included being “friends with the king”.

Angola is the best example. The current chairman of the company’s board of directors, Emilio Odebrecht, son of founder Norberto Odebrecht, meets every year with Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda, to discuss projects for the country.

Officially, what they do is assess the projects carried out by the company and define new goals.

The explanation given for the special treatment received by Odebrecht is that it has such a strong presence in vital infrastructure works in the country in areas such as reconstruction, energy, water, highways and urbanisation.

Odebrecht has great prestige in Angola, since it built the Capanda hydroelectric plant on the Kwanza River between 1984 and 2007, facing delays and risks due to the 1975-2002 civil war. Now it is building the biggest plant in Angola, Lauca, also on the Kwanza River, with a capacity to produce 2,067 MW.

The conglomerate is ubiquitous in the country, managing the Belas Mall – an upscale shopping centre in the south of Luanda, Angola’s capital – implementing the water plan to supply the capital, developing the first part of the industrial district in the outskirts of Luanda, building housing developments and playing a key role in saving the national sugarcane industry.

In Cuba it also led the strategic project of expanding the Mariel Port and managing a sugar plant, to help boost the recovery of this ailing sector of the Caribbean nation’s economy.

In other countries, such as Panama, Peru and Venezuela, the number of works and projects in the hands of the Brazilian conglomerate is impressive, in fields as diverse as urban transport, roads and bridges, ports, power plants, fossil fuels, and even agriculture.

But that cycle of expansion came to an end. Heavily indebted, with a plummeting turnover and no access to loans, not even from Brazilian development banks, and carrying the stigma of corruption, the conglomerate is trying to cooperate with justice authorities in the involved countries, seeking agreements to allow it to keep operating and eventually recover.

Now it remains to be discovered whether Odebrecht is “too big to go bankrupt,” as was said of some banks at the start of the global crisis that broke out in 2008.

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Argentina’s Never-ending Environmental Disasterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/argentinas-never-ending-environmental-disaster/#comments Sat, 11 Feb 2017 00:10:09 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148909 A view of Buenos Aires from the point where the Riachuelo flows into the Rio de la Plata. To the left can be seen the famous Boca Juniors stadium. Chronicles from 200 years ago were already talking about the pollution in the river. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

A view of Buenos Aires from the point where the Riachuelo flows into the Rio de la Plata. To the left can be seen the famous Boca Juniors stadium. Chronicles from 200 years ago were already talking about the pollution in the river. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 11 2017 (IPS)

Is it possible to spend 5.2 billion dollars to clean up a river which is just 64-km-long and get practically no results? Argentina is showing that it is.

As the government admitted to the Supreme Court of Justice in late 2016, that is the amount of public funds earmarked since July 2008 for the clean-up of the 64-km Matanzas-Riachuelo river, which has been identified as one of the worst cases of industrial pollution in the world.

The river cuts across 14 municipalities as it runs from the western Buenos Aires working-class suburb of La Matanza to the picturesque neighbourhood of La Boca, where it flows into the Río de la Plata or River Plate.“It’s true that Acumar has never done a good job. But this past year was the most disastrous. So much so that the president of the body did not even appear at the hearing before the Supreme Court.” -- Andrés Nápoli

However, the situation remains practically unchanged since the mid-19th century, when chronicles of the time described the “rotten” state of the river. Today an estimated eight million people live in the river basin, facing a serious health and environmental emergency.

“The Riachuelo river is still serving the function of drainage for the economic and human activities in the city of Buenos Aires and a large part of the Greater Buenos Aires, as it has for the last 200 years,” says a more than 200 page report seen by IPS, which the Matanza Riachuelo Basin Authority (Acumar), the official body in charge of the clean-up, submitted to the Supreme Court on Nov. 30, 2016.

“It’s not just highly polluted, but it continues to be contaminated,” said the document, which added that 90,000 tons per year of heavy metals and other harmful substances are currently dumped into the river..

In the Spanish colonial era, sheep and mule meat salting factories were built along its banks, along with tanneries that processed cow leather. Dumping waste into the river became a common practice that turned it into a veritable open sewer, which continued with more modern industries like petrochemical plants and the meat-packing industry.

In the last few decades, official promises to clean up the Riachuelo have abounded. The one perhaps best remembered by Argentines was made by María Julia Alsogaray, environment minister under then President Carlos Menem (1989-1999), who announced that they would do it in just 1,000 days. An enthusiastic Menem said that when they were finished, he would swim in the Riachuelo.

In the end, the river remained a health threat, Menem decided not to swim, to protect his health, and Alsogaray ended up in prison for corruption.

It seemed that this story could begin to change in July 2008. Or that was what the Argentine environmentalist community thought, unanimously describing as “historic” the Supreme Court ruling that ordered national, provincial, and Buenos Aires authorities to clean up the Riachuelo.

The decision was based on an article added to the constitution in 1994, which guarantees all inhabitants in the country a “healthy environment” to live in.

However, the scant progress made so far was crudely exposed during a Nov. 30, 2016 hearing before the Supreme Court.

Thousands of poor families living along the Riachuelo en Buenos Aires face serious environmental and health threats. In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the government to relocate them, but only 3,147 of the promised 17,771 housing units have been built so far. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

Thousands of poor families living along the Riachuelo en Buenos Aires face serious environmental and health threats. In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the government to relocate them, but only 3,147 of the promised 17,771 housing units have been built so far. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

That day Supreme Court president Ricardo Lorenzetti, an expert in ecology designated Goodwill Ambassador for Environmental Justice last year by the Organisation of American States (OAS), did not try to hide his disgust.

During the hearing, Gabriela Seijo, director of operations in Acumar, said that, for example, so far only 3,147 of 17,771 housing units which were to be built to relocate the families most exposed to the pollution have been completed. “If we keep up this pace, we will finish in 2036,” she said.

Faced with this scenario, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development Sergio Bergman tried to blame the governments of the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), who was president when Acumar was created, and his widow and successor Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), who was president when the Court issued the ruling.

“The situation that we found was terrible. Not just because the Riachuelo was degraded and polluted to the same extent as, or worse than, when the judgment was handed down, but also because the body in charge of cleaning it up, Acumar, was not in a position to comply with the court order,“ Bergman told the Court.

However, the government of President Mauricio Macri, in office since December 2015, and Bergman himself have been in the administration for over a year and have not yet made progress towards the goals set for Acumar, which has 900 employees, many of whom were hired in 2016.

It was reported that 34,759 inspections in factories have been carried out and 57 plants have been closed down, but all of them temporarily, with no significant impacts on the environment.

According to figures provided by Acumar, there are currently six million people living in the basin, at least 10 per cent of them in some 60 slums and shantytowns.

“It’s true that Acumar has never done a good job. But this past year was the most disastrous. So much so that the president of the body did not even appear at the hearing before the Supreme Court,” lawyer Andrés Nápoli, head of the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), one of the five non-governmental organisations appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor compliance with the ruling, told IPS.

Indeed, Torti did not appear at the hearing in November and, a few days after the poor presentations given by other officials, he resigned.

Macri named as his replacement lawmaker Gladys González of the governing centre-right coalition Cambiemos, who has no background in environmental affairs.

Nápoli said that, after the hearing, he asked Acumar to explain how the 5.2 billion dollars were spent, adding that if the answer was not satisfactory, he would file a lawsuit demanding an investigation into possible corruption.

“They have only cleaned up the riverbanks a little and removed many of the boats that had sunk decades ago,” diplomat Raúl Estrada Oyuela, a member of the Association of La Boca, the neighbourhood where the Riachuelo runs into the Rio de la Plata, told IPS.

“But there is a lack of will to tackle the main problem, which is the pollution of the water, soil and air, because that would mean affecting the interests of the industries, which of course would have to make important investments if they were forced to switch to a clean production system,” said Estrada, who is internationally known in environmental issues and who was president of the committee which in 1997 produced the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

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Riverbank Populations Displaced by Dams in Brazil Miss Old Way of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/riverbank-populations-displaced-by-dams-in-brazil-miss-old-way-of-life/#comments Sun, 29 Jan 2017 00:43:15 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148703 A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A boat under repair on the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir, which has a low water level due to the five years of drought which has plagued the semi arid interior of Northeastern Brazil. Bushes submerged by the dammed-up waters of the São Francisco river since the 1970s can be glimpsed. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SENTO SE, Brazil, Jan 29 2017 (IPS)

“Now we have internet and TV. Before, we didn’t even have electricity, but it was better,” said Lourival de Barros, one of the people displaced by the hydropower plants which have mushroomed aorund Brazil, mainly since the 1970s.

Barros was evicted from his home in Sento Sé towards the end of 1976. The town of 7,000 people was submerged under the waters of the Sobradinho reservoir just over a year later.

Three other towns, Casa Nova, Pilão Arcado and Remanso, also disappeared under water, along with dozens of riverside villages, in the state of Bahía in Northeastern Brazil.

In total, 72,000 people were displaced, according to social organisations, or 59,265 according to the company responsible for the project, the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF).

The sacrifice was made for the sake of the country’s energy requirements and for the development of what was described by government leaders of the time, during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, as an “irrelevant” region, marked by widespread illiteracy, a “subsistence economy,” and “primitive,” isolated people afraid of change.

To relocate the population of Santo Sé, a new city with the same name was built, with better houses, including indoor bathrooms and services such as electricity and sewage. But “we lost much more”, said Barros, a 70-year-old retired fisherman and small farmer with eight children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“We had many fish in the river. In the reservoir at first we could fish 100 kg a day, but the fish declinednin the last 10 to 15 years, and now it’s hard to catch even 10 kg, just enough to feed the family,” he told IPS.

“There were 2,000 fishers and it was the livelihood of all of us. Today, there are at best 50 who are able to live off fishing,” even though 9,000 are registered in the trade association, many of them just to receive the unemployment payments during the spawning period when fishing is banned, he said. “They need it,” he added.

Barros laments that the fish native to the area have disappeared, while other Amazon species were introduced in the artificial lake, including one, the pavón (Cichla ocellaris), which eats all the others.

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Retired fisherman and farmer 70-year-old Lourival de Barros, in his house in the town of Sento Sé, which he received as compensation for the loss of his nice house and other property in the old town, which was submerged by the Sobradinho dam four decades ago, whichburied a lifestyle that he still misses. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

He also complains that his family used to have five plots of land where they grew crops and he owned a mill to make manioc flour, for which they did not receive any compensation. “We lost everything,” he said.

Many flooded properties or assets have still not been compensated, said Adzamara Amaral, author of the book “Memories of a submerged city,” written in 2012 as the thesis for her journalism degree at the University of the State of Bahía.

Her own family is still fighting in court for compensation for 15,000 hectares registered as property of her grandfather, which was in her family for three centuries and included three houses and fruit orchards.

The new town built for the relocated population was deprived of its “riverine” spirit, as in the case of other “rebuilt” towns.

Also lost, besides the fish, was the traditional riverbank farming during the dry season, when water levels were down and crops were planted next to the river on the nutrient-rich soil replenished each year by the seasonal floods.

Large harvests of corn and beans were planted between April and October. “That is why the São Francisco river is known as the ‘Brazilian Nile,’ Amaral told IPS.

With the dam, the water flooded rocky areas or parts of the Caatinga – the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast – and modified the annual changes in the low and high water levels in the river, putting an end to dry season farming.

Relocation to the new Sento Sé, population 41,000 today, accentuated the isolation of the local inhabitants, among other reasons because the distance doubled with respect to Juazeiro, a city of 220,000 people, which is the economic and educational hub of the northern part of Bahía.

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Gildalio da Gama (L), municipal secretary of environment up to December, and boat repairman João Reis on the banks of the resevoir in Sento Sé, where the inhabitants of the old town were resettled with almost no compensation, displaced by the Sobradinho hydropower plant on the São Francisco river in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Now the town is 196 km away, 50 of which are along a dirt road filled with potholes that makes transportation difficult. That is the reason the irrigation agriculture company Fruitmag which employed 1,800 workers, pulled out of Sento Sé, arguing that the jolting of the trucks damaged the grapes.

“Paving the road is key to the development of the municipality, as is offering technical and university courses, which would prevent the exodus of young people, which has been reducing the local population in recent years,” said Amaral.

The new location of the town on the banks of the lake was meant to keep it near the shore even during the dry season, she said. But many people believe that the then mayor decided on the location so it would be near his farm.

Now, the shore of the Sobradinho reservoir has retreated some 600 metres from Santo Sé, after five years of drought.

“There are places where the water ebbs up to 10 km, like in Quixaba, a nearby town,” said João Reis, a 65-year-old metal worker from São Paulo, who worked for years in CHESF.

He has lived for 33 years in Sento Sé, his parents’ hometown, and he currently repairs boats in the São Francisco river. He says that with its fertile lands and marble and precious stone deposits, the municipality has “a great potential to prosper.”

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One of eight wind farms built near Sento Sé due to the strong winds on the plateaus surrounding the town in Northeast Brazil, whose population was paradoxically displaced in the 1970s to build the biggest hydropower plant in the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

To overcome its isolation, his colleague Djalma Vitorino, a boat specialist, proposes setting up a ferry service between Sento Sé and Remanso, another relocated town, on the other side of the reservoir. About 25 km or “an hour and a half of navigation” separate the two towns.

“They have a good hospital there where we can take our sick people,” as an alternative to Juazeiro, which is more than three hours away by road, Vitorino told IPS.

Built between 1973 and 1979 on the São Francisco river, the Sobradinho hydropower plant has the capacity to generate 1,050 MW, thanks to its reservoir of 34,000 cubic metres that covers 4,214 square km, the biggest in surface area and the third in water volume in Brazil.

In addition to the generation of electric power, accumulating so much water also gives it the functions of regulating the flow, optimising the operation of seven hydropower plants built downstream, and supplying water for the irrigation of crops in the surrounding area.

Its social impacts stood out because a highly populated area was flooded, in the 1970s, when the country was governed by an authoritarian military regime and environmental legislation was just starting to be developed. Moreover, social movements were weak or nonexistent.

To flood that much land, Sobradinho required the expropriation of 26,000 properties.

CHESF shelled out very low sums in the few cases of compensation it paid, mostly because “the local people did not have official title deeds or did not know how much their property was worth,” said 47-year-old Gildalio da Gama, who until December was secretary of environment in Sento Sé.

“Any money was a lot for people who always handled little money,” da Gama, who is now a primary school teacher on an island where his parents live, 150 km from the town, told IPS:

His grandfather was not compensated for his land because CHESF did not recognise the submitted documentation, he said.

New hydropower plants, such as Itaparica, inaugurated in 1988, downstream on the São Francisco river, meet the regulations, because of the pressure of environmentalists and social organisations. But forced displacement continues, generating noisier conflicts than in the past.

Protests have grown even more against hydropower plants in the Amazon rainforest, particularly the one in Belo Monte, a huge power plant with a capacity of 11,233 MW, inaugurated on May 2016.

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Ordinary Citizens Help Drive Spread of Solar Power in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/#comments Sat, 14 Jan 2017 00:44:14 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148502 Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 14 2017 (IPS)

Chile, Latin America’s leader in solar energy, is starting the new year with an innovative step: the development of the country´s first citizens solar power plant.

This South American country of nearly 18 million people has projects in non-conventional renewable energies (NCRE) for a combined total of nine billion dollars over the next four years, in the effort to reduce its heavy dependency on fossil fuels, which still generate more than 55 per cent of the country’s electricity.

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s 2014 Energy Agenda involves the participation of international investors, large power companies, the mining industry, agriculture, and academia.

Now ecologists have come up with the first project that incorporates citizens in the production and profits generated by NCRE, in particular solar power.

The small 10-KW photovoltaic plant will use solar power to generate electricity for the participating households and the surplus will go into the national power grid.

This will allow the “citizen shareholders“ taking part in the initiative to receive profits based on the annual inflation rate plus an additional two per cent.

“The objective is to create a way for citizens to participate in the benefits of solar power and the process of the democratisation of energy,“ said Manuel Baquedano, head of the Institute of Political Ecology, which is behind the initiative.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant will start operating commercially this month in Buin, a suburb on the south side of Santiago. Its main client is the Centre for Sustainable Technology, which from now on will be supplied with the power produced by the plant.

“In Chile we have experienced an important development of solar energy, as a consequence of the pressure from citizens who did not want more hydroelectric dams. This paved the way for developing NCREs,“ Baquedano told IPS.

“But solar power development has been concentrated in major undertakings, with solar plants that mainly supply the mining industry. And the possibility for all citizens to be able to benefit from this direct energy source had not been addressed yet.”

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

The environmentalist said “we decided to organise a business model to install these community solar power plants using citizen investments, since there was no support from the state or from private companies.”

The model consists of setting up a plant where there is a client who is willing to buy 75 per cent of the energy produced, and the remaining power is sold to the national grid.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant required an investment of about 18,500 dollars, divided in 240 shares of some 77 dollars each. The project will be followed by similar initiatives, possibly in San Pedro de Atacama, in the north of the country, Curicó in central Chile, or Coyhaique in Patagonia in the south.

The partners include engineers, journalists, psychologists, farmers, small business owners, and even indigenous communities from different municipalities, interested in replicating this model.

The subway, another example

A symbolic illustration of progress made with solar power is the Santiago Metro or subway. It was announced that 42 per cent of the energy that it will use as of November 2017 will come from the El Pelicano solar power project.

This plant, owned by the company SunPower, is located in the municipality La Higuera, 400 km north of Santiago, and it cost 250 million dollars to build.

“The subway is a clean means of transport… we want to be a sustainable company, and what is happening now is a major step, since we are aiming for 60 per cent NCREs by 2018,” said Fernando Rivas, the company´s assistant manager of environment.

El Pelícano, with an expected generation of 100 MW, “will use 254,000 solar panels, which will supply 300 gigawatt hours a year, equivalent to the consumption of 125,000 Chilean households,” said Manuel Tagle, general manager of SunPower.

Dionisio Antiquera, a farmer from the Diaguita indigenous community from northern Chile, who lives in Cerrillos de Tamaya, in Ovalle, 400 km north of Santiago, bought a share because “I like renewable energy and because it gives participation to citizens, to the poor.“

“There are many ways of participating in a cooperative,” he told IPS by phone.

Jimena Jara, assistant secretary for the Ministry of Energy, underlined the progress made in the development of NCREs and estimated that “investment in this sector could reach about nine billion dollars between 2017 and 2020.“

“Considering the projects that are currently in the stage of testing in our power grids, more than 60 per cent of the new generation capacity between 2014 and the end of 2016 will be non-conventional renewable energies,” she told IPS.

”Chile has set itself the target for 70 per cent of power generation to come from renewable sources by 2050, and 60 per cent by 2035. We know that we are making good progress, and that we are going to reach our goal with an environmentally sustainable and economically efficient energy supply,” said Jara.

This boom in NCREs in Chile, particularly solar and wind power, is underpinned by numbers, such as the reduction of the cost of electricity.

As of November 2016, the annual average marginal cost of energy in Chile´s central power grid, SIC, which covers a large part of the national territory, was 61 dollars per mega-watt hour (MWh), a fall of more than 60 per cent with respect to 2013 prices.

SIC´s Power Dispatch Center said that this marginal cost, which sets the transfer value between generating companies, is the lowest in 10 years, and was lower than the 91.3 dollars per MWh in 2015 and the nearly 200 MWh in 2011 and 2012, caused by the intensive use of diesel.

David Watts, of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Electrical Engineering Department, told IPS that “solar and wind energy have offered competitive costs for quite some time,” and for this reason have permanently changed Chile´s energy mix.

“In the past, Chile did not even appear in the renewable energy rankings. Now it ranks first in solar power in Latin America and second in wind power,” he said.

The expert said “this energy is spreading and we expect it to continue to do so over the next couple of years, when the battery of projects that were awarded contracts in the last tendering process of regulated clients,” those which consume less than 500 KW, come onstream.

Once the economy recovers from the current weak growth levels, “we hope that a significant proportion of our supply contracts with our non-regulated clients (with a connected power of at least 500 KW) will also be carried out with competitive solar and wind power projects,“ said Watts.

“There is no turning back from this change. From now on, some conventional project may occasionally be installed if its costs are really competitive,“ he said.

Watts, who is also a consultant on renewable energies at the Ministry of Energy, pointed out that the growth in solar and wind power was also driven by changes in the country’s legislation, which enabled energy to be offered in blocks, and permitted the simultaneous connection of NCREs to the grid.

The report New Energy Finance Climatescope, by Bloomberg and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), ranked Chile as the country that invests the most in clean energies in Latin America, only surpassed by China in the index, which studies the world’s major emerging economies.

Commenting on the report, published on December 14, Bachelet said “we invested 3.2 billion dollars last year (2015), focusing on solar power, especially in solar photovoltaic installations, and we are also leading in other non-conventional renewable energies.”

“We said it three years ago, that Chile would change its energy mix, and now I say with pride that we have made progress towards cleaner and more sustainable energies,“ she said.

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China’s Billion-Dollar Re-entry in Sri Lanka Met with Public Protestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/chinas-billion-dollar-re-entry-in-sri-lanka-met-with-public-protests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-billion-dollar-re-entry-in-sri-lanka-met-with-public-protests http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/chinas-billion-dollar-re-entry-in-sri-lanka-met-with-public-protests/#comments Mon, 09 Jan 2017 13:59:11 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148437 “Over our dead bodies.” Villagers in Beragama, Sri Lanka protest to prevent government surveyors from carrying out mapping due to fears of losing their land. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

“Over our dead bodies.” Villagers in Beragama, Sri Lanka protest to prevent government surveyors from carrying out mapping due to fears of losing their land. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BERAGAMA, Jan 9 2017 (IPS)

Beragama is a typical Sri Lankan rural village, with lush green paddy fields interspersed by small houses and the village temple standing at the highest location. Despite being close to the island’s second international harbour and its second international airport, Beragama appears untouched by modernity.

All that is about to change. There is angst in this hamlet located in the Hambantota District about 250 km south of the capital Colombo. The fear is that a new Chinese investment topping 1.5 billion dollars could gobble up the village, along with an adjacent stretch of 15,000 acres.“We are not against investments, but we don’t want to lose our lands and homes.” -- Beragama resident Nandana Wijesinghe

The Sri Lankan government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe wants to sign a deal with a Chinese company by which the investors would gain controlling shares of the new Magampura Port and a proposed investment zone. The investment is expected to ease some of the burden of a whopping national debt of around 64 billion dollars, 8 billion of which the country owes China. Between 2016 and 2017 its debt payments are expected to in the region of 8 billion.

This is money the government desperately needs to revive a flagging economy. It was so desperate that within two years of taking power, it has turned to the very lenders that it shunned in 2015. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had followed a pro-Beijing policy even at the risk of annoying regional power India by its actions.

The new government that replaced it first tried to follow a pro-Western investment policy, even suspending Sri Lanka’s single largest investment project, the 1.5-billion-dollar Colombo Port City. However, without new investments coming in at anticipated rates, Colombo has had to seek China’s help.

“We are not against investments, but we don’t want to lose our lands and homes,” Beragama resident Nandana Wijesinghe told IPS.

The villagers charge that the Chinese want the most fertile land, and the areas close to the port. “Why don’t they take land that is shrub? There is plenty of that,” Wijesinghe said.

When word trickled down that the village was being eyed by the investors and the government was moving to close the deal, the villagers began gathering at the temple. There they decided that they would not part with their land. This was in mid-November.

When surveyors arrived at the village to begin mapping, the villagers stopped them. “We have asked for top government officials from Colombo to come and explain the situation to us. Till then we will not allow any of this,” S. Chandima, another villager, told IPS while others crowded around survey department officials.

Top government officials in the district say that as of the end of last year, there was still no decision on which land would be handed over in a 99-year lease. “Right now we have instruction to do surveys, nothing else. We have no information on what land will be handed over,” said S H Karunarathne, the District Secretary for Hambantota.

Still, protests have been held in Hambantota against the handover, and the tempo is slowly building. A worrying factor for the government is that Hambantota is Rajapaksa’s home turf. He channeled multi-billion-dollar investments here, including the port, the airport (which now serves one flight a day at its peak performance), an international cricket stadium now used for wedding receptions and an international convention center that remains shut.

The multi-million-dollar Mattala International Airport, inaugurated in 2013, now serves just one flight per day at best. The Sri Lankan government has been searching for ways to make it a profitable venture. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The multi-million-dollar Mattala International Airport, inaugurated in 2013, now serves just one flight per day at best. The Sri Lankan government has been searching for ways to make it a profitable venture. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Rajapaksa, who was the bulwark in getting Chinese investments into Sri Lanka between 2009 and 2014, has said he is opposed to the land handover.

“These are people’s agricultural lands. We are not against Chinese or Indians or Americans coming here for investment. But we are against the land being given to them and the privatisation they are doing,” he recently told Colombo-based foreign correspondents. He added that he had in fact discussed the issue with Chinese authorities during his recent visit to the country.

During the same meeting Rajapaksa said that he planed to topple the current administration in 2017. Once the undisputed strongman in Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa enjoyed unparallel popularity, especially among the majority Sinhala community, after he led the military effort to end three decades of civil war. Despite his defeat two years ago, he has, however, remained a relevant leader to his core support group in the last two years and in the last six months has become more politically active.

He has so far not taken part in any of the anti-Chinese protests in Hambantota, but his eldest son and heir apparent Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa has participated in one public protest in Hambantota. Any groundswell of anti-government protests in this southern region could potentially be helmed by Rajapaksa at any time.

The government has already postponed the handover ceremony once, till late January. But Malik Samarawickrama, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade, has confirmed that deal will go through by the end of the month.

The postponement did not dowse the embers in Hambantota. The opposite happened when the prime minister and the Chinese ambassador came there to inaugurate the industrial zone, and clashes broke out between police and a group of protestors including Buddhist monks opposing the project. The inauguration did take place despite the water canons and the teargas that was flying around — not a good omen for what is to come in the future.

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Native Seeds Sustain Brazil’s Semi-Arid Northeasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:51:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148428 Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
APODI, Brazil, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

In his 76 years of life, Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo has endured a number of droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast region. And he remembers every one of them since 1958.

“The worst one was in 1982 and 1983, the only time that the river dried up,” said Pinheiro do Melo, who has lived near the river since 1962. “The one in 1993 was also very bad,” he told IPS, because neither Bolsa Familia nor Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA) existed yet, which contribute to a less traumatic coexistence with droughts like the current one, which has dragged on for five years.

Bolsa Familia is a government cash-transfer programme which helps some 13.8 million poor families in Brazil, half of whom are in the Northeast. ASA is a network of 3,000 social organisations which promotes the collection of rainwater, as well as techniques and know-how suited to rural life in a climate of irregular rainfall.

Water is not so scarce for Pinheiro do Melo and his neighbours because of their proximity to the Apodi river, because even when it dries up, they can get water from the cacimbas, which are water holes in the riverbed or along the banks.

Mundinho, as he is known, besides making an effort to obtain water on the high-lying land where he lives in a rural area in the Apodi municipality, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is dedicated to a task that is vital to the sustainability of small-scale farming in the semi-arid interior of Northeast Brazil, an ecosystem known as the Sertão. He is a “guardian” of native seeds.

In bottles and small plastic barrels, he stores the seeds of corn, bean, sorghum, watermelon and other locally planted species, in a shack next to his house, in the middle of land that is now sandy and covered with dried-up vegetation.

More than a thousand homes that serve as “seed banks”, and 20,000 participating families, make up the network organised by ASA to preserve the genetic heritage and diversity of crops adapted to the climate and semi-arid soil in Brazil’s Northeast.

Saving seeds is an age-old peasant tradition, which was neglected during the “green revolution”, a period of agricultural modernisation which started in the mid-20th century and involved “an offensive by companies that produced the so-called ‘improved’ seeds,” which farmers became dependent on, said Antonio Gomes Barbosa, a sociologist who is coordinator of ASA’s Seed Programme.

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strategy, adopted in 2007, of disseminating technologies for harvesting rainwater for production, in search of food security, lead ASA to the awareness that small producers needed to always have seeds available, he told IPS.

A study carried out among 12,800 families found that “the semi-arid Northeast has the greatest variety of seeds of food and medicinal plant species in Brazil.” Of the 56 million people who live in the Northeast, more than 23 million live in the semi-arid parts of the region, in this South American country of 208 million.

According to the survey, the family and community tradition of storing seeds and passing them down from one generation to the next contributed to this diversity of seeds, as did migrants who returned to the semi-arid Northeast from southern São Paulo and east-central Brazil, bringing seeds native to those areas.

What ASA did was to identify the houses which had stored seeds, create a network of them and help multiply the number of these traditional seed banks, in order to salvage, preserve, increase stocks and distribute native seeds, Barbosa said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira, or Antonieta as she is known, participates in seed bank number 639, according to ASA’s records, in Milagre, a village of 28 families on the Apodi plateau, which is crossed by the river of the same name.

The community seed bank “has 17 guardians and stocks mainly of corn, bean and sorghum seeds,” she said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strong presence of women in the activities in this community prompted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) to choose Milagre to inaugurate a line of credit for women participating in the National Programme to Strengthen Family Farming (PRONAF).

A model case, highlighted by ASA, is the seed bank in Tabuleiro Grande, another rural settlement in the municipality of Apodi, in Rio Grande do Norte. There, a family initiative stores seeds of 450 varieties of corn, beans and other legumes and herbs.

Antonio Rodrigues do Rosario, 59, heads the fourth generation that maintains the “family bank”.

The native seed movement is in conflict with the green revolution, where seeds are distributed by the government or are sold by biotech corporations “in great quantities but with little variety,” said Barbosa.

“We don’t need this kind of distribution, just local initiatives in every area to rescue local seeds, with great diversity and dissemination,” said Barbosa.

The movement is about knowledge accumulated by local families with experience in adaptation to each specific place, soil and climate, based on the intended type of production and resistance to pests and drought.

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“There are many varieties of corn that address different needs; you can produce more leaves to feed animals, or more corn for human consumption,” he said.

“Family gardens are laboratories, where experiments are carried out, genetic improvements and testing of resistance and productivity of seeds. The garden is where women participate the most, teaching their children as well,” Barbosa said.

“In the severe 1982-1983 drought, a variety of fast-growing potato, which in 60 days was reproduced and stored by a grandmother, saved many lives,” he said.

The exchange of materials and knowledge within and among communities is also an important part of maintaining the diversity of native seeds. ASA works to bolster this exchange, promoting contact among small farmers from different areas.

“Native seeds are at the centre of resistance to the impositions of the market, in order to overcome the dependence on big suppliers,” said Barbosa.

Climate change boosts the importance of native seeds from the semi-arid region. “There is no agricultural poison to combat the rise in temperatures,” he said, half-jokingly.

The Semi-Arid Seeds Programme proved the “great creative capacity and ability to experiment of family farmers in the Northeast,” Barbosa told IPS in the nearby municipality of Mossoró.

It also showed their tendency towards autonomy. “Farmers follow their own experience, more than the advice of agronomists, because they always choose the safest bet.”

But there are two threats that concern ASA’s seed movement. One is the “genetic erosion” which could be caused by the current drought, which in some areas has lasted for seven years.

Isolated rains tempt farmers to plant. Knowing they could lose their entire crop, they never use all of their seeds. But the seeds are gradually lost, with each deceptive rainfall, which puts their entire stock of seeds at risk.

Another threat is posed by transgenic seeds, which farmers involved in ASA reject. The presence of genetically modified corn was detected in some crops in the northeastern state of Paraíba, apparently a consequence of contamination from seeds brought in from other regions.

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Anti-Fracking Movement Alarmed at Trump’s Focus on Fossil Fuelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 01:09:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148396 A gas field in Damascus, in the Fayetteville basin in the southern state of Arkansas in the U.S., the world’s biggest shale fuel producer. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A gas field in Damascus, in the Fayetteville basin in the southern state of Arkansas in the U.S., the world’s biggest shale fuel producer. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, USA , Jan 4 2017 (IPS)

Earl Hatley, a descendant of the Cherokee/Delaware tribe, has witnessed the consequences of using hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on his native land to produce shale gas.

“Fracking is harmful to water supplies, wildlife, and property values. It has caused earthquakes where there were none. Since 2007, it began to tremble more and more near the wells. I can smell the foul emissions, which make me sick,” the founder of Local Environmental Action Demanded (L.E.A.D.), a non-governmental organisation based in Oklahoma, told IPS.

Hatley has property in Payne, Oklahoma, in the Midwest, which he says he cannot visit anymore because of the toxic emissions from the wells.“Opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, because there is more knowledge and evidence about the effects. Besides, the organisations have become more sophisticated in their analyses and more active.” -- Andrew Grinberg

“The oil and and gas industry flares their escaping gas and also do not monitor leaks, as there are no regulations in Oklahoma demanding they do. We had the opportunity to test a few wells and found all of them were bad,” he said.

In the state of Oklahoma there are about 50,000 active natural gas wells, of which some 4,000 use fracking. At least 200 of them are in Payne.

With similar scenarios in other states, the anti-fracking movement in the US is especially worried about what President-elect Donald Trump will do after he takes office on Jan. 20, since he pledged to give a boost to the fossil fuel industry, despite its impact on global warming.

The United States is the country that produces the largest quantities of shale oil and gas, which has made it the main global producer of fossil fuels, ranking first in gas extraction and third in oil.

Trump “is sending signals of the support the industry will receive, which will exacerbate the already-known impacts of fracking, such as water pollution and methane emissions,” Argentine activist Daniel Taillant, head of the non-governmental Center for Human Rights and Environment (CHRE), told IPS during a workshop on fracking in the Americas, held in Little Rock, the capital of the southern state of Arkansas.

Natural gas trapped in underground shale rock is released by the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure, which fractures the rocks. Fracking requires large amounts of water and chemical additives, some of which are toxic. Drilling and horizontal fracking generate enormous quantities of waste fluid.

The waste liquid contains dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that need to be treated for recycling, and methane emissions, which pollutes more than carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming.

Numerous studies have confirmed the damage fracking causes to water, air and the landscape, and how it triggers seismic activity.

For the fracking industry, good times will return when Trump is sworn in. In May he launched a plan for the first 100 days of his administration, which included giving a strong boost to the sector, despite the denounced environmental, social and economic impacts.

The programme includes the removal of all barriers to energy production, including fossil fuels, natural gas, oil and “clean coal”, valued in the document at 50 trillion dollars, in what it calls an “energy revolution” destined to produce “vast new wealth”.

In addition, the president-elect promised to eliminate existing regulatory barriers on fossil fuels and promote the development of “vital energy infrastructure projects,” such as oil and gas pipelines.

A technician monitors the gas-water separators in the Charles Wood 09-13 shale gas well in Van Buren, Arkansas, in the United States, the world’s leading fossil fuel producer, thanks to the use of fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A technician monitors the gas-water separators in the Charles Wood 09-13 shale gas well in Van Buren, Arkansas, in the United States, the world’s leading fossil fuel producer, thanks to the use of fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that, of the daily US production of over nine million barrels of gas and oil equivalent, 51 per cent were extracted in 2015 by fracking, in spite of the collapse in international prices this year.

The cost of extracting a barrel of oil by fracking is at least 65 dollars. Apart from Trump’s promises, the gradual rise in prices as a consequence of the reduction in production by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) since January, has encouraged the sector to continue to extract.

The growing use of fracking has sparked lawsuits over its effects and scientific research to determine the impacts.

The fourth edition of the “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction)” lists 685 scientific studies published between 2009-2015 that prove water pollution, polluting emissions released into the atmosphere and their impacts on human health.

The compendium, drafted by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), cites more than 900 studies in the US on the impact of fracking, which demonstrate the concern generated by the use of this technology.

Meanwhile, people affected by fracking have filed more than 100 lawsuits since 2011, according to a count carried out by Blake Watson with the School of Law of the private University of Dayton, Ohio.

In the specific case of Arkansas, a state where fewer people have been affected because the gas fields are located in sparsely populated areas, five cases have been settled out of court, three are still in progress and 10 have been thrown out of court.

Fracking has also sparked local reactions.

The states of Vermont and New York have banned the use of this technology, while in California six counties have followed suit, and in Florida 32 counties and 48 cities.

Meanwhile, the state of Maryland has imposed a two-and-a-half-year moratorium, while Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled in May to lift the bans applied by two cities, and Texas passed a law making local bans on fracking illegal.

“Opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, because there is more knowledge and evidence about the effects. Besides, the organisations have become more sophisticated in their analyses and more active,” said Andrew Grinberg, National Campaigns – Special Projects manager for the non-governmental Clean Water Action.

For economic reasons, coal has lost ground to gas. In addition to the expansion of solar and wind energy, the resurrection promised by Trump faces a complex panorama.

“Resistance against fracking is growing, especially in places where it is not yet widely practiced, because there is more knowledge about the harm it causes and that knowledge will increase. But the results of Trump’s support remain to be seen,” said Taillant, whose organisation operates in the state of Florida.

Hatley said that opposition to fracking is slowly growing due to the reported increase in seismic activity, but “people are afraid, because the industry is very powerful.”

In Oklahoma, 1,900 earthquakes have been documented since 2015, blamed on the injection of fluid byproducts from drilling operations into deep underground wells.

Grinberg told IPS there are still pending issues in relation to regulation, such as the need for more public information on the chemicals used, and for a ban on basins for disposal of liquid waste, gas storage and methane emissions, a gas much more polluting than carbon dioxide.

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No More Mass Deaths from Drought in Northeast Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 20:57:42 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148366 Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

By Mario Osava
OURICURI, Brazil, Dec 30 2016 (IPS)

The drought that has plagued Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region since 2012 is already more severe than the 1979-1983 drought, the longest in the 20th century. But prolonged dry spells no longer cause the tragedies of the past.

There are no widespread deaths from hunger or thirst or mass exodus of people due to water shortages, like in the past when huge numbers of people would swarm into cities and towns and even loot the shops, or head off to distant lands in the more developed centre-south of the country, in search of a better life.

The lack of rains, nevertheless, impacts everything. The caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid region, which consists of shrubland and thorn forest, looks dead with the exception of a few drought-resistant trees and areas where recent sprinkles have turned some shrubs green again.

The Tamboril reservoir, on the outskirts of Ouricuri, a city of 68,000 people in the state of Pernambuco, has been dry for more than a year now. Fortunately, the city is also supplied by water piped in from the São Francisco river, 180 kilometres away.

“The 1982-1983 drought was worse, not so much due to the lack of water, but because we did not know how to cope with the situation,” Manoel Pereira Barros, a 58-year-old father of seven, told IPS on his farm in Sitio de Santa Fe, about 80 kilometres from Ouricuri.

He got married at the height of the crisis, in 1983. “It was difficult for the entire family…we killed some oxen, we survived on the water from a cacimba (water hole), a few cattle and many goats. The animals saved us, the bean crop dried up,” he said.

That year, the governors of the nine states that make up Brazil’s semiarid region requested more help from the national government, pointing out that one hundred people a day were dying as a result of the drought.

According to the state governments in the region, 100,000 people died in the space of five years, although researchers put the number of deaths at more than 700,000. Most of those who died were children.

And one million deaths is the estimate of Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA), a network of 3,000 social organisations created in 1999 to promote the transformations which are improving the life of the population most affected by the drought: poor farmers in the Northeast.

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Distributing water tanks to collect and store rainwater for drinking and cooking was their first goal. Beyond assuring safe drinking water during the eight-month dry season, this initiative was at the centre of a new approach towards the development of the semiarid region, which is home to more than 23 million people in this country of 208 million.

One million water tanks have been built so far, about one-third by ASA, which distributes 16,000-litre family units made of concrete slabs that are installed with the participation of the beneficiaries, who also receive citizenship classes and training in water management.

To coexist with the local climate, overcoming the failed policies of the past based on “combating the drought”, is the movement’s slogan, which thus promotes learning about the ecosystem, capitalising on farmers’ traditional knowledge and fostering an intense exchange of experiences among rural communities.

Other methods for coexisting with the local ecosystem include contextualised education, which prioritises the local reality, agroecological practices, and the principle of storing everything, including the water used for irrigation and livestock, fodder for the dry season, and native seeds adapted to the local soil and climate.

These technologies, provided by the Advice and Help Centre for Workers and Alternative Non-Governmental Institutions (CAATINGA), a member of ASA, did not exist during previous droughts and are making the difference today, Barros said.

To these are added the Bolsa Familia, a monthly grant of 53 dollars on average, new retirement pensions for farmers, and other government social programmes that help farmers survive even when it doesn’t rain.

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Barros decided to leave his land in 1993, at the end of another two-year drought, to look for work in vineyards and on mango plantations in the municipality of Petrolina, 200 km south of Ouricuri, on the shores of the São Francisco river.

“I spent 15 years away from my family, working with poisonous agricultural chemicals, that is why I look older than my age,” he said jokingly. “Here I only eat organic food.”

“I dreamed of having a water tank, which did not exist. Now I have three, and one of them still has water from the January rains. Used only for drinking water, it lasts over a year for five people,” he said. “We are very strict about saving, we used to waste a lot of water.”

Besides the water tanks, the community of 14 families has a pond dug in the rocky ground 70 years ago, to collect water from a stream. It has not dried out yet, but it is very dirty. “It needs to be cleaned,” said Clarinda Alves, Barros’ 64-year-old neighbour.

“Biowater”, a system of filters which makes it possible to reuse household sewage to irrigate vegetable gardens and fruit trees, is another technology which is expanding among the farmers of the semiarid region.

Despite this arsenal of water resources, plus the water increasingly distributed by the army in tanker trucks throughout the Northeast, Barros decided to stop growing vegetables and other crops, unlike many other farmers, who have managed to keep producing. He opted instead to prioritise the water for human and animal consumption.

ASA believes there is still much to do with respect to the question of water supply. To reach the goal of universalising “two water tanks”, there is still a need for 350,000 tanks for drinking water and 800,000 devoted to production.

 The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level - another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS


The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level – another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

“Five water tanks” are needed, according to André Rocha, climate and water coordinator for the non-governmental Regional Institute for Appropriate Small-Scale Agriculture (IRPAA), a member of ASA, based in Juazeiro, in the Northeast state of Bahía.

Domestic use requires two tanks, one for drinking and cooking, and one for hygiene, so water for production purposes would be the third source, he said. The fourth is for emergencies or reserves, “like a blood bank, and the fifth would be dedicated to the environment, to recuperating freshwater sources, restoring the groundwater table and keeping rivers running year-round,” Rocha told IPS in his office.

But the task of “building coexistence with the semiarid ecosystem,” ASA’s goal, faces a political threat.

It will be difficult to maintain water collection and the strengthening of small-scale agriculture as public policies, after Brazil’s government took a conservative turn in August 2016, when the leftist Workers’ Party, which governed the country since 2003, lost power.

It also requires an ongoing ideological battle and communications effort, because “combating drought”, instead of adapting, is still the mindset of the country’s authorities and economic powers-that-be.

Large water projects, like the diversion of the São Francisco river to provide water to other rivers and basins in the Northeast, as well as the irrigation of the monoculture crops of agribusiness or large-scale agriculture destined mainly for export, are still being carried out to the detriment of family agriculture.

Hefty investments and official loans are devoted to agribusiness, despite previous failures and corruption, while funding is dwindling for ASA’s activities, which have proven successful in overcoming the effects of drought.

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Feminism Helps Villagers Coexist with Drought in Northeast Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 01:26:56 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148244 “This vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita da Silva (right, in yellow), in the Primeiro do Maio village, where some 65 families live. A group of women organised to collectively grow vegetables and fruit to sell in the market in Caraúbas, a nearby city in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“This vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita da Silva (right, in yellow), in the Primeiro do Maio village, where some 65 families live. A group of women organised to collectively grow vegetables and fruit to sell in the market in Caraúbas, a nearby city in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
CARAÚBAS, Brazil, Dec 20 2016 (IPS)

“The vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita Alexandre da Silva, in the village of Primeiro do Maio where 65 families have obtained land to grow crops since 1999, in this municipality in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in Northeast Brazil.

She is part of the Group of Women that organised in 2001 and adopted the slogan “United to overcome”, with the goal of having their own productive activities, reaffirming their rights and combating sexism.

“I used to only stay at home or in the fields, I wasn’t allowed to go out, to go to town. With the garden I started to go to the city to sell our products in the market, over the objections of my husband and my oldest son,” Da Silva told IPS.

“Bringing money home when my husband was sick” helped overcome the resistance, she said. “Now my son, who is married, has a different attitude towards his wife.”

The 60-year-old mother of three grown-up children shares with five other local women one hectare of the village’s collective land, where they grow lettuce, coriander, onions, tomatoes, manioc, papayas, coconuts and other fruits and vegetables.

The difficulty is transporting products to the city of Caraúbas, 22 km away. The women hire a truck for 25 dollars, and they also have to pay for the maintenance and cleaning up of the stand where they sell their produce.

“We get up at two in the morning every Saturday to get to the market,” said Antonia Damiana da Silva, a 41-year-old mother of four.

But “our life has changed for the better, we eat what we produce, without poisonous chemicals, and we are different people, more free, we decide what we’re going to do and tell our husbands,” she said.

The village was created by families of farmers who lived in the surrounding areas, without land of their own, who occupied an unproductive piece of land. Their first attempt to occupy it lasted 18 days in 1997, when the owners of the land obtained a court order to evict them.

Part of the “agrovillage” where 65 families of the Primeiro do Maio village live, an oasis of green vegetation in the midst of aridity caused by five years with almost no rain in the caatinga, the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of the “agrovillage” where 65 families of the Primeiro do Maio village live, an oasis of green vegetation in the midst of aridity caused by five years with almost no rain in the caatinga, the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two years later, they tried again, and the National Institute of Colonization and Land Reform assigned each family 13 hectares and a good house in the “agro village”. They were also awarded a common area for the community association building, for raising livestock, and for growing fruits and vegetables.

“Agro villages” in Brazil are rural settlements created in isolated areas, where houses and community and service facilities are concentrated near the plots of land. They form part of the government’s land reform programme, and offer previously landless farmers urban advantages such as schools, health posts and in some cases sewerage.

The drought which has dragged on for five years in the semi-arid Northeast is all too evident in the grey vegetation, apparently dead, throughout the entire ecosystem exclusive to Brazil known as the caatinga. But its low and twisted bush-like trees tend to turn green a few hours after it rains, even if it barely sprinkled.

The Primeiro do Maio agro village appears in the landscape almost like an oasis, because of the green of its trees and of the vegetable garden and orchard, populated by birds and other animals.

The traditional crops grown by the families, mostly corn and beans, were lost to the drought. But the community garden is still productive, irrigated with well water and managed according to the principles of agro-ecology, such as crop diversity and better use of natural resources, including straw.

They receive technical assistance and support from Diaconía, a non-profit social organisation composed of 11 evangelical churches, which are very active in the Northeast.

  Antonia Damiana da Silva (C) proudly explains how her biodigester uses the manure from her small livestock to produce cooking gas for her family in the rural settlement where she lives in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Antonia Damiana da Silva (C) proudly explains how her biodigester uses the manure from her small livestock to produce cooking gas for her family in the rural settlement where she lives in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

 

The income from the garden empowers the women, particularly in times of drought when the local crops are failing.

But because of the difficulties in getting the produce to market, and the prevailing but rarely mentioned sexism, the Group shrank from 23 to six members, who work in the garden and sell their produce in Caraúbas.

The garden, irrigated without any water wastage, is based on a production model promoted by Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA), which groups together some 3,000 social organisations in the Northeast, including trade unions, religious groups and non-governmental organisations.

“Coexisting with the semi-arid” is its slogan, in contrast to the former official policy of ”fighting drought” which generated one failure after another, with the construction of big dams, aqueducts and canals that do not provide solutions to the most vulnerable: poor peasant farmers scattered throughout rural areas.

The Primeiro do Maio village was one of eight places visited by participants in the National Meeting of ASA, which drew about 500 people Nov. 21-25 to Mossoró, a city in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, 80 km from Caraúbas.

“There can be no coexistence with the semi-arid, without feminisim,” according to ASA, which supports the Group of Women and other initiatives that bolster gender equality in rural communities.

 The green of the garden cultivated by women in the Primeiro do Maio village stands in sharp contrast to the aridity of the surrounding area in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


The green of the garden cultivated by women in the Primeiro do Maio village contrasts with the aridity of the surrounding area in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The “social technologies” that drive that coexistence are in general more rapidly embraced and with more determination by women.

Damiana, for example, has an arsenal of resources in the backyard of her house that enable her to assert that she enjoys “a wonderful life”.

A biodigester, fed with the manure from her small livestock, provides her with cooking gas. In the village there are 10 other houses that use this technology, which consists of a sealed container where organic waste ferments until producing methane gas and natural fertilisers.

“Biowater”, a chain of filters which cleans the wastewater produced in her home, makes it possible to reuse it in her vegetable garden and orchard. She also raises fish in a small three-metre-diameter tank. The fish she raises is the tilapia azul (Oreochromis niloticus), native to the Nile River, which is highly productive in fish farming.

Vanusa Vieira, a 47-year-old mother of two, is another participant in the Group who works in the collective garden, although she says she prefers working with animals. “I love raising animals, I can’t live without them, I look after them from early morning to night,” she told IPS standing in her yard where she has birds, goats and a cow.

“I learned from my father and mother, who had cattle and chicken,” she said. Now that she has her own house with a big yard she has an aviary and pens.

But the drought has forced her to reduce the number of animals she keeps. Corn got too expensive and water is scarce, she said. And her honey production, which “helped us buy a truck,” has stalled because the woods are dry and there are no flowers, Vieira explained.

But small livestock such as goats and sheep that are able to survive on limited food and water are a resource that helps families survive lengthy droughts like the one that has had the Northeast in its grip since 2012.

Also important is the small subsidy that the families of the agrovillage receive from the social programme Bolsa Familia, aimed at the poorest in this country of 202 million people. In addition, some of the men work as day labourers to boost the family income, in light of the fall in production on their plots of land.

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Developmentalism and Conservation Clash Out at Seahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/developmentalism-and-conservation-clash-out-at-sea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developmentalism-and-conservation-clash-out-at-sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/developmentalism-and-conservation-clash-out-at-sea/#comments Mon, 12 Dec 2016 13:10:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148182 Representatives of native peoples all over the world take part in a meeting during the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in the resort city of Cancún, Mexico. Indigenous delegates in the summit are defending their rights and their natural resources, which are threatened by climate change, the extractive industries and biopiracy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Representatives of native peoples all over the world take part in a meeting during the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in the resort city of Cancún, Mexico. Indigenous delegates in the summit are defending their rights and their natural resources, which are threatened by climate change, the extractive industries and biopiracy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
CANCUN, Mexico, Dec 12 2016 (IPS)

“We don’t have access to marine areas, because most are protected areas or are in private hands. We indigenous people have been losing access to our territories, as this decision became a privilege of the state,” complained Donald Rojas, a member of the Brunka indigenous community in Costa Rica.

The complaint from the head of the non-governmental National Indigenous Council of Costa Rica was in response to the ban keeping the Brunka and Huetar people from entering five of their ancestral land and sea territories, after they were declared natural protected areas.

“That restricts access to and management of resources,” said Rojas, who is a member of one of the eight native peoples in that Central American country of 4.8 million people, where 104,000 indigenous people live on a combined area of 3,500 square km.

Rojas is one of the Latin American indigenous leaders participating in different events and forums in the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, which has brought together nearly 6,500 delegates of governments, international organisations, academia and civil society in Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 2-17.

Native people used to fish and gather food in these areas located near the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, within Costa Rica’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

This conflict reflects the growing exploitation of EEZs by the states, which at the same time face an obligation to increase their protected marine areas and clean up the oceans – a contradiction that generates friction, and where the local communities are often victims.

This collision of interests has been seen during the global summit on biodiversity in the coastal city of Cancún, 1,200 km southeast of Mexico City, where the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or COP13, as well as other intergovernmental events and forums related to the preservation of the planet’s natural wealth, is taking place.

Coastal waters and continental shelves are increasingly exploited for fishing, agricultural, industrial or touristic purposes.

In the EEZ, which comprises a 200-nautical mile strip (240 km) from the coast, traditional activities are carried out such as fishing, extraction of oil and dredging of ports, that now extend to ultra-deep water drilling, underwater mining and extraction of minerals from polymetallic nodules.

Altogether, protected marine areas cover about 15 million square kilometres or 4.12 per cent of the world’s oceans, which is still far from the goal of 10 per cent, although the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlighted in Cancún the increase achieved in recent years.

But protection of coastal and marine areas under national jurisdiction has already reached 10 per cent, according to the “Protected Planet Report 2016” by UNEP and other international and civil society organisations.

Indigenous women in Ecuador demand protection of native corn during the global summit on biodiversity taking place Dec. 2-17 in Cancún, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Indigenous women in Ecuador demand protection of native corn during the global summit on biodiversity taking place Dec. 2-17 in Cancún, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

However, only 0.25 per cent of areas beyond national jurisdiction are protected, which demonstrates a significant gap in conservation efforts and underlines the urgent need to seek ways to address the challenges of expanding protected areas.

Goal 11 of the 20 points of the Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2020, wbich includes the Aichi Targets, adopted in 2010 by the state parties to the CBD, states that “by 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.”

Moreover, the 14th of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which the international community has set itself to achieve by 2030 proposes to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

The 10 targets included in SDG 14 refer to healthy seas, the sustainable use of resources and the reduction of pollution.

“It’s a big challenge. Two approaches can be adopted. One is based on marine planning and management, and the other on selection of economic sectors and closed seasons,” said Christian Neumann, Marine Ecosystem Services project manager for the Norway-based non-governmental GRID-Arendal, which collaborates with UNEP.

“The general problem is the overexploitation; it’s very difficult to put them (the two approaches) on balance. There is a growing understanding that in order to achieve sustainable development, a healthy ocean is needed,” he told IPS.

Construction projects highlight the contradiction between the exploitation of the EEZs and the preservation of healthy oceans and the rights of coastal inhabitants.

One example near Cancún is the expansion of the port of Veracruz, which is going ahead in spite of the threat it poses to the Veracruz Reef System, a natural protected area that spans coral reefs and subtidal aquatic beds, shallow marine waters, sandy beaches and mangroves.

The reef system was declared a national marine park in 1992.

The project, presented as the biggest port investment in the country in 100 years, includes the construction of two 7,740-metre-long breakwaters, an 800-metre-diameter harbor and nine kinds of dock terminals in a nine-square-km area.

In Honduras, the Misquito indigenous people are waiting to see the results of the oil exploration, which started in 2014 in the department of Gracias a Dios off the country’s Caribbean coast.

“It’s a fishing area, so there is an impact on this sector. We need to know what will happen with those jobs,” Yuam Pravia, a delegate from the non-governmental Moskitia Asla Takanka – Unity of the Moskitia (MASTA) in Honduras, told IPS during the conference.

In 2014, the British BG Group (which has since been taken over by Royal Dutch Shell) began exploration in a 35,000-square-km area granted in concession by the Honduran government.

In an attempt to safeguard their rights, the Misquito people set a series of conditions in order to allow the exploration to go ahead. But since the company failed to comply, the Misquito and Garifuna people are considering withdrawing their approval.

In Costa Rica a dialogue began between the government and indigenous peoples to solve the question of territorial access. “We are losing a fundamental basis of our indigenous identity. Since the government does not acknowledge this, an entire biological and cultural system is being violated,” said Rojas.

For Neumann, energy, mining and waste are becoming serious issues. “We need to consider them. But we have the (question of) economic needs as well. It’s difficult to think about alternatives for millions of fishermen,” he pointed out.

In Pravia’s opinion, governments should protect the rights of communities. “They just issue permits, without considering the impacts. There is a lack of information,” he complained.

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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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