Inter Press Service » Integration and Development Brazilian-style http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:35:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 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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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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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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Coal Entrenches Poverty, Drives Climate Change: Reporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-entrenches-poverty-drives-climate-change-report/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coal-entrenches-poverty-drives-climate-change-report http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-entrenches-poverty-drives-climate-change-report/#comments Fri, 18 Nov 2016 05:22:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147837 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-entrenches-poverty-drives-climate-change-report/feed/ 1 Opposition to Oil Pipeline in U.S. Serves as Example for Indigenous Struggles in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 16:07:05 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147730 The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is fighting the construction of an oil pipeline across their land in North Dakota. The movement has gained international solidarity and has many things in common with indigenous struggles against megaprojects in Latin America. Credit: Downwindersatrisk.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Emilio Godoy
QUITO, Oct 27 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money is short

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Mark Olalde
JOHANNESBURG, Oct 4 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With reporting by Alicia Tovar (Lima).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Aquaculture and food security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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