Inter Press Service » Integration and Development Brazilian-style http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:57:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Two Indigenous Solar Engineers Changed Their Village in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:56:27 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142243 Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
CASPANA, Chile , Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

Liliana and Luisa Terán, two indigenous women from northern Chile who travelled to India for training in installing solar panels, have not only changed their own future but that of Caspana, their remote village nestled in a stunning valley in the Atacama desert.

“It was hard for people to accept what we learned in India,” Liliana Terán told IPS. “At first they rejected it, because we’re women. But they gradually got excited about, and now they respect us.”

Her cousin, Luisa, said that before they travelled to Asia, there were more than 200 people interested in solar energy in the village. But when they found out that it was Liliana and Luisa who would install and maintain the solar panels and batteries, the list of people plunged to 30.

“In this village there is a council of elders that makes the decisions. It’s a group which I will never belong to,” said Luisa, with a sigh that reflected that her decision to never join them guarantees her freedom.

Luisa, 43, practices sports and is a single mother of an adopted daughter. She has a small farm and is a craftswoman, making replicas of rock paintings. After graduating from secondary school in Calama, the capital of the municipality, 85 km from her village, she took several courses, including a few in pedagogy.

Liliana, 45, is a married mother of four and a grandmother of four. She works on her family farm and cleans the village shelter. She also completed secondary school and has taken courses on tourism because she believes it is an activity complementary to agriculture that will help stanch the exodus of people from the village.

But these soft-spoken indigenous women with skin weathered from the desert sun and a life of sacrifice are in charge of giving Caspana at least part of the energy autonomy that the village needs in order to survive.

Caspana – meaning “children of the hollow” in the Kunza tongue, which disappeared in the late 19th century – is located 3,300 metres above sea level in the El Alto Loa valley. It officially has 400 inhabitants, although only 150 of them are here all week, while the others return on the weekends, Luisa explained.

They belong to the Atacameño people, also known as Atacama, Kunza or Apatama, who today live in northern Chile and northwest Argentina.

“Every year, around 10 families leave Caspana, mainly so their children can study or so that young people can get jobs,” she said.

Up to 2013, the village only had one electric generator that gave each household two and a half hours of power in the evening. When the generator broke down, a frequent occurrence, the village went dark.

Today the generator is only a back-up system for the 127 houses that have an autonomous supply of three hours a day of electricity, thanks to the solar panels installed by the two cousins.

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Each home has a 12 volt solar panel, a 12 volt battery, a four amp LED lamp, and an eight amp control box.

The equipment was donated in March 2013 by the Italian company Enel Green Power. It was also responsible, along with the National Women’s Service (SERNAM) and the Energy Ministry’s regional office, for the training received by the two women at the Barefoot College in India.

On its website, the Barefoot College describes itself as “a non-governmental organisation that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable.”

So far, 700 women from 49 countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America – as well as thousands of women from India – have taken the course to become “Barefoot solar engineers”.

They are responsible for the installation, repair and maintenance of solar panels in their villages for a minimum of five years. Another task they assume is to open a rural electronics workshop, where they keep the spare parts they need and make repairs, and which operates as a mini power plant with a potential of 320 watts per hour.

In March 2012 the two cousins travelled to the village of Tilonia in the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan, where the Barefoot College is located.

They did not go alone. Travelling with them were Elena Achú and Elvira Urrelo, who belong to the Quechua indigenous community, and Nicolasa Yufla, an Aymara Indian. They all live in other villages of the Atacama desert, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta.

“We saw an ad that said they were looking for women between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive training in India. I was really interested, but when they told me it was for six months, I hesitated. That was a long time to be away from my family!” Luisa said.

Encouraged by her sister, who took care of her daughter, she decided to undertake the journey, but without telling anyone what she was going to do.

The conditions they found in Tilonia were not what they had been led to expect, they said. They slept on thin mattresses on hard wooden beds, the bedrooms were full of bugs, they couldn’t heat water to wash themselves, and the food was completely different from what they were used to.

“I knew what I was getting into, but it took me three months anyway to adapt, mainly to the food and the intense heat,” she said.

She remembered, laughing, that she had stomach problems much of the time. “It was too much fried food,” she said. “I lost a lot of weight because for the entire six months I basically only ate rice.”

Looking at Liliana, she burst into laughter, saying “She also only ate rice, but she put on weight!”

Liliana said that when she got back to Chile her family welcomed her with an ‘asado’ (barbecue), ‘empanadas’ (meat and vegetable patties or pies) and ‘sopaipillas’ (fried pockets of dough).

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

“But I only wanted to sit down and eat ‘cazuela’ (traditional stew made with meat, potatoes and pumpkin) and steak,” she said.

On their return, they both began to implement what they had learned. Charging a small sum of 45 dollars, they installed the solar panel kit in homes in the village, which are made of stone with mud roofs.

The community now pays them some 75 dollars each a month for maintenance, every two months, of the 127 panels that they have installed in the village.

“We take this seriously,” said Luisa. “For example, we asked Enel not to just give us the most basic materials, but to provide us with everything necessary for proper installation.”

“Some of the batteries were bad, more than 10 of them, and we asked them to change them. But they said no, that that was the extent of their involvement in this,” she said. The company made them sign a document stating that their working agreement was completed.

“So now there are over 40 homes waiting for solar power,” she added. “We wanted to increase the capacity of the batteries, so the panels could be used to power a refrigerator, for example. But the most urgent thing now is to install panels in the 40 homes that still need them.”

But, she said, there are people in this village who cannot afford to buy a solar kit, which means they will have to be donations.

Despite the challenges, they say they are happy, that they now know they play an important role in the village. And they say that despite the difficulties, and the extreme poverty they saw in India, they would do it again.

“I’m really satisfied and content, people appreciate us, they appreciate what we do,” said Liliana.

“Many of the elders had to see the first panel installed before they were convinced that this worked, that it can help us and that it was worth it. And today you can see the results: there’s a waiting list,” she added.

Luisa believes that she and her cousin have helped changed the way people see women in Caspana, because the “patriarchs” of the council of elders themselves have admitted that few men would have dared to travel so far to learn something to help the community. “We helped somewhat to boost respect for women,” she said.

And after seeing their work, the local government of Calama, the municipality of which Caspana forms a part, responded to their request for support in installing solar panels to provide public lighting, and now the basic public services, such as the health post, have solar energy.

“When I’m painting, sometimes a neighbour comes to sit with me. And after a while, they ask me about our trip. And I relive it, I tell them all about it. I know this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life,” said Luisa.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Local Development, the Key to Legitimising Amazon Hydropower Damshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 21:23:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142206 The Altamira water treatment plant is practically inactive because the sewer pipes installed 10 months ago in this city of 140,000 people have not been connected to the homes and businesses. Altamira is 50 km from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit. Mario Osava/IPS

The Altamira water treatment plant is practically inactive because the sewer pipes installed 10 months ago in this city of 140,000 people have not been connected to the homes and businesses. Altamira is 50 km from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit. Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

In the case of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil, the projects aimed at mitigating the social impacts have been delayed. But in other cases, infrastructure such as hospitals and water and sewage pipes could improve the image of the hydropower plants on Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rivers, turning them into a factor of effective local development.

Under construction since 2011 on the Xingú river, Belo Monte has dedicated an unprecedented amount of funds to compensating for the impacts of the dam, through its Basic Environmental Project (PBA), which has a budget of 900 million dollars at the current exchange rate.

To that is added a novel 140-million-dollar Sustainable Regional Development Plan (PDRS), aimed at driving public policies and improving the lives of the population of the dam’s area of influence, made up of 11 municipalities in the northern state of Pará.

These funds amount to 12.8 percent of the cost of the giant dam on the middle stretch of the Xingú river, one of the Amazon river’s major tributaries. If distributed per person, each one of the slightly more than 400,000 inhabitants of these 11 municipalities would receive 2,500 dollars.

But the funds invested by the company building the Belo Monte hydropower plant, Norte Energía, have not silenced the complaints and protests which, although they have come from small groups, undermine the claim that hydropower dams are the best energy solution for this electricity-hungry country.

“The slow pace at which the company carries out its compensatory actions is inverse to the speed at which it is building the hydropower plant,” complained the Altamira Defence Forum, an umbrella group of 22 organisations opposed to the dam.

The most visible delay has involved sanitation works in Altamira, the main city in the area surrounding the dam, home to one-third of the local population. Installed 10 months ago, the sewage and water pipes are not yet functioning, leaving the water and wastewater treatment plants partially idle.

The problem is that the pipes were not connected to the local homes and businesses, a task that has been caught up in stalled negotiations between Norte Energía, the city government and the Pará sanitation company, even after the company expressed a willingness to shoulder the costs.

“In addition, the storm drainage system was left out of the plans; the city government didn’t include it in the requirements and conditions set for the company,” the head of the Live, Produce and Preserve Foundation, João Batista Pereira, told IPS.

Part of one of the 18 big turbines that will generate electricity in the main Belo Monte plant, ready to be inserted into one of the big circular metal holes built in the giant dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of one of the 18 big turbines that will generate electricity in the main Belo Monte plant, ready to be inserted into one of the big circular metal holes built in the giant dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The lack of storm drains is especially destructive for cities in the Amazon rainforest, where torrential rains are frequent.

The works and services included in the PBA respond to requirements of the Brazilian Environment Institute, the national environmental authority. Incompliance with these requisites could supposedly bring work on the dam to a halt. But the rules are subject to flexible interpretations, as recent experience has shown.

Pereira is one of the leaders of the PDRS, a “democratic and participative” programme where decisions on investments are reached by an administrative committee made up of 15 members of society and 15 representatives of the municipal, state and national governments.

The projects can be proposed by any local organisation that operates in the four areas covered by the plan: land tenure regularisation and environmental affairs, infrastructure, sustainable production, and social inclusion.

In these areas and some projects that the company finances, such as the Cacauway chocolate factory that processes the growing local production of cacao, the PDRS is distinct from the PBA, which addresses the immediate needs of people affected by the dam, such as indigenous people, fisherpersons or families displaced by the reservoirs.

The PBA’s activities were defined by the environmental impact study produced by researchers prior to the dam concession tender. Hospitals and clinics were built or refurbished to compensate the municipalities for the rise in demand for health services, while 4,100 housing units were built for relocated families.

These are responses to the immediate needs of affected individuals, groups or institutions, without integral or lasting planning. The only one responsible for implementation is the company holding the concession, even though they involve tasks that pertain to the public sector.

“The confusion between public and private is natural,” José Anchieta, the director of socioenvironmental affairs in Norte Energía, told IPS.

The delay in compensatory programmes generated chaos, the Altamira Defence Forum complains. Many of the initiatives were supposed to be carried out prior to construction of the hydropower plant.

The hospitals and health clinics were not delivered by Norte Energía until now, when construction of the dam is winding down. But they were most needed two years ago, when the floating migrant worker population in the region peaked as a result of work on the dam. The same is true for schools and urban development works.

This mistiming led to serious problems for the local indigenous population. The institutions protecting this segment of the population were not strengthened. On the contrary, the local presence of the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), the government agency in charge of indigenous affairs, was weakened during the construction of the dam, and the overall absence of the state was accentuated.

From 2010 to 2012 an “emergency plan” distributed processed foods and other goods to indigenous villages. This led to an abrupt change in habits, driving up child malnutrition and infant mortality among indigenous communities, which only recently began to be provided with housing, schools and equipment and inputs to enable them to return to agricultural production.

Bridge under construction on a road at the entrance to the city of Altamira, in Brazil’s Amazon region. The delay in building the bridge has hindered the reurbanisation of the low-lying parts of the city that will be partially flooded when the Belo Monte dam reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Bridge under construction on a road at the entrance to the city of Altamira, in Brazil’s Amazon region. The delay in building the bridge has hindered the reurbanisation of the low-lying parts of the city that will be partially flooded when the Belo Monte dam reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The PBA and PDRS also have different timeframes. The former is to end before the reservoirs are filled, which is to be completed by the end of this year. The latter, meanwhile, involves a 20-year action plan.

The company’s social programmes are also “an important sphere of debate, definition of projects and redefinition of public policies, which should become permanent by being transformed into an institute or foundation,” said Pereira, defending “the adoption of their democratic administration by other development agencies.”

The question is of concern to Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES), which has financed 78 percent of the cost of the construction of Belo Monte.

Besides providing a team to accompany the PDRS, it promoted a study to organise its projects and ideas in an “initiatives file” and a Territorial Development Agenda (TDA) in the Xingú basin.

But this planning and promotion effort to bring about real development has come late, when it is difficult to neutralise the negative effects, which will stand in the way of the construction of new hydropower dams in the Amazon, even with the promise of a TDA.

Belo Monte has also highlighted the dilemmas and challenges of power generation, currently dramatised by severe drought in much of Brazil.

Belo Monte, which will be the second-largest hydropower plant in Brazil and the third-largest in the world, producing 11,233 MW, will aggravate the seasonal drop in hydropower in the second half of each year, once it becomes fully operational in 2019.

That is because the Xingú has the biggest seasonal variation in flow. From 19,816 cubic metres per second in April, the month with the strongest flow, it plummets to 1,065 cubic metres in September, the height of the dry season. This was the average between 1931 and 2003, according to the state-run Eletrobras, Latin America’s biggest power utility company.

There is probably no worse choice of river for building a run-of-the-river power station, whose reservoirs do not accumulate water for the dry months. Belo Monte will represent 12 percent of the country’s total hydropower generation, which means the effect of the plunge in electricity will be enormous, fuelling demand for energy from the dirtier and most costly thermal plants.

One alternative would have been a reservoir 2.5 times bigger, which would have flooded two indigenous territories – something that is banned by the constitution.

Another would have been the construction of four to six dams upstream, to regularise the water flow in the river, as projected by the original plan in the 1980s which was ruled out due to the outcry against it.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez

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Plant in Chile Opens South America’s Doors to Geothermal Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 15:44:20 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142140 The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
OLLAGÜE, Chile, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

Chile, a land of volcanoes and geysers, has started building South America’s first geothermal plant, which would open a door to this kind of renewable energy in this country that depends largely on fossil fuels.

The Cerro Pabellón geothermal project is “immensely important for the Chilean state, which started geothermal exploration and drilling over 40 years ago,” but no initiative had taken concrete shape until now, Marcelo Tokman, general manager of the state oil company, ENAP, told IPS.

Located in the rural municipality of Ollagüe, 1,380 km north of Santiago, in the Andes highlands in the region of Antofagasta, Cerro Pabellón “will not only be the first geothermal plant in Chile and South America, but will also be the first in the world to be built at 4,500 metres above sea level,” Tokman added.

The Italian company Enel Green Power has a 51 percent stake in the project and ENAP owns 49 percent. The plant consists of two units of 24 MW each for a total gross installed capacity of 48 MW in the first phase, but with the advantage of being able to generate electricity around-the-clock.

That makes it equivalent, in terms of annual generating capacity, to a 200-MW solar or wind power plant.

The first stage would enter into operation in the first quarter of 2017 and a year later another 24 MW would be added. But the plant could be generating around 100 MW in the medium term, on 136 hectares of land.

Tokman said that once the plant is fully operational, it will be able to produce some 340 megatwatt-hours (MWh) a year that would go into the national power grid and would meet the consumption needs of 154,000 households in this country of 17.6 million people.

He also said it would avoid over 155,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sixty million dollars were invested in the exploratory phase, and an estimated 320 million dollars more will go into the plant and the construction of a 73-km power line.

Geothermal energy is obtained by tapping underground reservoirs of heat, generally near volcanoes, geysers or other hotspots on the surface of the earth. If well-managed, the geothermal reservoirs can produce clean energy indefinitely. The steam generated is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator.

Advances in South America

Brazil has the world’s two largest freshwater reserves: the Guarani and Alter do Chão aquifers. But it does not have geothermal potential, according to a 1984 study, which is currently being revised. Geothermal energy is included in an agreement with Germany to search for alternative sources.

Six South American countries form part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity with virgin territory for geothermal exploration: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

In 1988, Argentina built Copahue I, an experimental geothermal plant constructed with Japanese capital, which supplied 0.67 MW but stopped operating. Currently, the country’s energy projects include the construction of the Copahue II geothermal plant in the hot springs of Copahue in the southern province of Neuquén, which would generate 100 MW.

In Peru, a preliminary study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Ministry of Energy and Mines found in 2013 that the country has 3,000 MWh of geothermal potential. But so far there are no plans for geothermal plants.

In February, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that starting in 2019 the country would begin to export electricity to neighbouring countries, from the Laguna Colorada geothermal plant. The project, financed by Japan, will consist of two stages, of 50 MW each.

The Philippines is home to three of the world’s 10 biggest geothermal plants, followed by the United States and Indonesia, with two each, and Italy, Mexico and Iceland, with one each.

Studies indicate that Chile is one of the countries with the greatest geothermal potential in Latin America.

This long, narrow country, which forms part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, stretches 4,270 km along the Andes mountains, the earth’s largest volcanic chain.

Environmentalists say geothermal energy has a relatively low impact, as long as questions of scale and location are respected.

“Geothermal is an unconventional renewable energy source to the extent that it is carried out in accordance with territorial and cultural needs. The energy source in and of itself does not guarantee social and environmental sustainability,” land surveyor Lucio Cuenca, director of the Santiago-based Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts, told IPS.

Respecting these parameters, geothermal energy “is a very good alternative for this country,” he said.

In the case of the Cerro Pabellón plant, the surrounding communities form part of the Alto El Loa nature reserve, made up of the villages and communities of Caspana, Ayquina, Turi, Chiu Chiu, Cupo, Valle de Lasana, Taira and Ollagüe, which have a combined total population of just over 1,000, most of them Atacameño and Quechua indigenous people.

The Alto El Loa Indigenous Peoples Council got ENAP and ENEL to sign a series of agreements for the implementation of social development projects in the local communities in compensation for the impact of the geothermal project, and especially the power line.

For the inhabitants of Alto El Loa, scattered in remote areas in the Atacama desert, if the project is sustainable and benefits their communities, it will be a positive thing. But they say they are concerned that their way of life may not be respected.

“I would like to see more help, and if this is a good thing, then it’s welcome,” Luisa Terán, a member of the Atacameño indigenous group from the village of Caspana, told IPS. “Sometimes we feel a bit neglected and isolated.

“But it has to come with respect for our traditions, and it is our elders who are demanding that most strongly,” she added.

Others, however, reject the project as “anti-natural” and “violent” towards the local habitat.

“If you hurt the earth, she will in one way or another get back at you,” tourist guide Víctor Arque, of San Pedro de Atacama, a highlands village 290 km from Ollagüe, told IPS. “It can’t be possible to drill kilometres below ground without something happening.”

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio precedent

Chile was a pioneer in research on geothermal potential. The first exploration was carried out in 1907 in El Tatio, a geyser field located some 200 km from Cerro Pabellón and 4,300 metres above sea level. This country was the third to explore geothermal energy, after the United States and Russia.

Two wells were drilled in that area in 1931, and in the late 1960s the government carried out more systematic exploration, which was later abandoned.

In 2008, the Geotérmica del Norte company, which belonged to the Italian consortium ENEL, began exploration in Quebrada del Zoquete, a few km from El Tatio, using the equipment already installed in the geyser field.

In September 2009, a 60-metre high column of steam shot up from one of the wells where the company was extracting and reinjecting geothermal fluids. The anomaly, caused by a failed valve, lasted more than three weeks and led to the government’s cancellation of the permit for further operations.

Tokman, energy minister at the time, remembered the incident. “Fortunately all of the safeguards had been taken to demand different instruments of measurement for the project, to ensure that the reservoir was deeper and distinct from the reservoir in the El Tatio geyser field,” he said.

Cuenca said the mistake was “having restarted a geothermal programme in Chile doing everything that shouldn’t be done: that is, interfering in a place where there are indigenous communities, an area with a high tourist and economic value, simply to take advantage of the infrastructure that was already installed there.”

Experts warn that geothermal power is not a panacea for Chile’s energy deficit, because if there is one thing this country has learned, it is that a diversified energy mix is essential.

But if Chile’s potential is confirmed, Cerro Pabellón could open the door to geothermal development not only in this country but in South America.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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China’s Economy Has Sounded the Alert; Will Latin America Listen?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 23:00:08 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142093 Costa Rica’s National Stadium, donated by China as a gift for the reestablishment of bilateral ties in 2007, and built in 2009-2010 by a Chinese company with Chinese labour. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Costa Rica’s National Stadium, donated by China as a gift for the reestablishment of bilateral ties in 2007, and built in 2009-2010 by a Chinese company with Chinese labour. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

For years, Latin America has exported its raw materials to China’s voracious factories, fuelling economic growth. But now that the Asian giant is putting a priority on domestic consumption over industrial production, how will this region react?

China’s dizzying growth gave a boost to the economies of Latin America, and in exchange, this region received manufactured products, credits, and heavy investment in infrastructure.

Given the slowdown in China’s growth, the countries of Latin America have two options: move toward a more value-added economy or lose relevance with an obsolete economic model inherited from the 20th century, said several experts consulted by IPS.

“Over the last five years, the relationship between Latin America and China has been dominated by Latin America sending China a few raw materials and China sending Latin America manufactured goods,” U.S. academic Rebecca Ray told IPS.“In simple terms, China’s rebalancing is aimed at reducing the relative importance of investment and exports in its economic growth, relying on household consumption playing a larger role.” -- Keiji Inoue and Sebastián Herreros

“But this may be about to change,” added the research fellow at the Boston University Global Economic Governance Initiative, where she coordinates the Working Group on Development and the Environment in the Americas’ China in Latin America project and coauthors the China-Latin America Economic Bulletin.

According to Ray, China’s leaders are shifting toward a development strategy with an emphasis on slower but steady growth, which prioritises internal consumption over factory production, thus opening up opportunities for importing manufactured goods from other countries.

The path toward that future was one of the central focuses of the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) meeting in the Costa Rican capital from Tuesday, Aug. 18 to Friday, Aug. 21, which brought together foreign ministers and other senior officials from 36 countries under the theme “Two Regions, One Vision”.

The experts who spoke to IPS all agreed that given China’s slowdown, decision-makers in Latin America must take the initiative and propose economic alternatives based on more value added.

But the region has been slow to make the leap. Just five commodities – soy, iron, oil and unrefined and refined copper – account for 75 percent of exports to China, only a tiny share of which are manufactured goods.

But the other major economic flow between China and Latin America, investment in infrastructure, could paradoxically benefit from the slowdown and the shift in direction of the Chinese economy, the experts said.

The deceleration in the engine of the global economy since 2014, when China’s growth stood at 7.4 percent, the lowest level in 24 years, “May hurt Latin American economies that have become dependent on exporting those few commodities. In contrast, China’s infrastructure investments can help all industries do well,” Ray said.

Ponta da Madeira, a port in northeast Brazil where ships carrying iron ore set out, mainly for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Ponta da Madeira, a port in northeast Brazil where ships carrying iron ore set out, mainly for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Well-administered, she said, Chinese-financed projects could close the region’s historic gap in infrastructure and serve as a platform for the development of other industries that would benefit from investment in transport and energy, two main areas of interest for China.

“Hopefully, policy makers will make use of this opportunity to spur development in non-traditional industries,” Ray said.

Keiji Inoue and Sebastián Herreros, with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) International Trade and Integration Division, concurred.

“To the extent that these projects are aligned with the priorities of countries in the region, a greater Chinese presence could help gradually close Latin America’s infrastructure gap, thus strengthening regional integration and improving the region’s international competitiveness,” they stated in a joint analysis for IPS.

One of the aims of China’s investments in infrastructure in Latin America, they noted, is for that country’s to invest people’s savings.

But the direction taken by the growing links between Latin America and China do not leave much room for optimism.

Up to now, the region’s exports to China “Support fewer jobs, generate more net greenhouse gas emissions, and use more water than other LAC (Latin American and Caribbean) exports,” according to a study by GEGI.

China, meanwhile, has been promoting and financing controversial megaprojects in the region, like the “great inter-oceanic canal” in Nicaragua, to be built by the Chinese consortium Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKDN-Group) at an estimated cost of 50 billion dollars, and the projected 5,000-km Transcontinental Railway, which would connect Brazil and Peru.

Chinese investment has also fuelled trade ties based on raw materials. According to ECLAC, between 2010 and 2013 nearly 90 percent of China’s investment in the region went into the extractive industry, mainly mining and fossil fuels.

Executives of the Chinese consortium HKDN-Group behind a big sign on Dec. 22, 2014 in the town of Brito Rivas on the Pacific ocean coast, at the ceremony for the formal start of construction of the Great Canal of Nicaragua, which will cut across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese consortium HKDN-Group behind a big banner on Dec. 22, 2014 in the town of Brito Rivas on the Pacific ocean coast, at the ceremony for the formal start of construction of the Great Canal of Nicaragua, which will cut across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

“From that perspective, China’s high level of demand for raw materials at a global level has effectively consolidated and reinforced the specialisation of these processes, also known as ‘re-primarisation’ of the economy,” Enrique Dussel, director of the Centre for China-Mexico Studies of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told IPS.

But Dussel said emphatically that the countries of Latin America will have to respond, given the signals. “It is Latin America and the Caribbean that have the responsibility – and need – to make a decision, not China,” he stated.

This refocusing of the economies of the region on the production of primary commodities for export happened when Latin America was seduced by last decade’s high commodities prices and prioritised exports of raw materials over exports of greater added value.

Raw materials represent more than 60 percent of the region’s exports – the highest proportion seen since the early 1990s, according to ECLAC studies – up from 44 percent at the start of the century.

Manufactured goods like machinery and electronic devices, meanwhile, make up 64 percent of China’s exports to this region, and are less sensitive to price swings.

Between 2000 and 2014, imports from China rose from two to 14 percent of the regional total.

Dussel said China’s growth highlighted the serious problems faced by the region’s exports. In his view, the problems do not necessarily lie in the predominance of raw materials, but in the fact that these industries have “very little value added and technology.”

ECLAC’s Inoue and Herreros say the shift in focus of China’s development presents an opportunity.

They said that “in simple terms, China’s rebalancing is aimed at reducing the relative importance of investment and exports in its economic growth, relying on household consumption playing a larger role.”

“To the extent that this process has an effect, it should favour the diversification of Latin America’s exports to China,” they said.

They expect sectors like agribusiness and processed food to become more important in the region, although they warn that it could take years for the effects to be felt, and say that in order for that to happen, decision-makers would have to take ambitious steps toward consolidating the region as a trade bloc.

“We must also make more decisive progress towards a truly integrated regional market,” Inoue and Herreros wrote. “That would make Latin America more attractive and increase its bargaining power vis-à-vis China, the rest of Asia and other big global economic actors.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Presalt Oil Drives Technological Development in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 15:40:34 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142026 The third floor of the central building of Petrobras’s R&D centre, CENPES, built in 2010 on University City Island. On the right, a scale model of an oil rig. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The third floor of the central building of Petrobras’s R&D centre, CENPES, built in 2010 on University City Island. On the right, a scale model of an oil rig. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

The extraction of deepwater oil, the most abundant kind in Brazil, is costly but foments technological and industrial development, requiring increasingly complex production equipment and techniques.

One challenge is the water extracted with the oil, the proportion of which grows with the age of the well, reducing productivity by using up an increasing proportion of the transport and processing capacity of the productive installations.

“Since two years ago we’ve had a separator of oil and water that operates at a depth of 2,000 metres,” said Oscar Chamberlain, head of supplies and biofuels in the Research and Development Centre (CENPES) of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company. “That water, in time, can represent 80 percent of the volume extracted, which is why it has to be separated deep down in order to not overtax the rig.”

Rio de Janeiro has become a centre of know-how and innovation in offshore oil, thanks to CENPES, which has 227 laboratories and a technological park where 52 institutions and companies have set up shop so far, including 12 multinational corporations.“There are no longer any technological barriers to the production of oil in the presalt layer; all of the challenges identified – involving the distance, depth and complexity posed by the layer of salt - have been overcome.” -- Luiz Felipe Rego

University City Island, widely known as Fundão Island, is the epicentre of that transformation. It is the campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), near the international airport of this city that is more famous for its beaches and carnival.

This development has been driven by Petrobras’s 2006 discovery of oil deposits in what is known as the presalt area, under a two-kilometre-thick salt layer more than 5,000 metres below the surface in the Atlantic ocean.

The new reserves brought Brazil new oil wealth as well as new challenges.

The presalt reserves are at least 250 km from the coast of southeast Brazil, which poses logistical difficulties.

“There are no longer any technological barriers to the production of oil in the presalt layer; all of the challenges identified – involving the distance, depth and complexity posed by the layer of salt – have been overcome,” Luiz Felipe Rego, Petrobras general manager of well engineering, told IPS.

As a result, just eight years after they were discovered, the presalt reserves account for 23 percent of Petrobras production in Brazil, which in October climbed to 2.58 million barrels a day of oil-equivalent, including natural gas.

But the constant battle to reduce costs has fuelled the effort to do as much as possible deep below the surface, with underwater systems that require electrification, robots and remote maintenance services in a corrosive, high-pressure atmosphere with wildly varying temperatures, said Chamberlain, a Nicaraguan who has been with Petrobras for 30 years.

Corrosion is a threat at every stage of the process, all the way up to the refinery where the petroleum can damage the equipment if the excess salt is not previously removed.

CENPES was founded in 1963 when Petrobras, a state company created to explore for oil and reduce the imports that Brazil depended on, was 10 years old. Its 1,930 researchers, 36 percent of whom hold masters’ or doctoral degrees, are now carrying out 862 R&D projects.

“Thanks to their work, Petrobras is the Brazilian company that has applied for the most patents in Brazil and abroad,” the executive manager of CENPES, André Cordeiro, told IPS. “In 2013 alone 56 new applications were made.”

Petrobras’s investment in R&D, administered by CENPES, has increased nearly eight-fold so far this century. The annual average, which stood at 160 million dollars from 2001 to 2003, climbed to 1.2 billion dollars in the last three years.

A circular laboratory and office building in CENPES, built in 1973 on University City Island in Rio de Janeiro. The Maré and Floresta de Tijuca favelas or shantytowns can be seen in the background. CENPES is the R&D arm of Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras, whose symbol is BR. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A circular laboratory and office building in CENPES, built in 1973 on University City Island in Rio de Janeiro. The Maré and Floresta de Tijuca favelas or shantytowns can be seen in the background. CENPES is the R&D arm of Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras, whose symbol is BR. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“We currently work with 122 Brazilian universities and research institutes, organised in 49 thematic networks – a model that has fomented partnerships between Petrobras and academia in strategic questions in the area of oil and gas,” Cordeiro said.

The closest partnership began 46 years ago with the UFRJ’s Alberto Luiz Coimbra Institute for Graduate Studies and Research in Engineering (COPPE), which is also a technology business incubator.

For example, Ambidados, which emerged there in 2006, provides oil companies with environmental assessments and data. And with just 11 staff members in its office in the UFRJ’s Technological Park, it created its own buoys and devices to monitor wind, tides, ocean currents and rainfall, which affect operations out at sea.

“We also study the ocean bottom relief, the water temperature at different depths, the salinity, and the amount of algae,” oceanographer Leonardo Kuniyoshi told IPS.

There are another 31 small and medium-sized companies in the Technological Park, along with seven laboratories, and R&D centres of global leaders in oil industry services and equipment, such as Schlumberger, FMC Technologies and Halliburton, which recently acquired Baker Hughes, another oilfield services provider with offices on Fundão Island.

The U.S.-based GE opened its new Global Research Centre in the park on Aug. 13, joining other multinationals outside the oil industry, such as France’s L’Oreal cosmetics company and Brazilian beer maker Ambev.

“This coexistence among different industries is fascinating,” said the director of the Technological Park, Mauricio Guedes. “The coming together of knowledge from different areas constitutes the wealth of the Technological Park, which will generate innovations.”

That also requires “bringing companies and the university together in the same place, to generate knowledge that gives rise to products and services, because without business, technology and know-how are lost,” he said.

The park was designed to hold 200 companies in its 350,000-square-metre area at the southeastern tip of the island, which belongs to the UFRJ. The area was flood-prone and had to be filled in before the Technological Park opened in 2003. One hundred thousand truckloads of soil and rubble, dumped over the space of four years, raised the ground level two metres, Guedes said.

After the discovery of the presalt reserves, which meant Brazil could become one of the world’s leading oil producers and exporters, the park began to attract major international firms like the British multinational oil and gas company BG Group or Germany’s Siemens.

The list includes information technology companies that are not limited to oil industry services, such as EMC2, which opened “its first research centre outside of the United States” in the UFRJ park, according to Karin Breitman, the company’s local chief scientist.

The future of the Technological Park and oil industry research is ensured in Brazil. Contracts to exploit the country’s oilfields require that the companies must invest one percent of their revenue in R&D.

That adds up to some 12 billion dollars over the next 10 years. “The combination of technological challenges and resources to tackle them promises success,” said Guedes.

Besides boosting the oil industry’s productivity, the R&D contributes to the development of other sectors, with oceanographic and environmental knowledge and multiple-use technologies.

One example is the hyperbaric chamber, a steel vessel in which atmospheric pressure can be raised or lowered by air compressors, which is being used to generate electric power from waves, in a plant developed by Coppe. New materials, new inputs and energy solutions will emerge from the bottom of the sea, said Guedes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Has Enormous Untapped Potential for Green Infrastructurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-has-enormous-untapped-potential-for-green-infrastructure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-has-enormous-untapped-potential-for-green-infrastructure http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-has-enormous-untapped-potential-for-green-infrastructure/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 16:59:07 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141964 One of the 31 wind parks operating in Mexico. By 2020 installed wind power capacity should have climbed to 15,000 MW. Credit: Courtesy of Dforcesolar

One of the 31 wind parks operating in Mexico. By 2020 installed wind power capacity should have climbed to 15,000 MW. Credit: Courtesy of Dforcesolar

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

Latin America is facing a two-pronged challenge: double power generation by 2050 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The only solution? Green energy.

Studies show that these two goals could be within the reach of Latin America, because this region still has huge untapped potential in terms of renewable energy.

Along with transportation and land-use change, electricity generation is one of the region’s unresolved challenges in the fight against climate change.

With regard to energy production, Latin America is the planet’s greenest region, due to its long-time emphasis on hydroelectricity. But the question now is how to keep increasing the proportion of renewable energies in the face of growing domestic demand. “When you look at it as a whole, the region’s infrastructure continues to be built like in the 20th century, even though the 21st century has a completely different outlook and requirements.” --- Joseluis Samaniego

“When you look at it as a whole, the region’s infrastructure continues to be built like in the 20th century, even though the 21st century has a completely different outlook and requirements,” Joseluis Samaniego, a Mexican expert who is the director of the Sustainable Development and Human Settlements Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.

Electricity is key to the design of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – the commitments that each nation assumes to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Inter-American Development Bank study “Rethinking Our Energy Future”, the region will need to increase its installed power capacity two-fold by 2050.
However, it remains dependent on fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas which generate greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

This raises the question of what kind of infrastructure Latin America will include in its energy future. According to the IDB study, Latin America’s renewable energy generation capacity – wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass – is so extensive that only four percent of the total technical potential would be needed to meet the region’s needs by 2050.

But in recent years, the region has invested in dirtier energy sources. Although hydroelectric plants have been the main source of electricity across much of Latin America for decades, the latest figures show that its share is shrinking.

The Itaipú hydropower dam shared by Brazil and Paraguay is the second-largest in the world, after China’s Three Gorges. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Itaipú hydropower dam shared by Brazil and Paraguay is the second-largest in the world, after China’s Three Gorges. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE) reported that it represented just 38 percent in 2013, surpassed by natural gas, which now provides 40 percent.

The countries of Latin America will have to revert that process if they want to set forth more ambitious and realistic targets in their INDCs. Only a robust energy policy will make it possible to set adequate goals, experts agree.

Untapped clean energy potential

Latin America only uses 22 percent of its hydropower potential. Experts say that in the future, countries in the region will need to do more to tap the potential of their rivers and other clean energy sources, to make their energy mix more sustainable and diversified.

A study published in 2008 by REN21, a global renewable energy policy multi-stakeholder network, said hydropower could be overtaken by other sources in the region, like solar and wind.

The countries in the region have a hydroelectric potential of 2.8PWh (petawatt-hour), surpassed by geothermal (nearly three PWh), wind (11 PWh) and solar (close to 31 PWh).

That potential is enormous compared to regional demand. In 2014 the countries of Latin America consumed a total of 1.3 PWh of electricity and experts expect demand to be less than 3.5 PWh by 2050.

So far, only Mexico has formally presented its INDCs, while Chile, Colombia and Peru have shown progress.

All countries must present their national commitments by Oct. 1, to be incorporated in the new binding universal treaty to be approved at the December climate summit in Paris.

“Latin America, like the rest of the world, should focus on developing electric power infrastructure with renewable sources and with the least possible environmental impact, in an attempt to depend less and less on fossil fuels,” Santiago Ortega, a Colombian engineer who specialises in renewable energy sources, told IPS.

Ortega, who is also a professor at the Engineering School in the northwest Colombian region of Antioquia, called for a balance in renewable energy generation between local, less-invasive projects and megaprojects like large dams that make it possible to store up energy, providing a reliable supply.

“Financial resources will always be scarce, and they must be invested in the most intelligent way possible,” said Ortega.

Otherwise, the global energy future will be costly. With a business-as-usual high-carbon economy, about 90 trillion dollars, or an average of six trillion a year, will be invested in infrastructure in the world’s cities, agriculture and energy systems over the next 15 years, according to the New Climate Economy report “Better Growth, Better Climate”.

But the report adds that only around 270 billion dollars a year would be needed to accelerate the global transition to a low-carbon economy, through clean energy, more compact cities, better public transport systems and smarter land use.

Experts like Costa Rican economist Mónica Araya say “the shift that is happening around the world, and we won’t be an exception, is towards energy diversification and decentralisation.”

But electricity is only part of the region’s energy mix, where fossil fuels still reign supreme.

OLADE figures from 2013 indicate that oil represents 49 percent of primary energy in the region, natural gas 26 percent, and coal seven percent.

Only six percent of primary energy comes from hydropower. Biomass, nuclear and other renewable sources complete the picture.

What does Latin America do with 80 percent fossil fuels, if the electricity supply is largely green?

According to Pablo Bertinat, director of the Observatory of Energy and Sustainability at the National Technological University in Argentina, nearly half of that energy goes to the transport sector.

“In transport, infrastructure is key,” Bertinat told IPS. “A large part of the public monies in the region goes into infrastructure works largely aimed at consolidating energy-intensive modes of transportation.”

As an example, Bertinat pointed out that while 75 percent of cargo in Argentina is moved by truck, the proportion is just 20 percent in France or the United States, which put a priority on rivers or railways.

Changes are also needed in cities, and Araya calls for modern, clean collective public transport, with electrification of private fleets of taxis or cargo vehicles.

“We lack imagination,” Araya, who heads the Costa Rican think tank Nivela, told IPS. “Neither the political class nor the business community have woken up to the need to invest in clean, modern public transit and cargo transport.”

These efforts in the energy industry will also require proposals from other fields. The main regional sources of greenhouse gases are land use and forestry (47 percent), followed by the energy industry (22 percent), agriculture (20 percent), and garbage (three percent).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Money, Knowledge and Controversy in Brazil’s Development Bankhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/money-knowledge-and-controversy-in-brazils-development-bank/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=money-knowledge-and-controversy-in-brazils-development-bank http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/money-knowledge-and-controversy-in-brazils-development-bank/#comments Sat, 08 Aug 2015 07:51:46 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141920 The BNDES building, left, is across the street from the headquarters of the state oil company Petrobras, overlooking the Avenida República do Chile in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The BNDES building, left, is across the street from the headquarters of the state oil company Petrobras, overlooking the Avenida República do Chile in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 8 2015 (IPS)

Brazil’s rush to build hydroelectric dams, refineries, railways, ports and other megaprojects since the last decade, not only at home but in other countries as well, has been fueled by the sheer volume of financing from its development bank.

The state development bank, BNDES, lent 187.8 billion reals (62.5 billion dollars) last year – more than one-third of which went towards infrastructure. For years the credits granted have broadly surpassed those of the World Bank, in terms of the annual totals.

Intelligence is needed to guide the direction of different sectors of the economy, nearly always obscured by the impressive sums, and it comes from the accumulated knowledge and know-how of the bank’s 2,881 employees, 85 percent of whom hold university degrees, and 11.4 percent of whom have graduate degrees.

“Since it was founded in 1952, the BNDES has been of strategic importance to Brazil,” economist Fernando Cardim de Carvalho, a retired Federal University of Rio de Janeiro professor, told IPS. “That hasn’t changed, in essence, and to some extent the bank is more important now than in the past.

“It survived many passing political fads, from (former president Juscelino) Kubitschek’s (1956-1961) developmentalism, to the authoritarian planning of (former president General Ernesto) Geisel (1974-1979) and the neoliberalism of (former president) Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002), who unsuccessfully tried to change its culture,” he said.

“With the gradual dismantling of the state apparatus for planning and intervention since the end of the (1964-1985) military regime, the BNDES became the last of the Mohicans, the only institution left capable of formulating economic policies in the country, although in relatively restricted fields,” Cardim de Carvalho said.

The Planning Ministry “was reduced to exercising oversight and control over the implementation of budgets, and in the process of erosion that demolished Brazil’s public sector, only two organs survived in the economic arena: the BNDES and the Central Bank,” said Cardim.

But the bank, although “essential” for financing infrastructure works, is no longer able to cover investment needs in Brazil, which require additional financing mechanisms, he added.

Its operations depend on the government, “which formulates more general strategies,” he said. That led to “a big mistake, which is not the responsibility of the bank but of the governments that decided to use it as an instrument of anti-cyclical policy,” the economist lamented.

His criticism focuses on the acceleration of projects financed by national treasury funds transferred to the bank, to sustain economic growth after the global economic crisis that broke out in 2008. “The bank exists to promote long-term objectives, that transform the productive system, and imposing on it other functions and financial dependency on the national coffers is a mistake,” he argued.

For his part, Mauricio Dias David, who worked in the BNDES until 2009, blamed loans granted to “many incoherent projects and white elephants,” like football stadiums built or remodeled for the 2014 World Cup, on “financing facilities” left without control because they were considered anti-cyclical.

In the past, when it was small, the bank was “creative and had a critical capacity that was lost with its growth and growing bureaucracy,” according to Dias David, who is now a professor of economy at the Rio de Janeiro State University. “But without that critical eye, badly-designed projects are approved, whose costs and even insolvencies will blow up in our faces in the future,” he told IPS.

A poor neighbourhood in the city of Altamira in the northern state of Pará on the banks of the Xingú River, which will be flooded when the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam’s reservoir is filled. The Amazon jungle city will suffer the biggest impact from the megaproject financed by the BNDES. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A poor neighbourhood in the city of Altamira in the northern state of Pará on the banks of the Xingú River, which will be flooded when the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam’s reservoir is filled. The Amazon jungle city will suffer the biggest impact from the megaproject financed by the BNDES. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The development bank’s financing grew six-fold during the governments of the left-wing Workers Party (PT), first under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and later under his successor President Dilma Rousseff.

In addition, the number of employees nearly doubled this century, and 35.8 percent are women. They are selected by means of public contests and they enjoy job stability.

The bank’s potential attracts graduates from the best universities, because it offers “the best job in a federal institution in Rio de Janeiro,” said BNDES presidential adviser Marcelo Miterhof.

The economist, who has worked for the BNDES for 13 years, said the employees gain know-how in the bank, in the analysis of projects and in communication with companies and people from different specialised areas.

“Our technicians don’t know more about specific areas, like energy or logistics, than specialised bodies or companies,” Miterhof told IPS. “But they gain a big picture, they systematise sectors, and they have the opportunity to learn about a lot of areas.”

There are also internal mechanisms, like seminars, discussion groups, or the “knowledge café” where experts from within or outside the bank speak on different issues, such as wind energy. The exchange of public employees with other government agencies also helps make the learning process continuous.

The bank’s employees and its “thinkers” are distributed in 20 areas, such as infrastructure, industry, foreign trade, and the environment, and the strategic planning and economic research departments.

The BNDES also publishes a quarterly magazine with articles from authors from within and outside the bank.

Miterhof clarifies that as a bank, the BNDES does not promote development on its own, but depends on the initiative and demands of its clients.

But sometimes it launches its own proposals, such as a programme to modernise the tax administration, which supports city governments in improving financial administration and citizen services.

Environment

The environmental dimension has gradually been incorporated into the bank’s activities. The BNDES started to work in cooperation with the environmental authorities in the 1970s. Later, a section was created “to support the assessment of internal bank projects and policies,” which was turned into a department in the 1990s and into an “area” in 2009.

Environmental issues thus have representatives in the committees that select loan requests and approve resolutions and guidelines, who join the representatives of other areas that dictate the way the bank is governed, the head of the Environment Department, José Guilherme Cardoso, told IPS.

After the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, the bank stepped up its environmental actions. The BNDES manages, for example, the Amazon Fund, which finances projects in the rainforest and comes up with its own initiatives as well.

One example is the BNDES Ecological Restoration Programme, which channels funds into the recovery of vegetation in ecosystems such as the Mata Atlántica (Atlantic Forest along the east coast), the pampas in the south, and the central Cerrado savannah.

The environmental question has been extended to different departments and activities, like the Sustainability Committee and the Planning Area’s Socioenvironmental Management, thus cutting across all decision-making levels, from the selection of projects to be financed to the approval of resolutions on general guidelines.

The complexity of the inter-connnected issues has increasingly been recognised in the territorial development that the BNDES is trying to foment in the area of impact of the Belo Monte hydropower plant on the Xingú River in the Amazon jungle, involving the local population and governments.

It is an approach that seeks to overcome the serious conflicts generated by such a major infrastructure project as an 11,330-MW hydropower dam, one of the world’s biggest, in a poor region.

“The mobilisation of a well-organised civil society that participates intensely in the plenary meetings on the local development plan is impressive,” said Ana Maria Glória, of the BNDES planning area, which has taken part in the process with visits to the region.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Belo Monte Dam Marks a Before and After for Energy Projects in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 20:20:19 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141821 A street in the Jatobá neighbourhood, the first of the five settlements built by the company Norte Energía to resettle families displaced from the city of Altamira by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the northern state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A street in the Jatobá neighbourhood, the first of the five settlements built by the company Norte Energía to resettle families displaced from the city of Altamira by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the northern state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Paulo de Oliveira drives a taxi in the northern Brazilian city of Altamira, but only when he is out of work in what he considers his true profession: operator of heavy vehicles like trucks, mixers or tractor loaders.

For the past few months he has been driving a friend’s taxi at night, while waiting for a job on the construction site of the Belo Monte dam – a giant hydroelectric plant on the Xingú river in the Amazon rainforest which has given rise to sharply divided opinions in Brazil.

Oliveira, whose small stature contrasts with the enormous vehicles he drives, has lived in many different parts of the Amazon jungle. “I started in the Air Force, a civilian among military personnel, building airports, barracks and roads in Itaituba, Jacareacanga, Oriximiná, Humaitá and other municipalities,” he told IPS.

His sister’s death in a traffic accident brought him back to Altamira, where he became a garimpeiro or informal miner. “I was buried once in a tunnel 10 metres below ground,” he said.

He survived this and other risks and earned a lot of money mining gold and ferrying miners – who paid him a fortune – in a taxi back and forth from the city to the illegal mine. “But I spent it all on women,” he confessed.

He then moved to Manaus, the Amazon region’s capital of two million people, to work on the construction of the monumental bridge over the Negro river. After that he headed to Porto Velho, near the border with Bolivia. But he had a feeling that something would go wrong at the Jirau hydropower construction site and quit after a few months.

Just a few days later, in March 2011, the workers rioted, setting fire to 60 buses and almost all of the lodgings for 16,000 employees, and bringing to a halt construction on the Jirau dam and another nearby large hydropower plant, Santo Antônio, both of which are on the Madeira river.

After bouncing between jobs on different construction sites, at the age of 50 Oliveira found himself back in Altamira, a city of 140,000 people located 55 km from Belo Monte, where he already worked in 2013 and is trying to get a job again. But things are difficult, because the amount of work there is in decline, as construction of the cement structures is winding up.

And it is possible that workers like him, specialised in heavy construction, no longer have a future in building large hydroelectric dams. The controversy triggered by Belo Monte will make it hard for the country to carry out similar projects after this.

A bridge being built in a neighbourhood of the northern Amazon city of Altamira, because a small local river floods during rainy season. Works like these form part of the basic environmental plan designed to mitigate and compensate the impacts of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, 55 km away. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A bridge being built in a neighbourhood of the northern Amazon city of Altamira, because a small local river floods during rainy season. Works like these form part of the basic environmental plan designed to mitigate and compensate the impacts of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, 55 km away. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The final assessment of the Belo Monte experience will determine the fate of the government’s plans to harness the energy of the Amazon rivers, the only ones that still have a strong enough flow to offer large-scale hydropower potential, which has been exhausted on rivers elsewhere in Brazil.

A study by the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute states that if the government’s construction plans for the 2005-2030 period are implemented, the hydropower dams in the Amazon will account for 67.5 percent of the new power generation in this country of 203 million people.

The next project of this magnitude, the São Luiz dam on the Tapajós river to the west of the Xingú river, is facing an apparently insurmountable obstacle: it would flood indigenous territory, which is protected by the constitution.

Belo Monte, whose original plan was modified to avoid flooding indigenous land, has drawn fierce criticism for affecting the way of life of native and riverbank communities. The public prosecutor’s office accuses the company that is building the dam, Norte Energía, of ethnocide and of failing to live up to requirements regarding indigenous communities, who in protest occupied and damaged some of the dam’s installations on several occasions.

São Luiz, designed to generate 8,040 MW, and other hydropower dams planned on the Tapajós river, are facing potentially more effective resistance, led by a large indigenous community that lives in the river basin – the Munduruku, who number around 12,000.

Just over 6,000 indigenous people belonging to nine different ethnic groups live in the Belo Monte area of influence, with nearly half of them living in towns and cities, Francisco Brasil de Moraes, in charge of the middle stretch of the Xingú river in Brazil’s national indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, told IPS.

Francisco Assis Cardoso (dark tank top, centre), in his new supermarket. The young entrepreneur opened the grocery store and a pharmacy in Jatobá, the new neighbourhood in the city of Altamira where his entire family was relocated due to the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Francisco Assis Cardoso (dark tank top, centre), in his new supermarket. The young entrepreneur opened the grocery store and a pharmacy in Jatobá, the new neighbourhood in the city of Altamira where his entire family was relocated due to the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Another battle, for local development, has had less international repercussions than the indigenous question. But it could also be decisive when it comes to overcoming resistance to future hydroelectric dams in the Amazon.

Norte Energía, a consortium of 10 public and private companies and investment funds, has channeled some 1.1 billion dollars into activities aimed at mitigating and compensating for social and environmental impacts in 11 municipalities surrounding the megaproject.

This sum, unprecedented in a project of this kind, is equivalent to 12 percent of the total investment.

The company resettled 4,100 families displaced from their homes by the construction project and reservoir, and indemnified thousands more. It rebuilt part of Altamira and the town of Vitoria de Xingú, including basic sanitation works, and built or remodeled six hospitals, 30 health centres and 270 classrooms.

Nevertheless, complaints have rained down from all sides.

Norte Energía installed modern water and sewage treatment plants, and sewers and water networks in Altamira. But there was a 10-month delay before an agreement was signed in June to connect the water and sewer networks to the housing units, which the local government will administer and the company will finance.

And it will take even longer for the city council to create a municipal sanitation company and for the service to begin to operate.

“My family was promised three houses, because we have two married sons,” said José de Ribamar do Nascimento, 62, resettled in the neighbourhood of Jatobá, on the north side of Altamira, the first one built for families relocated from areas to be flooded by the reservoir. “But then they took away our right to two of them, maybe because I was unable to protest, since I’m ill.”

A water treatment station built in Altamira by Norte Energía, the consortium building the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. It is not yet operating, because the sewage network installed in the city is not connected to the buildings. Urban sanitation is one part of the development works which the company was required to provide. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A water treatment station built in Altamira by Norte Energía, the consortium building the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. It is not yet operating, because the sewage network installed in the city is not connected to the buildings. Urban sanitation is one part of the development works which the company was required to provide. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Each 63-square-metre housing unit has three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom, and is built on 300 square metres of land in a neat new housing development with paved streets.

Nascimento, who has prostate cancer, has a hard time walking and survives on a small pension. But he is confident that the future will be more promising for the local population, thanks to the jobs generated by the hydropower plant.

“We live much better here,” said his wife, 61-year-old Anerita Trindade. “Our old house would get cut off by the water when it rained; we had to wade through the water, on little walkways made of rotten boards. Sometimes there’s no water or transportation to get downtown, but now we’re on dry land.”

The move especially benefited Francisco Assis Cardoso, who at the age of 32 has become the leading shopkeeper in Jatobá. His family of four siblings was assigned five houses in a row. That enabled him to build a supermarket and a pharmacy together with his mother. “I worked in a pharmacy, it’s what I know how to do,” he said.

But Norte Energía has been criticised for delays in providing the promised schools, buses and health posts in the five new neighbourhoods, and for what many say was an unfair distribution of new housing.

A Plan for Sustainable Regional Development of the Xingú aims to go beyond compensation for relocation and other impacts of the dams. Together, society and governments choose projects that are financed with contributions from Norte Energía.

The Territorial Development Agenda was drafted on the basis of studies and consultations with a team hired by the government’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development, which financed 80 percent of the construction of the Belo Monte dam.

A third challenge for Belo Monte is to effectively combat criticism from voices within the power industry itself, who are opposed to run-of-the-river hydroelectric plants, where water flows in and out quickly, the reservoirs are small, and during the dry season the power generation is low.

Belo Monte will generate on average only 40 percent of its 11,233 MW of installed capacity. To avoid flooding indigenous lands, it reduced the size of the reservoir to 478 square kilometres – 39 percent of what was envisaged in the original plan drawn up in the 1980s.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Central America Fails to Take Advantage of Energy from Sun, Wind and Earthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:00:02 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141781 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/feed/ 1 Opinion: A BRICS Bank to Challenge the Bretton Woods System?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 08:12:45 +0000 Daya Thussu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141689

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

The formal opening of the BRICS Bank in Shanghai on Jul. 21 following the seventh summit of the world’s five leading emerging economies held recently in the Russian city of Ufa, demonstrates the speed with which an alternative global financial architecture is emerging.

The idea of a development-oriented international bank was first floated by India at the 2012 BRICS summit in New Delhi but it is China’s financial muscle which has turned this idea into a reality.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

The New Development Bank (NDB), as it is formally called, is to use its 50 billion dollar initial capital to fund infrastructure and developmental projects within the five BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – though it is also likely to support developmental projects in other countries.

According to the 43-page Ufa Declaration, “the NDB shall serve as a powerful instrument for financing infrastructure investment and sustainable development projects in the BRICS and other developing countries and emerging market economies and for enhancing economic cooperation between our countries.”

The NDB is led by Kundapur Vaman Kamath, formerly of Infosys, India’s IT giant, and of ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank. A respected banker, Kamath reportedly said during the launch that “our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way.”

The launch of the NDB marks the first tangible institution developed by the BRICS group – set up in 2006 as a major non-Western bloc – whose leaders have been meeting annually since 2009. BRICS countries together constitute 44 percent of the world population, contributing 40 percent to global GDP and 18 percent to world trade.“Our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way” – Kundapur Vaman Kamath, head of the New Development Bank (NDB)

In keeping with the summit’s theme of ‘BRICS partnership: A powerful factor for global development’, the setting up of a developmental bank was an important outcome, hailed as a “milestone blueprint for cooperation” by a commentator in The China Daily.

The Chinese imprint on the NDB is unmistakable. The Ufa Declaration is clear about the close connection between the NDB and the newly-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), also largely funded by China. It welcomed the proposal for the New Development Bank to “cooperate closely with existing and new financing mechanisms including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” China is also keen to set up a regional centre of the NDB in South Africa.

If economic cooperation remained the central plank of the Ufa summit, there is also a clear geopolitical agenda.

The Global Times, China’s more nationalistic international voice, pointed out that the establishment of the NDB and the AIIB will “break the monopoly position of the International Money Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) and motivate [them] to function more normatively, democratically, and efficiently, in order to promote reform of the international financial system as well as democratisation of international relations.”

The reality of global finance is such that any alternative financial institution has to function in a system that continues to be shaped by the West and its formidable domination of global financial markets, information networks and intellectual leadership.

However, China, with its nearly four trillion dollars in foreign currency reserves, is well-placed to attempt this, in conjunction with the other BRICS countries. China today is the largest exporting nation in the world, and is constantly looking for new avenues for expanding and consolidating its trade relations across the globe.

China is also central to the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic and security grouping whose annual meeting coincided with the seventh BRICS summit. Founded in 2001 and comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has agreed to admit India and Pakistan as full members.

Though the BRICS summit and the SCO meeting went largely unnoticed by the international media – preoccupied as they were with the Iranian nuclear negotiations and the ongoing Greek economic crisis – the economic and geopolitical implications of the two meetings are likely to continue for some time to come.

For host Russia, which also convened the first BRICS summit in 2009, the Ufa meeting was held against the background of Western sanctions, continuing conflict in Ukraine and expulsion from the G8. Partly as a reaction to this, camaraderie between Moscow and Beijing is noticeable – having signed a 30-year oil and gas deal worth 400 billion dollars in 2014.

Beijing and Moscow see economic convergence in trade and financial activities, for example, between China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative for Central Asia and Russia’s recent endeavours to strengthen the Eurasian Economic Union. The expansion of the SCO should be seen against this backdrop. Moscow has also proposed setting up SCO TV to broadcast economic and financial information and commentary on activities in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that a new international developmental agenda is being created, backed by powerful nations, and to the virtual exclusion of the West.

China is the driving force behind this. Despite its one-party system which limits political pluralism and thwarts debate, China has been able to transform itself from a largely agricultural self-sufficient society to the world’s largest consumer market, without any major social or economic upheavals.

China’s success story has many admirers, especially in other developing countries, prompting talk of replacing the ‘Washington consensus’ with what has been described as the ‘Beijing consensus’. The BRICS bank, it would seem, is a small step in that direction.

Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Indigenous People in Brazil’s Amazon – Crushed by the Belo Monte Dam?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 21:57:33 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141614 The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

Ethnocide, the new accusation leveled against the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, brings to light deeper underlying aspects of the conflicts and controversies unleashed by megaprojects in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

Federal prosecutor Thais Santi announced that legal action would be taken “in the next few weeks” against Norte Energía, the company building the dam, on the argument that its initiatives to squelch indigenous resistance amount to ethnocide.

“This will be an innovative legal process in Brazil,” said Wilson Matos da Silva, who has a direct interest in this “pioneer legal proceeding” as a Guaraní indigenous lawyer who has written about the issue in publications in Dourados, the city in western Brazil where he lives.

“Brazil has no legislation on ethnocide, a neologism used as an analogy to genocide, which is classified by a 1956 law,” said the defender of indigenous causes. “The object of the crime isn’t life, it is culture – but the objective is the same: destroying a people.

“Ethnocide only occurs when there is omission on the part of the state, which means it can be implicated in an eventual lawsuit,” added Matos da Silva.

The issue has been debated for some time now, especially among anthropologists, in international forums and courts. The novel development in Brazil is that it will now reach the courts, “a laudable initiative” that could set an important legal precedent, the lawyer said in a telephone interview with Tierramérica.

Belo Monte has been the target of numerous complaints and lawsuits that sought to halt the construction process. The company has been accused of failing to live up to the measures required by the government’s environmental authority to mitigate or compensate for impacts caused by the hydropower complex on the Xingú River which will generate 11,233 MW, making it the third –largest of its kind in the world.

The 22 lawsuits brought by the public prosecutor’s office failed to halt work on the dam. But they managed to secure compliance with several environmental requisites, such as the purchase of land for the Juruna Indigenous Community of Kilometre 17 on the Trans-Amazonian highway, who were exposed to the bustle and chaos of the construction project because they lived in a small area near the dam.

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In a Jun. 29 report, the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) said the conditions were not in place for the government to issue the final operating permit to allow Belo Monte to fill its reservoirs and begin generating electricity in early 2016.

ISA, which is active in the Xingú basin, said that many of the 40 initial requisites set before the concession was put up to tender in 2010, as well as the 31 conditions related to indigenous rights, have not yet been fulfilled.

Protection of indigenous territories is one of the conditions that have not been met, as reflected in the increase of illegal logging and poaching by outsiders, it said.

Norte Energía argues that it has invested 68 million dollars to benefit the roughly 3,000 people in 34 villages in the 11 indigenous territories in the Belo Monte zone of influence.

The programme aimed at providing social development in the local area has included the construction of 711 housing units and the donation of 366 boats, 578 boat motors, 42 land vehicles, 98 electrical generators, and 2.1 million litres of fuel and lubricants, as of April 2015.

In addition, teachers were trained as part of the indigenous education programme.

“But indigenous communities are unhappy because the plan was only partially carried out: of the 34 basic health units that were promised, not a single one is yet operating,” complained Francisco Brasil de Moraes, the coordinator for FUNAI – the government agency in charge of indigenous affairs – along the middle stretch of the Xingú River.

Nor is the project for productive activities, a local priority as it is aimed at enhancing food security and generating income, moving forward, he added. Technical assistance for improving agriculture is needed, and few of the 34 community manioc flour houses, where the staple food is processed and produced, are operating.

Another indispensable measure, the Indigenous Lands Protection Plan, which foresees the installation of operating centres and watch towers, has not been taken up by Norte Energía and “FUNAI does not have the resources to shoulder the burden of this territorial management,” Moraes told Tierramérica.

But the actions that prompted the accusation of ethnocide occurred, or started to occur, before the projects making up the Basic Environmental-Indigenous Component Plan were launched.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and will be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and will be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

For 24 months, up to September 2012, Norte Energia carried out an Emergency Plan, distributing donations of necessary goods to the 34 villages, at a monthly cost of 9,600 dollars per village.

That fuelled consumption of manufactured and processed foods such as soft drinks, which have hurt people’s health, increased child malnutrition, and undermined food security among the indigenous communities by encouraging the neglect of farming, fishing and hunting, the ISA report states.

“Norte Energía established a relationship with the indigenous people that involved coopting the only outspoken opponents of the dam, and making their leaders come frequently to the city (of Altamira) to ask for more and more things at the company headquarters,” Marcelo Salazar, ISA’s assistant coordinator in the Xingú River basin, told Tierramérica.

In addition, villages were divided and the authority of local leaders was weakened by the company’s activities in the area, according to the public prosecutor’s office.

But Norte Energía told Tierramérica in a written response from the press department that “the so-called Emergency Plan was proposed by FUNAI,” which also set the amount of monthly spending at 30,000 reals.

The funds went towards “the promotion of ethno-development,” and included the donation of farm equipment and materials, the construction of landing strips and the upgrading of 470 km of roads leading to the villages, the company said.

Strengthening FUNAI by hiring 23 officials on Norte Energía’s payroll and purchasing computers and vehicles was another of the Emergency Plan’s aims, the company reported.

But the emphasis on providing material goods such as boats, vehicles and infrastructure forms part of a business mindset that is irreconcilable with a sustainable development vision, say critics like Sonia Magalhães, a professor of sociology at the Federal University of Pará, who also accuses Belo Monte of ethnocide.

“Their culture has been attacked, a colonial practice whose objective is domination and the destruction of a culture, which is a complex and dynamic whole,” she told Tierramérica, referring to the Emergency Plan.

“The Xingú River forms part of the world vision of the Juruna and Arara Indians in a way that we are not able to understand – it is a reference to time, space and the sacred, which are under attack” from the construction of the dam, she said.

Indifferent to this debate, Giliard Juruna, a leader of a 16-family Juruna indigenous village, is visiting Altamira, the closest city to Belo Monte, with new requests.

“We got speedboats, a pickup truck and 15 houses for everyone,” he told Tierramérica. “But things run out, and it was very little compared to what is possible.”

“We also asked for speedboats for fishing, although the water is murky and dirty, we don’t have sanitation, we have schools but we don’t have bilingual teachers,” he said, adding that they were seeking “a sustainability project” involving fish farming, cacao and manioc production, a manioc flour house, and a truck.

“We have customers for our products, but we don’t have any means of transport, because we won’t be able to use boats anymore,” he said.

The diversion of part of the waters of the Xingú River to generate electricity in Belo Monte will significantly reduce the water flow at the Volta Grande or Big Bend, where his village is situated.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Fishing Families Left High and Dry by Amazon Damshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fishing-families-left-high-and-dry-by-amazon-dams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-families-left-high-and-dry-by-amazon-dams http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fishing-families-left-high-and-dry-by-amazon-dams/#comments Fri, 10 Jul 2015 19:59:28 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141534 People from a fishing community on the Banks of the Xingú River in the Brazilian Amazon, at one of the meetings on the local impacts of the construction of the giant Belo Monte hydropower dam, held at the behest of the public prosecutor’s office. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

People from a fishing community on the Banks of the Xingú River in the Brazilian Amazon, at one of the meetings on the local impacts of the construction of the giant Belo Monte hydropower dam, held at the behest of the public prosecutor’s office. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 10 2015 (IPS)

Small-scale fisherpersons were among the first forgotten victims of mega construction projects like the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingú River in the Brazilian Amazon.

“I’m a fisherman without a river, who dreams of traveling, who dreams of riding on a boat of hope. Three years ago it looked like my life was over; but I still dream of a new river,” said Elio Alves da Silva, referring to the disappearance of his village, the Comunidade Santo Antônio, the first to be removed to make way for the construction of the dam.

Now, he lives on an isolated farm 75 km from his old village, and works in the construction industry “to keep hunger at bay.” He misses the river and its beaches, community life, the local church that was demolished, and playing football on the Santo Antônio pitch, which is now a parking lot for the staff on the Belo Monte construction site.

His account of the eviction of 245 families from his rural village was heard by representatives of the office of the public prosecutor, the National Human Rights Council, the government, and different national universities, who met in June in Altamira to inspect Belo Monte’s impacts on communities along the Xingú River.

Altamira, a city of 140,000 people, is the biggest of the 11 municipalities in the northern state of Pará affected by the mega-project that got underway in 2011.

“Riverbank communities, although they are an expression of a traditional way of life…were invisible in the Belo Monte tendering process and today are finding no solutions in that process that address their particular needs,” says the report containing conclusions from one of the 55 meetings held to assess impacts.

The company building the dam, Norte Energía, offered indemnification and individual or collective resettlement to families living on riverbanks or islands on stretches of the Xingú River affected by the dam, who depended on fishing for their livelihood.

Abandoned fishing boats on the banks of the Xingú River, in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city of Altamira in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, whose inhabitants were removed because the area is to be flooded when the Belo Monte reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Abandoned fishing boats on the banks of the Xingú River, in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city of Altamira in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, whose inhabitants were removed because the area is to be flooded when the Belo Monte reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But in no case has an attempt been made to replicate their previous living conditions, as required by Brazil’s environmental regulations. The company only offered to resettle them far from the river. And the indemnification, in cash or credit, was insufficient to enable them to afford more expensive land along the river.

Norte Energía has failed to recognise that many local fishing families actually have two homes: one on the river, where they live for days at a stretch while fishing, and another in an urban area, where they stay when they sell their catch, and where they have access to public services such as health care.

The report said that when the families are forced to choose indemnification for their rural or their urban home, they have to renounce one part of their life, and they receive reduced compensation as a result. They are only given compensation for their other home as a “support point”, for the building and simple, low-cost equipment.

Of the hundreds of fishing community families who were evicted, most have chosen cash – even though the indemnification was insufficient to ensure their way of life – because there was no satisfactory resettlement option, according to the inspection carried out at the behest of the public prosecutor’s office.

But many are still fighting for more. One of them is Socorro Arara, of the Arara indigenous people. She is from the island of Padeiro, which will be flooded when the main Belo Monte reservoir is filled.

“Norte Energía offered us 28,000 reais (9,000 dollars), but we didn’t accept it – that’s too little for our seven families” – who include her parents, three children, two sisters and their husbands – she told IPS.

José Nelson Kuruaia and Francisca dos Santos Silva, a couple who were displaced from their fishing community by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, in their new home in the neighbourhood built by the company constructing the dam, which resettled them far from the banks of the Xingú River in the Amazon jungle, separating them from their way of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

José Nelson Kuruaia and Francisca dos Santos Silva, a couple who were displaced from their fishing community by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, in their new home in the neighbourhood built by the company constructing the dam, which resettled them far from the banks of the Xingú River in the Amazon jungle, separating them from their way of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“We want to be collectively resettled along the Xingú River, all of our families together. And it has to be upstream, because downstream, everything has been changed (by the hydropower dams),” she said.

Arara’s struggle took her to the capital, Brasilia, where she talked to Supreme Court judges, officials in government ministries, and presidential aides, to seek redress.

But it is an uphill battle. The company only allowed her to register her nuclear family for compensation, rather than collectively relocating the seven family units. Furthermore, Arara is demanding that they be allotted plots of land large enough for growing small-scale crops and harvesting native fruits – activities on which they depended on the island.

Another indigenous fisherman, José Nelson Kuruaia, and his wife Francisca dos Santos Silva had better luck. They used to live in an Altamira neighbourhood that will be flooded when the reservoir is filled.

They were assigned one of the 4,100 housing units built by Norte Energía for families displaced in urban areas.

The couple also received 20,700 reais (6,700 dollars) in compensation for a shanty and equipment they had on the island of Barriguda, upstream of Altamira, where they used to fish from Monday through Saturday, hauling in 150 kg a week.

Today Kuruaia, who is 71 years old and retired, says he “sometimes” goes fishing. “I really love the river and if I don’t work, I get sick,” he told IPS, explaining why he goes out despite the opposition of his six children and his wife, “a good fisherwoman” who used to work with him until her knees started bothering her.

Jatobá, the new neighborhood where they were resettled, is on a hill far from the river. It costs the relocated fishermen 30 reais (almost 10 dollars) to transport their motors to the riverbank, where they have to leave their boats, despite the risk that they will be stolen. They all used to live in neighbourhoods prone to flooding on the banks of the Xingú River.

A bridge under construction on the Trans-Amazonian Highway. The waters from the Belo Monte dam will run under the bridge before flowing into the Xingú River in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil. The explosions, strong lighting at night and modifications of the course of the river have scared off the fish, according to people who depended on fishing for a living. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A bridge under construction on the Trans-Amazonian Highway. The waters from the Belo Monte dam will run under the bridge before flowing into the Xingú River in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil. The explosions, strong lighting at night and modifications of the course of the river have scared off the fish, according to people who depended on fishing for a living. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In response to the pressure from the fishing communities, resettled or facing relocation, Norte Energía decided to build another urban neighbourhood near the river, for some 500 families who fish for a living. But only urban fishing families will be settled there, not people from riverbank communities, like Socorro Arara.

The battle being waged by the relocated families is not limited to their homes or work environments. Many want to be paid damages for losses suffered in the last four years, due to the construction of the dam.

“In four days, from Thursday to Sunday, I only caught 30 kg of peacock bass. I used to catch 60 to 100 kg in just one day, and a variety of fish: pacú, peacock bass, hake, toothless characin and filhote (juveniles of the largest fish of the Amazon, the giant piraíba catfish), which could be found year-round,” said Giácomo Dallacqua, president of the 1,600-member Vitória do Xingu fishing association.

“The explosions on the riverbank are a headache for us, because they scare off the fish,” he told IPS, referring to the use of explosives to break rocks and prepare the area for what will be the third-largest hydroelectric plant in the world in terms of generating power (11,233 MW).

To that is added the strong lighting used all night long near the construction site, the cloudy water, the dredging of the beaches to use the sand in the construction project, the damming up of streams and the traffic of heavy barges bringing in the equipment that will be used to generate electricity, biologist Cristiane Costa added.

These impacts are especially strong near Belo Monte, a district of the municipality of Vitória do Xingu, where the main plant, capacity 11,000 MW, is being built, and where the most productive fishing grounds in the region were found.

But it also occurs in Pimental, in the municipality of Altamira, where the other plant – which will generate 233 MW – is being installed, and where the dam that will flood part of the city of Altamira is being built.

Norte Energía has not acknowledged that the construction of the dam has reduced the fish catch. It argues that there is no scientific evidence, despite the complaints of local fishermen, some 3,000 of whom have been directly affected.

But the company announced seven million dollars in investment, in a cooperation agreement with the Fisheries Ministry, to create an integrated environmental fishing centre in Altamira – which will have fish farm laboratories, will breed ornamental fish, and will train local fishermen.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Will the New BRICS Bank Break with Traditional Development Models, or Replicate Them?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:10:17 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141467 The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Just days ahead of a summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in which the five countries are expected to formally launch their New Development Bank (NDB), 40 NGOs and civil society groups have penned an open letter to their respective governments urging transparency and accountability in the proposed banking process.

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don't have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions." -- Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights
The NDB is expected to finance infrastructure and sustainable development in the global South.

With an initial capital of 100 billion dollars, it was born from a combination of circumstances including emerging economies’ frustration with the largely Western-dominated World Bank Group (WBG) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

According to a 2014 Oxfam Policy Brief, another factor leading to the creation of the BRICS Bank was a major gap in financing for infrastructure projects, with official development assistance (ODA) and funding from multilateral institutions meeting just two to three percent of developing countries’ needs.

Strained by economic sanctions as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow has been particularly keen to bring the fledgling lending institution to its feet and has been pushing international rating agencies to rate the bank’s debt, as a necessary first step for it to begin operations.

Even without counting the contributions of its newest member – South Africa – the four BRIC nations represent 25 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 41.4 percent of the world’s population, or roughly three billion people.

In addition, the borders of these countries enclose a quarter of the planet’s land area on three continents.

But even as the five political leaders prepare to take centre stage in the Russian city of Ufa on Jul. 9, citizens of their own countries are already expressing doubts that the nascent financial body will truly represent a break from traditional, Western-led development models.

“The existing development model in force in many emerging and developing countries is one that favors export-oriented, commodity driven strategies and policies that are socially harmful, environmentally unsustainable and have led to greater inequalities between and within countries,” said the statement, released on Jul. 7

“If the New Development Bank is going to break with this history, it must commit itself to the following four principles: 1) Promote development for all; 2) Be transparent and democratic; 3) Set strong standards and make sure they’re followed; 4) Promote sustainable development,” the signatories added.

Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights, a global network of social movements and grassroots organisations working to hold international financial institutions accountable to human rights obligations, told IPS, “[Although] the Bank’s Articles of Agreement have an article on Transparency and Accountability […] thus far we haven’t seen any indication of operational policies on transparency or anything relating to accountability mechanisms.”

“And unfortunately,” she added, “there is no open engagement with civil society on these questions.”

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don’t have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions,” Gordon told IPS in an email.

“That is why civil society groups in BRICS countries are calling for a participative and transparent process to identify strategies and policies for the NDB that can set it on a different path and actually deliver development.”

A primary concern among NGOs has been that the BRICS bank will replicate the old “mega-project” model of development, which has proven to be a failure both in terms of poverty eradication and increased access to basic services.

A recent international investigation revealed that in the course of a single decade, an estimated 3.4 million poor people – primarily from Asia, Africa and Latin America – were displaced by mega-projects funded by the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Though these projects were ostensibly aimed at strengthening transportation networks, expanding electric grids and improving water supply systems, they resulted in a worsening of poverty and inequality for millions of already marginalised people.

Following closely on the heels of this damning expose, a major report by the international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the Bank’s lax safeguards and protocols resulted in a range of rights violations against those who spoke out against the economic, social and environmental fallout of Bank-funded projects.

Behind this track record, rights groups and NGOs are concerned that a new development bank operating on within a broken framework will contribute to the spiral of violence and poverty that has marked the age of mega-projects.

At a time when one billion people lack access to an all-weather road, 783 million people live without clean water supplies and 1.3 billion people are not connected to an electricity grid, there is no doubt that the developing world stands to gain greatly from a Southern-led financial institution.

What remains to be seen is to what extent the new bank will move away from the old model of financing and truly set a standard for inclusive and pro-poor development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sustainable Use of Biodiversity Could Fill Gap When Belo Monte Dam Is Finishedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 15:20:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141408 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sustainable-use-of-biodiversity-could-fill-gap-when-belo-monte-dam-is-finished/feed/ 0 Panama and Nicaragua – Two Canals, One Shared Dreamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/panama-and-nicaragua-two-canals-one-shared-dream/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panama-and-nicaragua-two-canals-one-shared-dream http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/panama-and-nicaragua-two-canals-one-shared-dream/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 23:31:54 +0000 Iralis Fragiel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141388 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/panama-and-nicaragua-two-canals-one-shared-dream/feed/ 1 Opinion: BRICS for Building a New World Order?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-brics-for-building-a-new-world-order/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-brics-for-building-a-new-world-order http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-brics-for-building-a-new-world-order/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 11:38:34 +0000 Daya Thussu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141375

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 1 2015 (IPS)

As the leaders of the BRICS five meet in the Russian city of Ufa for their annual summit Jul. 8–10, their agenda is likely to be dominated by economic and security concerns, triggered by the continuing economic crisis in the European Union and the security situation in the Middle East.

The seventh annual summit of the large emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – also takes place with a background of escalating tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine and the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), as well as the growing economic power of Asia, in particular, China.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

Nearly a decade and a half has passed since the BRIC acronym was coined in 2001 by Jim O’Neill, a Goldman Sachs executive, now a minister in David Cameron’s U.K. government, to refer to the four fast-growing emerging markets. South Africa was added in 2011, on China’s request, to expand BRIC to BRICS.

Although in operation as a formal group since 2006, and holding annual summits since 2009, the BRICS countries have escaped much comment in international media, partly because of the different political systems and socio-cultural norms, as well as stages of development, within this group of large and diverse nations.

The emergence of such groupings coincides with the relative economic decline of the West.

This has created the opportunity for emerging powers, such as China and India, to participate in global governance structures hitherto dominated by the United States and its Western allies.

That the centre of economic gravity is shifting away from the West is acknowledged in the view of the U.S. Administration of Barack Obama that the ‘pivot’ of U.S. foreign policy is moving to Asia.“The major countries of the global South have shown impressive economic growth in recent decades … [it is predicted that] by 2020 the combined economic output of China, India and Brazil will surpass the aggregated production of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy”

And there is evidence of this shift. In the Fortune 500 ranking, the number of transnational corporations based in Brazil, Russia, India and China has grown from 27 in 2005 to more than 100 in 2015. China’s Huawei, a telecommunications equipment firm, is the world’s largest holder of international patents; Brazil’s Petrobras is the fourth largest oil company in the world, while the Tata group became the first Indian conglomerate to reach 100 billion dollars in revenues.

Since 2006, China has been the largest holder of foreign currency reserves, estimated in 2015 to be more than 3.8 trillion dollars. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China’s gross domestic product (GDP) surpassed that of the United States in 2014, making it the world’s largest economy in purchasing-power parity terms.

More broadly, the major countries of the global South have shown impressive economic growth in recent decades, prompting the United Nations Development Programme to proclaim The Rise of the South (the title of its 2013 Human Development Report), which predicts that by 2020 the combined economic output of China, India and Brazil will surpass the aggregated production of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy.

Though the individual relationships between BRICS countries and the United States differ markedly (Russia and China being generally anti-Washington while Brazil and South Africa relatively close to the United States and India moving from its traditional non-aligned position to a ‘multi-aligned’ one), the group was conceived as an alternative to American power and is the only major group of nations not to include the United States or any other G-7 nation.

Nevertheless, none of the five member nations are eager for confrontation with the United States – with the possible exception of Russia – the country with which they have their most important relationship. Indeed, China is one of the largest investors in the United States, while India, Brazil and South Africa demonstrate democratic affinities with the West: India’s IT industry is particularly dependent on its close ties with the United States and Europe.

Although the idea of BRIC was initiated in Russia, it is China that has emerged as the driving force behind this grouping. British author Martin Jacques has noted in his international bestseller When China Rules the World, that China operates “both within and outside the existing international system while at the same time, in effect, sponsoring a new China-centric international system which will exist alongside the present system and probably slowly begin to usurp it.”

One manifestation of this change is the establishment of a BRICS bank (the ‘New Development Bank’) to fund developmental projects, potentially to rival the Western-dominated Bretton Woods institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF. Headquartered in Shanghai, China has made the largest contribution to setting it up and is likely that the bank will further enhance China’s domination of the BRICS group.

Beyond BRICS, Beijing has also established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which already has 57 members, including Australia, Germany and Britain, and in which China will hold over 25 percent of voting rights. Two other BRICS nations – India and Russia – are the AIIB’s second and third largest shareholders.

Such changes have an impact on the media scene as well. As part of China’s ‘going out’ strategy, billions of dollars have been earmarked for external communication, including the expansion of Chinese broadcasting networks such as CCTV News and Xinhua’s English-language TV, CNC World.

Russia has also raised its international profile by entering the English-language news world in 2005 with the launch of the Russia Today (now called RT) network, which, apart from English, also broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in Spanish and Arabic.

However, as a new book Mapping BRICS Media – which I co-edited with Kaarle Nordenstreng of the University of Tampere, Finland – shows, there is very little intra-BRICS media exchange and most of the BRICS nations continue to receive international news largely from Anglo-American media.

The growing economic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing – most notably in the 2014 multi-billion dollar gas deal – indicates a new Sino-Russian economic equation outside Western control.

Two key U.S.-led trade agreements being negotiated – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and both excluding the BRICS nations – are partly a reaction to the perceived competition from nations such as China.

For its part, China appears to have used the BRICS grouping to allay fears that it is rising ‘with the rest’ and therefore less threatening to Western hegemony.

The BRICS summit takes place jointly with Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of State Council meeting. The only other time that BRICS and the SCO combined their summits was also in Russia – in Ekaterinburg in 2009.

Apart from two BRICS members, China and Russia, the SCO includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. SCO has not expanded its membership since it was set up in 2001. India has an ‘observer’ status within SCO, though there is talk that it might be granted full membership at the Ufa summit.

Were that to happen, the ‘pivot’ would have moved a few notches further towards Asia.

Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Fracking Expands Under the Radar on Mexican Landshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/fracking-expands-under-the-radar-on-mexican-lands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fracking-expands-under-the-radar-on-mexican-lands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/fracking-expands-under-the-radar-on-mexican-lands/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 07:31:38 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141313 A Pemex gas distribution terminal. Shale gas will account for an estimated 45 percent of Mexico’s natural gas output by 2026. Credit: Pemex

A Pemex gas distribution terminal. Shale gas will account for an estimated 45 percent of Mexico’s natural gas output by 2026. Credit: Pemex

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

“People don’t know what ‘fracking’ is and there is little concern about the issue because it’s not visible yet,” said Gabino Vicente, a delegate of one of the municipalities in southern Mexico where exploration for unconventional gas is forging ahead.

Vicente is a local representative of the community of Santa Úrsula in the municipality of San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec, some 450 km south of Mexico City in the state of Oaxaca, where – he told IPS – “fracking is sort of a hidden issue; there’s a great lack of information about it.”

Tuxtepec, population 155,000, and another Oaxaca municipality, Loma Bonita, form part of the project Papaloapan B with seven municipalities in the neighbouring state of Veracruz. The shale gas and oil exploration project was launched by Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex, in 2011.

Papaloapan B, backed by the governmental National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), covers 12,805 square kilometres and is seeking to tap into shale gas reserves estimated at between 166 and 379 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

The project will involve 24 geological studies and the exploratory drilling of 120 wells, for a total investment of 680 million dollars.

But people in Tuxtepec have not been informed about the project. “We don’t know a thing about it,” said Vicente, whose rural community has a population of 1,000. “Normally, companies do not provide information to the local communities; they arrange things in secret or with some owners of land by means of deceit, taking advantage of the lack of money in the area.”

Shale, a common type of sedimentary rock made up largely of compacted silt and clay, is an unconventional source of natural gas. The gas trapped in shale formations is recovered by hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

Fracking involves the massive pumping of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, a technique that opens and extends fractures in the shale rock deep below the surface, to release the natural gas on a massive scale.

The process generates large amounts of waste liquids containing dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that require treatment before disposal, environmental organisations like Greenpeace warn.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts Mexico in sixth place in the world for technically recoverable shale gas, behind China, Argentina, Algeria, the United States and Canada, based on the analysis of 137 deposits in 42 countries. And Mexico is in eighth position for technically recoverable shale oil reserves.

A map of the areas of current or future fracking activity in Mexico, which local communities say they have no information about. Credit: Courtesy of Cartocrítica

A map of the areas of current or future fracking activity in Mexico, which local communities say they have no information about. Credit: Courtesy of Cartocrítica

Fracking is quietly expanding in Mexico, unregulated and shrouded in opacity, according to the non-governmental Cartocrítica, which says at least 924 wells have been drilled in six of the country’s 32 states – including 349 in Veracruz.

But in 2010 the study “Proyecto Aceite (petróleo) Terciario del Golfo. Primera revisión y recomendaciones” by Mexico’s energy ministry and the CNH put the number of wells drilled using the fracking technique at 1,323 in Veracruz and the neighbouring state of Puebla alone.

In the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, where 100 wells have been drilled, Ruth Roux, director of the Social Research Centre of the public Autonomous University of Tamaulipas, found that farmers who have leased out land for fracking knew nothing about the technique or its effects.

“The first difficulty is that there is no information about where there are wells,” Roux told IPS. “Farmers are upset because they were not informed about what would happen to their land; they’re starting to see things changing around them, and they don’t know what shale gas or fracking are.”

While producing the study “Diagnosis and analysis of the social impact of the exploration and exploitation of shale gas/oil related to culture, legality, public services, and the participation of social actors in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas”, Roux and her team interviewed five sorghum farmers and two local representatives from four municipalities in Tamaulipas.

The researcher said the preliminary findings reflected that locals felt a sense of abandonment, lack of respect, lack of information, and uncertainty. There are 443 homes near the 42 wells drilled in the four municipalities.

The industry sees the development of shale gas as strategically necessary to keep up production levels, which in April stood at 6.2 billion cubic feet per day.

But according to Pemex figures from January 2014, proven reserves of conventional gas amounted to just over 16 trillion cubic feet, while shale gas reserves are projected to be 141 trillion cubic feet.

By 2026, according to Pemex projections, the country will be producing 11 billion cubic feet of gas, 45 percent of which would come from unconventional deposits.

The company has identified five basins rich in shale gas in 11 states.

For the second half of the year, the CNH is preparing the tender for unconventional fossil fuel exploitation, as part of the implementation of the energy reform whose legal framework was enacted in August 2014, opening up electricity generation and sales, as well as oil and gas extraction, refining, distribution and retailing, to participation by the domestic and foreign private sectors.

The historic energy industry reform of December 2013 includes nine new laws and the amendment of another 12.

The new law on fossil fuels leaves landowners no option but to reach agreement with PEMEX or the private licensed operators over the occupation of their land, or accept a court ruling if no agreement is reached.

Vicente said the law makes it difficult for communities to refuse. “We are worried that fracking will affect the water supply, because of the quantity of water required and the contamination by the chemical products used. When we finally realise what the project entails, it’ll be a little too late,” he said.

Local residents of Tuxtepec, who depend for a living on the production of sugar cane, rubber and corn, as well as livestock, fishing and trade, know what it is to fight energy industry projects. In 2011 they managed to halt a private company’s construction of the small Cerro de Oro hydroelectric dam that would have generated 14.5 MW.

The formula: community organisation. “We’re organising again,” the local representative said. “What has happened in other states can be reproduced here.”

Papaloapan B forms part of the Veracruz Basin Integral Project, which would exploit the shale gas reserves in 51 municipalities in the state of Veracruz.

Pemex has already drilled a few wells on the outer edges of Tuxtepec. But there is no data available.

Farmers in Tamaulipas, meanwhile, “complain that their land fills up with water” after fracking operations, and that “the land isn’t producing like before,” said Roux, who added that exploration for shale gas is “a source of conflict…that generates violence.”

The expert and her team of researchers have extended their study to the northern states of Nuevo León and Coahuila, where 182 and 47 wells have been drilled, respectively.

Each well requires nine to 29 million litres of water. And fracking uses 750 different chemicals, a number of which are harmful to health and the environment, according to environmental and academic organisations in the United States.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Amazon Dam also Brings Health Infrastructure for Local Populationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/amazon-dam-also-brings-health-infrastructure-for-local-population/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amazon-dam-also-brings-health-infrastructure-for-local-population http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/amazon-dam-also-brings-health-infrastructure-for-local-population/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 20:16:40 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141223 The new General Hospital in Altamira, which has not yet opened, will be the most modern facility of its kind in this city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, receiving the most serious cases from the 11 municipalities affected by the construction of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The new General Hospital in Altamira, which has not yet opened, will be the most modern facility of its kind in this city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, receiving the most serious cases from the 11 municipalities affected by the construction of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

Extensive public health infrastructure and the eradication of malaria will be the most important legacy of the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle for the population affected by the megaproject.

In the six municipalities in the area of the dam, where an action plan to curb malaria has been implemented, the number of cases plunged nearly 96 percent between 2011 and 2015: from 3,298 in the period January to March 2011, just before construction began, to 141 in the same period this year.

Two municipalities have had no cases this year as of May, said Dr. José Ladislau, health manager for Norte Energía, the consortium of private companies and public enterprises that won the concession to build and run Belo Monte for 35 years.

“For the past two years no one has fallen ill with malaria in Brasil Novo – that’s the best news,” said Noedson Carvalho, health secretary of that municipality which is located 45 km from the Xingú river, where the giant hydroelectric dam with a capacity to generate 11,233 MW is being built.

Malaria, which is endemic in the Amazon, is a major factor in rural poverty, Ladislau told IPS. And the Xingú river basin used to have one of the highest malaria rates in the country.

The number of cases has plummeted throughout most of the northern state of Pará, where the lower and middle stretches of the Xingú river run, thanks to mass distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and early diagnosis and treatment.

The results in the vicinity of Belo Monte, where the rural population is highly vulnerable to malaria, were obtained through an 11-million-dollar offensive by Norte Energía which included the construction of laboratories and the purchase of vehicles and long-lasting mosquito nets.

“Belo Monte has given Brasil Novo what it would not have obtained on its own in centuries,” Carvalho told IPS. He mentioned the 42-bed hospital and five basic health units, which now form part of the municipal public health system.

The hospital was already there, but it was private. And due to financial problems, it had shut its doors in April 2014, leaving the 22,000 people of Brasil Novo without a hospital, just when demand was rising due to the influx of workers from other parts of the country, drawn by the Belo Monte construction project.

Sewage runs down one of the main streets of Altamira, even though there is a sewer system. Poor sanitation leaves the city’s children at risk of diarrhea, which is the cause of many admissions to the hospitals in this Amazon rainforest city near the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Sewage runs down one of the main streets of Altamira, even though there is a sewer system. Poor sanitation leaves the city’s children at risk of diarrhea, which is the cause of many admissions to the hospitals in this Amazon rainforest city near the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“There are 30 births a month here, on average; it was a terrible situation to have no hospital in the city,” the municipal health secretary said.

Basic health clinics were also upgraded or installed in the town. But the most serious cases will be sent to Altamira, the biggest city in the area, with a population of 140,000 according to unofficial estimates.

The Brasil Novo municipal government negotiated the purchase and renovation of the hospital, with funds from Norte Energía, through the Regional Sustainable Development Plan (PDRS). It will now be a public hospital catering to the entire population free of charge.

The PDRS, funded by the company, is focused on implementing public policies and local projects.

It comes on top of the Basic Environmental Project (PBA), a set of 117 initiatives and actions to be carried out by the consortium building the Belo Monte dam, as compensation for 11 municipalities affected by the hydropower plant.

The total investment in these projects is 1.2 billion dollars – the biggest contribution to local development by a megaproject in Brazil. The investment, a condition for obtaining the necessary environmental permits, represents 14 percent of the Belo Monte construction project’s total budget.

Three new and three renovated hospitals are the main health infrastructure provided to the 11 municipalities in question.

The biggest one, the Altamira General Hospital, with 104 beds, including 10 in intensive care, is ready to open. It inherited equipment and staff from an old municipal hospital that had 98 beds and will be turned into a maternity and infant care centre.

A new basic health unit in the São Joaquim neighbourhood, where families displaced from areas to be flooded by the Belo Monte dam have recently been resettled. The consortium building the hydropower complex on the Xingú river in the Brazilian Amazon has built 30 of these units in the five municipalities that have been felt the greatest impact from the megaproject. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A new basic health unit in the São Joaquim neighbourhood, where families displaced from areas to be flooded by the Belo Monte dam have recently been resettled. The consortium building the hydropower complex on the Xingú river in the Brazilian Amazon has built 30 of these units in the five municipalities that have been felt the greatest impact from the megaproject. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The new hospital has fully automated and centralised modern communication, lighting, air conditioning and piped water systems, and extremely strict hygiene with regard to uniforms, staff, waste disposal and sanitation, said Norte Energía’s health manager, Dr. Ladislau.

There has been criticism that the investment did not sufficiently increase hospital capacity, because the number of beds was limited by the size of the existing hospitals that were remodeled or expanded.

But Ladislau said it made no sense to create too big a system, with high maintenance and operating costs that poor municipalities would find it hard to face.

“The idea is to build a strong health network in this region of 11 municipalities…with a focus on primary health care,” and to that end Norte Energía built 30 basic health units, distributed in five municipalities, with seven in Altamira alone, he said.

“With the new health centres, improved sanitation and other preventive measures, the pressure on hospital beds will be reduced,” he said. Some 1,500 children under five are admitted to the Altamira Municipal Hospital annually, most of them for diarrhea – a problem that is avoidable with good sanitation, he pointed out.

The resettlement of families from houses on stilts on lakes and other areas to be flooded by the Belo Monte dam in new neighbourhoods built on high ground will significantly reduce the incidence of diarrhea, he said.

The basic health units installed in those neighbourhoods offer healthcare, dental care, home visits, health promotion and disease prevention, and a system of statistics to put together community health profiles making it possible to plan purchases of medicines, syringes and other supplies, said Ladislau.

The infrastructure provided by Norte Energía will depend on the municipal administration and staff which will provide services, including maintenance.

Brasil Novo is an impoverished municipality that will receive very little in the way of royalties from Belo Monte, and will find it hard to keep the hospital running, the local health secretary Carvalho admitted.

But there will be no shortage of doctors thanks to the central government’s More Doctors programme, which hired thousands of Cuban physicians willing to work in Brazil’s hinterland, and which is also managing to get Brazilian doctors to participate, he said.

But a hospital needs surgeons and other specialists who are more difficult to draw to towns in the Amazon.

There is a risk that hospitals with 32 to 42 beds in Brasil Novo and two other municipalities will be underused, because the local populations range from 15,000 to 25,000 people, and the most serious or complex cases will be referred to the bigger and better equipped hospitals in Altamira.

One illustration of the difficulty in attracting qualified personnel was the attempt to open a medical school on the Altamira campus of the Federal University of Pará, which failed due to the dearth of professors with a doctorate degree.

Local residents also criticise the company for delays in the health projects, which were supposed to get underway earlier in order to meet the increased demand caused by the influx of workers from other regions.

The delays were aggravated by the temporary closure of the health services to build new installations. That happened, for example, in the case of the General Hospital, a large facility that used to be a modest primary health clinic in a poor neighbourhood in Altamira.

“What was already precarious is now even worse,” said Marcelo Salazar, head of the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute in Altamira.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Organic Cacao Farmers Help Reforest Brazil’s Amazon Junglehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/organic-cacao-farmers-help-reforest-brazils-amazon-jungle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-cacao-farmers-help-reforest-brazils-amazon-jungle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/organic-cacao-farmers-help-reforest-brazils-amazon-jungle/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 18:22:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141097 Darcicio Wronski displays the cacao seeds drying in the sun in his yard. His family is one of 120 grouped in six cooperatives that produce organic cacao near Medicilândia and Altamira in the Amazon rainforest state of Pará, in northern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
MEDICILÂNDIA, Brazil, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

“Now we realise what a paradise we live in,” said Darcirio Wronski, a leader of the organic cacao producers in the region where the Trans-Amazonian highway cuts across the Xingú river basin in northern Brazil.

Besides cacao, on their 100 hectares of land he grows bananas, passion fruit, cupuazú (Theobroma grandiflorum), pineapples and other native or exotic fruit with which his wife, Rosalina Brighanti, makes preserves that she sells as jams or jellies or uses as filling in homemade chocolate bars that she and her assistants make.

All of the products are labeled as certifiably organic.

But the situation they found in the 1970s was more like hell than paradise, they said, when they migrated separately from southern Brazil to Medicilândia, a town known as the “capital of cacao”, where they met, married in 1980 and had four children, who work with them on the farm.

They were drawn to the Amazon rainforest by misleading ads published by the then military dictatorship, which promised land with infrastructure and healthcare and schools in settlements created by the National Institute of Colonisation and Agrarian Reform.

The aim was to populate the Amazon, which the de facto government considered a demographic vacuum vulnerable to invasions from abroad or to international machinations that could undermine Brazil’s sovereignty over the immense jungle with its rivers and possible mineral wealth.

The Trans-Amazonian highway, which was to run 4,965 km horizontally across the country from the northeast all the way to the west, was to link the rainforest to the rest of the nation. And thousands of rural families from other regions settled along the road.

The unfinished highway, unpaved and without proper bridges, became impassable along many stretches, especially in the rainy season. The settlers ended up isolated and abandoned, practically cut off from the rest of the world, and large swathes of land were deforested.

Rosalina Brighanti or Doña Rosa in her kitchen, where she makes jams and preserves, holding a sign advertising the organic chocolates made with the family’s special recipes, which are popular with consumers and businesses in Brazil and abroad. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Rosalina Brighanti or Doña Rosa in her kitchen, where she makes jams and preserves, holding a sign advertising the organic chocolates made with the family’s special recipes, which are popular with consumers and businesses in Brazil and abroad. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Medicilândia is a product of that process. The city’s name pays homage to General Garrastazú Médici, president from 1969 to 1974, who inaugurated the Trans-Amazonian highway in 1972. The town emerged on kilometer 90 of the highway, and was recognised in 1989 as a municipality, home today to some 29,000 people.

“For the pioneers of the colonisation process it was torture, there was nothing to buy or sell here,” said 55-year-old Rosalina Brighanti, who everyone knows as Doña Rosa. “Some foods we could only get in Altamira, 100 km away along an unpaved road.”

Her husband Wronski, originally from the southern state of Santa Catarina, where his father had a small farm, impossible to divide between 10 sons and daughters, followed “the Amazonian dream.”

After running into failure with traditional crops like rice and beans, Wronski ended up buying a farm and planting cacao, a local crop encouraged by the government by means of incentives.

His decision to go organic accelerated the reforestation of his land, where sugarcane used to grow.

Cacao is increasingly looking like an alternative for the generation of jobs and incomes to mitigate local unemployment once construction is completed on the giant Belo Monte hydropower dam on the Xingú river, near Altamira, the capital of the region which encompasses 11 municipalities.

The dam’s turbines will gradually begin operating, from this year to 2019.

A cacao tree laden with beans, in the shade of banana trees on the Wronski family farm in Medicilândia, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where organic farmers are helping to reforest the jungle. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A cacao tree laden with beans, in the shade of banana trees on the Wronski family farm in Medicilândia, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where organic farmers are helping to reforest the jungle. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Belo Monte construction project has drawn labour power away from cacao production. “That has caused the loss of 30 percent of Medicilândia’s cacao harvest this year,” Wronski told IPS during a tour of his farm.

“I know a family that has 70,000 cacao plants, whose son is working on Belo Monte and not in the harvest,” the 64-year-old farmer said.

The hope is that workers will return to the cacao crop once large numbers of people start to be laid off as the construction of the dam comes to a close. For routine maintenance of the plants, only the families who live on the farms are needed, but additional workers are necessary at harvest time.

From settler to reforester

José “Cido” Tinte Zeferino, 57, brought his passion for growing coffee from the southern state of Paraná to the Trans-Amazonian highway. But since coffee production wasn’t feasible in that area, he tried several other crops until hitting on organic cacao in Brasil Novo, a municipality bordering Altamira and the Xingú river.

Today his passion is forestry – the huge trees he has planted or preserved on the 98-hectare farm he bought 15 years ago.

Cacao trees require deep shade, but according to other members of the cooperative Cido went overboard, at the expense of productivity. He says, however, that “I produce 2,800 to 3,000 kgs a year, and thanks to the better prices fetched by organic cacao, it’s enough to live on.”

What he likes most is being surrounded by the giant trees on his land; his house is invisible from the road, hidden behind the dense vegetation. He has completed the journey from settler to reforester.

Wronski and his wife Brighanti don’t have a seasonal labour problem. Six families – some of them relatives and others sharecroppers – live on their farm and take care of the cacao trees in exchange for half of the harvest.

They also hire seasonal workers from a nearby rural village where some 40 families live, most of whom do not grow their own crops.

Cacao farms employ large numbers of people because “the work is 100 percent manual; there are no machines to harvest and smash the beans,” local agricultural technician Alino Zavarise Bis, with the Executive Commission of the Cacao Cultivation Plan (CEPLAC), a state body that provides technical assistance and does research, told IPS.

Besides providing jobs and incomes for people in the countryside, cacao farming drives reforestation. Two-thirds of the population of the municipality of Medicilândia is still rural, and a view from the air shows that it has conserved the native forests.

That is because cacao trees need shade from taller trees. When the bushes are still small, banana trees are used for shade – which has led to a major increase in local production of bananas.

“We have the privilege of working in the shade,” joked Jedielcio Oliveira, sales and marketing coordinator of the Organic Production Programme carried out in the Trans-Amazonian/Xingú region by CEPLAC, other national institutions and the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ).

But organic production is still small-scale, accounting for just one percent of total cacao output in the Amazon state of Pará, where Medicilândia is located.

“That’s around 800,000 tons a year of cacao beans grown by a niche of 120 families, grouped in six cooperatives,” said Bis.

Wronski presides over one of them, the Organic Production Cooperative of Amazonia, and he was just elected to head the Central Cooperative, recently created to coordinate the activities of the six organic cacao cooperatives, including marketing and sales.

“Organic cacao farmers are different – they are more aware of the need to preserve the environment, more focused on sustainability,” said CEPLAC’s Bis. “While conventional farmers are looking at productivity and profits, organic growers are interested in taking care of the family’s health and well-being, and preserving nature, although without ignoring profit margins, since they get better prices.”

New members have to be invited by a member of one of the cooperatives and approved in assembly, “and the process of conversion to organic takes three years, which is the time needed to detoxify the soil from the effects of chemical fertilisers and poisons,” he said.

Cacao farmer José Tinte Zeferino, known as “Cido”, in front of his house, which is hidden by dense vegetation and surrounded by his cacao trees, in the municipality of Brasil Novo, near the Xingú river and the Trans-Amazonian highway. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Cacao farmer José Tinte Zeferino, known as “Cido”, in front of his house, which is hidden by dense vegetation and surrounded by his cacao trees, in the municipality of Brasil Novo, near the Xingú river and the Trans-Amazonian highway. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The entire production system has to be organic, and not just the final product,” another cacao producer, Raimundo Silva from Uruará, a municipality to the west of Medicilândia, who is responsible for commercial operations in the new Central Cooperative, told IPS.

Organic cacao from Pará supplies, for example, the Austrian firm Zotter Chocolate, which boasts 365 different flavours and sells only organic, fair trade chocolate. Among its clients in Brazil is Harald, which exports chocolates to more than 30 countries, and Natura Cosméticos.

The industry in general, although it prefers the more abundant and less costly standard cacao butter, also adds the richer organic cacao to produce the best quality chocolates.

Conventional cacao, which uses pesticides and other chemical products, is still predominant in Pará. A small chocolate factory, Cacauway, was founded in 2010 in Medicilândia by the Trans-Amazonian Agroindustrial Cooperative, which groups traditional producers of non-organic cacao.

“The future of cacao is in Pará, which has favourable conditions for production, like abundant rains, fertile soil, and family farmers who live on the land, unlike the large landowners who live in the cities,” said Bis.

Pará is surpassed by another northern state, Bahia, which accounts for two-thirds of national cacao production. But productivity in Pará averages 800 kg per tree – double the productivity of Bahia, the expert noted.

And cacao trees in the Amazon rainforest are more resistant to witch’s broom, a fungus that reduced the harvest in Bahia by 60 percent in the 1990s. At the time, Brazil was the world’s second-biggest producer, but it fell to sixth place, behind countries of West Africa, Indonesia and even neighbouring Ecuador.

This article forms part of a reporting series conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Infrastructure Investments in Emerging Economies Hit Record Levels – but at What Cost?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/infrastructure-boom-in-emerging-economies-hits-record-levels-but-at-what-cost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=infrastructure-boom-in-emerging-economies-hits-record-levels-but-at-what-cost http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/infrastructure-boom-in-emerging-economies-hits-record-levels-but-at-what-cost/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 16:50:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141081 Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil are notorious for their delays. The majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule. Credit: Darío Montero/IPS

Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil are notorious for their delays. The majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule. Credit: Darío Montero/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

According to new data released by the World Bank Tuesday, investments in infrastructure in 139 emerging economies shot up to 107.5 billion dollars in 2014, with just five countries – Brazil, Colombia, India, Peru and Turkey – accounting for 73 percent of the total.

The update, published by the Bank’s Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) database, reveals that projects with private participation in the water, energy and transport sectors totaled 51.2 billion in the first half of 2014, compared to 41.7 billion in the first half of 2013.

"The concept of ‘appropriate scale’ has been deleted from […] policy discourse because now instead of ‘small is beautiful’, the catchphrase is ‘big is better’.” -- Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Böll Foundation
Based on a review of investments in some 6,000 projects in 139 low- and middle-income countries between 1990 and 2014, the data show that the energy sector accounted for the greatest number of new projects, but the transport sector captured the largest amount of investment, securing 55.3 billion dollars or 51 percent of the total.

Some 33 road construction projects attracted 28.5 billion dollars in investment, with four of the top five road projects in Brazil and one in Turkey. Five airport projects secured 13.2 billion dollars in investment commitments.

Driven largely by massive infrastructure booms in Brazil, Colombia and Peru, Latin and America and the Caribbean accounted for 55 percent of global investments, snagging 69.1 billion dollars last year.

These mega-projects include 11 major ventures, eight of them in the energy sector, in Peru alone, amounting to over eight billion dollars, the largest of which, the Lima Metro Line 2, brought in 5.3 billion dollars in investment.

Not all regions are seeing an increase. Both India and China experienced declines last year, with the latter witnessing its lowest infrastructure investment levels since 2010, at 2.5 billion dollars. India’s commitments dropped down to 6.2 billion dollars.

In sub-Saharan Africa investment plunged from 9.3 billion in 2013 to 2.6 billion in 2014, although increased infrastructure activity in Ghana, Kenya and Senegal suggests that the downward trend might soon be reversed.

Despite uneven investment levels globally, the Bank estimates that spending on infrastructure projects in 2014 represents 91 percent of the five-year average between 2009 and 2013.

In a statement released on Jun. 9, Bank officials claimed, “This is the fourth highest level of investment commitments ever recorded, exceeded only by levels seen from 2010 through 2012.”

What this data reveals is that a global consensus to bolster public-private partnerships in mega-projects is bearing fruit.

Practically every major international organisation from the United Nations to multilateral development banks believe that strengthening road, energy and transport networks are crucial at a time when one billion people lack access to an all-weather road, 783 million people live without clean water supplies and 1.3 billion people are not connected to an electricity grid.

But a closer look at the track records of these gigantic infrastructure projects and new plans for financing them suggests that pouring billions of dollars into highways and dams in the developing world not only enriches some of the wealthiest sectors of the population, they also threaten to further impoverish the poorest, thereby widening global inequality.

‘Appropriate Scale’ – a thing of the past

The world’s most cited scholar on mega-project management and planning, Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University, found that on average only one in 1,000 mega-projects is completed on time, within its stated budget and with the ability to deliver what was promised.

Flyvbjerg’s extensive database on the subject reveals that approximately nine out of every 10 large-scale projects incur cost overruns, often over 50 percent of the stated budget – an expense borne primarily by taxpayers.

According to Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, these massive projects can cost “potentially billions and trillions of dollars, so when they go over budget and over time, they can devastate the national budget of a country.”

Alexander told IPS that, while there is a very real need for improved infrastructure, particularly in developing countries, there is an equally urgent need to tailor such ventures towards those who would most benefit from the services.

“Whether they are in education, healthcare, water or electricity, projects really need to be appropriate in scale to meet their goals. But the concept of ‘appropriate scale’ has been deleted from […] policy discourse because now instead of ‘small is beautiful’, the catchphrase is ‘big is better’.”

Part of the reason for this change, experts say, is the push to use investment in infrastructure to finance development, particularly by strengthening public-private partnerships and by ‘financialising’ investment.

Research by the Heinrich Böll Foundation reveals that the G20 group of major economies aims to finance the so-called infrastructure gap by tapping into the roughly 80 trillion dollars in long-term private institutional finance – from pension funds to insurance schemes – by creating infrastructure as an “asset class”.

Under this model, governments will undertake a range of public-private partnerships (PPPs) and financial institutions will package and sell financial products “that offer long-term investors a stake in a portfolio of PPPs”.

“When speculators take stakes in physical infrastructure,” the organisation says, “such infrastructure is subject to the whims of herds of investors [and] could trigger instability in the provision of basic services.”

Already, a lack of evidence on the success of PPPs suggests that the current pace of investment in infrastructure with private participation is at best a gamble – and at worst a recipe for disaster.

In a sample of 128 World Bank-financed public-private partnerships, 67 percent of those in the energy distribution sector failed, as did 41 percent of those in the water sector. These are the findings of the World Bank’s own independent evaluation group (IEG).

Other research indicates that mega-projects seldom lead to improvement in access to basic services, since many such ventures are undertaken to serve global, rather than local, demand.

“Energy projects, for instance, are often launched to serve a mine, or you’ll see a dam or power plant built for the same purpose – as is the case with the Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Alexander explained.

The very countries highlighted in the Bank’s latest update have a poor track record of successfully managing mega-projects.

Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil, for instance, are notorious for their delays, while the majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule.

Meanwhile, back in April, an expose published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed that in the course of a single decade, some 3.4 million people were evicted from their homes, torn away from their lands or otherwise displaced by projects funded by the World Bank.

Fifty percent of those displaced by large-scale ventures – ostensibly aimed at improving water and electricity supplies or beefing up transport and energy networks in some of the world’s most impoverished nations – reside in Africa, or one of three Asian nations: China, India and Vietnam.

The investigators further alleged that the Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp, pumped 50 billion dollars into projects that financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations.

Brent Blackwelder, president emeritus of Friends of the Earth International, told IPS that “planning bigger and bigger projects despite the failure rate proves what Einstein said: that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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