Inter Press ServiceIntegration and Development Brazilian-style – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 24 May 2018 15:58:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Energy Cooperatives, Fogged Mirrors for Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/energy-cooperatives-fogged-mirrors-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-cooperatives-fogged-mirrors-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/energy-cooperatives-fogged-mirrors-latin-america/#respond Thu, 24 May 2018 15:57:18 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155911 “It made me angry that a company from outside the region was making money from renewable energy and I wondered why people weren’t getting involved,” says Petra Gruner-Bauer, president of the German co-operative SolixEnergie. So Gruner-Bauer, founder of the organisation, began to raise awareness among her neighbours in Wörrstadt, a city in the western state […]

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Public buildings and businesses, such as this organic vineyard in the town of Ingelheim-Großwinternheim in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, have embraced renewable energy in Germany to encourage citizen participation, create local employment, promote the local industry and protect the environment. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Public buildings and businesses, such as this organic vineyard in the town of Ingelheim-Großwinternheim in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, have embraced renewable energy in Germany to encourage citizen participation, create local employment, promote the local industry and protect the environment. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
WÖRRSTADT, Germany, May 24 2018 (IPS)

“It made me angry that a company from outside the region was making money from renewable energy and I wondered why people weren’t getting involved,” says Petra Gruner-Bauer, president of the German co-operative SolixEnergie.

So Gruner-Bauer, founder of the organisation, began to raise awareness among her neighbours in Wörrstadt, a city in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, about what a co-operative was, the importance of citizen participation and community benefits.

“I wrote down on a piece of paper the things that needed to be changed and tried to convince people, and they got involved. It’s the power of people. We are at the same time members and entrepreneurs, we focus on making sure that each person receives renewable energy,” she told IPS in an interview.

The cooperative, which has 116 members, was set up in 2011 and has already developed two solar panel projects and a wind farm, generating more than seven million kilowatt-hours a year, benefiting 5,000 people in a town of 30,000.

To become a co-op member, the minimum investment is 1,022 dollars, and this year the rate of return on capital is less than one percent.

This co-operative is one of 42 of its kind operating in the energy sector in Rhineland-Palatinate, a state that has been a pioneer in the development of alternative renewable energy sources in Germany, generating 10,000 jobs. Nearly 50 percent of the region’s energy supply is based on renewable sources.

At a national level, energy co-operatives currently comprise 900,200 members, with an investment of some 1.83 billion dollars.

In 2016, German individuals and co-operatives owned 31.5 percent of the renewable energy facilities, making it the segment that receives the most investment in the energy sector, according to a study published in February by the German consulting firm Renewable Energies Agency.

German co-operatives have been instrumental in the progress made towards the country’s energy transition by fostering citizen empowerment, producing energy locally, providinga source of socio-economic wellbeing and reducing polluting emissions.

Of the basket of alternative energies, 36 percent of electricity generation comes from renewable sources, such as wind power, biomass, solar, hydroelectric and waste.

The energy transition, through a gradual replacement of fossil fuels with environmentally friendly alternatives, is part of the mechanisms established at the global level to contain global warming.

“Energy co-operatives are a very safe and easy way to participate in the energy transition, investing little money. They are highly decentralised, they help strengthen the local value chain, encourage public support for the transition and unleash financial potential,” Verena Ruppert, president of the Network of Citizen Energy Co-operatives of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate, told IPS.

This network brings together 24 members, 22 of which are energy co-operatives, which in turn comprise 5,000 individuals and more than 200 businesses, communities and religious organisations. The members of the co-operatives have invested some 85 million dollars in solar roofs, wind farms, biogas plants and residential retrofit projects.

Based on wind and solar energy, Germany is moving towards a future based on alternative energy sources, such as with this private wind farm in the city of Wörrstadt, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Based on wind and solar energy, Germany is moving towards a future based on alternative energy sources, such as with this private wind farm in the city of Wörrstadt, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

These energy cooperatives have a favourable environment in Germany, which facilitates their leadership in this field, as is also the case in Australia, Denmark and the United States, leading models in the industry.

Hurdles faced in Latin America

In contrast to Germany, in Latin America these co-operatives have not taken off, except in a minority of countries, despite the benefits they offer.

In countries such as Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, laws related to co-operatives recognise their role in various sectors, such as energy, but electricity regulations create barriers blocking their development.

The legislation does facilitate a role for co-operatives in countries such as Argentina and the Dominican Republic, while Bolivia, Colombia and Costa Rica also have regulations aimed at promoting such participation.

In Argentina, a country of 44 million people, energy co-operatives date back to the 1990s and already cover 16 percent of the domestic market, with some 500 electric co-operatives comprising more than one million members, according to figures from the Buenos Aires Federation of Electric and Public Services Co-operatives.

In 2016, the government of the northern province of Santa Fe created the Prosumidores– a play on words combining “producers” and “consumers” -Programme, which finances citizens who go from being mere consumers to also becoming producers who generate electricity and sell their surplus to the grid.

Brazil, for its part, has provided financial incentives since 2016 for distributed (decentralised) small-scale solar energy systems to enable individuals and businesses to generate their own electricity.

Costa Rica has also promoted this model, with four co-operatives accounting for nine percent of national power distribution and six percent of Costa Rica’s electricity generation.

This is highlighted in a report published in September 2017, “Renewable Energy Tenders and Community [Em]power[ment]: Latin America and the Caribbean“, prepared by the international Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (Ren21).

These Costa Rican entities generate some 400 megawatts – mainly from hydroelectric power plants and a small volume of wind power -, comprise more than 200,000 members, provide electricity to some 400,000 customers and employ almost 2,000 workers.

Since 2015, Chile has also been promoting participatory generation through the government’s Energy Commune programme, which seeks to promote efficiency through the use of local renewable energies and for which it has created a community fund.

So far, the initiative manages eight projects in six municipalities and has organised two calls for proposals for more than 112 million dollars for the benefit of 34 communities.

The German transformation formally started in 2011, based on six laws that favour alternative generation through a surcharge for producers, the expansion of the electricity grid to encourage the incorporation of renewables and cogeneration to take advantage of energy wasted in fossil fuel facilities.

The reform of the Renewable Energy Law, in force since January 2017, set a fixed rate for the sector – fundamental for the progress made in renewables – and created auctions for all sources.

The changes reward those who generate electricity at a lower cost, impose generation caps, and limit the setting of fixed tariffs only for cooperatives and small producers.

But in Latin America, community energy ventures face legal, technical and financial barriers.

In Mexico, the Electricity Industry Law, in effect since 2014, makes it possible to launch local projects generating less than one megawatt, but virtually excludes them from the electricity auctions that the government has held since 2016.

At least 12 countries in the region organise renewable energy auctions that, because of their financial, technical and business requirements, exclude cooperatives, preventing them from further expansion.

That’s not the case in Germany, where they are now aiming for a new stage.

“The transition needs heating and transportation. We don’t want to focus only on power generation, but also on environmental protection,” said Gruner-Bauer, whose organisation is now moving into electric car sharing to reduce use of private vehicles.

Ruppert said they can cooperate with Latin American organisations. “But it’s a decision of the board of directors. We can help, but first we need to know the needs of co-operatives,” he said.

The REN21 report recommends reserving a quota for participatory citizen projects and facilitating access to energy purchase agreements, which ensures the efficiency of tenders and the effectiveness of fixed rates for these projects.

In addition, it proposes the establishment of an authority for citizen projects, capacity-building, promotion of community-based energy projects, and the establishment of specific national energy targets for these undertakings.

This article was made possible by CLEW 2018.

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A Natural Climate Change Adaptation Laboratory in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/natural-climate-change-adaptation-laboratory-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=natural-climate-change-adaptation-laboratory-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/natural-climate-change-adaptation-laboratory-brazil/#respond Tue, 22 May 2018 23:19:23 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155880 The small pulp mill that uses native fruits that were previously discarded is a synthesis of the multiple objectives of the Adapta Sertão project, a programme created to build resilience to climate change in Brazil’s most vulnerable region. The new commercial value stimulates the conservation and cultivation of the umbú (Spondias tuberosa) and umbú-cajá (Spondias […]

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Two workers manually select umbús-cajás, in the factory of the Ser do Sertão Cooperative, in Pintadas, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, while the fruit is washed. It is the slowest part of the production of fruit pulp from fruits native to the semi-arid ecoregion, in a project with only female workers. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two workers manually select umbús-cajás, in the factory of the Ser do Sertão Cooperative, in Pintadas, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, while the fruit is washed. It is the slowest part of the production of fruit pulp from fruits native to the semi-arid ecoregion, in a project with only female workers. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
PINTADAS, Brazil, May 22 2018 (IPS)

The small pulp mill that uses native fruits that were previously discarded is a synthesis of the multiple objectives of the Adapta Sertão project, a programme created to build resilience to climate change in Brazil’s most vulnerable region.

The new commercial value stimulates the conservation and cultivation of the umbú (Spondias tuberosa) and umbú-cajá (Spondias bahiensis) fruit trees of the Anacardiaceae family, putting a halt to deforestation that has already devastated half of the original vegetation of the caatinga, the semi-arid biome of the Brazilian northeast region, covering 844,000 square km.

“I sold 500 kilos of umbú this year to the Ser do Sertão Cooperative,” Adelso Lima dos Santos, a 52-year-old farmer with three children, told IPS proudly. Since he owns only one hectare of land, he harvested the fruits on neighbouring farms where they used to throw out what they could not consume.

For each tonne the cooperative, which owns the small factory, pays its members 1.50 Brazilian reals (42 cents) per kg of fruit and a little less to non-members. In the poor and inhospitable semi-arid interior of the Northeast, known as the sertão, the income is more than welcome.

“A supplier managed to sell us 3,600 kg,” the cooperative’s commercial director and factory manager, Girlene Oliveira, 40, who has two daughters, told IPS.

Pulp production also generates income for the six local women who work at the plant. It contributes to women’s empowerment, another condition for sustainable development in the face of future climate adversities, said Thais Corral, co-founder of Adapta Sertão and coordinator of the non-governmental Human Development Network (REDEH), based in Rio de Janeiro.

The pulp mill began operating in December 2016 in Pintadas, a town of 11,000 inhabitants in the interior of the state of Bahia, and its activity is expanding rapidly. In 2017, it produced 27 tonnes, a figure already reached during the first quarter of this year, when it had orders for 72 tonnes.

But its capacity to process 8,000 tonnes per day remains underutilised. It currently operates only eight days a month on average. The limitation is in sales, on the one hand, and of raw material, whose supply is seasonal and therefore requires storage in a cold chamber, which has a capacity of only 28 tons.

Girlene Oliveira, commercial director of the Ser do Sertão Cooperative, monitors the fruit pulp packaging machine, with a capacity to fill a thousand one-litre containers per hour, but which is underutilised by a limitation in sales and in the storage of frozen fruit. But the initiative is still a success for family farmers from Pintadas in Bahia, in the semi-arid Northeast region of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Girlene Oliveira, commercial director of the Ser do Sertão Cooperative, monitors the fruit pulp packaging machine, with a capacity to fill a thousand one-litre containers per hour, but which is underutilised by a limitation in sales and in the storage of frozen fruit. But the initiative is still a success for family farmers from Pintadas in Bahia, in the semi-arid Northeast region of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In addition to umbú and umbú-cajá, harvested in the first quarter of the year, the factory produces pulp from other fruits, such as pineapple, mango, guava and acerola or West Indian cherry (Malpighia emarginata), available the rest of the year. Also, it has five other kinds of fruit for possible future production and is testing another 16.

The severe drought that hit the caatinga in the last six years caused some local fruits to disappear, such as the pitanga (Eugenia uniflora).

The Productive Cooperative of the Region of Piemonte de Diamantina (Coopes), whose members are all women, is another community initiative born in 2005 in Capim Grosso, 75 km from Pintadas, to process the licuri palm nut (Syagus coronate), from a palm tree in danger of going extinct.

More than 30 food and cosmetic products are made from the licuri palm nut. Its growing value is also helping to drive the revitalisation of the caatinga, vital in Adapta Sertão’s environmental and water sustainability strategies.

This programme, focused on adapting family farming to climate change, has mobilised nine cooperatives and some twenty local and national organisations over the last 12 years in the Jacuipe River basin, which encompasses 16 municipalities in the interior of the state of Bahia.

It was terminated in April with the publication of a book that tells its story, written by Dutch journalist Ineke Holtwijk, a former correspondent for Dutch media in Latin America and for IPS in her country.

Having more than doubled milk production on some of the farms assisted by the programme, winning 10 awards and introducing technical innovations to overcome the six-year drought in the semi-arid ecoregion are some of the programme’s achievements.

 Thais Corral, co-founder of the Adapta Sertão project, autographs a copy of the book that tells the story of the initiative, for Josaniel Azevedo, director of the Itaberaba Agroindustrial Cooperative. The programme "broadened our horizons," based on a vision of environmental sustainability, says the farmer in Pintadas, in the northeast Brazilian state of Bahia. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Thais Corral, co-founder of the Adapta Sertão project, autographs a copy of the book that tells the story of the initiative, for Josaniel Azevedo, director of the Itaberaba Agroindustrial Cooperative. The programme “broadened our horizons,” based on a vision of environmental sustainability, says the farmer in Pintadas, in the northeast Brazilian state of Bahia. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Brazil’s semi-arid region covers 982,000 square km, with a population of 27 million of the country’s 208 million inhabitants. The region’s population is 38 percent rural, compared to a national average of less than 20 percent, who depend mainly on family farming.

The programme’s legacy also includes the training of 300 farming families in innovative technologies, the strengthening of cooperativism and a register of family farms to sustain production throughout at least three years of severe drought.

A focus on the long term, with adjustments and the incorporation of factors discovered along the way, was key to success, said Thais Corral about the programme, which was broken down into four phases over the last 12 years.

Starting in 2006, under the title Pintadas Solar, it tried to introduce and test solar pump irrigation, to meet the demands of women tired of transporting heavy buckets to water their gardens.

“But the solar panels and equipment were too expensive at the time,” said Florisvaldo Merces, a technician working for the programme since its inception and now an official of the municipality of Pintadas in the agricultural sector.

Problems such as salinisation of the soil because of the brackish water from the wells and the difficulty in maintaining the equipment were added to the emergence of other agricultural issues to extend assistance to small farmers and the area of intervention to other municipalities in addition to Pintadas.

Problems such as the salinisation of the soil by brackish water from the wells and difficulty in maintaining the teams were added to other agricultural issues of emergency to extend the assistance to small farmers and the area of intervention to other municipalities, in addition to Pintadas.

Credit, the production chain, cooperatives, water storage and climate change dictated other priorities and transformed the programme, including its name, which was replaced by Adapta Sertão in 2008, when the Ser do Sertão Cooperative was also created.

Florisvaldo Merces is an agricultural technician who has worked in the Adapta Sertão programme since its creation in 2006 and has specialised in water issues. Simplifying complex technologies ensures the success of the project to improve productivity and the lives of family farmers in the inhospitable Sertão, in Brazil's semi-arid ecoregion. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Florisvaldo Merces is an agricultural technician who has worked in the Adapta Sertão programme since its creation in 2006 and has specialised in water issues. Simplifying complex technologies ensures the success of the project to improve productivity and the lives of family farmers in the inhospitable Sertão, in Brazil’s semi-arid ecoregion. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Research, conducted in partnership with universities, found that the temperature in the Jacuipe basin increased 1.75 degrees Celsius from 1962 to 2012, compared to the average global rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius, while rainfall decreased 30 percent.

The programme had to test its strategies and techniques in the midst of the longest drought in the semi-arid region’s documented history, as a formula capable of sustaining production and maintaining quality of life as climate problems worsen.

It tries to respond to the challenge with the Intelligent and Sustainable Smart Agro-climatic Module (MAIS), the model for planning, productivity improvement, mechanisation and optimisation of inputs, especially water, in which Adapta Sertão trained 100 family farmers.

The aim is to “turn farmers into entrepreneurs, who record all production costs,” said Thiago Lima, a MAIS technician in sheep-farming, who now intends to apply his knowledge to his 12-hectare farm.

“Transforming complex technologies into simple ones” is the solution, Merces told IPS.

“The promoters’ sensitivity to talking with local people, carrying out research and not coming with already prepared proposals, favouring actions in tune with local forces,” was the main quality of the programme, acknowledged Neusa Cadore, former mayor of Pintadas and now state representative for the state of Bahia.

“But there was a lack of alignment with the government. We did everything with private stake-holders, foundations, cooperatives and local authorities, always hindered by the government. Ideally, Adapta Sertão should be adopted as a public policy for climate-resilient family farming,” Corral told IPS.

The company Adapta Group, created by the other founder of the programme, Italian engineer Daniele Cesano, will seek to spread the MAIS model as a business.

But Corral disagrees with the emphasis on dairy farming, which has presented the best economic results, but which requires 18 hectares and large investments, excluding most families and women, who prefer to grow vegetables. Also, she says that not enough importance is placed on the environment and thus long-term resilience.

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Optimal Use of Water Works Miracles in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/optimal-use-water-works-miracles-brazils-semi-arid-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=optimal-use-water-works-miracles-brazils-semi-arid-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/optimal-use-water-works-miracles-brazils-semi-arid-region/#respond Tue, 08 May 2018 15:49:14 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155678 Cattle ranching has been severely affected by drought in Brazi’s Northeast region, but it has not only survived but has made a comeback in the Jacuípe river basin thanks to an optimal use of water. José Antonio Borges, who owns 98 hectares of land and 30 cows in Ipirá, one of the 14 municipalities in […]

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José Antonio Borges is surrounded by the forage cactus, ready to be harvested, that he planted on his farm. It is the basis of the diet of their 30 cows, which allows them to produce 400 litres of milk per day, using an automatic milking system twice a day, in Ipirá, in the Jacuípe basin, in Brazil’s northeastern semi-arid ecoregion, where the optimal use of water is transforming family farms. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

José Antonio Borges is surrounded by the forage cactus, ready to be harvested, that he planted on his farm. It is the basis of the diet of their 30 cows, which allows them to produce 400 litres of milk per day, using an automatic milking system twice a day, in Ipirá, in the Jacuípe basin, in Brazil’s northeastern semi-arid ecoregion, where the optimal use of water is transforming family farms. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
IPIRÁ-PINTADAS, Brazil, May 8 2018 (IPS)

Cattle ranching has been severely affected by drought in Brazi’s Northeast region, but it has not only survived but has made a comeback in the Jacuípe river basin thanks to an optimal use of water.

José Antonio Borges, who owns 98 hectares of land and 30 cows in Ipirá, one of the 14 municipalities in the basin, in the northeastern state of Bahia, almost tripled his milk production over the last two years, up to 400 litres per day, without increasing his herd.

To achieve this, he was assisted by technicians from Adapta Sertão, a project promoted by a coalition of organisations under the coordination of the Human Development Network (Redeh), based in Rio de Janeiro.

“If I wake up and I don’t hear the cows mooing, I cannot live,” said Borges to emphasise his vocation that prevented him from abandoning cattle farming in the worst moments of the drought which in the last six years lashed the semi-arid ecoregion, an area of low rainfall in the interior of the Brazilian Northeast.

But his wife, Eliete Brandão Borges, did give up and moved to Ipirá, the capital city of the municipality, where she works as a seamstress. Their 13-year-old son lives in town with her, in order to study. But he does not rule out returning to the farm, “if a good project comes up, like raising chickens.”

Borges, who “feels overwhelmed after a few hours in the city,” points out as factors for the increased dairy productivity the forage cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica Mill), a species from Mexico, which he uses as a food supplement for the cattle, and the second daily milking.

“The neighbours called me crazy for planting the cactus in an intensive way,” he said. “We used to use it, but we planted it more spread out.” Today, at the age of 39, Borges is an example to be followed and receives visits from other farmers interested in learning about how he has increased his productivity.

Normaleide de Oliveira stands in front of the pond on her farm that did not even run out of water during the six years of drought suffered by Brazil's Northeast region. Water availability is an advantage of family farmers in the Jacuípe river basin, compared to other areas of the country's semi-arid ecoregion. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Normaleide de Oliveira stands in front of the pond on her farm that did not even run out of water during the six years of drought suffered by Brazil’s Northeast region. Water availability is an advantage of family farmers in the Jacuípe river basin, compared to other areas of the country’s semi-arid ecoregion. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

He started after being taken to visit another property that used intensive planting, in an effort to convince him, said Jocivaldo Bastos, the Adapta Sertão technician who advised him. “Actually I don’t use cacti,” Borges acknowledged when he learned about the innovative tecnique.

The thornless, drought-resistant cactus became a lifesaving source of forage for livestock during drought, and is an efficient way to store water during the dry season in the Sertão, the popular name for the driest area in the Northeast, which also covers other areas of the sparsely populated and inhospitable interior of Brazil.

Also extending through the semi-arid region is the construction of concrete tanks designed to capture rainwater, which cost 12,000 reais (3,400 dollars) and can store up to 70,000 litres a year. With this money, 0.4 hectares of cactus can be planted, equivalent to 121,000 litres of water a year, according to a study by Adapta Sertão.

But that requires attention to the details, such as fertilisers, drip irrigation, clearing brush and selecting seedlings. Borges “lost everything” from his first intensive planting of the Opuntia forage cactus.

Parched, hard-packed land without vegetation is now green and fertile thanks to farmer and livestock breeder José Antonio Borges, who regenerated the land, supported by technicians from Adapta Sertão. It is now what he refers to as "the forest" where he grows watermelons and fruit trees, in Brazil's semi-arid Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Parched, hard-packed land without vegetation is now green and fertile thanks to farmer and livestock breeder José Antonio Borges, who regenerated the land, supported by technicians from Adapta Sertão. It is now what he refers to as “the forest” where he grows watermelons and fruit trees, in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Then he received advice from agricultural technician Bastos and currently has three hectares of cactus plantations and plans to expand.

At the beginning, he was frightened by the need to increase investments, previously limited to 500 Brazilian reais (142 dollars) per month. Now he spends twelve times more, but he earns gross revenues of 13,000 reais (3,700 dollars), according to Bastos.

The second milking, in the afternoon, was also key for Normaleide de Oliveira, a 55-year-old widow, to almost double her milk production. Today it reaches between 150 and 200 liters a day with only 12 dairy cows, on her farm located 12 km from Pintadas, the city in the centre of the Jacuípe basin.

“It is the milk that provides the income I live on,” said the farmer, who owns 30 more cattle. “I used to have 60 in total, but I sold some because of the drought, which almost made me give it all up,” she said.

The Jacuípe basin is seen as privileged compared to other parts of the semi-arid Northeast. The rivers have dried up, but in the drilled wells there is abundant water that, when pumped, irrigates the crops and drinking troughs.

This concrete tank is being built on a large rock on the farm of Normaleide de Oliveira, in the municipality of Pintadas, to be used for fish farming. Stones were used to make the walls using cement, on top of a rock in order to facilitate irrigation by gravity, in an example of agricultural development that optimises the use of the scarce water in the Sertão eco-region in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

This concrete tank is being built on a large rock on the farm of Normaleide de Oliveira, in the municipality of Pintadas, to be used for fish farming. Stones were used to make the walls using cement, on top of a rock in order to facilitate irrigation by gravity, in an example of agricultural development that optimises the use of the scarce water in the Sertão eco-region in Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Oliveira has the advantage of having two natural ponds on her property, one of which never completely dried up during the six years of drought.

Now she is building a concrete tank on a large rock near her house that she will devote to raising fish and irrigating her gardens. Its location up on a rock will allow gravity-fed irrigation for the watermelon, squash and vegetables that Oliveira, who lives with her daughter and son-in-law, plans to grow.

The pond was proposed by Jorge Nava, an expert in permaculture who has been working with Adapta Sertão since last year, contributing new techniques to optimise the use of available water.

Adapta Sertão’s aims are to diversify production and strengthen conservation, and incorporate sustainability and adaptability to climate change in family farming.

In Ipirá, Borges has a pond one metre deep and six metres in diameter, with 23,000 litres of water, surrounded by his cilantro crop. In the pond he raises 1,000 tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), a species increasingly popular in fish farming.

Nearby is what he calls “the forest” – several dozen fruit trees on sloping ground with contour furrows, where he already used to plant watermelons using drip irrigation, which now coexist with the new project.

José Antonio Borges' family members enjoy themselves in the 23,000-litre concrete pond built on his farm to irrigate the orchards and raise fish, taking advantage of the water in boreholes drilled on his land in Ipirá , in the semi-arid region of Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Courtesy of Jorge Nava.

José Antonio Borges’ family members enjoy themselves in the 23,000-litre concrete pond built on his farm to irrigate the orchards and raise fish, taking advantage of the water in boreholes drilled on his land in Ipirá , in the semi-arid region of Northeastern Brazil. Credit: Courtesy of Jorge Nava.

“In 70 days he harvested 260 watermelons” and soil that was so dried up and hardened that the tractor had to plow several times, by thin layers each time, is now covered in vegetation, said Nava. “In 40 days the dry land became green,” he stated.

Contour furrows contain the water runoff and moisten the soil evenly. If the furrows were sloping they would flood the lower part, leaving the top dry, which would ruin the irrigation, the expert in permaculture explained.

This “forest” will fulfill the function of providing fruit and regenerating the landscape as well as making better use of water, boosting soil infiltration and acting as a barrier to the wind which increases evaporation, he said.

These are small gestures of respect for natural laws, to avoid waste and to multiply the water by reusing it, making it possible to live well on small farms with less water, he said.

In critical situations it is only about keeping plants alive with millilitres of water, until the next rain ensures production, as in the case of Borges’ watermelons.

Nava attributes his mission and dedication to seeking solutions in accordance with local conditions and demands to what happened to his family, who migrated from the southern tip of Brazil to Apuí, deep in the Amazon rainforest, in 1981, when he was three years old.

To go to school sometimes he had to travel nine days from his home, through the jungle. He became aware of the risk of desertification in the Amazon. The shallow-rooted forests are highly vulnerable to drought and deforestation, he learned.

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From Mega to Micro, a Transition that Will Democratise Energy in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/mega-micro-transition-will-democratise-energy-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mega-micro-transition-will-democratise-energy-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/mega-micro-transition-will-democratise-energy-brazil/#respond Tue, 24 Apr 2018 02:32:26 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155425 An energy transition is spreading around the globe. But in Brazil it will be characterised by sharp contrasts, with large hydroelectric plants being replaced by solar microgenerators and government decisions being replaced by family and community decision-making. “The future is solar, but it will be a difficult and slow process, because electricity concessionaires will not […]

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Latin America Faces Uphill Energy Transitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/latin-america-faces-uphill-energy-transition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-faces-uphill-energy-transition http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/latin-america-faces-uphill-energy-transition/#respond Thu, 19 Apr 2018 22:54:03 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155353 Latin America is facing challenges in energy efficiency, transportation and power generation to move towards a low carbon economy and thus accelerate that transition, which is essential to cut emissions in order to reduce global warming before it reaches a critical level. The region has made progress in the production of renewable energy, especially from […]

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Tunneling Through the Andes to Connect Argentina and Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/tunneling-andes-connect-argentina-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tunneling-andes-connect-argentina-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/tunneling-andes-connect-argentina-chile/#comments Fri, 13 Apr 2018 03:14:26 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155260 Visionaries imagined it more than 80 years ago, as a way to strengthen the integration between Argentina and Chile. Today it is considered a regional need to boost trade flows between the two oceans. Work on a binational tunnel, a giant engineering project in the Andes, is about to begin. The tunnel will be built […]

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View of the Agua Negra border crossing, which connects Argentina and Chile in the Andes mountain range. It is not suitable for trucks and is closed for a good part of the year, because it is 4,800 m above sea level and is often covered in snow. Credit: Courtesy of Rodrigo Iribarren

View of the Agua Negra border crossing, which connects Argentina and Chile in the Andes mountain range. It is not suitable for trucks and is closed for a good part of the year, because it is 4,800 m above sea level and is often covered in snow. Credit: Courtesy of Rodrigo Iribarren

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 13 2018 (IPS)

Visionaries imagined it more than 80 years ago, as a way to strengthen the integration between Argentina and Chile. Today it is considered a regional need to boost trade flows between the two oceans. Work on a binational tunnel, a giant engineering project in the Andes, is about to begin.

The tunnel will be built at more than 4,000 m above sea level, along the longest border in Latin America and one of the longest in the world. Argentina and Chile share more than 5,000 km of border in the majestic Andes mountain range, which has hindered but never impeded transit of people and merchandise.

In colonial times, products were transported by mule from one side of the Andes to the other.

By the end of this year or the beginning of next year, the allocation of the contract for the construction of the Agua Negra Pass will be announced. The tunnel will be built along the central area of the border, linking the Argentine province of San Juan with the Chilean region of Coquimbo.

The aim is to cut transit time and freight costs.

The cost has been set at 1.5 billion dollars and 23 companies from Argentina, Chile, China, France, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States, grouped in 10 consortia, expressed an interest in building the tunnel, and the envelopes were opened in May 2017.

During a special meeting in March, the Agua Negra Tunnel Binational Entity (Ebitan), created by the two governments, completed an evaulation of the background presented by the 10 consortia, and the next step will be to announce which ones may take part in the tender.

The tunnel will take about 10 years to build, and is presented as the largest road work project in Latin America.

“The tunnel will be key to easier traffic to and from the Pacific Ocean, which will give us access to the Asian market,” Maximiliano Mauvecin, a businessman based in Córdoba, the second largest city in Argentina, in the centre of the country, told IPS.

“For that reason, when the project seemed to be failing in 2014, we organised the Central Bi-oceanic Corridor Network, with members of the business community not only from Chile and Argentina, but also from Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay,” explained Mauvecin, director of the Forum of Business Entities of the Central Region of Argentina.

To that end, he explained, “we generated trade missions and business rounds, with which we sought to engage the interest of governments once again.”

Argentina and Chile have 26 border crossings, but most lack adequate infrastructure for truck traffic and are closed for long stretches of the year because of weather conditions, as is the case of Agua Negra.

Bumpy road

The Agua Negra tunnel project has had advances and setbacks.

Momentum seemed to surge in August 2009, during a summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), founded in 2004 as a regional forum for coordinating actions towards integrated development among the 12 countries of the region, which are home to a combined total of more than 400 million people.

On that occasion an understanding was reached to build the tunnel, signed by the then presidents of Argentina and Chile, Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) and Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010 and 2014- March 2018).

It was also signed by the then president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), whose participation clearly reflected that it was a “regional integration project”, as the signatory governments described it.

The following year, the details of the initiative were formally shared at a summit of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) with the then presidents of Uruguay, José Mujica (2010-2015), and of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo (2008-2012), which along with Argentina and Brazil make up the bloc, of which Chile is an associate.

The binational tunnel will be a key part of the Porto Alegre-Coquimbo Central Bi-oceanic Corridor, between the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and the Chilean port of Coquimbo, along more than 2,700 km of roads that are mainly paved already.

The Corridor crosses different provinces of central Argentina and can also be used by companies from other countries of the Atlantic Ocean basin keen on access to the Pacific Ocean.

In Chile there is so much anticipation for the arrival of goods to get into the Asian market, that at the beginning of this year a project was presented to upgrade and modernise the port of Coquimbo, to enable it to serve bigger ships, with an expected investment of 120 million dollars.

However, wine growers in the Elqui Valley, formerly known as the Coquimbo Valley, which is along the route after the Agua Negra Pass, have expressed concern about the increase in truck traffic that the tunnel will bring.

“There were always communication routes in the transverse valleys of the Andes mountain range. In the 19th century, cattle began to be brought in from San Juan and provinces of northern Argentina to Chile. And in 1932 or 1933, the government of Coquimbo asked an engineer to study the possibility of building a tunnel,” Chilean researcher Rodrigo Iribarren told IPS.

“Although it has a long history, it was not until the 1960s that it was opened as an international pass for vehicles,” added Iribarren, author of the book “Agua Negra; History of a Road” and head of the history museum of La Serena, the capital of Coquimbo, located on the Pacific coast about 470 km north of Santiago.

The pass was closed in 1978, when the dictators of Argentina, Jorge Videla (1976-1981), and Chile, Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), brought to a point of extreme tension a border conflict at the southern tip of the continent and were about to lead the two countries to war.

Although it was reopened in the 1990s, after the two countries had returned to democracy, it is not suitable for trucks and is closed much of the year, because traffic is blocked due to snow.

After the agreement between Fernandez, Bachelet and Lula, Ebitan was formed in 2010, and in 2013 23 companies expressed an interest in building the tunnel.

Financial solution

The funding problem was solved in April 2016, when the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced to the two governments that it would finance the project.

In October 2017, the regional credit agency approved an initial disbursement of 130 million dollars to Chile and 150 million to Argentina, within a credit line expandable to 1.5 billion dollars as the work progresses.

“The objective is to reduce, through the construction of this infrastructure, the transaction costs at the borders, to increase the competitiveness of the countries involved and promote the economic development of the region,” said José Luis Lupo, manager of the IDB’s department of Southern Cone countries.

According to Ebitan, the tunnel will shorten the border crossing by 40 km and three hours. It will also make it possible to keep the pass open year-round.

The road climbs today to 4,780 m, but the tunnel will begin at 4,085 m above sea level on the Argentine side and will descend to 3,620 m on the Chilean side.

There will be two completely separate passages, for the sake of safety, one running in each direction, with two 7.5-m wide lanes each. Of the 13.9 km tunnel, 72 percent will be in Argentina.

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Latin American Indigenous People Fight New Plunder of Their Resourceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/latin-american-indigenous-people-fight-new-plunder-resources/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-indigenous-people-fight-new-plunder-resources http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/latin-american-indigenous-people-fight-new-plunder-resources/#respond Sat, 17 Mar 2018 18:14:20 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154868 Indigenous communities in Latin America, who have suffered the plunder of their natural resources since colonial times, are reliving that phenomenon again as mega infrastructure are jeopardising their habitat and their very survival. On the island of Assunção in Northeast Brazil, the village of the Truká indigenous people was split in two when the flow […]

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A street in the village of the Truká indigenous people, whose territory was divided in two by the diversion of the São Francisco River, on Assunção island in Northeast Brazil. Large-scale infrastructure projects, and the oil and mining industries have directly affected indigenous people in Latin America. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

A street in the village of the Truká indigenous people, whose territory was divided in two by the diversion of the São Francisco River, on Assunção island in Northeast Brazil. Large-scale infrastructure projects, and the oil and mining industries have directly affected indigenous people in Latin America. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
ISLA DE ASSUNÇÃO, Brazil , Mar 17 2018 (IPS)

Indigenous communities in Latin America, who have suffered the plunder of their natural resources since colonial times, are reliving that phenomenon again as mega infrastructure are jeopardising their habitat and their very survival.

On the island of Assunção in Northeast Brazil, the village of the Truká indigenous people was split in two when the flow of the São Francisco River was diverted.

“The Truká people have always been from this region. We are an ancient people in this territory. We have always lived on the riverbank fishing, hunting, planting crops. We did not need a canal,” lamented Claudia Truká, leader of the village in the municipality of Cabrobó, in the state of Pernambuco."However, the peasant and indigenous communities of the region - continually subjected to persecution, dispossession and defamation - have historically resisted, and continue to resist, encroachment." -- Luciana Guerreiro

The transfer, officially called the São Francisco River Integration Project, seeks to capture the river’s water through 713 km of canals, aqueducts, reservoirs, tunnels and pumping systems.

According to the government, the largest national infrastructure work of this type will ensure the water security of 12 million people in 390 municipalities in the states of Pernambuco, Ceará, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte and will benefit rural and riverbank communities.

But the project, according to what Truká told IPS, will hinder the process of demarcation of indigenous territories and will not bring them any benefits.

“The transfer will have many negative effects. It affects the vegetation and our animals, and it draws water from the river, not to bring water to those who are thirsty but to favour agribusiness. There are other ways to solve the lack of water,” she said.

“We were already colonised by the Casa de la Torre (an estate transformed into a sort of barracks from which ranchers conducted raids of indigenous lands in the seventeenth century), which together with the Capuchin (Cacholic Franciscan order) favoured that process. Once again the Truká people are going through a process of colonisation,” she said.

In the department of Madre de Dios, in the Amazon jungle in southeastern Peru, the Harakbut indigenous people are suffering the impacts of another megaproject.

In 2006, the U.S.-based Hunt Oil company was granted a concession to a plot of land for the exploration and exploitation of natural gas, overlapping with the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, in the ancestral territory of the Harakbut.

In 2017, the company handed over that land because it had obtained no conclusive results within the deadlines for the exploration. However, there are five other producers interested in resuming the megaproject, Andrea Cardoso, a professor at the Arturo Jauretche National University, told IPS from Argentina.

“The withdrawal of Hunt Oil from Harakbut territory does not mean that the problem has been solved, the impacts on the forest continue and have left their marks,” she said.

According to Cardoso “the presence of the oil company has generated divisions in the communities, even within families.”

“The company’s so-called public relations officers have convinced many indigenous people to work for them, or to accept goods or money. But other members of the communities continue to work on raising awareness about the oil industry’s irreversible impacts on the forests,” she said.

In addition, the camps of company workers “generate diseases and the breakdown of the social fabric,” Cardoso said.

An "oca", a traditional and ceremonial construction of the Truká indigenous people, where they celebrate their rituals, has a wooden cross on the outside, a vestige of the Portuguese Catholic colonisation, in the Truká village on Assunção island in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

An “oca”, a traditional and ceremonial construction of the Truká indigenous people, where they celebrate their rituals, has a wooden cross on the outside, a vestige of the Portuguese Catholic colonisation, in the Truká village on Assunção island in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

The oil industry activity there is being carried out at the headwaters of several rivers, “which are the only sources of water for more than 10,000 people, including indigenous people and non-native colonists,” she added.

For that reason, she said, “the rivers get polluted, with solid and liquid waste dumped directly into the forests and rivers, contaminating the soil and water and therefore also fish, one of the main sources of food for these communities.”

The researcher pointed out that the indigenous people of the Amazon basin, shared by eight South American countries, “know their territory better than anyone else. They are adapted to their environment and have great knowledge of the soils, flora and fauna, as well as their own technologies to take advantage of their natural resources, playing a role as guardians of the environment.”

According to Cardoso, the case of the Harakbut people must be analysed in a broader Latin American context.

Since the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, she said, “indigenous movements in Latin America have been at the centre of the political and social scene, in the framework of neoliberal practices implemented by different governments of the region,” with the influx of transnational capital for exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels.

“It’s in this context that there has been a loss of control over the common goods of nature and of indigenous peoples’ territories, as a consequence of the territorial dispossession, in a cycle of transnational extractivism that threatens our Americas,” she concluded.

In Ecuador, René Unda, from the Salesian Polytechnic University, highlighted the case of the Mirador-San Carlos Panantza Project, in the Condor mountain range, on the Amazonian western border with Peru, which plans to mine for gold, silver and copper “compromising several watersheds, nature reserves and forests that play a protective role.”

Unda said from Quito that one of the most affected indigenous peoples in the initial exploration stage are the Shuar, on both the Ecuadorian and Peruvian sides.

In a fragile ecosystem, a mining project of this scope “involves a profound transformation of their ways of life and their modes of survival,” he told IPS.

They are guardians of the environment “with their struggle and resistance. Not only against the coalitions that represent the interests of the government and of the corporations, but also against sectors of their own peoples who support the mining projects,” said Unda.

Luciana Guerreiro, an expert in indigenous autonomy processes at the University of Buenos Aires Gino Germani Research Institute, said that in Argentina, “one of the main threats to indigenous populations is the expansion of large-scale mining.”

One emblematic case is in Andalgalá, in Argentina’s northwestern province of Catamarca, where the Minera Alumbrera mining company has operated the first open-pit mine in Argentina for more than 20 years, currently in the process of closure and clean-up, she told IPS.

Guerreiro explained that “these ventures not only plunder the mineral resources and wealth of the territories they exploit, but also the water, a fundamental element in areas where it is scarce, leaving local people and their main traditional productive activities devastated and impoverished” and affecting their spirituality and their relationship with nature.

Another case is that of the Diaguita community of Aguas Calientes, in the north of the same Argentine province, which is fighting to keep out mining companies such as Buena Vista Gold.

“In these cases the only thing the communities can do is resist, protest and stop by their own means those who try to steal their land,” said the expert.

“The defence of the territories carried out by the Diaguita communities becomes a socio-environmental defence, since their territories also include the Laguna Blanca Biosphere Reserve, a protected natural area of great planetary importance for its biodiversity,” she said.

The Diaguita communities, she stressed, “maintain a close link with nature, which means protecting and respecting it; a spiritual relationship, with what they consider mother earth or ‘Pachamama’.”

According to Guerreiro, the “pattern of development” in Latin America “responds to the logic of the global financial markets…and keeps alive colonial relations, denying the specificity of territories and populations with their own ways of life, and recreating relations of subordination and exploitation.”

“However, the peasant and indigenous communities of the region – permanently subjected to persecution, dispossession and defamation – have historically resisted, and continue to resist, encroachment,” she said.

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Citizen-Generated Energy Enters the Scene in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/citizen-generated-energy-enters-scene-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=citizen-generated-energy-enters-scene-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/citizen-generated-energy-enters-scene-argentina/#respond Sat, 24 Feb 2018 23:19:19 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154477 The Argentine population can now generate their own energy through clean and unconventional sources and incorporate surpluses into the public grid, thanks to a new law. This is an important novelty in a country embarked on a slow and difficult process, with a still uncertain end, to replace fossil fuels. The law, passed by Congress […]

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Solar panels installed on covered bus stops of the public transport system in the city of Buenos Aires, on the 9 de Julio Avenue, with the emblematic obelisk in the background. Clean and unconventional energies comprise a negligible share of Argentina's energy mix, but different government initiatives seek to change this. Credit: Courtesy of Sustentator

Solar panels installed on covered bus stops of the public transport system in the city of Buenos Aires, on the 9 de Julio Avenue, with the emblematic obelisk in the background. Clean and unconventional energies comprise a negligible share of Argentina's energy mix, but different government initiatives seek to change this. Credit: Courtesy of Sustentator

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 24 2018 (IPS)

The Argentine population can now generate their own energy through clean and unconventional sources and incorporate surpluses into the public grid, thanks to a new law. This is an important novelty in a country embarked on a slow and difficult process, with a still uncertain end, to replace fossil fuels.

The law, passed by Congress in November, was promulgated in December by President Mauricio Macri, who declared 2017 the “year of renewable energies”, in an initiative that as yet has no concrete results to show.

The new law was born with the aim of fomenting the generation and incorporation in the grid of clean and unconventional energy by many small nearby sources, citizens and other private actors, in what is known as distributed, dispersed or decentralised generation.

“There are still many unknowns about whether the distributed generation law will be effective. The essential thing is to see what decisions the government takes this year in terms of incentives,” industrial engineer Rodrigo Herrera Vegas told IPS, who in 2009 founded one of the pioneer clean energy companies in the country.“Distributed energy is a change of paradigm in energy production, which can be important for Argentina. The time of the passive user, who consumes and pays the energy bill, has ended, because that is no longer efficient." -- Juan Bosch

“Renewable energy equipment is not manufactured here and it pays very high import duties. So for someone who lives in Argentina it is too expensive today to buy solar panels, for example. It would take 12 or 13 years to recover the investment,” he added.

Argentina has had a hard time shifting to renewable power sources. They still represent a negligible share of the electric grid, which is made up of 64 percent thermal power plants fueled by oil or gas, 30 percent large hydroelectric plants, and four percent nuclear power plants, according to official data.

The good news is that, after the absolute failure of two laws creating incentives for renewable projects passed by the legislature in 2001 and 2006, for economic reasons, a third law approved in 2015 seems to be definitive.

Thanks to this law, between 2016 and 2017, the government held tenders and signed contracts with private investors for the construction of 147 renewable energy undertakings, with a total capacity of 4,466 megawatts (MW), in 22 of the country’s 23 provinces. The vast majority of these projects involve wind (2,466 MW) and solar (1,732 MW) power.

These facilities are expected to become operational in the next few years, which would be an important contribution to an electrical grid which today, with an installed capacity of around 30,000 MW, is already at its limit or does not meet demand, particularly on the hottest days of summer, when high consumption often causes power cuts in large cities.

According to the latest official data released, between March and August, months with relatively low electricity consumption, the inhabitants of Buenos Aires spent almost 16 hours without electricity on average.

Citizen-generated energy is added to the equation

“Distributed energy is a change of paradigm in energy production, which can be important for Argentina. The time of the passive user, who consumes and pays the energy bill, has ended, because that is no longer efficient,” said Juan Bosch, a lawyer who specialises in energy issues, who is also the president of SAESA, a company dedicated to unconventional energy and natural gas.

“Generation through large power plants in this country exceeds the transmission capacity at times of peak consumption, and that’s when production by private homes can make a difference, since energy is produced where it is consumed,” he told IPS.

The law aimed at “Fomenting Distributed Generation of Renewable Energy Integrated in the Public Power Grid” establishes the following goals: “energy efficiency, the reduction of losses in the grid, the potential reduction of costs for the electrical grid as a whole, environmental protection provided for in the National Constitution, and the protection of the rights of users in terms of equity and non-discrimination.”

It also requires that power companies “facilitate the injection” into the grid of surpluses that individual consumers may generate, and it prohibits companies from making any additional charge for doing so.

In any case, whoever adds energy to the grid will not obtain money for the energy they sell, but will be instead compensated by the company with discounts in subsequent billings.

Regarding the most critical issue in the implementation of the distributed energy system, which is how to make it economically attractive for users, the law creates a public fund to encourage its development, which the government is to set up with about 95 million dollars of its own funds.

For Juan Carlos Villalonga, a member of the lower house of Congress for the governing alliance Cambiemos who helped draft the law, “the first ones that are going to take advantage of this possibility in Argentina are productive undertakings, which have money to invest, and in many parts of the country today receive an electric service that is expensive and bad.”

Villalonga acknowledged to IPS that it will take a long time for residential users in Argentina to begin producing their own energy.

“They will do it when the prices of the necessary equipment are driven down, through different tools the State has to achieve this, such as increasing the price at which the energy generated by a user is purchased, or giving access to better financing,” he said.

The crisis affecting the energy sector has been recognised by the government.

According to data from the Ministry of Energy and Mining, on the coldest days of the Southern Cone winter, when residential heating systems drive up consumption of natural gas, up to 30 percent of the natural gas consumed is imported.

In the summer, when electricity consumption rises due to air conditioning, this South American country of 44 million people buys up to 10 percent of the energy used from its neighbours Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The government said it intends to raise the installed capacity of the electric system from the current 30,000 MW to 50,000 MW by 2025, of which 11,500 should come from renewable sources.

The goal for eight percent of electricity to come from renewable sources by December 31, 2017, as set by the law currently in force, was not met.

However, the second goal established by the law – to cover 25 percent of demand with renewables by 2025 – is expected to be achieved.

The figurehead of the dream of unconventional clean energy is the enormous Cauchari solar energy park which began to be built last year in the northwest province of Salta, and which will provide 300 MW.

China is playing a leading role in the project, financing more than 80 percent of a total budget of 390 million dollars. And the 1,200,000 solar panels that are being installed on 700 hectares of land were manufactured in the Asian giant.

The land on which the plant is being built belongs to an indigenous community, which was promised two percent of the profits.

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Expansion of Soy Resurrects Key Railway Line in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/expansion-soy-resurrects-key-railway-line-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expansion-soy-resurrects-key-railway-line-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/expansion-soy-resurrects-key-railway-line-brazil/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 21:44:44 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153893 The railroad can contribute to the economy, making transportation cheaper, but it is unlikely to foment equitable development in and of itself, apart from facing complex construction obstacles in countries like Brazil. The North-South Railway (FNS) is an excellent example. Thirty years after the start of its construction and three years after the central stretch […]

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A train and biofuel storage tanks seen in the yard of the North-South Railway in Porto Nacional, final point of the stretch in operation since 2013, which is using only half of its capacity, most of it to carry soybeans and by-products for export. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

A train and biofuel storage tanks seen in the yard of the North-South Railway in Porto Nacional, final point of the stretch in operation since 2013, which is using only half of its capacity, most of it to carry soybeans and by-products for export. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
PORTO NACIONAL, Brazil, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

The railroad can contribute to the economy, making transportation cheaper, but it is unlikely to foment equitable development in and of itself, apart from facing complex construction obstacles in countries like Brazil.

The North-South Railway (FNS) is an excellent example. Thirty years after the start of its construction and three years after the central stretch began to operate, its viability is uncertain, even though it runs across an area of expanding soy production, which requires large-scale logistics to export.

“It only strengthens agribusiness, it offers nothing to family farms but environmental impacts,” said Messias Vieira Barbosa, one of the coordinators of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Tocantins, a state in north-central Brazil, crossed from end to end by the FNS.

Nor does it benefit the population in general, since it does not provide the passenger transport demanded by a movement to that end, said the activist, a geographer with postgraduate studies on land reform.

Tocantins is a new agricultural frontier, where soy accelerates the concentration of land in the hands of a few landowners, in a process that will intensify with the railway, whose primary function is to transport grains to the northern port of Itaqui to be exported across the Atlantic Ocean.

But even those who benefit directly complain about this new means of transport.

“The freight is still expensive, farmers are not happy because it has not brought down their costs,” complained Mauricio Buffon, president of the Association of Soy and Corn Producers of the State of Tocantins (Aprosoja).

A sea of soy is seen near the city of Porto Nacional, on the right bank of the Tocantins River. The expansion of soy in Tocantins resurrected the North-South Railway, designed in the 1980s with the abstract objective of integrating railway lines east to west, crossing the centre of Brazil, which had little production at that time. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

A sea of soy is seen near the city of Porto Nacional, on the right bank of the Tocantins River. The expansion of soy in Tocantins resurrected the North-South Railway, designed in the 1980s with the abstract objective of integrating railway lines east to west, crossing the centre of Brazil, which had little production at that time. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

“It is necessary to end the monopoly” of the concessionaire that operates the railway, said the farmer, who moved eight years ago to the city of Porto Nacional from Mato Grosso, the neighbouring state to the west, that produces the most soy and corn in Brazil.

“I came here because the land is cheaper,” he explained. Despite this, Tocantins is not producing soy at lower final prices than Mato Grosso, and the railway did not help in that, he lamented.

Modifying the existing model or making it more flexible, opening the rails to independent logistics operators, is necessary to boost rail transport in Brazil, currently limited to 25 percent of total cargo, and even to reactivate lines that are now abandoned because the companies that control them are not interested in using them.

For the North-South railway, change is indispensable because it is a rail line designed as a “backbone” of the networks in the centre of the country, depending on other lines to deliver their cargo to the port.

“From the middle of nowhere to nowhere” would be its route, according to the sarcastic reaction by experts and the press to the announcement of the project by then president José Sarney in 1986.

At that time the states that it crossed, Maranhão, Tocantins and Goiás, did not have production levels to justify a railway in any foreseeable future. Soy was a crop almost unknown in those territories.

Despite everything, construction began in 1987 and then faltered, with lengthy interruptions, allegations of corruption and decay of stretches already built. But it became a reality along two stretches that total 1,574 km.

It seemed destined to become another white elephant among the many megaprojects that have failed in the last ten years in Brazil, but it started to make sense with the agricultural boom, led by soy, in Tocantins and neighbouring states, such as Bahia, Goiás and Maranhão.

In 1988, Tocantins produced only 47,000 tons of soy, according to the National Supply Company (CONAB) under the Ministry of Agriculture. Twenty years later, by 2008, it climbed to 911,000 tons, and this year the total reached 2.82 million tons.

This is little compared to the 30.5 million tons produced in Mato Grosso, whose exports are transported by truck traveling about 2,000 km to Santos Port, to the southeast, or just over 1,000 km north to Miritituba, a river port from where they continue by waterway to the Atlantic Ocean.

“The current demand (in Tocantins) still does not make the railway financially viable,” but having that infrastructure promotes new productive investments; it depends on how it is managed, said Lilian Bracarense, a professor at the Federal University of Tocantins (UFT) who has a PhD in transport.

Milton Cavichioli Junior, business manager of Granol’s industrial plant in Porto Nacional, estimates the savings made possible with the FNS at 20 percent. That is why the company exports soy bran by train and uses trucks only when there is an express delivery.

Soy producer Elio Rossato, who together with two brothers, all from the extreme south of Brazil, grow the crop on more than 6,000 hectares in Tocantins, after 15 years in the state of Bahia, where the lack of electricity and roads frustrated their goals. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Soy producer Elio Rossato, who together with two brothers, all from the extreme south of Brazil, grow the crop on more than 6,000 hectares in Tocantins, after 15 years in the state of Bahia, where the lack of electricity and roads frustrated their goals. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Granol can be an important user of the FNS because it has another plant in Anapolis, next to the rails, and demands double-track railway, since it buys grains and sells bran and biodiesel, he said.

The logistics in Porto Nacional have an additional cost for those who cross the Tocantins River to transport their products to the railway on the left bank.

The bridge built in 1979 withstands only 30 tons. Today’s large trucks, which carry more than twice that weight, have to go over a sturdier bridge in Palmas, the capital of Tocantins, 60 km away.

“A new bridge will be built in 2018 and will be completed in 1,000 days,” said Olimpio Mascarenhas, secretary of Production and Development in the Porto Nacional city government.

“What increases costs is not the distance, but crossing Palmas in limited hours and at the risk of fines,” complained Elio Rossato, who together with two brothers has grown more than 6,000 hectares of soy on lands that they own or lease, 20 km from the city of Porto Nacional, for the past five years.

The brothers, who migrated from the extreme south of Brazil, lived for 15 years in the state of Bahia, east of Tocantins. “We used to suffer there, without roads or electricity; this is the best place in the world,” he said, praising the roads and the railroad that are now available.

But he pointed out obstacles to growing soy in the low-lying state of Tocantins, about 260 m above sea level in average, which is less than the ideal altitude that soy needs, and the presence of nematodes or roundworms, a disease still without proven remedy.

Solutions may be on the way, as five agricultural research companies are carrying out studies in Porto Nacional and will be able to overcome these problems and diversify production, especially of fruit, he said.

And according to Mascarenhas, the future of the municipality is promising, because it has a great deal of land for agricultural expansion, water to irrigate three crops a year, people trained by three local universities and ideal logistics, with railways, an airport and roads within a radius of 60 km.

But Tocantins will not be “another Mato Grosso”, where soy dominated the countryside, displacing peasants and food production. “Here family agriculture is still resisting: 520 agrarian settlements were created with 28,448 families, from 1987 to 2015,” said Messias Barbosa.

“It depends on public policies to diversify the economy, which are still timid,” argued Thiago de Oliveira, who has a PhD in Regional Development from the UFT. He pointed out that the Belém-Brasilia highway, inaugurated in 1960, dictated the direction taken by Tocantins, with landowners taking over land and displacing peasants to the cities.

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Tocantins, a River of Many Dams in Central Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/tocantins-river-many-dams-central-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tocantins-river-many-dams-central-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/tocantins-river-many-dams-central-brazil/#respond Fri, 12 Jan 2018 02:12:26 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153844 Tocantins, the newest of Brazil’s 26 states, which was created in 1988 to seek its own paths to development in central Brazil, fell into the common plight of expanding borders, based on soy and hydroelectricity. The area owes its name to a river that crosses the state from south to north, but which has been […]

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Access stairway to the Tocantins River in the central Brazilian state of Tocantins, which no longer has flowing water since it was dammed to generate electricity, mostly to be used in other parts of the country, and which contributes very little to local development. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Access stairway to the Tocantins River in the central Brazilian state of Tocantins, which no longer has flowing water since it was dammed to generate electricity, mostly to be used in other parts of the country, and which contributes very little to local development. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
PALMAS and PORTO NACIONAL, Brazil, Jan 12 2018 (IPS)

Tocantins, the newest of Brazil’s 26 states, which was created in 1988 to seek its own paths to development in central Brazil, fell into the common plight of expanding borders, based on soy and hydroelectricity.

The area owes its name to a river that crosses the state from south to north, but which has been converted into a sequence of dams to generate electricity, almost entirely for other states. With no industries and with a population of just 1.5 million, consumption in this state is very limited.

“The lake is beautiful, but it left us without the tourism potential of the river and the electricity is more expensive for us than elsewhere,” complained journalist and writer Edivaldo Rodrigues, editor-in-chief of the newspaper O Paralelo 13, which he founded in 1987 in Porto Nacional.

The Lajeado hydroelectric power plant, with a capacity of 902.5 megawatts and which is officially named after former member of parliament Luis Eduardo Magalhães, who died in 1998, submerged beaches, crops and houses with its 630 square km reservoir, along a 170-km stretch of the Tocantins river.

“We had beaches in the dry season, islands of white sand that attracted many tourists”, and it was all lost when the water level rose, Rodrigues lamented, at his home in the city’s historical district, a few metres from the shore of the lake.

The journalist, who is the author of 12 books, chronicles, memoirs and novels, is a privileged witness to the transformations in Tocantins, especially in Porto Nacional, the cultural cradle of the state, with a population of about 53,000 people.

His historical novels show the violence of old landowners, the “colonels” appointed by the National Guard, a paramilitary militia that was disbanded in 1922, who dominated the region of Tocantins, as well as the advance in education brought by Dominican priests who came from France in 1886 to spread Catholicism from their base in Porto Nacional.

“They brought knowledge from Europe, they created schools, turning Porto Nacional into a cultural centre, and today a university town, with three universities and students from all over the country,” said the journalist who studied Communication and History in Goiania, capital of the neighboring state of Goiás.

Edivaldo Rodrigues, editor-in-chief of the newspaper O Paralelo 13, from Porto Nacional, a cultural and university centre in central Brazil with a population of 53,000 located on the right bank of the Tocantins River. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Edivaldo Rodrigues, editor-in-chief of the newspaper O Paralelo 13, from Porto Nacional, a cultural and university centre in central Brazil with a population of 53,000 located on the right bank of the Tocantins River. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

The river, which was part and parcel of the city, more than doubled in width when it became a lake, but now it is farther away from the population. Now there are ravines between the coastal avenue and where the water starts, accessed only through two stairways.

Some old families from the city were resettled away from the shore of the lake and indemnified, but most of the displaced were peasant farmers who lived on the other side, on the left bank, where the reservoir was extended the most across the plain.

Anesia Marques Fernandes, 59, is one of those victims.

“We lost the river, the beaches, the tourists, the nearby fish and the fertile lands which we sowed in the dry season,” recalled the peasant farmer, who was resettled along with her mother 21 km from the river in 2000, before the reservoir was filled the following year.

“My mother is the one who suffered the most and still suffers today, at 80 years of age,” after having raised her five children on her own in the flooded rural community, Carreira, because her husband died when she was pregnant with their fifth child, Fernandes said.

In the Flor de la Sierra Resettlement community, home to 49 displaced families, the four hectares of land that were given to them are not even a tenth of what they had before, she said. “But the houses are better,” she acknowledged.

The most important thing, however, was community life, the solidarity among “neighbours who helped each other, shared the meat of a butchered cow. We were one big family that was broken up,” she lamented. In the resettlement community there are only three families from her old village.

Bernardete Batista de Araujo stands in front of the house where she was relocated in Palmas, together with others displaced by the Lajeado hydroelectric dam in central Brazil. The high walls and a street muddy because of the rain make her miss Vila Canela, her old village on an island that no longer exists on the Tocantins River. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Bernardete Batista de Araujo stands in front of the house where she was relocated in Palmas, together with others displaced by the Lajeado hydroelectric dam in central Brazil. The high walls and a street muddy because of the rain make her miss Vila Canela, her old village on an island that no longer exists on the Tocantins River. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

That is the same complaint voiced by Maria do Socorro Araujo, a 56-year-old retired teacher, displaced from Canela, a submerged beach community, 10 km from Palmas, the capital of the state of Tocantins.

“The community was fragmented, it dispersed, it forgot its culture, its unity and its way of live,” said Araujo, who was resettled in 2001 on block 508 in the north of Palmas, with her husband and three children.

“We lost our land, tranquillity and freedom, there were no fences there; here we live behind high walls,” complained her neighbour Bernardete Batista de Araujo, referring to the house where she was resettled in the capital.

She is pleased, however, to have a roof over her head, a solid three-bedroom house, better than her rustic dwelling in Canela, which had been rebuilt after the river flooded and destroyed it in 1980.

In her small yard, she now tries to compensate for the loss of the many fruit trees in the village flooded by the reservoir, planting papaya, mango and pineapple.

“The bad thing here is the dust in the dry season and the mud when it rains because of the unpaved roads,” a long-standing complaint by the inhabitants of La Cuadra, who are demanding that the road be paved.

Palmas, with a current population of 290,000, is an artificial city, planned according to the model of Brasilia, with wide avenues and squares to accommodate large numbers of cars and blocks arranged by numbers and cardinal points.

Founded in 1989, it took years of construction before becoming in practice the administrative capital of Tocantins.

Antonio Alves de Oliveira, 63, is proud to have been “the third taxi driver” in Palmas, when the city, in its second year, “had nothing but dust and huge numbers of mosquitoes.”

“Fried fly” was the nickname given to an improvised restaurant, he recalled.

Where Palmas is located, the Tocantins River now has an 8.4-km bridge which crosses the reservoir – almost eight times the width before the construction of the Lajeado dam, 50 km downstream (to the north).

The environmental impact study carried out by Investco, the company that built the Lajeado hydropower plant between 1999 and 2001 and has a concession for 35 years, registered only 1,526 families, of which 997 are rural, directly affected by the dam and reservoir.

But Judite da Rocha, local coordinator of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), believes that the real number is close to 8,000 families.

Many groups were not recognised as affected, such as the Xerente indigenous people, boatmen, fishermen, potters, dredgers who extracted sand from the river and seasonal workers, such as “barraqueros” who set up stands to sell beach products in the tourist season, she argued.

But the “worst and most complex situation” is that of the Estreito hydroelectric plant, inaugurated in 2012 in the north of the state of Tocantins, with an installed capacity of 1,087 megawatts.

There are “almost 1,000 families displaced and without compensation”, scattered in seven camps, so that the total number of people affected could reach 12,000, according to Rocha.

MAB estimates that there are 25,000 families in total who suffer the consequences of the hydroelectric power plants built in the state of Tocantins, four of which are on the Tocantins River. Added to three other large plants built in other states, the Tocantins River has a generation capacity of 12,785 megawatts.

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Clean Energy Sources Manage to Cut Electricity Bill in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/clean-energy-sources-manage-cut-electricity-bill-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-energy-sources-manage-cut-electricity-bill-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/clean-energy-sources-manage-cut-electricity-bill-chile/#respond Tue, 09 Jan 2018 01:59:20 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153796 A 75 percent drop in electricity rates, thanks to a quadrupled clean generation capacity, is one of the legacies to be left in Chile by the administration of Michelle Bachelet, who steps down on Mar. 11. In December 2013, the electricity supply tender for families, companies and small businesses was awarded at a price of […]

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The Maipo River, where the Alto Maipo hydroelectric project is being built, flows down from the Andes range to Santiago and is vital to supply drinking water to the Chilean capital, a city of seven million people. Credit: Orlando Milesi / IPS

The Maipo River, where the Alto Maipo hydroelectric project is being built, flows down from the Andes range to Santiago and is vital to supply drinking water to the Chilean capital, a city of seven million people. Credit: Orlando Milesi / IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 9 2018 (IPS)

A 75 percent drop in electricity rates, thanks to a quadrupled clean generation capacity, is one of the legacies to be left in Chile by the administration of Michelle Bachelet, who steps down on Mar. 11.

In December 2013, the electricity supply tender for families, companies and small businesses was awarded at a price of 128 dollars per megawatt hour, compared to just 32.5 dollars in the last tender of 2017.

“An important regulatory change was carried out with the passage of seven laws on energy that gave a greater and more active role to the State as a planner. This generated the conditions for more competition in the market,” Energy Minister Andrés Rebolledo told IPS."According to the projections, from here to 2021 there is a portfolio of projects totaling 11 billion dollars in different tenders on energy, generation and electricity transmission. The interesting thing is that 80 percent are NCRE projects." -- Andrés Rebolledo

Four years ago, large companies were concerned over the rise in electricity rates in Chile, and several mining companies stated that due to the high price of energy they were considering moving their operations to other countries. Currently, big industrialists have access to lower prices because they renegotiate their contracts with the generating companies.

The new regulatory framework changed things and allowed many actors, Chilean or foreign, to enter the industry, thanks to bidding rules that gave more room to bids for generating electricity from non-conventional renewable energies (NCRE), mainly photovoltaic and wind, the most efficient sources in the country.

“This happened at a time when a very important technological shift regarding these very technologies was happening in the world. We carried out this change at the right time and we took advantage of the significant decline in cost of these technologies, especially in the case of solar and wind energy,” the minister said.

Eighty companies submitted to the tender for electricity supply and distribution in 2016, and 15 submitted to the next distribution tender, “in a phenomenon very different from what was typical in the Chilean energy sector, which was very concentrated, with only a few players,” he added.

Manuel Baquedano, president of the Chilean non-governmental Institute of Political Ecology, believes that there was “a turning point in the Chilean energy mix, with a shift towards renewable energy.”

This change occurred, Baquedano told IPS, “because people didn’t want more megaprojects like the Hydroaysén hydroelectric plant in the south, and Punta de Choros in the north (both widely rejected for environmental reasons), and that curbed the growth of the oligopolies.”

The Atacama desert in northern Chile has the highest solar radiation on the planet, one of this country’s advantages when it comes to developing solar energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

The Atacama desert in northern Chile has the highest solar radiation on the planet, one of this country’s advantages when it comes to developing solar energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

“Globally, solar and wind energy are much more competitive than even fossil fuels. Today solar energy is being produced at a lower cost than even coal. That has led to the creation of a new scenario, thanks to this new regulation policy,” he added.

In addition, said the expert in geopolitics of energy, “that change was approved by the community and environmentalists who have raised no objections to the wind and solar projects.”

... But conflicts over hydroelectric projects continue to rage

Marcela Mella, spokesperson for the environmental group No al Alto Maipo, told IPS that they have various strategies to continue opposing the construction of the hydroelectric project of that name, promoted by the US company AES Gener on the river that supplies water to Santiago.

The project would involve the construction of 67 km of tunnels to bring water to two power plants, Alfalfal II and Las Lajas, with a capacity to generate 531 megawatts. Started in 2007, it is now paralysed due to financial and construction problems. But in November the company anticipated that in March it would resume the work after solving these problems.

"The project puts at risk Santiago's reliable drinking water supply. This was demonstrated when construction began and heavy downpours, which have been natural phenomena in the Andes mountain range, dragged all the material that had been removed and left four million people without water in Santiago," said Mella.

He added that Alto Maipo will also cause problems in terms of irrigation water for farmers in the Maipo Valley, who own 120,000 hectares.

“In the past four years, the government enjoyed a fairly free situation to develop projects (of those energy sources) that some have qualms about from an environmental perspective,” he said.

“It is not a process that any future government can stop. It is a global process into which Chile has already entered and is being rewarded for that choice. There is no longer a possibility of returning to fossil fuels, as is happening in the United States where there is an authoritarian government like that of Donald Trump,” Baquedano added.

The environmental leader warned that although “there is a margin for the rates and costs to decrease, it will not last forever.” For that reason, he proposed “continuing to raise public awareness of NCRE.”

The energy sector was a leader in investments in the last two years in Chile, surpassing mining, the pillar of the local economy.

Rebolledo said: “During the government of President Bachelet, 17 billion dollars have been invested (in the energy industry). In Chile today there are some 250 power generation plants, half of which were built under this government. And half of that half are solar plants.”

In May 2014, just two months after starting her second term, after governing the country between 2006 and 2010, Bachelet – a socialist – launched the “Energy Agenda, a challenge for the entire country, progress for all“.

“According to the projections, from here to 2021 there is a portfolio of projects totaling 11 billion dollars in different tenders on energy, generation and electricity transmission. The interesting thing is that 80 percent are NCRE projects,” he said.

Currently there are 40 electrical projects under construction, almost all of them involving NCRE.

Another result is that Chile now has a surplus in electricity and the large increase in solar power is expected to continue as the country takes advantage of the enormous possibilities presented by the north, which includes the Atacama desert, with its merciless sun.

Chile’s power grid, previously dependent on oil, coal and large hydroelectric dams, changed radically, which led to a drop of around 20 percent in fossil fuel imports between 2016 and 2017. In addition, it no longer depends on Argentine gas, which plunged the country into crisis when supply was abruptly cut off in 2007.

“In March 2014, when Bachelet’s term began, the installed capacity in Chile of NCRE, mainly solar and wind, was five percent. This changed significantly, and by November of this year it had reached 19 percent,” said Rebolledo.

The minister pointed out that if solar and wind generation is added to the large-scale hydropower plants, “almost 50 percent of everything we generate today is renewable energy. The rest is still thermal energy, which uses gas, diesel and coal.”

In the Energy Agenda, as in the nationally determined contribution (NDC), the commitment assumed under the Paris Agreement on climate change, Chile set goal for 20 percent of its energy to come from NCRE by 2025 – a target that the country already reached in October.

“We have set ourselves the goal that by 2050, 70 percent of all electricity generated will be renewable, and this no longer includes only the NCRE but also hydro,” Rebolledo said.

For the minister, a key aspect was that these goals were agreed by all the actors in the sector.

“Because this change happened so rapidly, that 70 percent could be 90 percent by 2050, and within that 90 percent, solar energy will probably be the most important,” he said.

Baquedano, for his part, argues that now “comes the second stage, which is to democratise the use of energy by allowing solar energy and renewables to reach citizens and small and medium industries directly, therefore modifying distribution.”

“”Democratisation means that we are going to demand that all NCRE projects have environmental impact studies and not just declarations (of environmental impact),” he said.

“Democratisation means that every person who has resources or who can acquire them, becomes a generator of energy for their own consumption and that of their neighbours. Let new actors come in, but also citizens. These new actors are the indigenous communities, the community sector and the municipalities, which are not after profits,” he asserted.

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Landlocked, a Railway Remains Idle in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/landlocked-railway-remains-idle-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=landlocked-railway-remains-idle-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/landlocked-railway-remains-idle-brazil/#respond Sat, 06 Jan 2018 00:13:37 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153765 The rails have been laid – thousands of km of rails deteriorating due to lack of use, to the despair of those who believe that a country as vast as Brazil can only be developed by means of trains. Brazil built 37,000 km of railways up to six decades ago, but their use has declined […]

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Several underused tracks of the North-South Railway near Anápolis, an industrial city in Brazil that can expand its economy as a logistics hub, thanks to the confluence of rail, road and air transport, together with its proximity to Brasilia. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Several underused tracks of the North-South Railway near Anápolis, an industrial city in Brazil that can expand its economy as a logistics hub, thanks to the confluence of rail, road and air transport, together with its proximity to Brasilia. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
ANÁPOLIS, Brazil, Jan 6 2018 (IPS)

The rails have been laid – thousands of km of rails deteriorating due to lack of use, to the despair of those who believe that a country as vast as Brazil can only be developed by means of trains.

Brazil built 37,000 km of railways up to six decades ago, but their use has declined since then. Today about one- third of the network is abandoned and another third is underutilised.

This stands out in the North-South Railway (FNS). Its longest stretch, in Brazil’s geographical centre, was inaugurated in May 2014, but it still does not operate regularly in this country of 8,515,770 square km and 208 million inhabitants.

The 855-km FNS, which runs from the north-central state of Tocantins toAnápolis, 130 km from Brasilia, will be extended by an additional 682 km – a project that is in the final phase of construction and will reach Estrela D’Oeste, in the interior of São Paulo, the most developed state in Brazil.

“It’s a mess, a series of errors and bottlenecks,” according to Edson Tavares, former superintendent of the Anapolis Dry Port and transport consultant. With terminals far from the sea, the FNS depends on more railways to become viable, he told IPS.

The Dry Port is an inland port or multimodal logistics centre or terminal connected to seaports by rail.

The chosen route of the FNS includes “curves that make it necessary to cut in half the intended speed of 80 km per hour” and moves away from busy loading areas such as mines and cement factories, complained the expert, who believes it will take “much more time” for the new railway to take off.

Construction began in 1987 and suffered frequent interruptions and allegations of corruption. The first section, to the north,did not start operating until 2013, and the concession is held by VLI, a logistics company controlled by Vale, the world’s largest exporter of iron ore.

Trucks fill the streets of the Anápolis Agribusiness District, in Brazil, loading or unloading products and raw materials, next to the North-South Railway, which is practically unused, waiting for the concession to be granted to an operator in 2018. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Trucks fill the streets of the Anápolis Agribusiness District, in Brazil, loading or unloading products and raw materials, next to the North-South Railway, which is practically unused, waiting for the concession to be granted to an operator in 2018. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

This 720 km-stretch is able to operate thanks to having “right of passage” through the Carajás Railway, which reaches the Port of São Luis, through which Vale ships iron ore from the Carajás range, in the north of Brazil.

This makes it possible to transport to a port soy and other products from Tocantins, a state in the northern region of Brazil, which contrasts with the other six northern states because only nine percent of its territory is in the Amazon rainforest and the rest in the Cerrado, the Brazilian savanna.

But the southern stretch of the FNS has been left unresolved.

“With the railway operating, Anápolis will become the main logistics centre in Brazil, since it is also the kilometre zero (start) of the Belém-Brasilia highway, crossing two other national roads, and it will have an important cargo airport which in its final phase of construction”, said Vander Barbosa, secretary of Development and Agriculture in the city government.

That city in the state of Goiás also has the most important industrial district in the west-central region of Brazil, with a pharmaceutical hub of 20 companies, a car-making and engine factory run bySouth Korea’s Hyundai and food, beverage and construction materials firms.

Many of these companies produce their own heavy and bulky goods for railway transport. The Granolcompany, for example, processes soybeans and was the first of the few companies that used the new railway to sporadically export their bran.

Since its plant is right next to the rails, it can load the trains through a short pipeline that carries the bran directly to the wagons. Biodiesel is another of its products transportable through the FNS.

A plant belonging to the Granolcompany, which produces soy branand biodiesel, next to the North-South railroad, in Brazil, where a pipeline from the factory makes it possible to load the wagons directly. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

A plant belonging to the Granolcompany, which produces soy branand biodiesel, next to the North-South railroad, in Brazil, where a pipeline from the factory makes it possible to load the wagons directly. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Anapolisis also set to be a storage and shipment point of grains for much of the central-west, the region with the highest agricultural production, especially of soy, corn and cotton. For this purpose, the FNS Intermodal terminal still has plenty of available space.

The military defense equipment industry is also strong in the city, which has a strategic air base for the protection of Brasilia, 130 km away as the crow flies.

The idea that transport routes, whether roads or railways, “attract development” does not always automatically come true; “it requires other policies in an integrated manner to generate economic growth,” said Lilian Bracarense, a professor of post-graduate studies in Regional Development at the Federal University of Tocantins.

“The Central-West, North and Northeast regions of Brazil have a lack of infrastructure, but that does not always justify private investments in the sector, as occurs in the South and Southeast, where there is an established demand,” she told IPS.

“The vicious circle that without demand infrastructure is not built, and without infrastructure demand is not generated”, according to the researcher who has a PhD in transport, seems to be broken by the government decision to introduce the railway that runs across the centre of the country from north to south.

Tocantins, with a population of 1.5 million, has an agricultural production limited to about 4.5 million tons of various grains, but the state of Goiás, population 6.8 million, recorded a harvest this year of almost 22 million tons, according to the National Supply Company (Conab) attached to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The idea behind the FNS is to create loading and unloading terminals throughout Goiás, especially in Anápolis due to the importance of industry there, and to attract productive investments as well. But that is where rail transport runs into obstacles.

The city and state of Goiás is more integrated with the economy of the Brazilian Southeast, more developed and closer to the port of Santos, more than 1,000 kilometers away by road, than with the northern ports, which are all at least 1,600 km away.

As a railway without an outlet to the sea, but with an “extensive area of influence”, the North-South railway, and the Brazilian rail system in general, need three conditions to operate satisfactorily, according to José Carlos Medaglia, CEO of the Planning and Logistics Company, attached to the Transport Ministry.

“The right of passage”, which allows logistics operators and a railroad concession company to transport cargo by rail from another company, is already legal but has to be fulfilled in practice, that is the first requirement, Medaglia told IPS.

To be effective, the railways must also have “surplus”transport capacity to provide to third parties, and standardised operation, with rails, equipment, personnel and other uniform technical requirements, of the same level of quality and training, so that they can operate on the railways of other companies, he said.

“All that was unimaginable in the past in Brazil”, which has a tradition of a “vertical” railway system, where the company that holds the concession for the infrastructure is its only operator.

This does not prevent competition, said Medaglia, who added that what is needed in any case is “good regulation,” to enforce the right of passage, and investments to expand capacity and modernise the system.

This can be achieved by negotiating with the country’s five railway networks new operating conditions to extend their concessions that will expire in the coming years.

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Venezuela’s Oil Industry Is Falling Aparthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/venezuelas-oil-industry-falling-apart/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=venezuelas-oil-industry-falling-apart http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/venezuelas-oil-industry-falling-apart/#comments Tue, 19 Dec 2017 03:06:25 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153611 Corruption in the Venezuelan state oil industry, denounced by the government itself, and with former ministers and senior managers behind bars, is the latest evidence that, in the country with the largest oil reserves on the planet, the industry on which the economy depends is falling apart. There was a drop “in the production of […]

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The Paraguaná oil refinery complex in northwestern Venezuela, one of the world’s largest, can process a million barrels a day, and is working at just a third of its installed capacity. Credit: Pdvsa

The Paraguaná oil refinery complex in northwestern Venezuela, one of the world’s largest, can process a million barrels a day, and is working at just a third of its installed capacity. Credit: Pdvsa

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Dec 19 2017 (IPS)

Corruption in the Venezuelan state oil industry, denounced by the government itself, and with former ministers and senior managers behind bars, is the latest evidence that, in the country with the largest oil reserves on the planet, the industry on which the economy depends is falling apart.

There was a drop “in the production of crude oil, of a million barrels per day,” economist Luis Oliveros, who teaches at the Metropolitan University, told IPS. In December 2013 output stood at 2,894,000 barrels per day compared to 1,837,000 in November 2017, according to the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

By 2018 production could drop another 250,000 barrels per day at the current rate, and Venezuela, co-founder of OPEC in 1960 when it was the world’s largest crude oil exporter, is becoming an almost irrelevant player in the global market, Oliveros said.

This despite the fact that it has the largest known deposit of liquid fossil fuels, the 55,000- sq-km southeastern Orinoco oil belt, with an estimated 1.4 trillion barrels of crude, mainly extra-heavy, including proven reserves of 270 billion barrels, according to Venezuelan estimates.

Oil is virtually Venezuela’s only export product, the source of 95 percent of foreign exchange earnings, and by the middle of this decade it represented more than 20 percent of GDP. Most of the business is in the hands of the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), which has a few partnerships with transnational corporations.

President Nicolás Maduro started a purge on Nov. 28 within PDVSA, in the midst of the hail of corruption allegations and investigations, and asked the new management, led by a general new to the industry, Manuel Quevedo, to make an effort to raise production by one million barrels per day.

The immediate target was to meet the quota assigned by OPEC for 2017-2018, of 1,970,000 barrels per day, said presidential adviser Alí Rodríguez.

“Merely to sustain the current production of 1.85 million barrels per day – let alone increase it – we need to inject between four to five billion dollars into the industry, and the evidence is that this money is not there,” said Alberto Cisneros, CEO of the oil consulting firm Global Business Consultants.

With the economy in shambles, a four-digit inflation rate, different simultaneous exchange-rate systems for a currency that depreciates daily, shortages of food, medicines and essential supplies, and a foreign debt of more than 100 billion dollars, Venezuela does not have the resources that the industry needs, he told IPS.

Against this backdrop, the oil business “also suffers from management problems since PDVSA in 2003, after a strike against the government, dismissed 18,000 employees, half of its workforce,” former deputy energy minister Víctor Poleo (1999-2002) told IPS.

And corruption was dramatically exposed this December, when the Attorney General’s Office sent 67 PDVSA executives and managers to prison for crimes ranging from falsification of production figures to embezzlement and undermining the country’s sovereignty,.

Among these were two former oil ministers of President Nicolás Maduro, in power since 2013, Eulogio del Pino and Nelson Martínez, who were also presidents of PDVSA and its U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, which they allegedly damaged when re-negotiating debts.

Moreover, the Public Prosecutor´s Office is investigating Rafael Ramírez, a former oil minister and president of PDVSA between 2002 and 2014, and until last November Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, for his possible involvement in money laundering operations through the Banca Privada d’Andorra bank.

Petromonagas, a joint venture between state oil company PDVSA and Russia’s Rosneft, extracts crude oil from the Orinoco Oil Belt, in southeastern Venezuela, considered the largest oil deposit on the planet. Credit: Pdvsa

Petromonagas, a joint venture between state oil company PDVSA and Russia’s Rosneft, extracts crude oil from the Orinoco Oil Belt, in southeastern Venezuela, considered the largest oil deposit on the planet. Credit: Pdvsa

According to the Spanish newspaper El País, which claims access to reports on which Andorran Judge Canòlic Mingorance is working, people close to Ramírez received at least two billion euros (2.36 billion dollars) in illegal commissions between 1999 and 2013.

PDVSA, a company born from the nationalisation of the industry in 1975, and which for years boasted of being one of the top five oil companies in the world, is thus languishing under a cloud of accusations of corruption, incompetence and fraudulent management.

Production “is declining due to a lack of investment and maintenance, starting with the obsolete installations of Lake Maracaibo in the northwest, which produces no more than 450,000 barrels per day,” said Cisneros. Since 1914, more than 13,000 oil wells have been drilled there, and up to the 21st century, the lake basin produced more than one million barrels a day.

The relatively new fields of the east provide the rest of the output, but the figure of 1.3 million barrels per day extracted in the Orinoco Belt, announced by del Pino in the middle of the year, has been questioned by the criminal investigation.

Venezuelan expert Francisco Monaldi, at Rice University in the U.S. state of Texas, pointed out that exports are already below 1.4 million barrels per day (they stood at over 2.5 million at the beginning of the century), and less than 500,000 barrels per day were exported to the United States in November

For a century, the United States was the biggest importer of Venezuelan oil, purchasing 1.5 million barrels per day. And it is still the main source of revenue, as exports to China, which exceed 600,000 barrels per day, are used to pay off debts.

In oil refining, “it is perhaps even worse” according to Cisneros, since the Venezuelan refineries, installed to process 1.3 million barrels per day, “worked a few years ago at 90 or 95 percent of their capacity and now are only working at a third, 30 or 35 percent. We do not even supply our fuel needs,” which in part have to be imported, he pointed out.
To the decrease in the production of gasoline, lubricants and other derivatives are added distribution problems in the 1,650 service stations in this country of almost one million square kilometers, 31 million people and four million vehicles.

One of the problems is the absurdly low price of fuel in the country, the cheapest in the world. One litre costs just one bolívar, which at the official exchange rate is equivalent to about 10 cents, but at the black market rate is equivalent to one-thousandth of a cent: with one dollar you could buy 100,000 litres.

The cost of selling half a million barrels of fuel each day at this low price is a loss of between 12 and 15 billion dollars a year for PDVSA.

In addition, there is a problem of smuggling to Colombia, Brazil and the Caribbean, which Venezuela partially curbs with controls and rationing that cause shortages and huge queues of vehicles at gas stations along the border.

PDVSA has paid back interest in arrears this year for its debt bonds, while a US subsidiary of Chinese company Sinopec -a partner that has contributed more than 50 billion dollars in loans to Caracas – sued the Venezuelan state-owned company before a US court, for 21.5 million dollars over unpaid bills.

The United States imposed sanctions on Venezuela that make it difficult to renegotiate the country’s and PDVSA’s debts.

“Sanctions and default make it more difficult for partners to invest in joint ventures. The Venezuelan oil industry seems to have entered a spiral of death,” said Monaldi.

Cisneros believes that a recovery of the industry “is possible with a different organisational scheme, such as Argentina’s, which has a ‘front company’, Enarsa, and an operator, YPF (51 percent state-owned, 49 percent listed on the stock market).”

To achieve that “there are two possibilities; one is that the current regime reacts with respect to the economy and oil, and another is that there is a political change and the country starts to take advantage of its human, economic and oil resources,” he argued.

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Central America Builds Interconnected Clean Energy Corridorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-builds-interconnected-clean-energy-corridor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-builds-interconnected-clean-energy-corridor http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-builds-interconnected-clean-energy-corridor/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 21:30:57 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153505 Countries in Central America are working to strengthen their regional electricity infrastructure to boost their exchange of electricity generated from renewable sources, which are cheaper and more environmentally friendly. With the Clean Energy Corridor, a project agreed in 2015 by the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, these countries seek […]

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Workers at an electricity distribution company carry out maintenance work on the grid, on the outskirts of San Salvador. Central American countries, including El Salvador, are promoting an interconnected Clean Energy Corridor. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Workers at an electricity distribution company carry out maintenance work on the grid, on the outskirts of San Salvador. Central American countries, including El Salvador, are promoting an interconnected Clean Energy Corridor. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR , Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

Countries in Central America are working to strengthen their regional electricity infrastructure to boost their exchange of electricity generated from renewable sources, which are cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

With the Clean Energy Corridor, a project agreed in 2015 by the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, these countries seek to share their surplus electricity from renewable sources, including non-conventional sources, such as wind, geothermal and solar.

To achieve this they will have to gradually modify their energy mixes to depend less and less on thermal power, which is more expensive and has more negative impacts on the planet, since it is based on the burning of fossil fuels."The problem is the stability of the sources. The State can have a 60-MW photovoltaic plant, but if there is variability, it must have a backup in thermal, hydroelectric or other sources allowing it to meet the needs of the market.” -- Werner Vargas

The objective is to inject cleaner energy into the system that interconnects the electricity grids of the countries of the region, with economic and environmental benefits, experts and regional authorities told IPS.

“Each country is doing everything possible to generate energy with clean sources…and if there is surplus energy that is not consumed, it is illogical for it not to be used by other countries that are using thermal power: that’s where the Clean Energy Corridor comes into the picture,” Fernando Díaz, director of electricity at Panama’s Energy Ministry, told IPS.

About 60 percent of electricity in the region is produced from renewable sources, mostly hydroelectric plants.

But Central America is still highly dependent on fossil fuels, says a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

This organisation, based in the United Arab Emirates, promotes the development of renewable energies in the world, and is the main driver of the Corridor project in Central America, following similar efforts in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The Corridor will use a platform already functioning in Central America: a 1,800-km power grid cutting across the isthmus, from Guatemala in the extreme northwest, to Panama in the southeast.

The grid was built to give life to the Regional Electricity Market, created in May 2000, as part of the Central American Integration System (SICA), a mechanism of political and economic complementation established by the presidents of the area in December 1991.

Over 50 percent of the energy traded is supplied by hydroelectric plants, 35 percent by thermal and 15 percent by geothermal, solar and wind, explained René González of Nicaragua, executive director of the Regional Operator Entity (EOR), which administers electricity sales.

It is estimated, he added in a dialogue with IPS in San Salvador, that the proportion of non-conventional renewables could grow to up to 20 percent by 2020.

The Providencia Solar company inaugurated this year the first photovoltaic power plant in El Salvador, in the central department of La Paz. With 320,000 solar panels, it is one of the largest solar installations in Central America, whose countries are making efforts to transition their energy mixes to renewable sources. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

The Providencia Solar company inaugurated this year the first photovoltaic power plant in El Salvador, in the central department of La Paz. With 320,000 solar panels, it is one of the largest solar installations in Central America, whose countries are making efforts to transition their energy mixes to renewable sources. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

The countries of the area as a whole will need an additional seven gigawatts that year, on top of the current level of production, according to a report published in July by IRENA.

The Corridor is in line with the goals set out in the Central American Sustainable Energy Strategy 2020, agreed by the governments of the region in 2007, which aims to overcome the dependence on fossil fuels and promote renewable sources, Werner Vargas, the executive director of the SICA General Secretariat, told IPS.

“The idea (of the Corridor) is to inject clean energies into the Central American electricity system, but guaranteeing that there is not too much variability,” explained Vargas, at the Secretariat’s headquarters in San Salvador.

Part of the challenge is to operate a system with higher flows of renewable electricity, which is more unstable, as is the case with solar and wind sources, which depend on climate variability.

“The problem is the stability of the sources. The State can have a 60-MW photovoltaic plant, but if there is variability, it must have a backup in thermal, hydroelectric or other sources allowing it to meet the needs of the market, ” added Vargas, who is also from Nicaragua.

The governments of Central America must also develop the necessary regulatory frameworks to adapt the technical processes and purchase and sale of energy from mainly renewable sources.

If national power grids are fed with clean sources, and surpluses reach the regional network, Central American consumers will be able to have cheaper electricity.

“The cost of electricity production is about 70 percent of its total cost, so if you want to reduce the cost of supply to the final consumer you have to reduce the cost of production,” said the EOR’s González.

He added that the corridor would affect production costs, and the regional market is a way to achieve that goal, since it can inject cheaper energy produced in other regions.

In the same vein, “the vision we have in Central and Latin America is to move towards renewable energies, towards corridors, and that is why interregional connections are important,” said Díaz, from Panama’s Energy Ministry.

He mentioned the case of the project of interconnection between Panama and Colombia, which would link the electricity market of that South American country not only with Panama, but by extension with all of Central America, while linking Central America with different parts of South America.

“This way we will have the capacity to capture solar power from the Atacama Desert, in Chile, hydropower from Brazil, and wind power from Uruguay; these are the things we are seeing as a region,” Díaz said.

Another economic benefit derived from greater energy integration in Central America is that the region is more attractive to international investors, seeing it as a bloc, rather than separate countries.

“It is more attractive to invest in larger projects than individually, that is another fundamental reason for the project: it generates conditions to attract investment,” said the EOR’s González.

But despite the economic and environmental advantages of further development of renewable energy sources, some environmentalists argue that the issue is being viewed too much from a technical and economic perspective, without considering some social costs that these projects may entail.

“There are projects where solar collectors are used on large extensions of land that could be devoted to agriculture or used to build houses…it seems that there is only interest in energy and making money quickly,” said Ricardo Navarro, director of the Salvadoran Centre for Appropriate Technology.

Navarro, who is also head of the Salvadoran branch of Friends of the Earth International, told IPS that it is important for the planet to seek to increase the use of renewable energies, but with that same emphasis the governments of the area should engage in energy saving policies.

“How about trying to reduce demand? For example, a tree prevents the sun beating down directly on a building, and thereby reduces the demand for air conditioning; there are also ways to cook food with less electricity,” he said.

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Foreign Investment Expands in Cuba…Despite Everythinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/foreign-investment-expands-cubadespite-everything/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=foreign-investment-expands-cubadespite-everything http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/foreign-investment-expands-cubadespite-everything/#respond Sat, 25 Nov 2017 00:06:28 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153198 “Maybe many of us thought that this project was a dream six years ago, but not anymore. The geography has completely changed, because of everything that has been built and the investments that have been approved,” said Nathaly Suárez, director of Construction Management at the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM). The container terminal already has […]

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Docks at the container terminal of the Mariel Special Development Zone, designed to attract investments to Cuba, in spite of the restrictions imposed this month by the United States on businesses dealing with this development and logistics zone. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

Docks at the container terminal of the Mariel Special Development Zone, designed to attract investments to Cuba, in spite of the restrictions imposed this month by the United States on businesses dealing with this development and logistics zone. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Nov 25 2017 (IPS)

“Maybe many of us thought that this project was a dream six years ago, but not anymore. The geography has completely changed, because of everything that has been built and the investments that have been approved,” said Nathaly Suárez, director of Construction Management at the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM).

The container terminal already has operations with 14 major international shipping companies and progress has been made in infocommunications, an aqueduct, sewerage, power grids, public lighting, bridges and railway stations, among other works made available to investors.

The ZEDM was born with the support of Brazil, which financed the container terminal with more than 800 million dollars. So far the Zone has 29 km of roads, as well as a double track railway line and overpasses that speed up the transportation of goods.

Activities have not slowed down in this strategic economic centre located about 45 km west of Havana, a few days after it was included by Washington in a list of entities banned for any economic relationship with American companies and travelers.

Suárez, a 31-year-old civil engineer, does not understand why in the 21st century, instead of promoting relations between countries, U.S. President Donald Trump is trying to close the door to trade and investment in Cuba, “a country that is doing everything in favour of its development.”

The young woman belongs to the generations born under the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. “I’ve lived my whole life under these prohibitions, which prevent my country from buying even medicines from the U.S.,” she told IPS shortly before participating in an exchange with Latin American trade unionists on Nov. 13.

Nathaly Suárez, Director of Construction Management at the Mariel Special Development Zone, in western Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

Nathaly Suárez, Director of Construction Management at the Mariel Special Development Zone, in western Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

The meeting was held at the Pelicano business centre, one of the facilities built by the Construction and Assembly Company of Mariel, where Suárez has under her charge over 100 professionals. With more than 4,500 workers, this firm is responsible for satisfying the demand for construction services in the area.

The ZEDM and its container terminal are among some 180 Cuban entities subject to the restrictions announced on Nov. 8 by Washington, imposed on the grounds that they are related to Cuba’s ministries of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Interior.

A megaproject for the region

With an area of 465.4 square kilometers -subdivided into nine sectors to be developed in stages-, the Mariel Special Development Zone aims to be a regional example of attracting foreign capital for the production of goods and services of high added value.

Its geographical location in the centre of the Caribbean region and the Americas, in the junction of the north-south/ east-west axis, puts it in the centre of a circumference of over 1,600 kilometers, where the main routes of the maritime traffic in goods in the Western Hemisphere are located.

“It is early to say whether or not these regulations have an impact. Here we have not stopped working,” said Suarez.

“We have made progress (in the works of the ZEDM) and we will take the necessary measures to continue moving ahead. What are we going to do? We’re not going to say that publicly,” said engineer José Ignacio Galindo, director of Planning and Development of the ZEDM, referring to the strengthening of the US embargo.

Galindo said that the construction of the ZEDM is currently at a launch stage, focused on completing the basic infrastructure and ancillary facilities. “We are working in sector A, which covers some 42 kilometers, although we are also working on roads and other works outside that area. After this come the stages of consolidation and maturity,” he said.

“We know what we want to do. The conclusion of each phase depends on the possibilities and investments available,” he told IPS.

Meanwhile, progress is being made in attracting and accepting businesses, as well as in the investment process for them to begin producing.

During the Havana International Fair, held Oct. 30 to Nov. 3, Teresa Igarza, general director of the ZEDM office, reported that so far 31 businesses have been approved or are already operating in the Zone.

The railway line that transports containers from and to the Mariel Special Development Zone, in the western province of Artemisa, 45 km from the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

The railway line that transports containers from and to the Mariel Special Development Zone, in the western province of Artemisa, 45 km from the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

The investments have come from 14 countries, including Cuba, from Latin America and North America, Europe and Asia. Of the businesses, five are based on 100 percent Cuban capital, 15 are totally foreign, eight are mixed ventures and two are international economic associations. Among the new companies approved is one from the United States, the first from that country to set up shop in the ZEDM.

Rimco Caribe LLC (Puerto Rico) expects to begin operating in the Zone in 2018 as a distributor in Cuba of the US corporation Caterpillar, a manufacturer of construction machinery and mining equipment, diesel engines and industrial gas turbines.

Economist Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva told IPS that the new restrictions announced by the U.S. are blocking US companies from presenting investment projects in the ZEDM, but those initiatives already approved by Cuba before Jun. 16 would be exempt from penalties.

The new ban complements the memorandum signed by Trump that establishes a policy change towards Cuba, with exceptions to allow travel on commercial airlines and cruise ships, as well as commercial activity authorised up to that moment.

Since the approval of a new law on foreign investment in 2014, more foreign capital has been flowing into Cuba, both within and outside of the ZEDM, although authorities in the sector admit that the results achieved so far are still insufficient for the country’s development needs.

The Mariel Special Development Zone Pelicano Business Centre in western Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

The Mariel Special Development Zone Pelicano Business Centre in western Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

Authorities and experts agree that attracting investment flows to the country is a gradual process in which “modest” progress has been made. This is not only due to the U.S. embargo, but also because of delays in the process of negotiation and approval of investments.

“Foreign business people are concerned about safe ways for sending their capital to Cuba and then sending the dividends earned by the business to their country of origin, as a result of the embargo,” Deborah Rivas, general director of Foreign Investment of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, told local media.

However, during an investment forum held in early November, Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Rodrigo Malmierca said that this year 30 new projects had been approved for a total of more than two billion dollars in investment.

When Law 118 on Foreign Investment was approved, Malmierca pointed out that the country needed an inflow of some 2.5 billion dollars a year of foreign capital to ensure the growth of the economy.

The new legislation and other official documents propose increasing and diversifying foreign investment as a source of development.

A portfolio of new investment opportunities presented in early November includes up to 50 projects, in sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology, logistics, agribusiness, construction, transport and real estate.

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White Elephants and the Urban Challenges of Brasiliahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia/#respond Tue, 21 Nov 2017 02:30:05 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153118 Two white elephants – a huge football stadium that draws almost no fans and an empty 16-building complex that was to be the new headquarters of the district government – reflect Brasília’s challenges as a metropolis, beyond its role as the capital of Brazil. The Administrative Centre, where the 15,000 officials of the Federal District […]

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Part of the Administrative Centre built by two private companies between 2013 and 2014, to be the new seat of the government of the Federal District, in Brasilia. The 16-building complex with 3,000 parking spaces is not being used, due to an order by the courts, which are investigating allegations of corruption. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Part of the Administrative Centre built by two private companies between 2013 and 2014, to be the new seat of the government of the Federal District, in Brasilia. The 16-building complex with 3,000 parking spaces is not being used, due to an order by the courts, which are investigating allegations of corruption. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
BRASILIA, Nov 21 2017 (IPS)

Two white elephants – a huge football stadium that draws almost no fans and an empty 16-building complex that was to be the new headquarters of the district government – reflect Brasília’s challenges as a metropolis, beyond its role as the capital of Brazil.

The Administrative Centre, where the 15,000 officials of the Federal District (DF), and from foundations and public companies, were to be based, was built in Taguatinga, one of the largest cities surrounding the “Pilot Plan”, another name for the planned city of Brasília, which was inaugurated in 1960, after it was carved out of the jungle.

“It would be good to have the government here, able to get a closer look at the areas where most of the population lives, generating more jobs and benefits for us,” Laura Morais, a young assistant at a hairdressing salon in the centre of Samambaia, a city next to Taguatinga, told IPS.
"It would be good to have the government here, able to get a closer look at the areas where most of the population lives, generating more jobs and benefits for us." -- Laura Morais

Inaugurated on Dec. 31, 2014 illegally, according to the public prosecutor’s office of the Federal District, the centre was left unused, pending the outcome of a judicial tangle yet to be unraveled.

If the idea were to materialise, “it would turn Taguatinga into a hellhole with even worse traffic jams, but it would boost the growth of Samambaia, which has a lot of free space and few businesses,” explained Paulo Pereira, the owner of an optical shop.

“It would also help to decongest Brasília. That is, it would be better for some, worse for others,” he told IPS before complaining about the corruption that has bogged down the project.

Former DF governor Agnelo Queiroz was accused of receiving in 2014 a bribe of 2.5 million Brazilian reais (over 760,000 dollars at present), shared with his deputy governor Tadeu Fellipelli, to promote the construction of the Administrative Centre.

The accusation came from executives of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which partnered with another construction firm, Via Engineering, to build the complex, in a Public-Private Partnership by which the companies would complete the work and would be subsequently remunerated with monthly fees for 22 years.

Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company, which is active in dozens of countries, reached a plea deal with the justice system to cooperate in the corruption scandal that since 2014 has led to the imprisonment of dozens of businesspersons and politicians who offered or received bribes for public contracts, especially oil companies.

Laura Morais smiles in the hairdressing salon where she works in downtown Samambaia, a satellite city of the capital of Brazil. She complains about the lack of leisure and cultural activities in the city, founded in 1989, and in others that surround the Federal District. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Laura Morais smiles in the hairdressing salon where she works in downtown Samambaia, a satellite city of the capital of Brazil. She complains about the lack of leisure and cultural activities in the city, founded in 1989, and in others that surround the Federal District. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Queiroz and his predecessor, José Arruda, are in prison for another corruption case, the overbilling of the works on the Mané Garrincha stadium, which was expanded to host several of the matches for the 2014 World Cup, which took place in Brazil.

With an initial budget of 210 million dollars, its cost more than doubled, requiring an additional 270 million dollars, according to investigations by the Federal Police.

Corruption has been proven in the construction of many of the 12 stadiums used in the FIFA (International Federation of Associated Football) World Cup, but the one in Brasilia was the most expensive.

Its capacity was raised to 72,788 spectators – ridiculous in a city without a strong football tradition or clubs to justify such an investment. The average attendance at local matches does not reach 2,000 fans, the local football association acknowledges.

Maintaining this gigantic stadium costs more money to the public treasury and generates permanent losses for indefinite time.

The solution would be to turn the stadium into a cultural-sports complex, with “a museum, a library, movie theaters and conference rooms, as well as a shopping center, all related to sports,” suggested José Cruz, a veteran local journalist, with decades covering sports.

“It is not something new, but would just copy what has already been done successfully in Europe,” and in Brasilia there are great sports heroes, such as runner Joaquim Cruz and the ex-Formula 1 driver Nelson Piquet, who would attract public, he told IPS.

The Mané Garrincha football stadium, one of Brasilia’s white elephants, which is currently mainly used for its parking lot, where thousands of buses park for a good part of the day, waiting to take tens of thousands of commuters back to the dormitory cities where they live. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

The Mané Garrincha football stadium, one of Brasilia’s white elephants, which is currently mainly used for its parking lot, where thousands of buses park for a good part of the day, waiting to take tens of thousands of commuters back to the dormitory cities where they live. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

But to do this it would be necessary to outsource or grant the contract to the private sector, because “the State has no structure to manage this type of initiative,” said the journalist.

For the Administrative Centre, the way out would also be seeking another use for the group of buildings between four and 15 storeys high, in an area of 178,000 square metres, in the middle of the most populous satellite cities, such as Ceilândia, Samambaia, Taguatinga and Aguas Claras, which have a combined population of 1.08 million inhabitants, according to the Federal District Planning Company (Codeplan).

A U.S. university, which intends to open a campus in Brazil, expressed interest in the facilities.

But the judicial situation prevents short-term solutions. Odebrecht claims to have invested more than 300 million dollars in the complex and aims to recover the investment through international arbitration.

For the current government of the DF, headed by socialist Rodrigo Rollemberg, it is not viable to change its headquarters at a cost of millions of dollars per month, at a time of economic crisis and fiscal limitations.

One option is to cancel the 2009 contract, in light of the illegalities that plagued the project. In addition to the allegations of corruption, the previous government of Queiroz inaugurated the Administrative Centre on the last day of its term, based on a permit that the courts threw out as fraudulent.

Buildings grow like mushrooms in Samambaia, the second-largest city surrounding Brasilia, which has grown by about 10,000 people each year, at a rate of at least four percent. On the left, the metro rails of the capital's Federal District, with a capacity much higher than that in use. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Buildings grow like mushrooms in Samambaia, the second-largest city surrounding Brasilia, which has grown by about 10,000 people each year, at a rate of at least four percent. On the left, the metro rails of the capital’s Federal District, with a capacity much higher than that in use. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Queiroz and the Taguatinga local authorities responsible for the permit and named one day before it was issued, were heavily fined and banned from politics as a result of the fraud.

The scandal overshadows the problems of urban development that the Federal District faces, formed by the Pilot Plan or Brasilia, seat of the national and district government, and its satellite urban municipalities, officially called Administrative Regions.

The population of the Federal District stands at 3.04 million, according to Codeplan’s District Survey of Households, six times the number of inhabitants predicted when Brasilia was built six decades ago.

The Pilot Plan currently is home to just over 220,000 people, but offers the most and best jobs, attracting a massive influx of commuters from surrounding municipalities every morning.

Ceilandia, the largest city in the area, had a population of 459,000 inhabitants in 2015, having grown 13.6 percent in four years. In the city, 28.1 percent of the active population has a job within the Pilot Plan, while 37.3 works in the municipality itself.

Other neighboring cities have somewhat higher rates of inhabitants employed in the heart of the capital, making up the crowds of commuters that move daily to the Pilot Plan and return at night to their dormitory cities.

The thousands of buses that carry the commuters every day are parked from morning to afternoon in open spaces, such as the square in front of the Mané Garrincha Stadium, until the workers finish their shifts and return to the surrounding municipalities.

A subway, with a single 39-km line that branches off into the different municipalities, is the major mass transport project, but only mobilises about 3.5 million passengers a month, with the trains sitting idle outside rush hour.
Bringing jobs to the periphery would not be a bad idea, but transferring and centralising all the local administration to the outskirts may respond more to personal appetites than to the call for better public management, as other examples show, such as Belo Horizonte, capital of the southern state of Minas Gerais.

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Coal Pollution Continues to Spread in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/coal-pollution-continues-spread-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coal-pollution-continues-spread-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/coal-pollution-continues-spread-latin-america/#comments Wed, 15 Nov 2017 22:23:29 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153053 Despite growing global pressure to reduce the use of coal to generate electricity, several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean still have projects underway for expanding this polluting energy source. These plans run counter to the climate goals voluntarily adopted by the countries in the region and to the commitment to increase clean and […]

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In the Nov. 11 Climate March through the main streets of the German city of Bonn, protesters called for an end to the use of coal as a power source, especially by German companies, such as RWE. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

In the Nov. 11 Climate March through the main streets of the German city of Bonn, protesters called for an end to the use of coal as a power source, especially by German companies, such as RWE. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
BONN, Nov 15 2017 (IPS)

Despite growing global pressure to reduce the use of coal to generate electricity, several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean still have projects underway for expanding this polluting energy source.

These plans run counter to the climate goals voluntarily adopted by the countries in the region and to the commitment to increase clean and renewable sources, as part of the Paris Climate Agreement, approved in December 2015.

“Latín America doesn’t have a major global role in the sector, but it does have influence on the region…Colombia (for example) exports lots of coal. The problem is that there are many projects in the pipeline and that’s a threat of locking-in dependency for years,” Heffa Schucking, head of the non-governmental organisation Urgewald, told IPS in the German city of Bonn.

The Global Coal Exit List (GCEL), drawn up by the German organisation, reflects the use of coal in the region, in a global context.“A speedy coal divestment by the financing industry isn't only a matter of avoiding stranded assets, but keeping a livable planet too.” -- Heffa Schucking

Urgewald presented the report during the 23rd annual Conference of the Parties (COP 23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), taking place Nov. 6-17 in Bonn, a city that is part of what used to be Germany’s industrial belt, driven precisely by coal.

The list, a comprehensive database of some 770 companies participating in the thermal coal industry, points out that in Latin America and the Caribbean, the installed thermoelectric capacity based on coal amounts to 17,909 MW, most of which operates in Mexico (5,351 MW), Chile, (5,101 MW) and Brazil (4,355 MW).

However, new projects for the use of coal will add an additional 8,427 MW, of which Chile will contribute 2,647, Brazil 1,540, the Dominican Republic 1,070, Venezuela 1,000, Jamaica 1,000, Colombia 850 and Panama 320. These ventures will further expand the use of coal in the region, hindering its removal to combat climate change.

The GCEL identifies 14 companies based in the region, of which five are Brazilian, another five Colombian and one per country from Chile, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

It also identifies transnational corporations that operating in the coal industry in the region such as the U.S.-based AES and Drummond; Italy’s Enel, France’s Engie, the Anglo-Swiss Glencore, the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton and the British Anglo American.

At COP 23, whose electricity comes partially from the lignite mine Hambach, near Bonn, the protests against coal have resonated, due to the major role it plays in the emission of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

At the climate summit in Bonn, coal is a main focus of criticism from environmentalists and academics. In the image, a banner reads "coal to museums", during the hearings of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which were held on Nov. 7- 8 in the German city. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

At the climate summit in Bonn, coal is a main focus of criticism from environmentalists and academics. In the image, a banner reads “coal to museums”, during the hearings of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which were held on Nov. 7- 8 in the German city. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Colombia extracts the largest volume of coal in the area – 90 million tons in 2016 – in a sector dominated by Drummond, Glencore, BHP Billiton and Anglo American.

Since 2013, coal extraction in Colombia has ranged between 85 and 90 million tons, mainly from open-pit mines and chiefly for export.

Meanwhile, thermoelectric generation from coal climbed to 1,369.5 MW in 2016.

Brazil produces about eight million tons of coal per year and operates 21 coal-fired thermoelectric plants, generating 3.71 million kilowatts, equivalent to 2.27 percent of the country’s installed capacity.

In 2015, Mexico produced about 7.25 million tons a year, the lowest level in recent years due to the fact that the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has reduced its coal imports.

The country’s coal-fired power generation totaled 30.124 billion MW/h in 2015, 34.208 billion in 2016 and 24.274 billion in 2017, from three CFE plants.

Chile is one of the largest thermoelectric generators in the region, with 29 coal-fired power plants that produce 14,291 MW, equivalent to 61.5 percent of the national installed capacity.

Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of Brazilian environmental organisations, complained that his country lacks a clear policy on coal.

“There are renewable energy goals for 2030, but the electricity capacity continues to be auctioned for fossil fuels and more thermoelectric plants are being built. There is no link between the energy agenda” and the voluntary goals of reducing polluting gases in Brazil, Rittl stressed.

The Brazilian ecologist is one of the 20,000 participants at COP 23, who include academics and delegates from government, civil society, international organisations and the business community.

The GCEL covers 88 percent of the world’s coal production and 86 percent of coal-driven thermoelectric installed capacity.

In addition, the database identifies 225 companies that plan to expand coal mining, and 282 that project more power plants.

Of the 328 mining companies listed, 30 are responsible for more than half of the world’s coal production, and of the 324 thermoelectric plants, the largest 31 cover more than half of the global installed capacity.

The campaign seeks for investors to withdraw funds from the coal industry, in order to cancel new projects and gradually close down existing plants.

Colombia has 16.54 billion tons in coal reserves. Mariana Rojas, director of Climate Change in the Environment Ministry, acknowledged to IPS the difficulty of abandoning coal.

“Different strategies are being used for the different sectors. We want to encourage the increase of renewables in the energy mix; they have become more competitive due to the lower prices. But we cannot reach all sectors,” she said.

Coal was left out of the carbon tax created by the December 2016 tax reform – a reflection of the industry’s clout.

The report “Coal in Colombia: Who wins? Who loses? Mining, global trade and climate change“, drawn up in 2015 by the non-governmental Tierra Digna Centre for Studies on Social Justice, warned that the Andean country plans to continue mining coal until at least 2079.

Brazil already has another plant under construction with a capacity of 340 MW, and plans for at least six more facilities, that would generate 804 MW.

Mexico is in a similar situation, since the current mining permits would expire in 2062, for over 700 million tons in reserves.

Since 2015, the state-run company CFE has been holding online auctions of coal, to control the supply of more than two million tons per year and regulate the activity.

Urgewald’s Schucking called for turning off the financial tap for these projects. “A speedy coal divestment by the financing industry isn’t only a matter of avoiding stranded assets, but keeping a livable planet too.”

Germany has set a 2018 deadline for shutting down its last coal mines, while Canada announced that it would stop using coal by 2030 and Italy promised to do so by 2025.

“The first step is to eliminate subsidies for coal” and redirect them to solar and wind energy, Rittl proposed.

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The Mekong, Dammed to Diehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/mekong-dammed-die/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mekong-dammed-die http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/mekong-dammed-die/#respond Tue, 14 Nov 2017 11:45:35 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153012 In Laos, the lush forests are alive with the whines of drills that pierce the air. On the Mekong, a giant concrete wall rises slowly above the trees. The Don Sahong dam is a strong symbol, not only for a power-hungry Asia but also for what critics fear is a disaster in the making. Landlocked […]

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A boat navigates the Mekong, whose combined fisheries are valued at 17 billion dollars. Credit: Francisco Anzola/cc by 2.0

A boat navigates the Mekong, whose combined fisheries are valued at 17 billion dollars. Credit: Francisco Anzola/cc by 2.0

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Nov 14 2017 (IPS)

In Laos, the lush forests are alive with the whines of drills that pierce the air. On the Mekong, a giant concrete wall rises slowly above the trees. The Don Sahong dam is a strong symbol, not only for a power-hungry Asia but also for what critics fear is a disaster in the making.

Landlocked Laos wants to become ‘the battery of Southeast Asia’. The mountainous country with swirling rapids has the ideal geography for hydropower production and Don Sahong is just one of nine dams that Laos wants to build on the mainstream Mekong, claiming that this is the only way to develop the poor country.Millions of people in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam could lose the fish they rely on for food.

But there are serious drawbacks. The Don Sahong dam is being built with little or no consideration of the impact on ecosystems and communities along the Mekong. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Mekong is the second most biodiverse river in the world, after the Amazon. It supports the world’s largest freshwater capture fishery. The Lower Mekong Basin provides a wide variety of breeding habitats for over 1,300 species of fish. But damming the Mekong will block fish migration towards these habitats.

The FAO calculated that about 85 percent of the Lower Mekong Basin’s population lives in rural areas. Their livelihoods and food security is closely linked to the river and is vulnerable to water-related shocks – not just for fishers but for thousands more who sell food products or provide hundreds of related services, says FAO. Millions of people in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam could lose the fish they rely on for food.

Chhith Sam Ath, the Cambodian director of the World Wide Fund (WWF), claimed in The Diplomat that the Don Sahong Dam is “an ecological time bomb”.

Millions of people in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam could lose the fish they rely on for food.
“It threatens the food security of 60 million people living in Mekong basin,” he said. “The dam will have disastrous impacts on the entire river ecosystem all the way to the delta in Vietnam.” This is particularly devastating for downstream Cambodia because more than 70 percent of the protein consumed there comes from fish.

The 260-megawatt dam can also endanger the Irrawaddy dolphins, which are an important source of ecotourism on the Cambodian side of the Mekong. There are only 80 dolphins left. Some live just a few miles from the Don Sahong dam site. WWF warns that damming the Mekong will soon drive all the remaining dolphins to extinction.

 

A battery worth 800 million dollars

Laos is going forward with the dam all the same, without approval from the Mekong River Commission and in defiance of protests from NGOs and downstream countries. Lao officials say that they cannot stop the country from pursuing its right to development. They argue that they will address some of the concerns with ‘fish-friendly turbines’ and fish ladders. But critics are not convinced that these measures are sufficient.

Downstream, Cambodia is making things much worse. On a Monday morning in September, Prime Minister Hun Sen pushed a symbolic button. For the first time the floodgates of Lower Sesan 2 Dam closed and an artificial lake started to fill. Cambodia now has its own 800-million-dollar battery, built with Chinese funds and knowhow.

In the opening ceremony, Hun Sen praised the technological miracle and the Chinese investors. He pointed out that the need for electricity is growing rapidly. Cambodia has the most expensive electricity in Southeast Asia. That will change with this 400-megawatt dam on the river Sesan, close to its confluence with the Mekong.

 

Drowning village

In Kbal Romeas, upstream the Sesan, fishermen waited in vain for the yearly migration in May and June. No more fish to catch. The villagers have moved elsewhere, escaping the rising water and increasing poverty. The only reminder of a once lively Kbal Romeas is the roof of a pagoda that seems to float on the empty water.

“The river Sesan is blocked by the dam,” Maureen Harris of NGO International Rivers writes in her report. “That’s a problem for the 200 species that migrate from the Mekong to their breeding grounds in the Sesan.”

The American National Academy of Sciences predicts that the fish population in the Lower Mekong Basin will decline by 9.3 percent. That’s just one dam. More dams are on the drawing table. The Mekong River Commission (MRC), the intergovernmental body charged with coordinating the river’s management, recently released provisional but alarming results of their research. The two finished dams and the 11 scheduled dams will decimate the fish population in the Lower Mekong Basin by half.

The dams would also affect roughly 20 million Vietnamese people in the Mekong Delta, an area that accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s GDP. Dams block the flow of sediments, rich with nutrients needed to make soil suitable for cultivation. In Vietnam eroded riverbanks and houses tumbling in the water have become a common spectacle.

The Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen dismissed these environmental concerns, criticising “radical environmentalists”.

“How else can we develop?” he said. “There is no development that doesn’t have an effect on the environment.”

The international NGO Mother Nature mapped the environmental consequences of the Lower Sesan 2 dam. Consequently, the Cambodian government revoked its license. One of the founders, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, has been banned from the country.

 

Costs outweigh benefits

The dams come at a high environmental cost, imperil food security and risk increasing poverty for millions of people. Moreover, the river’s potential is overestimated by dam developers, says the Mekong River Commission. Dams will meet just 8 percent of the Lower Mekong Basin’s projected power needs. The MRC proposes a ten-year moratorium on dam building. But few governments are listening.

The MRC valued the combined fisheries for the Mekong Basin at 17 billion dollars. Energy from the 13 dams may yield 33.4 billion, according to an international study by Mae Fa Luang University in Chiang Rai. But a denuded river system carries a price tag of 66.2 billion dollars, the same study predicts.

The real costs of hydropower seem to outweigh the benefits. But the projects still go ahead. The thump of jackhammers will become more common. The mother of all rivers will have to face an army of men with safety hats that want to stop her from flowing freely.

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Locals Learn to Live in Harmony with Drought in Brazil’s Semi-arid Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/locals-learn-live-harmony-drought-brazils-semiarid-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=locals-learn-live-harmony-drought-brazils-semiarid-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/locals-learn-live-harmony-drought-brazils-semiarid-region/#respond Thu, 02 Nov 2017 20:37:39 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152861 Irrigated green fields of vineyards and monoculture crops coexist in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast with dry plains dotted with flowering cacti and native crops traditionally planted by the locals. Two models of development in struggle, with very different fruits. On his 17-hectare farm in Canudos, in the state of Bahia, João Afonso Almeida grows vegetables, sorghum, […]

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João Afonso stands amidst his watermelons and other forage plants on his farm in the municipality of Canudos, in the state of Bahia, in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. Thanks to water and soil management techniques, the droughts are not so hard on him, his crops or his animals. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

João Afonso stands amidst his watermelons and other forage plants on his farm in the municipality of Canudos, in the state of Bahia, in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. Thanks to water and soil management techniques, the droughts are not so hard on him, his crops or his animals. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CANUDOS, Brazil, Nov 2 2017 (IPS)

Irrigated green fields of vineyards and monoculture crops coexist in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast with dry plains dotted with flowering cacti and native crops traditionally planted by the locals. Two models of development in struggle, with very different fruits.

On his 17-hectare farm in Canudos, in the state of Bahia, João Afonso Almeida grows vegetables, sorghum, passion fruit (Passiflora edulis), palm trees, citrus and forage plants.

"What we have done is simply to read nature. Observing how plants can survive for eight months without rain, and how animals adapt to drought, and drawing conclusions for how people should do things. It is not about technology or books. It is simply observation of nature applied to human action.” -- Harold Schistek
Between the rows, cactus plants grow to feed his goats and sheep, such as guandú (Cajanus cajan), wild watermelon, leucaena and mandacurú (Cereus jamacaru).

The earth is dry and dusty in the Caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid region, where droughts can last for years, alternating with periods of annual rainfall of 200 to 800 mm, along with high evaporation rates.

But thanks to simple rainwater harvesting techniques, Almeida has managed to live harmoniously with the local ecosystem.

“This is a water harvesting ‘calçadão’ (embankment),” he told IPS, showing a tank installed with the help of the Regional Institute for Appropriate Small Farming (IRPAA), which is part of the Networking in Brazil’s Semiarid Region (ASA) movement, along with another 3,000 social organisations.

“The water goes to the tank-calçadão that has a capacity to store 52,000 litres. We use it to water the garden. It provides an income for the families,” he added.

For domestic consumption, he has a 16,000-litre tank that collects rainwater from the roof of his house through gutters and pipes.

ASA has installed one million tanks for family consumption and 250,000 for small agricultural facilities in the semiarid Northeast.

Almeida uses an “enxurrada” (flow) tank, and an irrigation system for his citrus trees, which through a narrow pipe irrigates the roots without wasting water. He also opted for plants native to the Caatinga that adapt naturally to the local climate and soil conditions.

“Production has improved a great deal, we work less and have better results. And we also conserve the Caatinga ecosystem. I believed in this, while many people did not, and thank God because we sleep well even though we’ve already had three years of drought,” he said.

In the past, droughts used to kill in this region. Between 1979 and 1983, drought caused up to one million deaths, and drove a mass exodus to large cities due to thirst and hunger.

 

Part of the extensive vineyards of the Especial Fruit company in the São Francisco River valley, where irrigation projects have made it possible to grow fruit on a large scale for export, in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

Part of the extensive vineyards of the Especial Fruit company in the São Francisco River valley, where irrigation projects have made it possible to grow fruit on a large scale for export, in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

 

“The farm used to be far from any source of water. We had to walk two to three kilometers, setting out early with buckets,” he recalled.

The droughts did not end but they no longer produce deaths among the peasants of Brazil’s semiarid Northeast, a region that is home to some 23 million of Brazil’s 208 million people.

This was thanks to the strategy of “coexistence with the semiarid”, promoted by ASA, in contrast with the historical policies of the “drought industry”, which exploited the tragedy, charging high prices for water or exchanging it for votes, distributing water in tanker trucks.

 

Thanks to simple rainwater harvesting techniques, Almeida has managed to live harmoniously with the local ecosystem. “This is a water harvesting ‘calçadão’ (embankment), the water goes to the tank-calçadão that has a capacity to store 52,000 litres. We use it to water the garden. It provides an income for the families,”

Thanks to simple rainwater harvesting techniques, Almeida has managed to live harmoniously with the local ecosystem. “This is a water harvesting ‘calçadão’ (embankment), the water goes to the tank-calçadão that has a capacity to store 52,000 litres. We use it to water the garden. It provides an income for the families” Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

 

“Coexistence with the semiarid ecosystem is something completely natural that actually people around the world have done in relation to their climates. The Eskimos coexist with the icy Arctic climate, the Tuareg (nomads of the Sahara desert) coexist with the desert climate,” the president of the IRPAA, Harold Schistek, told IPS in his office in the city of Juazeiro, in the Northeast state of Bahía.

“What we have done is simply to read nature. Observing how plants can survive for eight months without rain, and how animals adapt to drought, and drawing conclusions for how people should do things. It is not about technology or books. It is simply observation of nature applied to human action,” he explained.

The “coexistence” is based on respecting the ecosystem and reviving traditional agricultural practices.

The basic principle is to store up in preparation for drought – everything from water to native seeds, and fodder for goats and sheep, the most resistant species.

The fruits are seen in the Cooperative of Farming Families from Canudos and Curaçá (Coopercuc), made up of about 250 families from those municipalities in the state of Bahía.

 

Almeida uses an “enxurrada” (flow) tank, and an irrigation system for his citrus trees, which through a narrow pipe irrigates the roots without wasting water. He also opted for plants native to the Caatinga that adapt naturally to the local climate and soil conditions.

Almeida uses an “enxurrada” (flow) tank, and an irrigation system for his citrus trees, which through a narrow pipe irrigates the roots without wasting water. He also opted for plants native to the Caatinga that adapt naturally to the local climate and soil conditions. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

 

Coopercuc, which Almeida is a member of, has an industrial plant in Uauá, where they make jellies and jams with fruits of the Caaatinga, such as umbú (Spondias tuberosa) and passion fruit, with pulps processed in mini-factories run by the cooperative members.

“We’re not only concerned with making a profit but also with the sustainable use of the raw materials of the Caatinga. For example, the harvest of the ombú (Phytolacca dioica) used to be done in a very harmful way, swinging the tree to make the fruit fall,” Coopercuc vice-president José Edimilson Alves told IPS.

Now, he said, “we instruct the members of the cooperative to collect the fruit by hand, and to avoid breaking the branches. We also do not allow native wood or living plants to be extracted.”

The cooperative sells its products, free of agrochemicals, to large Brazilian cities and has exported to France and Austria.

“This proposal shows that it is possible to live, and with a good quality of life, in the semiarid region,” said Alves.

 

Coopercuc vice-president José Edimilson Alves. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

Coopercuc vice-president José Edimilson Alves. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

 

This reality exists in the 200,000-hectare fruit-growing area of the São Francisco River valley, located between the municipalities of Petrolina (state of Pernambuco) and Juazeiro. Government incentives and irrigation techniques favoured the installation of agribusiness in the area.

According to the State Development Company of the Valleys of São Francisco and Parnaíba, fruit growers in the area generate over 800 million dollars a year, and provide about 100,000 jobs.

“It is estimated that this use of irrigation represents 80 percent of all uses of the basin. But we have to consider that the collection of water for these projects promotes the economic and social development of our region by generating employment and revenues, through the export of fresh and canned fruit to Europe and the United States,” explained the company’s manager, Joselito Menezes.

The company Especial Fruit, which has about 3,000 hectares in the valley and 2,200 workers, produces thousands of tons of grapes and mangos every year, which are exported mostly to the United States, Argentina and Chile, along with a smaller volume of melons, for the local market.

“All the irrigation is done with the drip system, since good management of water is very important due to the limitations of water resources,” the company’s president Suemi Koshiyama told IPS.

He explained that “The furrow irrigation system only takes advantage of 40 percent of the water, and spray irrigation makes use of 60 percent, compared to 85 percent for drip irrigation.”

“The region that has the least water is the one that uses the most. Thousands of litres are used to produce crops, so when the region exports it is also exporting water and minerals from the soil, especially with sugarcane,” said Moacir dos Santos, an expert at the IRPAA.

“In a region with very little water and fertile soil, we have to question the validity of this. The scarce water should be used to produce food, in a sustainable manner,” he told IPS.

According to ASA, one and a half million farm families have only 4.2 percent of the arable land in the semiarid region, while 1.3 percent of the agro-industrial farms of over 1,000 hectares occupy 38 percent of the lands.

“Family farmers produce the food. Agribusiness produces commodities. And although it has a strong impact on the trade balance, at a local level, family farming actually supplies the economy,” dos Santos said.

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Cycles of Wealth in Brazil’s Amazon: Gold, Lumber, Cattle and Now, Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/cycles-wealth-brazils-amazon-gold-lumber-cattle-now-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cycles-wealth-brazils-amazon-gold-lumber-cattle-now-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/cycles-wealth-brazils-amazon-gold-lumber-cattle-now-energy/#respond Sat, 21 Oct 2017 07:50:23 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152630 The burning down of the local forest, on Jun. 29, 1979, was the first step towards the creation of the city of Paranaita, in a municipality that is now trying to shed its reputation as a major deforester of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and has named itself “the energy capital.” Two large hydropower plants, one of […]

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Aerial view of the TelesPires Hydropower Plant, which has been operating since 2015.With an installed capacity of 1,820 MW, it is the biggest plant on the TelesPires River, which runs across the west-central state of MatoGrosso. Built in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, the reservoir is only 160 sq km in size and only displaced one family. Credit: Courtesy of CHTP

Aerial view of the TelesPires Hydropower Plant, which has been operating since 2015.With an installed capacity of 1,820 MW, it is the biggest plant on the TelesPires River, which runs across the west-central state of MatoGrosso. Built in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, the reservoir is only 160 sq km in size and only displaced one family. Credit: Courtesy of CHTP

By Mario Osava
PARANAITA, Brazil, Oct 21 2017 (IPS)

The burning down of the local forest, on Jun. 29, 1979, was the first step towards the creation of the city of Paranaita, in a municipality that is now trying to shed its reputation as a major deforester of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and has named itself “the energy capital.”

Two large hydropower plants, one of which is still being built, have changed life in Paranaita. But its future is not yet clearly defined between the rainforest, cattle-breeding and soy and maize monoculture that have advanced from the south, deforesting the west-central state of MatoGrosso, which is the southeastern gateway to the Amazon jungle region.

Construction of the plants has brought investment, new housing and hotels and has given a new boost to the local economy in the city, which now has large supermarkets. “My hotel only had six apartments; now it has 12 complete apartments and a more attractive facade,”Francisco Karasiaki Júnior said brightly, during a tour of the area by IPS.

The Teles Pires dam, 85 km northwest of Paranaita, employed 5,719 workers at the height of construction, in July 2014.

The dam began to be built in August 2011 and was completed in late 2014, when work had already begun on the São Manoel – the former name of the Teles Pires river – dam, which is smaller and located farther away from the city, 125 km downstream.

São Manoel suffered delays when construction was temporarily halted by court order and when the company building it came close to bankruptcy as a result of corruption scandals, which led to massive lay-offs in late 2016.

“I lost money, many of the people who stayed here didn’t pay their bills,” complained Ster Seravali Petrofeza, 68, the owner of the Petros Hotel and of a large store that sells machinery and appliances for production, construction and households in a building on the main street of the city that she saw grow up from nothing.

“The era of the ‘garimpo’ brought me my best business,” she said, recalling the boom in informal gold mining that brought Paranaitaprosperity during the 1980s and the early 1990s.

The sales of dredges, motors and other equipment purchased by miners ensured the success of the business she ran with her late husband, who “used to spend all his time on the road, looking for products, assembling dredges and delivering them to the ‘garimpeiros’ (informal gold-miners) on the river, working round the clock,” she said.

Pedro Correa, director of the environment in the Paranaita city government, looks at a photo of the city surrounded by forests, on his computer screen. Originally from the southern state of São Paulo, he worked for a few months on the construction of the Teles Pires hydropower dam and decided to stay in this town because he likes the quality of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Pedro Correa, director of the environment in the Paranaita city government, looks at a photo of the city surrounded by forests, on his computer screen. Originally from the southern state of São Paulo, he worked for a few months on the construction of the Teles Pires hydropower dam and decided to stay in this town because he likes the quality of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The ‘garimpo’ led to the emergence of 11 hotels in the city, between 1982 and 1989,” and put an end to frustrated attempts to grow tomatoes, coffee, cacao and tropical fruit like the guaraná, said Karasiaki, another pioneer who has lived 37 of his 53 years in Paranaíta and inherited the hotel built by his father.

“Our employees would disappear; they would go and ‘garimpar’ (mine for gold),” he said.

But the mining industry declined in the 1990s. The crisis was overcome by the intensification of the extraction of timber and the mushrooming of sawmills in the city. “We started selling chainsaws like hotcakes, about 12 a day,” said Petrofeza.

That era ended in turn the following decade, as a result of increasingly strict environmental controls.

The construction of hydropower dams gave the city new life, reviving the local market, “but they didn’t leave us anything permanent,” lamented the businesswoman, who was widowed in 1991.

“Agriculture isour hope,” said Petrofeza, whose two adult children produce soy and maize.

Paranaita exemplifies the “boom and collapse” cycles that affect an economy based on the exploitation of natural resources in Brazil’s rainforest, said economist João Andrade, coordinator of Socioenvironmental Networks at the non-governmental Centre of Life Institute (ICV), which operates in the north of the state of MatoGrosso.

Mining, rubber, timber, livestock and monoculture – all environmentally unsustainable activities – have succeeded each other in different areas, some of which have now been affected by the construction of hydropower plants.

The hotel and construction materials store owned by Ster Seravali Petrofeza in the city of Paranaita, in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. The business and its owner have experienced the economic cycles of boom and collapse in this city, which now aims to become the capital of hydroelectricity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The hotel and construction materials store owned by Ster Seravali Petrofeza in the city of Paranaita, in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. The business and its owner have experienced the economic cycles of boom and collapse in this city, which now aims to become the capital of hydroelectricity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The plants do not change the model of occupation and domination of the Amazon, but could kick off a new cycle, by providing more accessible energy to the mining industry and facilitating the expansion of export agriculture with new roads, Andrade fears.

Paranaíta, a city of just under 11,000 people in 2010, according to the latest census, declared a state of emergency in November 2013, due to the collapse in public services, because the population had expanded by two-thirds in the first few years of construction of the TelesPires plant, according to the city government.

Rents, the prices of goods and services, crime rates, and demand for health and education suddenly shot up, said biologist Paulo Correa, director of Environmental Projects and Licensing in the city government and a former employee of the Teles Pires dam, who decided to stay in Paranaita.

Contagious diseases like malaria and sexually transmitted infections also increased when the construction work was at its peak in the affected municipalities, said Carina Sernaglia Gomes,analyst of municipal environmental management at ICV.

The number of rapes rose more than threefold in the city of Alta Floresta, an important regional hub of50,000 people, with an airport and institutions of higher learning. The total climbed from 11 cases in 2011 to 36 in 2015, according to police records, Gomes pointed out.

In Paranaita, homicides and other violent crimes rose from 20 to 70 cases in that period.

One of the new avenues in Paranaita, whose population rose 70 percent between 2010 and 2014, which threatened to bring about a collapse in public services, during the nearby construction of two hydroelectric dams on the Teles Pires river, at the gateway to Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One of the new avenues in Paranaita, whose population rose 70 percent between 2010 and 2014, which threatened to bring about a collapse in public services, during the nearby construction of two hydroelectric dams on the Teles Pires river, at the gateway to Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

These negative visions contrast with the enormous social and environmental investments made by the companies, especially the TelesPires Hydroelectric Company (CHTP). But nearly always in this kind of project, the compensation and mitigating measures arrive too late, after the worst impacts of the works have already been felt.

Paving the 55-km road to Paranaitaconnected the once-isolated city with the rest of the world. “It wasn’t an obligation, but we understood what the local populace was longing for and we did it,” said CHTP environment director Marcos Azevedo Duarte.

A road trip between the two towns was cut from three hours to just over half an hour, making it possible for the young people of Paranaitato study at the universities in Alta Floresta.

The training of 2,800 local workerswas “a legacy of knowledge,” said Duarte. Local labour power represented 20 percent of the company’s total at the height of construction.

The company returned outside workers to their homes after the work was done, to ease the demographic pressure on Paranaíta, the most heavily affected town due to its proximity and small population, he said.

Besides the 44 projects aimed at compensating for the damage in the affected municipalities, CHTP has attempted to boost local development.

Along with the city government and ICV, it has fomented improvements in production and administration in the rural settlement of São Pedro, population 5,000, located 40 km fromParanaita, and still dependent on food shipped in from southern Brazil.

Ensuring land titles to family farmers is a priority, said Duarte.

Getting Paranaitaoff the Environment Ministry’s black list of municipalities guilty of the worst deforestation in the Amazon is a goal of the city government that has the support of CHTP. Reducing the deforested area and legalising rural properties in a national land registry are the requirements for achieving that.

With respect to indigenous people, who the company compensated with 20 specific programmes, mainly the donation of vehicles, boats, fuel and community centres, Duarte acknowledged a major failing: the flooding of a site sacred to the Munduruku people, the “seven falls”.

“There is no way to compensate for a sacred site,” and the company feels the obligation to address proposals like building a centre for memory and culture for local indigenous communities and handing over the funeral urns found in the excavation during the construction of the plant, he said.

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