Inter Press Service » Integration and Development Brazilian-style http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 10 Feb 2016 20:01:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Energy from All Sources, a Game of Chance in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/energy-from-all-sources-a-game-of-chance-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-from-all-sources-a-game-of-chance-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/energy-from-all-sources-a-game-of-chance-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 28 Jan 2016 00:33:40 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143718 An industrial sugar and ethanol plant in Sertãozinho, in the southern Brazilian state of São Paulo. The sugar cane industry in Brazil has shrunk under the government of Dilma Rousseff, due to the gasoline subsidy, which dealt a blow to its competitor, ethanol. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

An industrial sugar and ethanol plant in Sertãozinho, in the southern Brazilian state of São Paulo. The sugar cane industry in Brazil has shrunk under the government of Dilma Rousseff, due to the gasoline subsidy, which dealt a blow to its competitor, ethanol. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 28 2016 (IPS)

Brazil, which boasts that it has one of the cleanest energy mixes in the world, is now plagued by corruption, poor market conditions, and bad decisions – a near fatal combination.

Brazil’s energy mix is made up of 42 percent renewable sources, three times the global average.

But the country also hopes to become a major oil exporter, thanks to the 2006 discovery of the “pre-salt” wells – huge reserves of crude under a thick layer of salt far below the surface, 300 km from the coast.

Megaprojects involving the construction of refineries and petrochemical plants, dozens of shipyards that mushroomed up and down the coast, and the dream of turning the new oil wealth into a better future lost their charm in the face of the corruption scandal that broke out in 2014, revealing the embezzlement of billions of dollars from the state oil giant Petrobras.

Nearly 200 people are facing charges in the scandal for paying or receiving kickbacks for inflated contracts. Around 50 of them are politicians, most of them still active members of Congress.

The heads of the country’s biggest construction companies were arrested, which dealt a blow to the real estate market and major infrastructure works nationwide.

The investigations took on momentum when over 30 of those facing prosecution struck plea bargain deals, agreeing to cooperate in exchange for shorter sentences.

The scandal is one of the main elements in the economic and political crisis shaking the country, which saw an estimated drop in GDP of more than three percent in 2015, rising inflation, a dangerously high fiscal deficit, a threat of impeachment hanging over President Dilma Rousseff and chaos in parliament.

Besides the corruption scandal, Petrobras has been hit hard by the collapse of oil prices, which has threatened its investment in the pre-salt reserves, and by the losses it accumulated during years of government fuel-price controls.

The government took advantage of Petrobras’ monopoly on refining to curb inflation by means of price controls, mainly for gasoline.

But the oil company scandal, which broke out after the October 2014 elections in which Rousseff was reelected, fuelled the growth of inflation, to over 10 percent today.

With Petrobras in financial crisis and selling off assets to pay down its debt, none of the four planned refineries has been completed according to plan. The only one that was finished is operating at only half of the planned capacity.

Most of the shipyards, which were to supply the oil drilling rigs, offshore platforms and tankers involved in the production of pre-salt oil, have gone under, and the government’s plans to build a strong naval industry have floundered.

The priority put on oil production, to the detriment of the fight against climate change, along with subsidised gasoline prices dealt a major blow to ethanol, which was enjoying a new boom since the emergence in 2003 of the flexible fuel vehicle, specially designed to run on gasoline or ethanol or a blend of the two.

The innovative new technology revived consumer confidence in ethanol, which had been undermined in the previous decade due to supply shortages. With the flex-fuel cars, consumers no longer had to depend on one kind of fuel and could choose whichever was cheaper at any given time.

The use of ethanol, which is consumed in nearly the same quantities as gasoline in Brazil, broke the monopoly of fossil fuels, making a decisive contribution to the rise in the use of renewable energies.

But gasoline price subsidies drove many ethanol plants into bankruptcy and led to the sale of one-third of the sugarcane industry to foreign investors. Many local companies, facing financial disaster, sold their sugar mills and distilleries to transnational corporations like Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus and Tereos.

Brazil has practically given up on the idea of creating an international market for ethanol, after initially encouraging consumption and production of the biofuel made from sugarcane. Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) was very active in this campaign, unlike his successor Rousseff.

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

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

Hydroelectricity

Another decisive factor in achieving a more renewables-heavy energy mix is the predominance of hydroelectricity in the generation of electric power. In recent years, wind power has grown fast, and the use of biomass from sugarcane bagasse has also expanded, although to a lesser extent.

But the construction of giant hydropower dams in the Amazon jungle, such as Belo Monte on the Xingú River, has drawn strong opposition from indigenous communities and environmentalists, which, along with legal action by the public prosecutor’s office, has brought work on Belo Monte to a halt dozens of times.

As a result, work on the dam has been delayed by over a year. One of the latest legal rulings suspended the plant’s operating permit, and could block the filling of the reservoirs, which was to start in March this year.

When the plant comes fully onstream in 2019, Belo Monte will have an installed capacity of 11,233 MW. But during the dry season, when water levels in the river are low, it will generate almost no electric power. The flow of water in the Xingú River varies drastically, and the reservoir will not store up enough water to fuel the turbines during the dry months.

The dam has come under harsh criticism, even from advocates of hydropower, such as physicist José Goldemberg, a world-renowned expert on energy.

The controversy surrounding Belo Monte threatens the government’s plans for the Tapajós River, to the west of the Xingú River – the new hydroelectric frontier in the Amazon. For the last two years, the Rousseff administration has been trying to find investors to build and operate the São Luiz del Tapajós dam, which would generate 8,040 MW of electricity.

The presence of the Munduruku indigenous community along that stretch of the river and in the area of the São Luiz dam has stood in the way of the environmental licensing process.

The diversity of sources in Brazil’s energy mix, lessons learned from earlier negative experiences, and the complexity of the integrated national grid make decisions on energy almost a game of chance in this country.

Hydroelectric dams built in the Amazon rainforest in the 1980s, like Tucuruí and Balbina, caused environmental and social disasters that tarnished the reputation of hydropower. Belo Monte later threw up new hurdles to the development of this source of energy.

Another alternative source, nuclear energy, also brought negative experiences. Completion of the country’s second nuclear plant, still under construction in Angra dos Reis, 170 km from Rio de Janeiro, has long been delayed.

It formed part of a series of eight nuclear power plants that the military decided to build, during the 1964-1985 dictatorship, signing an agreement in 1975 with Germany, which was to provide technology and equipment.

Economic crisis brought the programme to a halt in the 1980s. One of the plants was completed in 2000 and the other is still being built, because the equipment had already been imported over 30 years ago. The final cost overruns will be enormous.

For the government and the different sectors involved in policy-making in the energy industry, giving up hydropower is unthinkable.

But the advances made in wind power, new energy storage technologies, and especially the reduction of costs in the production of solar power increase the risk of making large hydropower dams, which are built to operate for over a hundred years, obsolete.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Hydropower at Front and Centre of Energy Debate in Chile, Once Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2016 00:09:26 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143702 General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America, in the Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness, a place of abundant water resources.  Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America, in the Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness, a place of abundant water resources. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 27 2016 (IPS)

The Chilean government’s approval of a hydroelectric dam in the Patagonia wilderness has rekindled the debate on the sustainability and efficiency of large-scale hydropower plants and whether they contribute to building a cleaner energy mix.

“Hydroelectricity can be clean and viable, but we believe every kind of energy should be developed on a human scale, and must be in accordance with the size and potential of local communities,” Claudia Torres, spokeswoman for the Patagonia Without Dams movement, told IPS.

She added that “there are different reasons that socioenvironmental movements like ours are opposed to mega-dams: because of the mega-impacts, and because of the way this energy is used – to meet the needs of the big mining corporations that are causing an environmental catastrophe in the north of the country.”

The movements fighting the construction of large dams in the southern Patagonian region of Aysén suffered a major defeat on Jan. 18, when the plan for the 640 MW Cuervo dam was approved.

This South American nation of 17.6 million people has a total installed capacity of 20,203 MW of electricity. The interconnected Central and Norte Grande power grids account for 78.38 percent and 20.98 percent of the country’s electric power, respectively.

Of Chile’s total energy supply, 58.4 percent is generated by diesel fuel, coal and natural gas. The country is seeking to drastically reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels, to cut costs and to meet its climate change commitments.

Large-scale hydropower provides 20 percent of the country’s electricity, while 13.5 percent comes from unconventional renewable sources like wind and solar power, mini-dams and biomass.

Chile has enormous potential in unconventional renewable sources. In 2014, the government of Michelle Bachelet adopted a new energy agenda that set a target for 70 percent of Chile’s electric power to come from renewables by 2050.

In terms of water resources, Chile has 6,500 km of coastline, 11,452 square km of lakes, and innumerable rivers.

Aysén, in the extreme south of the country, has abundant water resources – fast-flowing rivers, numerous lakes, and distinctive lagoons. General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America after Bolivia’s Titicaca, is found in that region.

To generate hydroelectricity, the authorities and investors have their eyes on the wild rivers of Patagonia, a remote, untamed, unspoiled and sparsely populated wilderness area at the far southern tip of Chile.

But vast segments of civil society reject large hydropower dams, which they consider obsolete and a threat to the environment and to local communities.

However, Professor Matías Peredo, an expert on hydropower at the University of Santiago de Chile, says that thanks to the country’s abundant water resources, hydroelectricity is “one of the energy sources with the greatest potential for development.”

“It’s always good to diversify the energy mix, and well-managed hydroelectricity is quite sustainable,” he told IPS.

The expert argued that a properly managed hydropower dam “is better from an environmental and social point of view than a string of small dams that together provide the same number of MW of electric power.”

Ensuring that a hydroelectricity plant is well-managed means avoiding major fluctuations, Peredo said.

“Hydropower generation in Chile depends on demand and the plant’s load capacity….In other words, the plant can only operate with prior authorisation from the Superintendencia de Electricidad y Combustibles (the country’s power regulator), and depending on the availability of water,” he said.

“This combination means the hydroelectric plant operates on and off, thus generating large fluctuations in flow, which is a major stress for the ecosystem,” he said.

The law to reform the energy industry and foment unconventional renewable sources includes in this category hydropower dams of up to 20 MW – in other words, mini-dams.

Environmental organisations like Ecosistemas maintain that large hydroelectric dams have extremely negative social and environmental impacts.

These include the flooding of large areas of land, which destroys flora and fauna, and the modification of rivers, which causes bioecological damage.

And the negative social impacts of large dams are proportional to the multiple environmental impacts, displacing millions of people: between 40 and 80 million people were forcibly evicted for the construction of large dams worldwide between 1945 and 2000, according to the World Commission on Dams (WCD).

“It is important to diversify the energy mix, for local use, with good support, clean energy sources, and considerably fewer impacts, while strengthening consumption and development in the territories,” said Torres, the Patagonia Without Dams activist, from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region.

“Decentralised power generation is key” to moving forward in terms of clean, sustainable energy, she said, adding that the people of Aysén are seeking to expand the use if wind, solar and tidal power in the region.

Peredo agreed that the decentralisation of power generation is of strategic importance.

“Distributed generation (power generation at the point of consumption) must without a doubt be discussed in this country. It makes a lot of sense for electricity to be produced locally,” he said.

In 2014 the Patagonia Without Dams movement won a major victory when the government cancelled the HidroAysén project, which would have built five large hydropower dams on wilderness rivers in Aysén to generate a combined total of 2,700 MW of energy.

But now the movement was dealt a blow, with the approval by a special Committee of Ministers of the construction of the Cuervo dam – a decision that can only be blocked by a court decision.

The project, developed by Energía Austral, a joint venture between the Swiss firm Glencore and Australia’s Origin Energy, would be built at the headwaters of the Cuervo River, some 45 km from the city of Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region after Coyhaique, for a total investment of 733 million dollars.

Energía Austral is studying the possibility of a submarine power cable and an aerial submarine power line, to connect to the central grids.

The controversy over the plant has heated up because it would be built in the Liquiñe-Ofqui geological fault zone, an area of active volcanoes.

“It poses an imminent risk to the local population,” Torres warned.

Peredo said “the project was poorly designed from the start, and will not be managed well.”

“They failed to take into consideration important aspects, such as the connection of the Yulton and Meullín rivers at some point, which could have disastrous consequences for the ecosystem,” he said.

Opponents of the dam say they will go to the courts and apply social and political pressure, in a year of municipal elections.

“We have one single aim: to keep any dams from being built in Patagonia, and that’s what’s going to happen,” Torres said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Innovative Project to Provide Renewable Energy 24/7 to Chilean Villagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/innovative-project-to-provide-renewable-energy-247-in-chilean-village/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovative-project-to-provide-renewable-energy-247-in-chilean-village http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/innovative-project-to-provide-renewable-energy-247-in-chilean-village/#comments Fri, 15 Jan 2016 16:52:55 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143604 The fishing village of Caleta San Marcos in northern Chile, 100 km from Iquique and 1,800 km north of Santiago, will be the site of an innovative project, Espejo de Tarapacá, that will combine renewable sources to provide the local residents with a steady 24/7 energy supply. Courtesy Valhalla Energía

The fishing village of Caleta San Marcos in northern Chile, 100 km from Iquique and 1,800 km north of Santiago, will be the site of an innovative project, Espejo de Tarapacá, that will combine renewable sources to provide the local residents with a steady 24/7 energy supply. Courtesy Valhalla Energía

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 15 2016 (IPS)

A novel energy project in Chile will combine a pumped-storage hydroelectric plant operating on seawater and a solar plant, to provide a steady supply of clean energy to a fishing village in the Atacama Desert, the world’s driest.

The idea may seem unlikely, given the extreme aridity and lack of water in northern Chile, where copper, gold and silver mining corporations use most of the water and energy consumed.

But the initiative has drawn the interest of local and foreign investors. And in 2015 it won the Avonni National Innovation Award granted by the Chilean Innovation Forum, the National TV Station TVN, El Mercurio – the country’s largest newspaper – and the Economy Ministry.

“Nowhere in the world have they managed to offer clean energy 24/7 at competitive prices, without subsidies,” said Juan Andrés Camus, general manager and one of the two founders of Valhalla Energía, the local company that is carrying out the project.

“The convergence of these three elements is unique, and it’s not a stroke of genius on our part but a wonderful gift of nature,” he told IPS.

The company was founded on the premise that Chile is a country that is poor in the “energies of the past, but infinitely rich in energies of the future.”

With an investment of 400 million dollars, the Espejo (Mirror) de Tarapacá will essentially operate as a big battery that will store up energy. Construction is to begin in late 2016 and it is set to come onstream in 2020.

The project includes the installation of a pumped-storage hydroelectric plant, which will pump seawater up a cliff on the coast using solar energy, to a natural storage basin at an altitude of 600 metres.

In the night-time, when no solar energy is available, the plant will generate electricity by releasing the stored water, which will rush down through the same tunnels. This will provide a steady round-the-clock supply of energy – 24 hours a day/seven days a week – overcoming the problem of intermittency of renewable energy sources.

Scale model of Espejo de Tarapacá, a renewable energy project that will take advantage of Chile’s coastal geography, with a cliff where seawater will be pumped up to a natural storage basin at an altitude of 600 metres, in the extreme north of the country. Credit: Courtesy Valhalla Energía

Scale model of Espejo de Tarapacá, a renewable energy project that will take advantage of Chile’s coastal geography, with a cliff where seawater will be pumped up to a natural storage basin at an altitude of 600 metres, in the extreme north of the country. Credit: Courtesy Valhalla Energía

El Espejo will generate 300 MW of electricity in Caleta San Marcos, in the extreme northern region of Tarapacá, 100 km south of the city of Iquique.

At the same time, the company will build Cielos de Tarapacá, a 1,650-hectare solar park in nearby Pintados that will produce 600 MW of energy, with a projected investment of nearly one billion dollars.

The solar project, which is waiting for an environmental permit, will operate with single-axis tracking technology in order to follow the sun during the day from east to west.

Camus said the solar park will be so large that “if it began to operate in 2015 it would be the biggest in the world.”

At night, the plant will continue generating solar power, thanks to the energy stored in Espejo.

The salient aspect of the two projects is that they will harness the natural attributes that Chile has in abundance: seawater, coastal cliffs, and the Atacama Desert’s solar radiation.

This will avoid the need to build dams and reduce construction of underground tunnels by up to 80 percent, according to the promoters of the project, who say it is one of the most innovative renewable energy initiatives in the world.

“More than in the technology employed, the innovation of Espejo de Tarapacá lies in the more efficient use of geography, which makes it possible to build the plant at the lowest possible cost,” said Camus.

“The big opportunity is in the efficient use of the territory, more than in the technological barrier,” he added. Chile is a long, narrow country between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountains to the east. It has 6,435 km of coast line.

Valhalla has been working closely with the people of Caleta San Marcos.

The fishing village’s 300 inhabitants, who make a living from small-scale fishing and harvesting shellfish and giant kelp, were initially wary, afraid the initiative would have a negative impact on local marine resources.

Working groups were set up to discuss things with the local community, who asked for advisers with expertise in marine issues and a lawyer to support them in technical and legal aspects.

Finally, after months of work, the company signed agreements with the local fishing union and the residents’ association pledging to make contributions to the local community. They also agreed on a set of principles to guarantee transparent management of the plant, as well as a mechanism to address problems in case damage to the sea is detected.

Aerial view of the area where the Espejo de Tarapacá project will be built, to produce 300 MW of electricity using seawater and solar energy, in an innovative plant that will generate energy 24/7 in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Valhalla Energía

Aerial view of the area where the Espejo de Tarapacá project will be built, to produce 300 MW of electricity using seawater and solar energy, in an innovative plant that will generate energy 24/7 in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Valhalla Energía

“This has been beneficial, and I hope other communities can have access to this and will be able to decide for themselves, but with information, equal opportunity, while defending their rights, so that ignorance doesn’t become a curb on development,” said Genaro Collao, president of the local fishing union of Caleta San Marcos.

“At this tipping point the decision is: I put money in your pocket or I improve your life,” he told IPS by phone from the village. “Money in my pocket is going to last one day, one week, one month. But life is an ongoing legacy, that’s the concept.”

This South American nation of 17.6 million people has a total installed capacity of 20,203 MW of electricity. The interconnected Central and Norte Grande power grids account for 78.38 percent and 20.98 percent of total electric power, respectively.

Of the country’s total energy supply, 58.4 percent is generated by diesel fuel, coal and natural gas, while the rest comes from renewable energy sources – mainly large hydropower dams.

Only 13.5 percent comes from unconventional renewable sources like wind power (4.57 percent), solar (3.79 percent), mini-dams (2.8 percent) and biomass (2.34 percent).

In 2014, the government of Michelle Bachelet adopted a new energy agenda that set a target for 70 percent of Chile’s electric power to come from renewable sources by 2050.

“Seventy percent of the greenhouse gases in Chile come from the energy sector,” Environment Minister Pablo Badenier has told IPS. “That means it is our commitments in energy that will enable us to live up to the pledge to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2030.”

“Looking at the 2050 energy road map, it appears viable that by the year 2050, 70 percent of power generation in Chile could come from renewable sources. That is what makes it possible to seriously commit to this goal regarding greenhouse gases.”

Studies indicate that Atacama has one of the highest concentrations of solar energy in the world. According to experts, the entire country could be supplied with electricity if less than 0.5 percent of the desert’s surface were covered by solar panels.

“Projects like this one could offer an opportunity by putting Chile at the forefront of development of green technology that does not require people to pay more for it,” said Camus.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Soy Boom Revives Amazon Highwayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/soy-boom-revives-amazon-highway/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soy-boom-revives-amazon-highway http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/soy-boom-revives-amazon-highway/#comments Fri, 08 Jan 2016 00:09:44 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143536 A local small farmer, Rosineide Maciel, watches the road improvement works on highway BR-163, which runs past her house in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A local small farmer, Rosineide Maciel, watches the road improvement works on highway BR-163, which runs past her house in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
MIRITITUBA, Brazil , Jan 8 2016 (IPS)

The BR-163 highway, an old dream of the Brazilian military to colonise the Amazon jungle, was revived by agroexporters as part of a plan aimed at cutting costs by shipping soy out of river ports. But the improvement of the road has accentuated problems such as deforestation and land tenure, and is fuelling new social conflicts.

The 350-km stretch of road between the cities of Miritituba and Santarem in the northern Brazilian state of Pará look nothing like the popular image of a lush Amazon rainforest, home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the world.

Between the two port terminals – in Santarém, where the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers converge, and in Miritituba on the banks of the Tapajós River – are small scattered groves of trees surrounded by endless fields of soy and pasture.

Cattle grazing peacefully or resting under the few remaining trees, taking shelter from the high temperatures exacerbated by the deforestation, are the only species of mammal in sight.“A common phrase heard in the area along the BR-163 is ‘whoever deforests, owns the land’ – in other words, deforestation has become an illegal instrument for seizing public land.” – Mauricio Torres

“When we came here 30 years ago this was all jungle,” local small farmer Rosineide Maciel told IPS as she and her family stood watching a bulldozer flatten a stretch of the BR-163 highway in front of their modest dwelling.

Maciel doesn’t miss the days when, along with thousands of other Brazilian migrants, she was drawn here by the then-military government’s (1964-1985) offer of land, part of a strategy to colonise the Amazon rainforest.

Thanks to the paving of the highway that began in 2009, it takes less time to transport her cassava and rice to the town of Rurópolis, 200 km from her farm.

“It’s been easier since they improved the road,” she said. “In the past, there were so many potholes on the way to Rurópolis, and in the wet season it took us three days because of the mud.”

BR-163, built in the 1970s, had become practically impassable. The road links Cuiabá, the capital of the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso – the country’s main soy and corn producer and exporter – with the river port city of Santarém.

Of the highway’s 1,400 kilometres, where traffic of trucks carrying tons of soy and maize is intense, some 200 km have yet to be paved, and a similar number of kilometres of the road are full of potholes.

Accidents occur on a daily basis, caused in the dry season by the red dust thrown up on the stretches that are still dirt, and in the wet season by the mud.

But compared to how things were in the past, it is a paradise for the truckers who drive the route at least five times a month during harvest time.

Truck driver Pedro Gomes from the north of the state of Mato Grosso told IPS: “When soy began to come to Santarém, three years ago, sometimes the drive took me 10 to 15 days. Today we do it in three days, if there’s no rain.”

The BR-163 highway runs up to the entrance of the port terminal built in Santarém by U.S. commodities giant Cargill, where the company loads soy and other grains to ship down the Amazon River to the Atlantic Ocean, and from there to big markets like China and Europe.

This and other ports built or planned by different companies in Santarém, Miritituba and Barcarena – in Belem, the capital of Pará, at the mouth of the Amazon River – are part of a logistics infrastructure which, along with the paving of the highway, seeks to reduce the costs of land and maritime transport in northern Brazil.

The river ports and the road improvement have nearly cut in half the transport distance for truck traffic from Mato Grosso, which is around 2,000 km from the congested ports in the southeast, such as Santos in the state of São Paulo or Paranaguá in Paraná.

The Mato Grosso Soy Producers Association estimates the transport savings at 40 dollars a ton.

“Shipping out of ports in the north like Santarém has boosted competitiveness,” José de Lima, director of planning for the city of Santarém, told IPS. “BR-163 is a key export corridor that was very much needed by the country and the region.”

But the country’s agroexport model has many critics.

Road works on highway BR-163 in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Road works on highway BR-163 in Itaituba municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

With the soy production boom in Pará, illegal occupations of land have expanded and property prices have soared.

“The paving of BR-163 has heated up the land market,” Mauricio Torres, at the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA), told IPS. “As this is happening in a region where illegal possession of land is so widespread and where there is no land-use zoning, it generates a series of social and environmental conflicts.”

This, in turn, has driven deforestation.

“Forests are cut down not only for agriculture but to make fraudulent land claims. A common phrase heard in the area along the BR-163 is ‘whoever deforests, owns the land’ – in other words, deforestation has become an illegal instrument for seizing public land,” he said.

In 2006, the government launched a sustainable development plan for BR-163, aimed at reducing the socioenvironmental impacts caused by the paving of the road, by means of self-sustaining projects for local communities.

“But this pretty much just petered out,” UFOPA chancellor Raimunda Nogueira explained to IPS.

“If the communities along BR-163 are not strengthened, they will undergo a radical transformation,” she said. “For example, land prices are skyrocketing and small farmers are selling out, which accentuates the phenomenon of the latifundio (large landed estates).”

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon became more widespread in the 1960s, driven by the expansion of cattle ranching and the timber industry.

However, that did not leave the land completely free of vegetation, according to Nogueira, because subsistence farming “maintained different levels of regeneration of the forest.”

“When the big agricultural producers came in, they cleared all of those areas in the stage of regeneration that maintained a certain equilibrium,” said the chancellor, who estimates that around 120,000 hectares of land have been deforested to make way for soy.

Torres, meanwhile, referred to the emergence of other social problems like prostitution, involving minors as well as adults.

“There are towns in Pará that could turn into huge brothels for truck drivers,” he said.

The residents of Campo Verde, a town of around 6,000 people located 30 km from Miritituba, who depend on the production of palm hearts and on sawmills for a living, have started to feel the effects.

The town is located near the intersection of BR-163 and the 4,000-km Trans-Amazonian highway that cuts across northern Brazil.

“Only soy is going to come through here,” Celeste Ghizone, a community organiser in the town, told IPS. “An average of 1,500 trucks are expected to pass through every day. Just think of how many accidents we’re going to have with all of these truck drivers who drive through like mad men without even slowing down,” he said, adding that he is worried about rising crime and drug abuse rates.

When the improvement of BR-163 – including widening it to a four-lane highway along one major stretch – is completed, an estimated 20 million tons of grains (Mato Grosso currently produces 42 million tons) will be shipped northward to Amazon River ports rather than on the longer routes to ports in the southeast, by 2020.

The dream of agribusiness corporations is to continue expanding the soy corridor, by building a railway to Miritituba.

But Torres complained that “It’s important to stress that a paved BR-163 is not local infrastructure but is for the big soy producers of Mato Grosso. The state of Pará will become merely a transport corridor for soy exports.”

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous Villagers Fight “Evil Spirit” of Hydropower Dam in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/indigenous-villagers-fight-evil-spirit-of-hydropower-dam-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 21 Dec 2015 17:28:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143410 Juarez Saw is the chief of the Sawré Muybu village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the state of Pará, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo H. Gaudenzi/IPS

Juarez Saw is the chief of the Sawré Muybu village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the state of Pará, Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo H. Gaudenzi/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
SAWRÉ MUYBU, Brazil , Dec 21 2015 (IPS)

At dusk on the Tapajós River, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River in northern Brazil, the Mundurukú indigenous people gather to bathe and wash clothes in these waters rich in fish, the staple of their diet. But the “evil spirit”, as they refer in their language to the Sao Luiz Tapajós dam, threatens to leave most of their territory – and their way of life – under water.

“The river is like our mother. She feeds us with her fish. Just as our mothers fed us with their milk, the river also feeds us,” said Delsiano Saw, the teacher in the village of Sawré Muybu, between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará.

“It will fill up the river, and the animals and the fish will disappear. The plants that the fish eat, the turtles, will also be gone. Everything will vanish when they flood this area because of the hydroelectric dam,” he told IPS.

The dam will flood 330 sq km of land – including the area around this village of 178 people.

According to the government’s plans, the Sao Luiz Tapajós dam will have a potential of 8,040 MW and will be the main dam in a complex of hydropower plants to be built along the Tapajós River and its tributaries by 2024.

But the 7.7 billion-dollar project has been delayed once again because of challenges to the environmental permitting process.

“The accumulative effect is immeasurable. Environmental experts have demonstrated that it will kill the river. No river can survive a complex of seven dams,” Mauricio Torres, a sociologist at the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA), told IPS."No river can survive a complex of seven dams.” -- Sociologist Mauricio Torres

The Tapajós River, which flows into the Amazon River, runs 871 km through one of the best-preserved areas in the subtropical rainforest, where the government whittled away at protected areas in order to build the hydroelectric dams, which are prohibited in wildlife reserves.

The area is home to 12,000 members of the Mundurukú indigenous community and 2,500 riverbank dwellers who are opposed to the “megaproject” – a Portuguese term that the native people have incorporated in their language, to use in their frequent protests.

The Mundurukú have historically been a warlike people, and although they have adopted many Brazilian customs in their way of life, they still wear traditional face paint when they go to the big cities to demonstrate against the dam.

Village chief Juarez Saw complains that they were not consulted, as required by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, which has been ratified by Brazil.

The process of legalisation of their indigenous territory has been interrupted by the hydropower project.

“We aren’t leaving this land,” he told IPS. “There is a law that says we can’t be moved unless an illness is killing indigenous people.”

The village is located in a spot that is sacred to the Mundurukú people. And they point out that their ancestors were born here and are buried here.

“This is going to hurt, us, not only the Mundurukú people who have lived along the Tapajós River for so many years, but the jungle, the river. It hurts in our hearts,” said the village’s shaman or traditional healer, Fabiano Karo.

The interview is taking place in the ceremonial hut where the shaman heals “ailments of the body and spirit.” He fears being left without his traditional medicines when the water covers the land around the village – and his healing plants.

Academics warn that the flooding will cause significant losses in plant cover, while generating greenhouse gas emissions due to the decomposition of the trees and plants that are killed.

 A little girl in Sawré Muybu, an indigenous village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS


A little girl in Sawré Muybu, an indigenous village on the Tapajós River between the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairao in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

This biodiversity-rich river basin is home to unique species of plants, birds, fish and mammals, many of which are threatened or endangered.

“The impact will be great, especially on the aquatic fauna, because many Amazon River basin fish migrate from the lower to the upper stretches of the rivers to spawn,” ecologist Ricardo Scuole, at the UFOPA university, explained to IPS.
“Large structures like dikes, dams and artificial barriers generally hinder or entirely block the spawning migration of these species,” he said.

The village of Sawré Muybu currently covers 300 hectares, and the flooding for the hydroelectric dam will reduce it to an island.

María Parawá doesn’t know how old she is, but she does know she has always lived on the river.

“I’m afraid of the flood because I don’t know where I’ll go. I have a lot of sons, daughters and grandchildren to raise and I don’t know how I’ll support them,” Parawá told IPS through an interpreter, because like many women in the village, she does not speak Portuguese.

A few hours from Sawré Muybu is Pimental, a town of around 800 inhabitants on the banks of the Tapajós River, where people depend on agriculture and small-scale fishing for a living.

This region was populated by migrants from the country’s impoverished semiarid Northeast in the late 19th century, at the height of the Amazon rubber boom.

Pimental, many of whose inhabitants were originally from the Northeast, could literally vanish from the map when the reservoir is created.

“With the impact of the dam, our entire history could disappear underwater,” lamented Ailton Nogueira, president of the association of local residents of Pimental.

The consortium that will build the hydroelectric dam, led by the Eletrobrás company, has proposed resettling the local inhabitants 20 km away.

But for people who live along the riverbanks, like the Mundurukú, the river and fishing are their way of life, sociologist Mauricio Torres explained.

“Their traditional knowledge has been built over millennia, passing from generation to generation,” he told IPS. “It is at least 10,000 years old. When a river is dammed and turned into a lake, it is transformed overnight and this traditional knowledge, which was how that region survived, is wiped away.”

The Tapajós River dams are seen by the government as strategic because they will provide energy to west-central Brazil and to the southeast – the richest and most industrialised part of the country.

“The country needs them. Otherwise we are going to have blackouts,” said José de Lima, director de of planning in the municipality of Santarém, Pará.

But the Tapajós Alive Movement (MTV), presided over by Catholic priest Edilberto Sena, questions the need for the dams.

“Why do they need so many hydropower dams on the Tapajós River? That’s the big question, because we don’t need them. It’s the large mining companies that need this energy, it’s the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro markets that need it,” he told IPS.

It’s evening in Sawré Muybu and the families gather at the “igarapé”, as they call the river. While people bathe, the women wash clothes and household utensils.

From childhood, boys learn to fish, hunt and provide the village with water. For the community, the river is the source of life.

“And no one has the right to change the course of life,” says Karo, the local shaman.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Brazil’s Amazon River Ports Give Rise to Dreams and Nightmareshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/brazils-amazon-river-ports-give-rise-to-dreams-and-nightmares/#comments Fri, 11 Dec 2015 22:48:18 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143303 The U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill’s port terminal on the banks of the Tapajós River in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém, where large cargo vessels dwarf the traditional small fishing boats of the Amazon basin. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill’s port terminal on the banks of the Tapajós River in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém, where large cargo vessels dwarf the traditional small fishing boats of the Amazon basin. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
SANTARÉM, Brazil, Dec 11 2015 (IPS)

River port terminals in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém are considered strategic by the government. But what some see as an opportunity for development is for others an irreversible change in what was previously a well-preserved part of the Amazon rainforest.

In the evening light on the Tapajós River, whose green-blue waters mix with the darker muddy water of the Amazon River in Santarém, it’s not easy to ignore the silos that overshadow what used to be a public beach, where passenger boats and fishing vessels typical of this part of the Amazon jungle state of Pará tie up.

The port terminal of the U.S. commodities giant Cargill began to operate in 2003 as a centre for the storage, transshipment and loading of soy and corn, in this city of nearly 300,000 people.

The cargo ships and convoys of barges carrying grains are headed for the Amazon River and then the Atlantic Ocean on their way to Europe or China, the biggest markets for Brazil’s main agribusiness exports.

This country is the world’s second-largest producer of soy, after the United States, and the biggest exporter. In the 2014-2015 harvest it produced 95 million tons, 60.7 million of which were exported.

Municipal authorities argue that the river port terminals generate jobs and tax revenue, while they drive the construction and services industries, hotels and fuel supplies.

But Edilberto Sena, a Catholic priest who is the president of the Tapajós Movement Alive, holds a very different view.

“Cargill’s arrival has been a tragedy for Santarém,” he told IPS. “When they began to build the port they argued that it would bring jobs, and while they were building it did create 800 jobs. But as soon as it was completed, most of the workers were fired, and now it employs between 150 and 160 people.”

With a current capacity to export five million tons of grain, the port of Santarém was built to ease the congestion in ports in southern Brazil like Santos in the state of São Paulo, or Paranaguá in the state of Paraná.

This port and the transshipment terminal in Mirituba – 300 km to the south of Santarém – have also cut distances by land and sea for the shipment of soy from the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso, the country’s largest soy producer.

The installation was built by the U.S. agribusiness and food company Bunge, which was later joined by Cargill and other transnational corporations.

“These ports make Brazil more competitive,” the director of planning in the Santarém city government, José de Lima, told IPS.

As an example, he pointed out that with respect to the port in Santos, from Santarém to the port city of Shanghai, China, “the distance was cut from 24,000 km to 19,500 km, and going through the Panama Canal will reduce the cost from 159 to 147 dollars per transported ton.”

As of 2020, with an investment of around 800 million dollars, the transnational corporations project that they will export 20 million tons a year of grains through the Amazon basin.

A fisherman carries the day’s catch in the market in the city of Santarém, from the beach now overshadowed by the silos of the river port at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi/IPS

A fisherman carries the day’s catch in the market in the city of Santarém, from the beach now overshadowed by the silos of the river port at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi/IPS

Nelio Aguiar, the Santarém secretary of planning, stressed the strategic importance of these ports for the agroexport sector. “Brazil’s GDP is growing, based on agribusiness, which is supporting our economy,” he told IPS.

Most of the cargo arrives by truck, over the BR-163 highway in the process of being repaved, which ends at Cargill’s port terminal.

Currently, during the soy and corn harvest some 350 trucks a day arrive. But Lima estimates that the number will rise to 2,000 a day when other port terminals set to be built in the city are in operation.

That is what worries social organisations and academics who have fought the construction of the port.

“Because the city was not adapted to receive so much cargo traffic, it has caused disruptions and we have seen an increase in the number of accidents due to the intensification of truck traffic,” Raimunda Monteiro, the rector of the Federal University of Western Pará, told IPS.

But despite a number of lawsuits challenging the legality of the Cargill port, construction went ahead with the support of local authorities.

“It destroyed a beach in Santarém and there were also a number of indirect impacts because it attracted more soy producers, who expanded across the Santarém plan. These impacts were not foreseen in the environmental impact study,” Ibis Tapajós, a lawyer who works with social movements, told IPS.

To decongest truck traffic, the city government projects the construction of new access roads and truck parking lots outside of the city.

But there is concern about environmental effects such as contamination of the river and pollution from motor vehicle emissions and from the chemical fertilisers carried by the ships.

“The Cargill port is a clear example of the violation of socioenvironmental rights by large corporations,” said Tapajós.

The construction of at least six new port terminals in Santarém is in the study phase. Two would be next to the Cargill terminal and four would be in the area around Maica Lake.

The most advanced project on the lake – now in the phase of obtaining environmental permits – is to be built by EMBRAPS, a private company.

“Maica Lake is an extremely fragile ecological area,” said Monteiro. “It is at one end of a 50-km series of lakes and canals at the mouth of the Tapajós river and its confluence with the Amazon River.”

The EMBRAPS port is to be built in the Green Area neigbhourhood on the lake, in an area that floods during the rainy season and is without water in the dry season.

There are already signs warning “no trespassers, private property,” and the 480 fisherpersons on the lake are worried about the impact on their activity due to the circulation of the cargo vessels and because a large area will be covered over with soil.

“They’re going to practically privatise the lake,” Ronaldo Souza Costa, the president of the Association of Local Residents of the Perola Neighourhood of Maicá, told IPS. Thirty percent of the fish eaten in Santarém comes from the lake.

“As far as we can tell, there will be a major impact on our fishing, mainly in this area, where we fish in the wintertime. They will mark off no-trespassing areas,” said Raimundo Nonato, the administrator of the Maicá market.
The Santarém city government says the installations will be on dry land and that the companies are not interested in the lake but in the Amazon River, which the waters flow into and which is deep enough for large vessels.

“The entire operation of the trucks will be on ramps. It will not affect the water in the lake at all,” said Aguiar.

But because the local communities have not yet been formally consulted about this and other port projects, fears are growing.

“From what we know, if the ships come near us, our boats will be in trouble because of the big waves, which will be dangerous for our small vessels,” local fisherwoman Telma Almeida told IPS.

After unloading her fish, Almeida casts off and sets out on the Amazon River once again in her small boat. Her silhouette becomes tiny and dim in the shadow of a large cargo vessel.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Soy, an Exotic Fruit in Brazil’s Amazon Junglehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/soy-an-exotic-fruit-in-brazils-amazon-jungle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soy-an-exotic-fruit-in-brazils-amazon-jungle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/soy-an-exotic-fruit-in-brazils-amazon-jungle/#comments Tue, 08 Dec 2015 00:36:47 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143252 Members of the São Raimundo do Fe em Deus cooperative in the rural municipality of Belterra in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest peel manioc, to make flour. The associations of small farmers help them defend themselves from the negative effects of the expansion of soy in this region on the banks of the Tapajós River. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Members of the São Raimundo do Fe em Deus cooperative in the rural municipality of Belterra in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest peel manioc, to make flour. The associations of small farmers help them defend themselves from the negative effects of the expansion of soy in this region on the banks of the Tapajós River. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BELTERRA, Brazil, Dec 8 2015 (IPS)

In the northern Brazilian state of Pará, the construction of a port terminal for shipping soy out of the Amazon region has displaced thousands of small farmers from their land, which is now dedicated to monoculture.

The BR-163 highway, along the 100-km route from Santarém, the capital of the municipality of that name, to Belterra runs through an endless stretch of plowed fields, with only a few isolated pockets of the lush rainforest that used to cover this entire area.

State-of-the-art tractors and other farm machinery, a far cry from the rudimentary tools used by the local small farmers in the surrounding fields, are plowing the soil this month, ahead of the planting of soy in January.

José de Souza, a small farmer who owns nine hectares in the rural municipality of Belterra, sighs.

“Soy benefits the big producers, but it hurts small farmers because the deforestation has brought drought,” he tells IPS. “The temperatures here were pleasant before, but now it’s so hot, you can’t stand it.”

The effects are visible in his fields of banana plants, which have been burnt by the hot sun.

Resigned, De Souza waters a few sad rows of straggling cabbages and scallions.

Like other farmers, he has been hemmed in by the expansion of soy in the municipalities of Santarém and the nearby Belterra and Mojuí dos Campos.

According to the Santarém municipal government, of the 740,000 cultivable hectares in this region, soy now covers 60,000.

But Raimunda Nogueira, rector of the Federal University of Western Pará, offers a much higher figure. “Land-use change has involved 112,000 to 120,000 hectares, which have been turned into soy plantations,” she tells IPS.

And with the soy came the spraying.

“The soy fields bring a lot of pests because the poison they use to fight them drives them off their plantations onto our small fields,” laments De Souza.

The agrochemicals have polluted the soil and poisoned crops and animals, local farmers complain.

“The crops die, and as a result the property becomes completely unproductive – and the solution is to sell,” Jefferson Correa, a representative of the local non-governmental organisation Fase Amazonia, tells IPS.

There are no epidemiological data. But in these rural municipalities, the widespread perception is that health problems like respiratory and skin ailments have become more common.

According to Selma da Costa with the Rural Workers Union of Belterra, the threats to their health and the temptation to sell their land have led 65 percent of local small farmers to leave the municipality, which had a population of 16,500.

“They end up leaving, because who is going to put up with the stench of the pesticides? No one. People are getting sick. Pregnant women often feel ill and they don’t know why,” she tells IPS.

José de Souza waters the garden on his nine-hectare farm in the municipality of Belterra in the northern Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where his vegetables grow sparsely due to the effects of the spread of soy monoculture, which has hurt family farmers in the area, who produce 70 percent of the food consumed by the local population. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

José de Souza waters the garden on his nine-hectare farm in the municipality of Belterra in the northern Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where his vegetables grow sparsely due to the effects of the spread of soy monoculture, which has hurt family farmers in the area, who produce 70 percent of the food consumed by the local population. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“They sold their land for a pittance. They practically gave away their land to the big producers, thinking their lives would get better, that they would build a nice house in Santarém But they can’t support themselves because they can’t grow anything,” she explains.

Correa points out that back in 2000, land here was cheap. There were people who sold 100 hectares for 1,000 to 2,000 dollars, and later regretted it.

“They went to the city, spent all the money, and without any formal education, the only solution was to go back to work in the countryside, as rural labourers for the people who had bought their land,” he says.

Others scrape by on the outskirts of Santarém as street vendors or in other informal sector activities.

“The farmers had their property, their own food, like beans, rice, flour and what they could fish and hunt; but in the city they no longer have that,” adds Claudionor Carvalho with the Federation of Agricultural Workers of the State of Pará.

The change, he explains to IPS, has fuelled prostitution in the slums surrounding the city, “because the families weren’t prepared for what they would face.”

The process was accentuated 15 years ago, with the construction of a port facility in Santarém by the US commodities giant Cargill.

Through the new port terminal in Santarém, on the banks of the Tapajós River where it runs into the Amazon River, soy and other grains can be exported to the Atlantic Ocean.

The aim was to reduce the distance and the costs of transporting soy from the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso, Brazil’s biggest producer.

Brazil is the world’s second-largest producer and leading exporter of soy, which it sells to China, Europe and other markets.

Ports like this one in the Amazon basin have nearly cut in half the transport distance from Mato Grosso, which is around 2,000 km from the congested ports in the southeast, such as Santos in the state of São Paulo.

The new Amazon port, with silos that now have a total capacity of 120,000 tons – double the initial capacity – has drawn hundreds of soy producers from the south of the country, leading to a land-buying stampede and driving up property prices.

One of those who came with his family was Luiz Machado, from Mato Grosso.

“We had 90 hectares that we sold to buy a bigger farm here because the land was cheap,” he tells IPS. “Besides, we would be closer to the port, so we could get a better price for our product.”

Machado says the purchase was legal, and that he has left untouched the rainforest surrounding his property, much of which had already been deforested.

But many others did not do this, and the expansion of soy has devastated large swathes of forest, Cándido Cunha with the National Institute of Colonisation and Agrarian Reform explains in a conversation with IPS.

In 2006, in a “soy moratorium,” associations of producers, many of whom had ties to Cargill, pledged not to sell any more soy from deforested areas.

There was a temporary drop in deforestation. But it once again increased because the farmers that sold their land cleared property in other areas.

“What happened was what we call ‘grillaje’ of land: forged documents or illegal appropriation of public land,” which further complicated the already highly irregular land tenure situation in the Amazon region, says Cunha.

Of the two million and a half tons of soy exported annually from Santarém, just six percent is locally grown; the rest comes from Mato Grosso.

But Nelio Aguiar, secretary of planning in Santarém, says it helped modernise the economy, fomenting a shift from family farming to mechanised agriculture.

“Today we have larger scale, dollarised agriculture, and every harvest produces great riches,” he tells IPS.

But while some celebrate the expansion of agribusiness here, others are worried about the future of local food security.

The greater metropolitan region, population 370,000, depends on family farming for 70 percent of the local food supply.

“Now you have to buy everything in the market, even rice and beans – things we didn’t have to buy before because we produced everything ourselves. And we also sold what we produced,” complains De Souza.

“Why are we buying? Because we don’t have land anymore. And what we plant is being poisoned,” says Da Costa.

For Correa, one solution is to expand government programmes that support family farming. De Souza is a beneficiary of one of them.

Another solution is to join together in farming associations or cooperatives.

De Souza proudly takes IPS to the São Raimundo do Fe em Deus cooperative, of which he is a member, where a festive group of men and women are sharing the tasks of peeling, grating and cooking manioc to make the flour that is a staple food in Brazil.

“We have to help each other, because small farmers face a difficult situation today,” he says.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Uruguay Puts High Priority on Renewable Energieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/uruguay-puts-high-priority-on-renewable-energies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguay-puts-high-priority-on-renewable-energies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/uruguay-puts-high-priority-on-renewable-energies/#comments Tue, 17 Nov 2015 00:10:46 +0000 Veronica Firme http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143018 Since July 2014, Uruguay’s state power utility, UTE, has 30 100 percent electric vans. After the success of this initiative, it doubled that number in its fleet of vehicles, and incorporated two electric cars, in November 2015. Credit: Verónica Firme/IPS

Since July 2014, Uruguay’s state power utility, UTE, has 30 100 percent electric vans. After the success of this initiative, it doubled that number in its fleet of vehicles, and incorporated two electric cars, in November 2015. Credit: Verónica Firme/IPS

By Veronica Firme
MONTEVIDEO, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

Uruguay is modifying its energy mix with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, by means of a strategy that bolsters non-conventional clean energy sources through public-private partnerships and new investment. A majority of this South American country’s energy already comes from renewable sources.

“By the end of 2014, this country’s energy mix was made up of 55 percent renewable sources, compared to a global average of just 12 percent,” said Ramón Méndez, the president of the National Climate Change Response System, during a meeting on renewable energy.

Furthermore, 94 percent of electric power comes from renewables, he said, in a country which is only responsible for 0.06 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming.

The transformation of Uruguay’s energy mix began during the first term (2005-2010) of the current president, Tabaré Vázquez, although the country was not starting from zero in terms of renewable sources, Gonzalo Abal a physicist with the Solar Energy Laboratory of the University of the Republic of Uruguay, said in an interview with IPS.

Thanks to hydropower, a significant proportion of Uruguay’s energy already came from renewables. But hydroelectricity is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Traditionally, the country depended on four old hydroelectric dams, three of which were built on the Negro River between the 1930s and the 1970s. The fourth is on the Uruguay River, shared with neighbouring Argentina, and was built in the 1970s.

In addition, two ancient thermal plants powered by fuel oil have served as a back-up when the hydropower supply drops or collapses due to water shortages. The last time this happened was in 2004.

This Southern Cone country of 3.3 million people has fully exploited its large hydropower sources, and began to turn towards wind power and later biomass, the two clean energies around which the greatest progress has been made, according to data provided by the experts and documents consulted by IPS.

The transformation of the energy mix required a legal framework, which included authorisation for clients connected to the low voltage grid to generate electric power from renewable sources – wind, solar, biomass or mini-dams – with a potential of no more than 150 kilowatts.

Also approved were several initiatives like the 2005-2030 Energy Policy, or the 2015-2024 National Energy Efficiency Plan, adopted on Aug. 3.

The Energy Efficiency Plan is aimed at reducing energy consumption in all industries and sectors of the economy, but especially in residential areas and transportation, which will be responsible for 75 percent of the total accumulated reduction by 2024.

In addition, the Investment Promotion Law was modified to offer tax breaks so that at least five percent of the investment in any given project goes towards renewable energy, for the goal of cleaner production.

Uruguay has 16 medium-sized and large wind farms, like this one in the northern department of Tacuarembó. The country already has 670 MW in installed wind power capacity and a similar amount under construction, which means that 30 percent of demand for electric power will be covered by wind energy by late 2016. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

Uruguay has 16 medium-sized and large wind farms, like this one in the northern department of Tacuarembó. The country already has 670 MW in installed wind power capacity and a similar amount under construction, which means that 30 percent of demand for electric power will be covered by wind energy by late 2016. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

The state power utility, UTE, is responsible for the generation, transmission, distribution and sale of electricity to the 1.2 million clients distributed throughout Uruguay’s 176,215 square kilometres of territory.

UTE has a monopoly over energy distribution but not generation, which the private sector is also involved in, which made it difficult to include power generation in the government’s energy strategy goals.

As of late 2014, Uruguay had a total installed capacity of 3,719 MW, including generators connected to the national power grid as well as stand-alone power systems, according to the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining.

The supply consisted of 1,696 MW of thermal energy (from fossil fuels and biomass), 1,538 MW of hydropower, 481 MW of wind power and four MW of solar power, says the National Energy Balance 2014 report.

Breaking down the installed power capacity by source, 66 percent came from renewable sources (hydroelectricity, biomass, wind and solar), while the remaining 34 percent came from non-renewable sources (gasoil, fuel oil and natural gas).

In the economy, there was a structural shift in the energy consumption mix since 2008, which has remained unchanged for the past seven years. Industry is the biggest consumer (39 percent), followed by transportation (29 percent), residential (19 percent), commerce and services (eight percent), and lastly agriculture, fishing and mining (five percent).

From 2007 to 2014, industry overcame transportation, which was pushed to second place, driving up biomass consumption. Pulp mills played a decisive role in that, because thanks to biomass they became 90 percent self-sufficient in energy, as part of the transformation that began in 2005.

In this country, “the important change came in regard to wind power – that is where changes became necessary and challenges were addressed,” Gerardo Honty, an expert with the Latin American Centre for Social Ecology, told IPS.

Wind energy is in full expansion, “and we are nearing one gigawatt (1,000 MW) of installed capacity,” said Abal.

With respect to solar energy, “we have a 50-watt plant already in operation – that’s 100 hectares of solar panels – and a second 50-MW plant has begun to be built, with investment from Europe,” said the academic.

“The rest of the plants, around 15, are smaller, between one and five MW, and are distributed throughout the north of the country,” Abal added.

Connecting with the neighbours

Uruguay is diversifying its energy sources, but it can also “expand the grid in geographic terms; if you interconnect with Argentina and southern Brazil, the probability of having an atmospheric event that leaves you without wind power in the entire area of the pampas is very low,” said the physicist.

The national power grid has interconnections with Argentina (2,000 MW) and with Brazil (70 MW, currently being expanded to 500 MW). The latter has been delayed because the two countries’ power grids operate on different frequencies, and conversion capacity must be added to overcome the problem.

In Uruguay, “the problem isn’t the electric power industry but combustion engines that cannot run on the renewable sources mentioned,” said Honty.

Transportation, especially public transit, poses the big future challenges.

The Montevideo city government is studying the possibility of purchasing autonomous electric vehicles for the sake of energy efficiency and because they do not emit greenhouse gases while at the same time they reduce noise pollution, economist Gonzalo Márquez with the department of mobility said in a forum on energy.

But no timetable has been outlined yet, he told IPS, because there are difficulties to work out like the cost and maintenance of the vehicles, the driving range of the batteries, and the subsidy for public transport, “a hidden cost that society assumes.”

Uruguay projects that when the transformation of its energy industry is complete, greenhouse gas emissions will be 20 to 40 times lower than the global average, said Méndez, the top official in the government’s climate change response office.

This country also aims to be carbon neutral by 2030. That means “our target for that year is for the CO2 (carbon dioxide) that we absorb to be greater than what our entire economy emits,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Leading Powers to Double Renewable Energy Supply by 2030http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/leading-powers-to-double-renewable-energy-supply-by-2030/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leading-powers-to-double-renewable-energy-supply-by-2030 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/leading-powers-to-double-renewable-energy-supply-by-2030/#comments Thu, 12 Nov 2015 20:45:29 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142983 China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Nov 12 2015 (IPS)

Eight of the world’s leading economies will double their renewable energy supply by 2030 if they live up to their pledges to contribute to curbing global warming, which will be included in the new climate treaty.

A study published this month by the World Resources Institute (WRI) analysed the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the 10 largest greenhouse gas emitters to determine how much they will clean up their energy mix in the next 15 years.

Eight of the 10 – Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and the United States – will double their cumulative clean energy supply by 2030. The increase is equivalent to current energy demand in India, the world’s second-most populous nation.

“We looked at renewable energy because it’s a leading indicator for the global transition to a low-carbon economy. We won’t get deep emissions reductions without it,” WRI researcher Thomas Damassa, one of the report’s authors, told IPS.

More than 150 countries have presented their INDCs, most of which commit to actions between 2020 and 2030. They will be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

Since energy production is the main source of greenhouse gases (GHG), accounting for around 65 percent of emissions worldwide, efforts to curb emissions are essential and must lie at the heart of the new treaty, especially when it comes to the biggest emitters, experts say.

Of the 10 largest emitters, Russia and Canada were not included in the study because they have not announced post-2020 renewable energy targets.

Currently, one-fifth of global demand for electric power is covered by renewable sources, according to a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), and their cost is swiftly going down. Hydroelectricity still makes up 61 percent of all renewable energy.

But fossil fuels continue to dominate the global energy supply and power generation, making up 78.3 percent and 77.2 percent, respectively, according to REN21.

Studies indicate that in countries like India, where there are serious challenges in terms of access to energy, wind power is now as cheap as coal, and solar power will reach that level by 2019.

“The INDCs collectively send an important financial signal globally that renewables are a priority in the next two decades and a viable, pragmatic solution to the energy challenges countries are facing,” said Damassa.

Coordination between industrialised and emerging countries is crucial, especially the powerful BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) bloc.

That is because industrialised nations are historically responsible for GHG emissions but the BRICS and other emerging countries now produce a majority of global emissions.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

China is the leading emitter of GHG emissions and the biggest consumer of energy. But it is also the largest producer of renewable energy, accounting for 32 percent of the world’s wind power production and 27 percent of hydroelectricity, followed in the latter case by Brazil, which produces 8.5 percent of the world’s hydropower.

The Asian giant aims to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuel sources by 20 percent by 2030. The country currently uses coal for 65 percent of its energy, while mega-dams represent just 15 percent.

In the first meeting of energy ministers of the Group of 20 industrialised and emerging nations, held Oct. 5 in Istanbul, the officials acknowledged the importance of renewable sources and their long-term potential and pledged to continue investing in and researching clean energy.

Of the 127 INDCs presented as of late October – the EU presented the commitments of its 28 countries as a bloc – 80 percent made clean energy a priority.

“They certainly help but clearly countries still need to go farther, faster – and in sectors outside of energy as well – to drive emissions down to the level that is needed,” said Damassa.

The pledges made so far would keep global warming down to a 2.7 degree Celsius increase, according to the UNFCCC secretariat, although other studies are more pessimistic, putting the rise at 3.5 degrees.

To avoid irreversible effects for the planet, global temperatures must not rise more than two degrees C above preindustrial levels, although even with that increase, severe effects would be felt in different ecosystems.

Because of that it will be essential to reassess the national pledges during the climate talks in Paris, and establish a clear mechanism for ongoing follow-up of the actions taken by each country.

“I see all of the BASIC (the climate negotiating group made up of Brazil, South Africa, India and China) pledges as ‘first offers’ that will have to be reassessed after the Paris deal is finalised,” Natalie Unterstell, the negotiator on behalf of Brazil at the UNFCCC, told IPS.

The expert, who is now a Louis Bacon Environmental Leadership Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in the U.S., points to key differences between these four countries and Russia, the fifth member of BRICS.

She also explained that while these four countries agreed to reduce the proportion of fossil fuels in their energy mix, there are differences in how they aim to do so.

Adaptation is a large component in South Africa’s INDCs – a signal that the carbon-based economy understands the need to build a more resilient future. India is putting a strong emphasis on solar energy, and Brazil pledged to raise the share of renewable sources in its energy mix to 45 percent by 2030.

Brazil’s proposal is based partly on large hydropower dams, some of which are in socially and environmentally sensitive areas, like the Amazon rainforest.

Meanwhile, the actions that China takes can, by themselves, facilitate or complicate the talks. According to Untersell, the country “has a comparative advantage as it has committed itself to develop renewables technology and is delivering its promise.”

Ties between these emerging economies and the industrialised powers were strengthened over the last year by a series of bilateral accords that began to be reached in November 2014, with the announcement that China and the United States had agreed on joint actions in the areas of climate and energy.

“These agreements are good signals for the industry to transition (to a cleaner model). However, the private sector needs more than aspirational goals to base their operations,” said the expert.

But she said it was a good thing that the agreement between the two countries was based on actions on an internal level, because this shows concrete changes in the energy policies of both nations.

Besides the agreement with Washington, China has signed another with France, Brazil did the same with Germany, and India did so with the United States, in an effort by these countries to speed up their internal transition before COP21.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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School Meals Bolster Family Farming in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/school-meals-bolster-family-farming-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 21:04:38 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142946 Children between the ages of five and seven eating lunch in the João Baptista Cáffaro School cafetería in the impoverished Engenho Velho neighbourhood in the city of Itaboraí, 45 km from Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Children between the ages of five and seven eating lunch in the João Baptista Cáffaro School cafetería in the impoverished Engenho Velho neighbourhood in the city of Itaboraí, 45 km from Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ITABORAÍ, Brazil, Nov 9 2015 (IPS)

“That law should have existed since the end of slavery, which threw slaves into the street without offering them adequate conditions for working and producing, turning them into semi-slaves,” said Brazilian farmer Idevan Correa.

The law he was referring to, which was passed in 2009, requires that at least 30 percent of the funds that municipal governments receive from the National Fund for the Development of Education go towards the purchase of food produced by local family farmers.

The formula is one of those discoveries that later seem obvious, self-evident, normal.

Besides guaranteeing small farmers an important market for their produce, “it improved the quality of the food,” the mother of two students, Jaqueline Lameira, who represents families on the Itaboraí School Feeding Council, which oversees the quality of school meals, told IPS.

Itaboraí, a municipality of 230,000 people in the southeast state of Rio de Janeiro, 11 percent of whose residents are rural, dedicates more than the required minimum.

Over 40 percent of school breakfasts and lunches served in the municipal schools are made up of food produced by local small farmers, said Inaiá Figueiredo, in charge of nutrition in the city government’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Supplies and Fishing.

That proportion was just seven percent when the current municipal administration took office in 2012, she told IPS.

The food offered in the school meals was diversified, with a larger proportion of fresh produce, including typical local vegetables that are highly nutritious but not widely consumed, she explained, adding that each meal includes at least three kinds of vegetables.

“For dessert there’s fruit, never candy, and the juice doesn’t have sugar, but locally produced honey,” she said.

School cook Penha Maria Flausina opens the bags of fresh fruit and vegetables recently delivered from local family farms in the João Baptista Cáffaro municipal school, which serves 500 primary students in a poor neighborhood in Itaboraí, a city in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

School cook Penha Maria Flausina opens the bags of fresh fruit and vegetables recently delivered from local family farms in the João Baptista Cáffaro municipal school, which serves 500 primary students in a poor neighborhood in Itaboraí, a city in southeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The kids eat everything, they ask for seconds; there’s one who only comes to school because of the meals,” Penha Maria Flausina, the cook at the João Baptista Caffaro School in a poor neighbourhood of Itaboraí told IPS, laughing.

She showed IPS the maize, okra, squash and fresh fruit in the school pantry.

This is the result of a lengthy process that began in 1986 with the First National Conference on Food and Nutrition, further editions of which were held in 2004, 2007, 2011 and in the first week of November 2015 in Brasilia, with 2,000 participants.

The National Council on Food and Nutritional Security (CONSEA) was created in 1993, with representatives of civil society and the government. The Organic Law on Food and Nutritional Security was passed in 2006.

Three years later, under that legal framework, a new law linked the National School Feeding Programme (PNAE) and family farming, after overcoming stiff resistance in the legislature, economist Francisco Menezes told IPS.

“The enormous school meals market, today made up of 45 million students, was dominated by companies, some of them contracted by municipal governments for all of the schools,” said Menezes who, as president of CONSEA from 2004 to 2007, played a key role in the drafting and approval of the law.

“Higher prices and lower quality” are typical when suppliers enjoy a monopoly, he said.

It took the law three years to make its way through Congress, where it was blocked by legislators interested in that market themselves or financed by companies that supplied it, which in the end still had control of 70 percent of sales to school meal programmes, although that is a ceiling that was set.

Forging a new path

But in this huge country of 206 million people, the effectiveness of the law has been irregular. “There are municipal governments that comply with it, others don’t, and there are some in the south of Brazil that achieved 100 percent supplies from family farming,” said Menezes.

But there is also fraud, he admitted.

“Strong” municipal councils inhibit irregularities, but they are also subject to pressure, said the expert. Because of that, “everything depends on family farms organised in associations and cooperatives, so that if one producer fails, other members are there to step in to guarantee supplies,” he added.

But the law is essential, because “it turned the school meals programme into a state policy, making setbacks more unlikely to occur,” he said.

Rural leader Idevan Correa examines one of his new orange trees. He decided to plant an orange grove again thanks to a Brazilian law that requires that at least 30 percent of the food consumed in schools come from local family farms. The municipality of Itaboraí was famous for its oranges until a pest reduced production. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Rural leader Idevan Correa examines one of his new orange trees. He decided to plant an orange grove again thanks to a Brazilian law that requires that at least 30 percent of the food consumed in schools come from local family farms. The municipality of Itaboraí was famous for its oranges until a pest reduced production. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Correa, the farmer who would have liked the law to have been in place since slavery was abolished in 1888, told IPS it was smart to set the minimum quota for supplies from family farms at 30 percent.

“It’s a first, experimental step; small farmers can’t increase their production overnight, they have to do it gradually,” said Correa, the president of the Association of Rural Producers of the Fourth District of Itaboraí, who inherited a 100-hectare farm that his father received during the agrarian reform process in the 1950s.

He also agrees with the annual limit of 20,000 reals (5,200 dollars) for each farmer’s sales to the municipal government, although that was not ideal for him this year as he could have sold above that quota with his production of maize, beans, potatoes and fruit.

“It’s better this way, more farmers can sell; if the quota were to be expanded a lot, very few would be able to sell,” he said.

“At the start of the current municipal administration, in 2012, only nine or 10 farmers were taking part in the school feeding programme; now that number is 54,” agronomist Ana Paula de Farias, technical adviser to the local Secretariat of Agriculture, Supplies and Fishing in Itaboraí, told IPS.

There are some 300 farms in the municipality, but most of them raise cattle.

Another problem in expanding the number of suppliers for the school meals programme is that many of them do not have the required documents, she explained.

Furthermore, technical assistance was necessary to help farmers begin to grow organic products, or at least to significantly reduce their use of pesticides and herbicides, and to adapt to the specific needs of meals for children, such as guava fruits in small uniform sizes, in order to provide one for each child without having to cut them into pieces.

“The most important lesson in this learning process was planting without agrochemicals,” said Correa. “You learn as you go along, living up to the requirements of the programme. We used to plant more to earn more, since we weren’t in a position to compete with the big companies; now we try for better quality, and we’re more careful, because it’s food for local children.”

Sales to schools gave a boost to local small farmers, even though there is a quota, he said, because the programme pays retail “supermarket prices,” and there are no costs for transportation because the municipal government sends out its own trucks, while in the big agricultural market farmers have to deal with middlemen who pay less and charge to cover their own costs.

Exportable model

Brazil’s experience in linking family farms and school feeding programmes has already been exported to several countries in Latin America and in Africa, including Bolivia, Mali, Mozambique and Senegal.

It is also one of the models used by the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, an initiative that emerged in 2009 with technical support from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

Brazil’s law will be studied during the Nov. 15-17 Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger, to be held in Lima with the participation of legislators from throughout the region as well as guest lawmakers from Africa and Asia.

Brazil’s Food Purchase Programme, based on an earlier law from 2003 and geared towards supplying social assistance networks, has also been replicated abroad, as an example of a public policy that has been doubly successful: in bolstering food security while strengthening family agriculture.

In addition, the area of food security has served to develop a multi-disciplinary approach involving various ministries, such as those of agriculture, health and education, which tend to act in an isolated fashion, said Menezes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal, a Nightmare for Environmentalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/nicaraguas-interoceanic-canal-a-nightmare-for-environmentalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-interoceanic-canal-a-nightmare-for-environmentalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/nicaraguas-interoceanic-canal-a-nightmare-for-environmentalists/#comments Tue, 03 Nov 2015 01:08:16 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142874 Hundreds of small farmers came to Managua from the Caribbean coastal region in southern Nicaragua on Oct. 27 to take part in the 55th protest against the construction of the interoceanic canal, which is set to displace thousands of rural families. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

Hundreds of small farmers came to Managua from the Caribbean coastal region in southern Nicaragua on Oct. 27 to take part in the 55th protest against the construction of the interoceanic canal, which is set to displace thousands of rural families. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Nov 3 2015 (IPS)

The international scientific community’s fears about the damage that will be caused by Nicaragua’s future interoceanic canal have been reinforced by the environmental impact assessment, which warns of serious environmental threats posed by the megaproject.

The report “Canal de Nicaragua: Executive Summary of Environmental and Social Impact Assessment” was carried out by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) and commissioned by the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKDN Group), the Chinese company that won the bid to build the canal.

The 113-page executive summary sums up the study, whose unabridged version has not been made publicly available by the government, ERM or HKND.

In the study, ERM says the megaproject could be of great benefit to the country as long as best international practices on the environmental, economic and social fronts are incorporated at the design, construction and operational stages, for which it makes a number of recommendations.

But it spells out specific risks and threats to the environment in this impoverished Central American country of 6.1 million people with a territory of 129,429 square kilometers.

The canal will go across the 8,624-sq-km Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua – the second largest lake in Latin America after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo. The route will be nearly four times longer than its rival, the Panama Canal.

The 276-km canal will link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans; of that length, 105 km will cross Lake Cocibolca.

Salvador Montenegro, former executive director of the Aquatic Resources Research Centre of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (CIRA/UNAN), stressed that the executive summary suggests additional studies on Lake Cocibolca, to fully assess the risks to the environment and to recommend actions to mitigate them.

“These are the same observations that I have been making, which were never taken into account,” Montenegro told IPS. “On the contrary, they accused me of being a traitor to the government and of being in the opposition, when the only thing I was doing was trying to preserve the health of Lake Cocibolca.”

The scientific researcher was dismissed from his post in the university allegedly due to pressure from the government of left-wing President Daniel Ortega, in office since 2007, who backs the canal project driven by the government investment promotion agency, Pro-Nicaragua, headed by his son Laureano Ortega.

Now Montenegro forms part of the Grupo Cocibolca, a group made up of scientists, academics, environmentalists and activists openly opposed to the future canal.

Ometepe Island within Lake Cocibolca in western Nicaragua. Scientists, environmentalists, political opponents, academics, social organisations and people whose lives will be affected have come together against construction of the interoceanic canal and in defence of the lake. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Ometepe Island within Lake Cocibolca in western Nicaragua. Scientists, environmentalists, political opponents, academics, social organisations and people whose lives will be affected have come together against construction of the interoceanic canal and in defence of the lake. Credit: Karin Paladino/IPS

Mónica López, an activist who belongs to the group, summed up for IPS the main findings in the ERM study which she believes make it clear that the project would open the doors to an unprecedented environmental catastrophe for Latin America.

She said ERM concluded that neither HKND nor the government have the experience to carry out a project of this magnitude.

The report says “the government would be wise to consider engaging with international development agencies such as the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank,” to avoid damage in sensitive areas like the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, the San Juan River, Lake Cocibolca and surrounding nature reserves.

“The study says that in normal situations, these areas would generally be considered untouchable due to their social and ecological fragility,” López noted.

ERM says that if further studies are not conducted and “mitigation and offset measures” are not successfully implemented, “biodiversity impacts would be significantly worse than described.”

It recommended further studies to identify seismic risks posed by construction of the canal; gauge the impact of dredging in the lake; identify the threats from the introduction of saltwater into the lake; and assess the risk of a reduction of the outflow of water from the lake to the San Juan River.

It also concludes that without the implementation by HKND and the government of the environmental and social mitigation measures recommended in the report, not even Route 4 – the one that was selected and the only one considered viable – would have the positive net impact for the environment that could justify construction of the canal.

Based on the ERM executive summary and the considerations of local and international scientists and other experts, the Grupo Cocibolca sent a letter to the president on Oct. 26 asking for the repeal of the law that made the canal project possible.

Ortega has not responded. But HKND, through its officials outside of Nicaragua, announced further studies with a view to moving ahead on the project that will have a projected cost of 50 billion dollars – the largest megaproject that the world has seen in the last few years.

HKND’s chief project adviser, Bill Wild, told the local media that the company had made some “optimisations, with a higher cost to the project, to avoid and reduce environmental and social impacts and keep the risks to a minimum.”

According to Wild, the studies that began to be carried out in 2013 will continue until 2016 and will be complemented by additional topographic and hydrological research, to be conducted by the Australian consultancy CSA Global.

Map of southern Nicaragua with the six projected canal routes. The fourth, in green, was the one that was selected. Credit: ERM

Map of southern Nicaragua with the six projected canal routes. The fourth, in green, was the one that was selected. Credit: ERM

The executive vice president of HKND Group, Kwok Wai Pang, told the local newspaper El Nuevo Diario that now that the ERM study has been presented, “more in-depth studies will be carried out along the route.

“During the feasibility study we conducted topographical, seismic, hydrological and archaeological research and we collected a large volume of seismic information and data on water levels, salinity intrusion and other questions, to draft a conceptual design.”

Telémaco Talavera, spokesman for the president’s Great Interoceanic Canal of Nicaragua Commission, downplayed the concerns expressed by ERM and environmentalists.

Speaking with IPS and three other journalists, he expressed confidence in HKND’s capacity “to work out, with great wisdom, any inconvenience that may emerge, and which are normal in projects of such magnitude.”

Not just environmental problems

But despite the government’s and HKDN’s upbeat attitude about the project, it is overshadowed by factors other than environmental issues.

On one hand, specialised media outlets reported in September that because of China’s current financial crisis, HKND magnate Wang Jing had lost as much as 84 percent of his fortune, previously estimated at more than 10 billion dollars, which has shrunk to some 1.2 billion dollars.

On the other hand, growing resistance by peasant farmers along the projected canal route has hurt the international business climate for the company, according to López, the activist.

So far, 55 demonstrations against the project have been held in Nicaragua. The latest, held Oct. 27 in Managua by rural residents from different parts of the country along with other protesters, made the international headlines because of the violent clashes between the demonstrators and supporters of the megaproject.

In its executive summary, ERM says the social opposition affects the project’s viability.

“The land expropriation and involuntary resettlement process to date has not met international standards,” the ERM report states. “The Project risks losing its social license to operate and may jeopardize the viability of the Project by not following international standards.”

So far, the government has given HKND permission to expropriate 2,909 square kilometres of land along the projected route.

The canal law was approved in 2013. But small-scale work on the project along the Pacific Ocean did not officially get underway until December 2014.

HKDN projected that the work would take five years, and the canal would be operating in 2019. But ERM predicts that it will not meet that deadline.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Brazil’s Megaprojects, a Short-lived Dreamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/brazils-megaprojects-a-short-lived-dream/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-megaprojects-a-short-lived-dream http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/brazils-megaprojects-a-short-lived-dream/#comments Thu, 29 Oct 2015 23:34:58 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142844 Part of the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in October, seen from the banks of the Caceribu river, the closest to the installations that the public can get. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in October, seen from the banks of the Caceribu river, the closest to the installations that the public can get. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ITABORAÍ, Brazil , Oct 29 2015 (IPS)

Working as a musician in a military band is the dream of 21-year-old Jackson Coutinho, since hopes that a petrochemical complex would drive the industrialisation of this Brazilian city near Rio de Janeiro have gone up in smoke.

“I’ll try out for the navy, army and even the military police, but only to be a musician, not a police officer,” said Coutinho, who plays the double bass in bands he has set up with friends in Itaboraí.

Until last year he was working for the QGIT consortium on the construction of the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ). He was a machine operator assistant on the embankment where the Natural Gas Processing Unit (UPGN), part of the complex, was built.

But he lost his job in early 2015, when lay-offs intensified as a result of the crisis faced by Petrobras, the state oil company that owns COMPERJ.

The initial projected cost of the megaproject was 6.5 billion dollars. But with cost overruns it has risen to twice that amount, even though the project was reduced drastically to a single refinery and the UPGN.

The most expensive part, the petrochemical plant, which would have fuelled industrialisation in this city 45 km from Rio de Janeiro, was cancelled because Petobras did not manage to find partners.

The plunge in oil prices and the corruption scandal shaking the company since March 2014, implicating dozens of politicians and businesspersons for billions of dollars in kickbacks, smothered the plan to build in Itaboraí the biggest petrochemical complex in Latin America.

The losses are huge. “Of 14 plants or buildings where I worked on the construction, only four or five will be used,” said Rogerio Henrique Lourenço, 26, a building technician who was employed by the COMPERJ works for five years.

Besides the white elephants - the shiny modern buildings still empty within the 45 square kilometres of the shrunken megaproject – equipment was purchased and infrastructure was built, which require costly maintenance while the future remains uncertain.

To that is added the expense of the compensation and mitigation of the social and environmental impacts, which has included sanitation, clean-up of rivers, and reforestation – obligations that have not shrunk in accordance with the downsizing of the project.

The municipalities under the influence of COMPERJ, especially Itaboraí, are losing the prospect of development promised in 2006, when then president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) announced the project.

At the time he said it would consist of two refineries and two petrochemical units, besides installations for services and training of the necessary technical personnel.

The Getulio Vargas Foundation, a leading economic think tank, predicted that the petrochemical complex would foment the emergence of a plastics industry hub. According to its projections, between 362 companies – a conservative estimate – and 724 companies – a more optimistic forecast – would set up shop in the area.

That fast-forward industrialisation was expected to generate between 117,000 and 168,000 jobs in the southeastern state of Rio de Janeiro – just over one-third of which were to be concentrated in COMPERJ’s direct area of influence.

Itaboraí, as the city where COMPERJ is located, was to reap the greatest benefits, leaving behind its status as one of the poorest municipalities in the state – a commuter town whose residents work in neighbouring cities.

Jackson Coutinho, 21, managed to buy a car after working 18 months in a construction company helping to build the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in Brazil. Now unemployed, the dream of this worker from the city of Itaboraí is to join a military band as a musician, and study accounting. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Jackson Coutinho, 21, managed to buy a car after working 18 months in a construction company helping to build the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in Brazil. Now unemployed, the dream of this worker from the city of Itaboraí is to join a military band as a musician, and study accounting. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The castle came crumbling down,” said Lourenço, who was laid off in March 2014, when construction of the petrochemical complex began to run out of steam.

The father of three young children now gets by with casual work, mainly on small-scale construction sites. When he talked to IPS he was handing out pamphlets on the main street of Itaboraí.

His dream is to pass a civil service exam and become a public employee, with job stability.
“In COMPERJ I had well-paid jobs, but they were temporary,” he said. His five years there were divided between short-term contracts in a number of different companies.

Francisco Assunção, 22, had a similar experience. He worked for nearly two years in three of the dozens of companies participating in the construction of COMPERJ.

Now he is trying to make a living with his motorcycle taxi, “but people prefer to walk, because they don’t have money,” he said. So he also finds casual or part-time work in the construction industry and restaurants.

“I earned more in the COMPERJ jobs,” he said. Although he was paid just 300 dollars a month, he got an additional 40 percent for food and medical assistance, he explained.

Coutinho stands out because he spent 18 months in the same job, which made it possible for him to be promoted and to earn enough to buy a car. “It was a dream, but it’s over,” he said.

Although he is focused on his musical career, he has a “Plan B”: to study accounting, although he doesn’t like math. “I have friends who are accountants,” he said.

But he is confident that “COMPERJ will resume its original plan (to build a petrochemical complex), because too much money was invested there, and they went beyond the point of no return.” An estimated 80 percent of the construction is complete.

Rogerio Henrique Lourenço, 26, worked for five years on the construction of the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in Brazil, for several different companies. Now he supports his three young children and their mother in the city of Itaborai, where the shrunken and stalled megaproject is located, with casual work. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Rogerio Henrique Lourenço, 26, worked for five years on the construction of the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) in Brazil, for several different companies. Now he supports his three young children and their mother in the city of Itaborai, where the shrunken and stalled megaproject is located, with casual work. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

For these young men, the well-paying, steady work they enjoyed for several years merely drove home the lack of opportunities in Itaboraí, a 343-year-old city of 230,000 people that has remained faithful to its origins as a town that emerged alongside a highway, which is now its long central avenue.

The scant local productive activity, virtually limited to ceramics and orange groves, offers neither jobs nor intellectual stimulus for young people.

“This is a city that does not cultivate a cultural identity,” Franciellen Fonseca, who is studying to become a social worker and is taking part in the Incid research project, told IPS. “There are no recreational opportunities, plazas or places where locals can gather.”

The study by the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analyses (IBASE) monitors compliance with citizen rights in the 14 municipalities in COMPERJ’s area of influence, based on a system of indicators that the non-governmental organisation developed.

Its most recent study, on “the invisible citizenship rights of COMPERJ workers”, stressed the difficulty of obtaining information about the situation faced by labourers working on the project.

Refusing to provide information on the workers’ conditions is “a serious rights violation, because it makes it impossible to closely monitor the effects and impacts of these megaprojects on people’s lives,” says an Incid research project report.

The number of workers on the COMPERJ construction sites has never been revealed. There was talk of 30,000 at the height of construction, in 2012-2013, and figures have varied widely since then.

The young men who were laid off and talked to IPS say local workers were a minority on the construction sites – running counter to the promise to put a priority on hiring local labour. One of the numerous strikes that brought work temporarily to a halt demanded precisely that more local workers be hired, Coutinho pointed out.

The companies argued that there was not enough skilled local labour. But when people with the necessary training appeared, the companies set impossibly high standards for prior work experience, or simply did not hire them, said Lourenço.

The “invisibility” surrounding workers at COMPERJ was broken by the frequent strikes and rioting, which the old union was unable to handle.

Its successor, the Itaboraí union of assembly and maintenance workers, emerged in June 2014 to confront a different reality: the growing wave of lay-offs.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cuba’s Extra-Heavy Crude Awaits Technology and Investmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/cubas-extra-heavy-crude-awaits-technology-and-investment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-extra-heavy-crude-awaits-technology-and-investment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/cubas-extra-heavy-crude-awaits-technology-and-investment/#comments Tue, 27 Oct 2015 14:33:48 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142804 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/cubas-extra-heavy-crude-awaits-technology-and-investment/feed/ 0 Itaborai, a City of White Elephants and Empty Officeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/itaborai-a-city-of-white-elephants-and-empty-offices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=itaborai-a-city-of-white-elephants-and-empty-offices http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/itaborai-a-city-of-white-elephants-and-empty-offices/#comments Fri, 23 Oct 2015 16:05:21 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142780 All of the offices, shops and locales in the modern two-building Enterprise complex are empty. It is one of the many white elephants left in the city of Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, by the state-run Petrobras’ aborted petrochemical and oil industry megaproject. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

All of the offices, shops and locales in the modern two-building Enterprise complex are empty. It is one of the many white elephants left in the city of Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, by the state-run Petrobras’ aborted petrochemical and oil industry megaproject. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ITABORAÍ, Brazil , Oct 23 2015 (IPS)

Itaboraí still recalls its origins as a sprawling city that sprang up along a highway, not far from Rio de Janeiro. But a few years ago big modern buildings began to sprout all over this city in southeast Brazil, whose offices and shops are almost all empty today.

The number of white elephants, or costly, useless constructions, in this city of 230,000 people was the result of “two huge shocks” caused by the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ), Luiz Fernando Guimarães, the municipal secretary of economic development, told IPS.

“The first impact came from the 2006 announcement by then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) of the project, which was to consist of two refineries and two petrochemical plants that would generate 221,000 jobs, according to the Getulio Vargas Foundation,” he said.

The estímate by the prestigious Rio de Janeiro-based think tank was larger than the entire population of the city, which stood at 218,000 in 2010, according to that year’s census.

The complex, belonging to Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras, was to cost around 6.5 billion dollars according to initial projections. But it ballooned to twice that, and will now only entail a single refinery with a capacity to process 165,000 barrels a day of oil. Construction of the petrochemical plants and the second refinery was cancelled.

The original announcement and the start of construction in 2008 “turned Itaboraí into an El Dorado, attracting people from across Brazil, as well as many foreigners. Rents skyrocketed, the prices of food and services soared, and the value of land for building housing more than doubled,” Guimarães said.

The employment of some 30,000 workers and the prospect of a surge in industrialisation around the petrochemical complex drew abundant investment, because of the expectation that the city, “one of the poorest in the country, would soon to enjoy great prosperity,” the municipal secretary of finance, Rodney Mendonça, told IPS.

The real estate boom in this city 45 km from Rio de Janeiro led to the construction of modern buildings, including two big hotels – instead of the four that were originally planned.

In just a few years, there were 4,000 new shops and office buildings, said Guimarães, whose office was renamed the Secretariat of Economic Development and Integration. The former oil industry executive is now in charge of relations between the city government and COMPERJ.

The second shock was the decision to reduce the project to a single refinery, which was only announced in 2014. “But the change happened in 2010, and the public was not informed,” the official said. “I knew because several subsidiaries of Petrobras and Braskem (Latin America’s biggest petrochemical company) pulled out of the consortium.”

Bazarzão, which sells building materials and hardware in the city of Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, saw its sales rise twofold when construction on the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) began. But they later plummeted when Petrobras cancelled the petrochemical side of the project. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Bazarzão, which sells building materials and hardware in the city of Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, saw its sales rise twofold when construction on the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ) began. But they later plummeted when Petrobras cancelled the petrochemical side of the project. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“Imagine, a local university was getting ready to launch a new degree programme in petrochemical technology, with a view to the jobs that would be offered by COMPERJ. When I told him what was happening, the director just about killed me,” Guimarães said.

Not ony were the petrochemical plants and second refinery cancelled, but “construction of the first refinery stalled, and according to Petrobras, financing is being sought to finish it,” he said – even though it is 87 percent complete.

On the 45 sq km acquired for the construction of COMPERJ, Petrobras is forging ahead with the construction of the Natural Gas Processing Unit, which is now employing around 3,000 workers. “But after it is built, only 80 employees will be left to operate it,” said Guimarães.

The city has felt the blow. The shiny new commercial and office buildings are empty, and walking down the streets you see “to rent” or “to lease” signs everywhere, while most shops and other businesses are closed.

“The land of oranges turned into the land of white elephants,” joked Bruno Soares, the manager of a building materials, hardware and appliances store, Bazarzão, on 22 of May avenue, the main street in Itaboraí.

His store did not register as a COMPERJ supplier. Nevertheless, it has suffered the effects. “Our sales have fallen 50 percent since late 2014,” he estimated, although he admitted that they actually returned to the levels prior to the boom that was cut short.

“Business went up and down in five years, too quickly. Other stores closed and neighbouring towns were also hurt,” he said.

“Itaboraí would be a powerhouse in Latin America if the petrochemical complex was doing well, but it all came crumbling down because of the corruption,” Soares maintained.

The entrance to the nearly empty Hellix luxury office building. The local Secretariat of Economic Development in Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, moved into several of the offices because of the low rent, driven down by the lack of demand after Petrobras drastically cut back its oil and petrochemical industry megaproject nearby. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The entrance to the nearly empty Hellix luxury office building. The local Secretariat of Economic Development in Itaboraí, in southeast Brazil, moved into several of the offices because of the low rent, driven down by the lack of demand after Petrobras drastically cut back its oil and petrochemical industry megaproject nearby. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

That is a common conclusion reached by the public – and not only in Itaboraí – in response to the daily reports on the kickback scandal involving Petrobas projects, including COMPERJ, in which dozens of politicians and construction companies have been implicated.

Valcir José Vieira, the owner of a parking lot in downtown Itaboraí, concurs with Soares. “Between 2006 and 2014 my parking lot was always full – 200 cars a day came in. Today, I receive 100 at the most,” he told IPS.

The decline in the number of cars began in November 2014, and forced him to reduce his fees from five to two reais (1.30 dollars to 52 cents) an hour.

For the city government the disaster is twofold. Tax revenue plunged, while expenditure, which was driven up by the frustrated megaproject and the illusion of progress, continued to increase.

The tax on services, the municipal government’s main source of income, brought in around 64 million dollars a year during the COMPERJ construction boom – an amount that will fall 40 percent this year, according to forecasts by the local Secretariat of Finance.

Revenue from other taxes is also falling, due to the insolvency faced by companies in crisis.

Meanwhile, public spending has not dropped. The influx of workers and their families drawn by the prospect of jobs and prosperity drove up demand for healthcare, schools and other public services.

“The number of people who visited the emergency room of the Municipal Hospital climbed from 500 a day, to 2,000 since 2013,” said Mendonça, the finance secretary. The city government dedicates 30 percent of its budget to healthcare – double what is required by law, he pointed out.

And the administration that left office in 2012 hired 2,000 new public employees through competitive examinations, based on the increased demands and projected new revenue flow. And although the tax revenue dropped, the new civil servants can’t be laid off, because they enjoy guaranteed job stability in Brazil. So that increase in expenditure remains in place.

The two municipal secretaries complained that there was no compensation from COMPERJ for the impacts in the municipality, nor investment to mitígate the damaging effects of the shrinking megaproject.

In the face of these challenges, the city government is seeking alternatives to fuel development. Guimarães is convinced that logistics will be the main future activity in Itaboraí.

The city is located at the intersection of several highways, outside of the congested Rio de Janeiro metropolitan region, and in the centre of an area of oil industry activity – unrelated to COMPERJ – ports, shipyards and various industries, he pointed out.

At the same time, the municipalities affected by the downsizing of the COMPERJ project mobilised to pressure Petrobras to at least resume construction of the first refinery.

Itaboraí is also focusing on boosting small businesses. Guimarães’ Secretariat of Economic Development created a centre for entrepreneurs, aimed at expediting the creation of microenterprises and formalising the ones currrently operating in the informal sector of the economy.

Small firms that refurbish or expand housing, and beauty salons are the most frequent businesses opening at this time. “They rival the evangelical churches,” the head of the centre, Wilson Pereira, told IPS.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Shale Drives Uncertain New Geoeconomics of Oilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/shale-drives-uncertain-new-geoeconomics-of-oil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shale-drives-uncertain-new-geoeconomics-of-oil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/shale-drives-uncertain-new-geoeconomics-of-oil/#comments Wed, 07 Oct 2015 13:04:09 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142623 Experts predict that in the long term, shale gas production will not be sustainable in the United States. The photo shows a shale gas well in Montrose, in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Experts predict that in the long term, shale gas production will not be sustainable in the United States. The photo shows a shale gas well in Montrose, in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 2015 (IPS)

The emergence of fracking has modified the global market for fossil fuels. But the plunge in oil prices has diluted the effect, in a struggle that experts in the United States believe conventional producers could win in the next decade.

The U.S. oil industry had peaked – when the discovery of new deposits and output from existing wells begins to fall – which made the country more dependent on imports. But the equation was turned around thanks to the new technique.“The bubble won’t explode, but it will progressively deflate. At current prices, we would see a relatively quick shrinking of capital availability for the shale sector, because those companies are producing at a loss.” -- David Livingston

The innovative technology of hydraulic fracturing or fracking and the discovery of large deposits of shale gas and oil, along with massive investment flows, led to predictions that the United States would become autonomous in fossil fuels this decade. But these forecasts have been undermined by the drop in prices.

“The world is entering a new era of uncertainty in the geoeconomics of oil,” said David Livingston, an associate in the Energy and Climate Programme of the U.S. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is far from certain that the notoriously volatile oil market will become less cyclical.”

The analyst told IPS that as a result of domestic U.S. demand, “Companies will lose spare capacity, between what they can produce and what they produce, which is important, because the market is determined by that capacity.”

After 2003 international oil prices climbed, to 140 dollars a barrel in 2008, when the global financial crisis brought them down.

This decade they rallied, to around 100 dollars a barrel. But they have fallen again since late 2014, to about 40 dollars a barrel.

That means U.S. producers, in particular shale gas producers, are facing extremely low prices, overproduction, a lack of infrastructure for storing the surplus and a credit crunch for the industry’s projects, even though prices have gone down.

In addition, China’s economic slowdown and Europe’s stagnation are hindering the recovery in demand for energy.

The development of shale oil and gas has also put the U.S. industry on a collision course with the members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), especially since one of its widely touted objectives is to reduce imports from that bloc.

A warning about the danger of methane emissions in one of the shale gas Wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A warning about the danger of methane emissions in one of the shale gas Wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Since November 2014, OPEC has kept its production quotas stable, as part of a strategy imposed by the bloc’s biggest producer, Saudi Arabia, aimed at keeping prices low and discouraging the development of shale deposits, which are much more costly to tap into than the organisation’s conventional reserves.

In late 2014, the Norwegian consultancy Rystad Energy put the cost of producing a barrel of shale oil in the United States at 65 dollars a barrel, which means the industry is operating at a loss. The average cost of extracting a barrel of conventional oil in that country is 13 dollars, compared to five dollars in the Gulf.

For Miriam Grunstein, a professor at the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) in Mexico, the outlook is very uncertain.

Fracking, public enemy

Fracking involves the massive pumping of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, a technique that opens and extends fractures in the shale rock deep below the surface, to release the natural gas. Environmentalists warn that the chemical additives are harmful to health and the environment.

The process generates large amounts of waste liquids containing dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that require treatment before disposal, as well as emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

This has led to widespread public opposition to fracking in U.S. communities where exploration for shale gas is going on.

“There are doubts for several reasons. First of all, due to the low prices,” she told IPS from Mexico, which has begun to explore its significant reserves of shale gas.

“Although it has forced many companies to improve their operating capacity, reduce investments and achieve greater efficiency, they are in an environment where they have to look for markets, in Europe or Asia. But that requires liquefaction infrastructure, which implies major investments,” she added, referring to the current situation faced by shale gas producers.

In June, the United States produced 9.3 million barrels per day of crude oil, about half of which was shale oil, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The prospects for the industry are beginning to look less promising. In its Drilling Productivity Report published in late August, the EIA projected a fall in shale gas production in September, for the first time this year, to 44.9 billion cubic feet per day.

The agency stressed that output from new wells is not enough to offset the decline in existing wells.

For Livingston, “OPEC as an institution – and Saudi Arabia, its leader – is likely to emerge from this paradigm shift stronger than before in many ways. With its new strategy – one born out of necessity – the kingdom is emphasising market share, rather than price, while also moving to delegate the burden of balancing the world oil market to the U.S. shale industry.”

The United States would become the new “swing producer”, although without achieving the same power as the Gulf producers in influencing the market.

In the long run, total U.S. oil production will tend to drop, according to EIA projections. In 2020, crude oil production is expected to stand at 10.6 million barrels per day; in 2030, 10.04; and 10 years later, 9.43.

In the case of shale gas, projections are favourable, but at higher prices. In 2020, the country should be producing 15.44 trillion cubic feet per day; 10 years later 17.85; and in 2040, 19.58.

In total, the EIA forecasts that the country will produce 28.82 trillion cubic feet per day of natural gas in 2020; 33.01 in 2030; and 35.45 in 2040.

But the average price will go up. This year, the Henry Hub reference price for U.S. natural gas has stood at 2.93 dollars per million British thermal units (Btu), the heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water.

The price should go up to 4.88 dollars per Btu in 2020; to 5.69 in 2030; and to 7.80 in 2040.

“The bubble won’t explode, but it will progressively deflate. At current prices, we would see a relatively quick shrinking of capital availability for the shale sector, because those companies are producing at a loss,” said Livingston.

Grunstein said: “Saudi Arabia’s aim is to keep the United States from becoming a major exporter. The strong markets exert the most pressure. If demand does not recover, the demand-price ratio is awkward. Consumption is needed, and I don’t see where it would come from.”

Livingston said one option is to review the 1970s-era ban on exporting U.S. crude oil, because “If production rises, refineries can’t process it and therefore new markets are needed.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Brazil’s Expanded Climate Targets Frustrate Environmentalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/brazils-expanded-climate-targets-frustrate-environmentalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-expanded-climate-targets-frustrate-environmentalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/brazils-expanded-climate-targets-frustrate-environmentalists/#comments Fri, 02 Oct 2015 21:05:26 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142588 Grasslands replaced the Amazon rainforest in Brasil Novo, a municipality in the Xingú River basin, where the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is being built. Low-productivity stock-raising, with just one or two animals per hectare, is the big factor in deforestation and soil degradation in the region, and the government’s goal is to recover just one-fourth of the area degraded by this activity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Grasslands replaced the Amazon rainforest in Brasil Novo, a municipality in the Xingú River basin, where the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is being built. Low-productivity stock-raising, with just one or two animals per hectare, is the big factor in deforestation and soil degradation in the region, and the government’s goal is to recover just one-fourth of the area degraded by this activity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 2 2015 (IPS)

Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction programme, hailed as bold, has nevertheless left environmentalists frustrated at its lack of ambition in key aspects.

“The decision to present absolute reduction targets is praiseworthy, but they could be better and more ambitious, to the benefit of the country itself and of the global climate change talks,” said André Ferretti, general coordinator of the Climate Observatory, a Brazilian network of 37 environmental groups.

On Sep. 27, President Dilma Rousseff announced at the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York that Brazil’s goal is to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 37 percent by 2025 and 43 percent by 2030, with a base year of 2005.“The weakest point in Brazil’s commitment is with respect to the forest question. It is demeaning to promise to end illegal deforestation by 2030, admitting that illegal practices will be tolerated for a decade and a half.” -- André Ferretti

This is Brazil’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius this century, the ceiling set by experts to ward off a climate catastrophe.

Each country had until Oct. 1 to submit its INDC, to be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

In order for Brazil to meet these goals, at least 45 percent of its total energy mix is to be made up of renewable sources, including hydropower, by 2030. The global average is just 13 percent, the Brazilian president pointed out.

Alternative sources like wind, solar, biomass and ethanol will account for 23 percent of the country’s electricity output, up from nine percent today.

In addition, the country will attempt to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and pledged to offset emissions from regulated deforestation.

Reforesting 12 million hectares and recovering 15 million hectares of degraded grasslands are other goals announced by Rousseff, who noted that Brazil is one of the first countries of the developing South to assume absolute reduction targets for cutting GHG emissions, with goals even higher than those set by many industrialised countries.

Other countries offer reductions with respect to projected future emissions, based on current rates of production, consumption and economic growth. At the COP15, held in 2009 in Copenhagen, Brazil promised to reduce its GHG emissions by 36 to 39 percent below its projected emissions for 2020.

President Dilma Rousseff announced Brazil’s national greenhouse gas emissions reduction contribution during the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York. Credit: UN/Mark Garten

President Dilma Rousseff announced Brazil’s national greenhouse gas emissions reduction contribution during the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York. Credit: UN/Mark Garten

But the country’s INDC goals “are still lower than what the country could achieve, and add very little to what has already been done,” Ferreti told IPS.

In 2012, GHG emissions had already been cut 41 percent with respect to 2005, basically due to a lower rate of deforestation in the Amazon, although they rose later because of greater use of fossil fuels.

Currently Brazil, Latin America’s biggest GHG emitter, releases nearly 1.48 billion tons a year of emissions into the atmosphere.

The target for net emissions for 2030 does not differ much from the 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide released in 2012, according to the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“The weakest point in Brazil’s commitment is with respect to the forest question,” said Ferretti, who is also manager of conservation strategies in the Boticario Group Foundation for Nature Protection. “It is demeaning to promise to end illegal deforestation by 2030, admitting that illegal practices will be tolerated for a decade and a half.”

“In legal terms, it is contradictory to set such a lengthy timeframe to combat an illegal activity,” former lawmaker Liszt Vieira, who directed Rio de Janeiro’s botanical garden for 10 years, told IPS.

Furthermore, the targets only refer to the Amazon, leaving out other ecosystems, such as the Cerrado, the savannah that covers 203.6 million hectares, or 24 percent of the national territory, and is suffering heavy and growing deforestation, said Ferretti.

“All of this reflects the Brazilian government’s weak commitment on this issue,” said Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher at the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment. “Brazil could assume a zero deforestation goal for 2030, which would be feasible because this country has learned a lot about the issue, has the necessary technology, and has land that has already been deforested, for the expansion of agriculture.

“Besides, it would be in the best interests of the country, which depends heavily on rainfall for agriculture and energy,” he said in an interview with IPS. “Its vulnerability to drought has been revealed by the current water and energy crisis, especially in the state of São Paulo, after scarce rainfall for the last two years.”

“That’s why a good climate accord in Paris would be good for Brazil,” to prevent extreme events like drought, he said.

An ambitious goal, like zero deforestation nationwide, would give Brazil a certain leadership role in the climate conference, to encourage contributions from other countries and the reaching of agreements that would make it possible to limit climate change to less disastrous levels, said both Barreto and Vieira.

Furthermore, the role that forests play in regulating rainfall, especially the Amazon jungle in South America, is understood better today.

Brazil could also present more ambitious goals with respect to energy from alternative sources, expanding investment in wind and solar energy, said Vieira. In energy, the country is going against the current, he said, increasing generation of thermal power with fossil fuels and putting a priority on producing oil from the pre-salt deposits discovered beneath a two-kilometre-thick salt layer under rock, sand and deep water in the Atlantic.
.

Vieira believes Brazil has lost the leadership role it had in environment and the climate for nearly two decades, since it hosted the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, or Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro. In his view, it is the big players in the issue – China, the United States and Europe – that will decide the future of the global climate.

But despite the limitations of the government’s national climate programme, the environmentalists consulted by IPS admitted that Rousseff’s announcement was a happy surprise.

“We expected something worse from a development-oriented government that has treated environmentalism as an obstacle to development and economic growth,” said Vieira, who formed part of the current administration until 2013, as president of the botanical garden, a position of trust in the Environment Ministry.

“The presentation of the targets was both a relief and a frustration,” said Ferretti. “It was bad because it could have been better, both in the forest question and in energy, with more attention to biomass and solar energy.”

“And it was good because, besides some good measures, such as the recovery of degraded land, goals were set for 2025 and 2030, indicating that they would be revised every five years and could be expanded, opening a door to negotiation with and emulation by other countries,” he added.

It was also positive, he said, because Brazil abandoned its stance of inflexibly defending “common but differentiated responsibilities” exempting developing countries from meeting the same kinds of targets, as they are not equally responsible for the problem of global warming.

That separation between the two blocs boosted the “Third World” leadership by some countries like Brazil, but hindered negotiations, Ferretti argued.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexican Government Depends More and More on Private Business Partnershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/mexican-government-depends-more-and-more-on-private-business-partners/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexican-government-depends-more-and-more-on-private-business-partners http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/mexican-government-depends-more-and-more-on-private-business-partners/#comments Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:07:20 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142508 The Mexican government has increasingly turned to public–private partnerships (PPPs) to build energy industry infrastructure. The photo shows a gas pipeline belonging to Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex. Credit: Courtesy of Pemex

The Mexican government has increasingly turned to public–private partnerships (PPPs) to build energy industry infrastructure. The photo shows a gas pipeline belonging to Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex. Credit: Courtesy of Pemex

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 28 2015 (IPS)

The Mexican government has increasingly turned to public–private partnerships (PPPs) to build infrastructure in the energy industry and other areas. But critics say this system operates under a cloak of opacity and is plagued by the discretional use of funds.

As the 2013 energy reform, which opened the industry to national and international private capital, is implemented, PPPs have become more and more frequent.

In the case of the state oil company Pemex, “it doesn’t form alliances with just anyone, only with corporate giants. It doesn’t talk much about those deals. They’re very hard to track,” said Omar Escamilla, a researcher on fossil fuels with the non-governmental Project on Organising, Development, Education, and Research (PODER).

The analyst told IPS that “The PPPs are formed with companies registered in tax havens, which makes it difficult for the Mexican justice system to hold them accountable or request reports on how the funds are used.”

“What is worrisome is who the partnerships are formed with, where the capital comes from, and what is the history of those companies,” he said.“The PPPs are formed with companies registered in tax havens, which makes it difficult for the Mexican justice system to hold them accountable or request reports on how the funds are used.”-- Omar Escamilla

The Law on Public–Private Partnerships, in effect since 2012 and amended in 2014, regulates long-term contractual arrangements by the public sector for the provision of services that use infrastructure partially or totally provided by the private sector.

The law requires that the contracts be put out to tender, and gives the state the power to declare the works of public utility and to expropriate land, while setting a minimum timeframe of 40 years for the contracts.

Mexico is in seventh place among developing countries in terms of the number of PPPs. In Latin America, only Brazil uses this scheme more frequently. The largest number of PPPs has involved the construction of roads, although they are also used in the construction of hospitals, prisons, airports, railroads and the energy industry.

According to the World Bank, “PPPs are typically medium to long term arrangements between the public and private sectors whereby some of the service obligations of the public sector are provided by the private sector, with clear agreement on shared objectives for delivery of public infrastructure and/ or public services.”

PPPs are seen as improving the equation between quality and prices for services, transferring risks to the private sector, improving incentives for efficient production, reducing public spending, and transferring debt to the private sector.

But critics say they bind governments to payments under lengthy contracts. They also argue that they can bring down spending on public services, mask the true extent of the public debt, disguise the privatisation of public services, and drive up costs.

At the federal level, Mexico has 29 PPPs, while different states have a combined total of 20.

The energy reform approved in December 2013, the biggest transformation of the industry in the last eight decades, opened up oil exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution and sale of oil and its by-products to local and foreign private investment.

In the last 20 years, Pemex has turned to PPPs to build oil industry infrastructure, as a way to get around the legal and economic limitations of a state monopoly, says the study “Analysis of the business structure in Mexico’s oil industry,” published by PODER in June.

For example, in 1996 Pemex and the U.S.-based Sempra Energy formed a partnership to create Gasoductos de Chihuahua, which became the biggest player in Mexico’s natural gas industry, because it controls nine companies by means of two joint ventures and seven partner companies, all of which form part of Pemex’s organisational chart.

With the aim of developing three mature fields in the southern state of Tabasco, PMI Campos Maduros Sanma, a subsidiary of Pemex, formed a partnership in 2011 with the subsidiaries in Mexico of the private trasnational corporations Petrofac Limited (UK) and Schlumberger Limited (U.S.).

In 2013, Pemex transferred the Planta Clorados III petrochemical complex, one of the national petrochemical industry’s most important assets, to the local firm Mexichem, creating the company Petroquímica Mexicana de Vinilo. In the joint venture, Mexichem controls 55.1 percent of the shares and Pemex holds the rest.

Another case is Gasoductos de Chihuahua, the company that will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Los Ramones pipeline, the biggest investment in infrastructure for transporting gas in half a century, with a capacity to transport 3.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day over a distance of 900 km.

The pipeline will link central Mexico with the U.S. border in the north.

The gas pipelines that the Mexican government is building to provide gas industry infrastructure are actually the biggest business scheme for the private sector to form ties with Pemex in the natural gas industry, says the Poder report.

The Comisión Federal de Electricidad, a state power company, has followed a similar strategy with the construction and operation of wind power farms in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

“Oversight, accountability and transparency are pending tasks, to carry out a comprehensive review of these mechanisms,” Arturo Oropeza, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Economic Research Institute, told IPS.

“There has been a lack of instruments for this, as well as a lack of an integral vision for understanding what happened. What is needed is a sectoral evaluation,” he said.

“Evaluating the environment for public-private partnerships in Latin America and the Caribbean”, published in April, lists Mexico among the countries with the best conditions for PPPs.

The list, which assessed 19 countries in the region based on 19 indicators involving electricity, transportation and water infrastructure, classified Mexico as the best-placed in terms of investment climate and worst in terms of the domestic context.

The report was produced by the Inter-American Development Bank; its private financing arm, the Multilateral Investment Fund; and the Intelligence Unit of the British magazine The Economist.

It states that issues like transparency represent a challenge to the development of more PPPs.

The report mentions the lack of significant independent oversight of compliance with contracts, and says the largest projects have been granted through direct negotiations in cases where there was only one interested party, even though the law requires that they be put out to tender.

Chile headed the list, with nearly 77 points out of a possible 100, followed by Brazil (75); Peru (70.5) and Mexico (nearly 68). Nicaragua, Argentina and Venezuela tailed the list.

Mexico has earmarked some 300 billion dollars for PPPs over the next three years.

In Escamilla’s view, the outlook in Mexico is not promising, given the increased use of PPPs.

“It’s important to generate frameworks for oversight and operability. PPPs should be held accountable with regard to how the partner was chosen, their profile, their history of bribes and fraudulent payments….And if these criteria are not met, the option is to look for other partners,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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How to Fix Environmental Woes in Buenos Aires Shantytownhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/how-to-fix-environmental-woes-in-buenos-aires-shantytown/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-fix-environmental-woes-in-buenos-aires-shantytown http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/how-to-fix-environmental-woes-in-buenos-aires-shantytown/#comments Fri, 18 Sep 2015 21:06:03 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142421 Nora Pavón and one of her daughters in the informal garbage dump behind their home. The swamp acts as a sewer in Villa Inflamable, in the suburb of Avellaneda on the south side of Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Nora Pavón and one of her daughters in the informal garbage dump behind their home. The swamp acts as a sewer in Villa Inflamable, in the suburb of Avellaneda on the south side of Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AVELLANEDA, Argentina, Sep 18 2015 (IPS)

Children have been poisoned by lead in Villa Inflamable, a shantytown on the south side of the capital of Argentina. Resettling their families involves a socioenvironmental process as complex as the sanitation works in one of the most polluted river basins in the world.

As soon as you enter Villa Inflamable, which is located right in the Dock Sud petrochemical hub in the Buenos Aires suburb of Avellaneda, you taste and feel chemicals and dust particles in your throat, saliva and lungs.

But in this shantytown, where more than 1,500 families are exposed to industrial pollution in precarious homes built on top of soil contaminated with toxic waste, the children suffer the problem in their blood.

“When she was one, she had 55 µg of lead in her blood. I had to put her in the hospital,” Brenda Ardiles, a local resident, told IPS, referring to her daughter, who is now three years old. Her other daughter, eight months old, is also suffering from lead poisoning.

Her mother-in-law, Nora Pavón, whose four children also have lead poisoning, said “Every night they get nosebleeds, they can’t stand the headaches, their bones hurt, but since there’s no transportation at night I can’t take them to the emergency room until the next morning.”

Lead poisoning in children is defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as a blood lead level of greater than 10 micrograms (µg) per decilitre of blood.

Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities and other chronic health problems, such as stunted growth, hyperactivity and impaired hearing. Young children are the most vulnerable.

“One of my daughters is in third grade and the other is in fourth and they don’t know how to read. The doctors said the delay was caused by lead,” said Pavón.

Villa Inflamable suffers from all of the environmental problems that plague the 64-km Matanzas-Riachuelo river, which cuts across 14 Buenos Aires municipalities before it flows into the Río de la Plata or River Plate. Of the more than 120,000 families living in 280 slums along the river, 18,000 are set to be relocated.

On one hand are the companies that pollute the river: petrochemical plants, oil refineries, chemical and fuel storage sites, and toxic waste processing plants.

On the other are the problems typical of poverty, such as substandard housing, flood-prone land, clandestine garbage dumps and a lack of sanitation.

“That lagoon is putrid, I don’t know what they dump there,” said Pavón, pointing to a swamp behind her home surrounded by trash, which functions as a natural sewer in the neighbourhood.

Of the five million people living in the river basin, 35 percent have no piped water and 55 percent have no sewage services.

“A lot of kids have diarrhea. The water pipes are polluted and the clandestine connections aren’t safe,” said Claudia Espínola, with the Junta Vecinal Sembrando Juntos, an organisation of local residents that jugs of clean drinking water in Villa Inflamable.

The industrial area in the Riachuelo, with the port in the background, in Buenos Aires. There are 13,000 companies registered by ACUMAR along the riverbank, 7,000 of which are industrial. The agency has identified 1,254 toxic substances. Some 900 factories have presented reconversion plans. Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The industrial area in the Riachuelo, with the port in the background, in Buenos Aires. There are 13,000 companies registered by ACUMAR along the riverbank, 7,000 of which are industrial. The agency has identified 1,254 toxic substances. Some 900 factories have presented reconversion plans. Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

In 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin Authority (ACUMAR) – created in 2006 – to clean up the area. In 2011, ACUMAR established an integral environmental clean-up plan.

The plan, whose goals include sustainable development, involves the reconversion of factories, the clean-up of rivers and riverbanks, garbage collection and treatment, water treatment and drainage works, and slum redevelopment or relocation.

It covers a total of 1,600 projects to be completed by 2024, including the construction of 1,900 housing units, with a total investment of four billion dollars.

“They offered us another place, but I said no because we are three families, 15 people living in this house. We couldn’t have fit in the other one, even if we worked wonders,” said Pavón, who did accept the offer of a second housing unit, although she complained that there wasn’t room for the children to play.

Many families did not accept the resettlement, for a variety of reasons. Some did not like the houses offered, while others were simply unaware of how serious the contamination was in their neighbourhood.

“Sometimes the houses are small, and many families are used to large lots. Others work or have their businesses in their homes, they’re garbage recyclers, and they don’t know how they could continue to work there,” Espínola told IPS.

Another reason, more difficult to solve, is the rivalry between the football teams of the old neighbourhood and the new one where they are to be resettled, also in the suburb of Avellaneda.

“It’s a longstanding problem between the fans of the Dock Sud and San Telmo clubs, a rivalry that is sometimes violent. It’s a cultural problem that we think we can work through, which we’re trying to do,” she said.

In Villa Inflamable, an environmental health centre now monitors the levels of contamination.

But according to Leandro García Silva, the head of environment and sustainable development in the Defensoría del Pueblo de la Nación, or ombudsperson’s office, which is monitoring compliance with the court-ordered clean-up, a risk map is needed first.

“The health system doesn’t have many tools to act on illnesses arising from environmental questions because the doctor can’t write a prescription for cleaning up the environment. We need to adapt public health tools to this new problem,” he said.

A street in Villa Inflamable, a shantytown in southern Buenos Aires, in the Dock Sud petrochemical complex on the banks of the Matanzas-Riachuelo River. In that neighbourhood, more than 1,500 families are exposed to industrial pollution and toxic waste, which are poisoning their children. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A street in Villa Inflamable, a shantytown in southern Buenos Aires, in the Dock Sud petrochemical complex on the banks of the Matanzas-Riachuelo River. In that neighbourhood, more than 1,500 families are exposed to industrial pollution and toxic waste, which are poisoning their children. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

At the same time, ACUMAR has undertaken ambitious infrastructure projects, like the construction of an 11-km sewage collector and an 11.5-km outfall, with 840 million dollars in financing from the World Bank. The project, which will prevent the direct discharge of untreated sewage into the Río de la Plata, is to be completed in 2016.

ACUMAR director of institutional relations Antolín Magallanes told IPS that the collector is a tunnel on one side of the Riachuelo to carry sewage to two settling tanks in Dock Sud and Berazategui. The tank is already operating in the latter.

“The collector is very important because 70 or 80 percent of the pollution in the Riachuelo comes from sewage. This will almost completely resolves the issue,” he said.

In addition, six waterfall aeration stations will be built to add oxygen to the water, projected by the Argentina’s water and sanitation utility, AySa, and the University of Buenos Aires.

“The clean-up chapter is extremely important; the planned infrastructure works will provide greater sanitation and treatment, above all in sewage effluent and the potable water supply,” said Javier García Espil, coordinator of the Riachuelo team in the Defensoría.

“But if this is not accompanied by environmental management – that is, zoning, monitoring of industries, flood control, and new forms of using this territory – it would be a limited response,” he told IPS.

ACUMAR stepped up inspections in this region, which accounts for 30 percent of Argentina’s GDP.

“We have around 13,000 registered companies, of which some 7,000 are industrial, and we have identified 1,254 pollutants. Some 900 have already presented reconversion plans,” said ACUMAR’s Magallanes.

The Defensoría recognises these advances but says the credit made available for the reconversions and strategic plans has been insufficient.

“The problem is not simply inspecting and adjusting some process, which is necessary but is part of a bigger problem: defining what kind of industries we want in the future – a major pending challenge,” said the García Espil.

“New mechanisms have to be put in place: environmental management with zoning, taking into consideration the capacity of ecosystems, and the complexity of the territory, involving social participation,” said García Silva.

It has been seven years of complex struggle to remedy two centuries of neglect of a river basin which according to Magallanes “has been the historic refuge of millions of people who didn’t have anywhere to go because of social problems.”

Pavón, an immigrant from the northern province of Chaco, summed it up: “I would go back to the Chaco, which is healthier and nicer for raising kids, but there’s no work. I saw on the news that a kid died of malnutrition there.”

She tried to return to her hometown anyway, “to see if the kids’ lead blood levels went down.” But the attempt failed because she couldn’t find work. Between malnutrition and lead, she had to choose lead.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Activists Say Fracking Fails to ‘Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/activists-say-fracking-fails-to-keep-pennsylvania-beautiful/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-say-fracking-fails-to-keep-pennsylvania-beautiful http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/activists-say-fracking-fails-to-keep-pennsylvania-beautiful/#comments Thu, 17 Sep 2015 21:12:59 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142404 Activist Ray Kimble has turned his home in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania into a symbol of opposition to fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activist Ray Kimble has turned his home in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania into a symbol of opposition to fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MONTROSE, Pennsylvania, USA , Sep 17 2015 (IPS)

U.S. activist Vera Scroggins has been sued five times by the oil industry, and since October 2013 she has faced a restraining order banning her from any properties owned or leased by one of the biggest players in Pennsylvania’s natural gas rush, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.

“I feel like a half-citizen, because corporations can do whatever they want and citizens can’t. Corporations have broken environmental laws and keep working,” the retired real estate agent, who is a mother of three and grandmother of two, told IPS.

Since 2008 Scroggins, with the Shaleshock Media network of artists and media activists, has been fighting hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, the technique used to produce shale gas, in the rural community of Montrose, Pennsylvania, population 1,600.

In Montrose, which is in Susquehanna County, there are some 1,100 wells in 600 gasfields, as well as 43 compressor stations, which help the transportation process of natural gas from one location to another.“There is polluted water, flow-back water, the transformation of rural areas damaged by the operation of wells. There are quite a few long-term legal and financial liabilities to ensure that that legacy is properly addressed.” -- Tyson Slocum

This infrastructure, owned by seven companies, is near homes and schools.

The Marcellus shale formation stretches across the northeastern U.S. state of Pennsylvania. It is one of the large shale gas deposits that have led to the United States being dubbed “Frackistan”.

Fracking involves the massive pumping of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into a well, which opens and extends fractures in the shale rock deep below the surface, to release the natural gas trapped there on a massive scale. The technique is considered damaging to health and the environment.

Fracking generates enormous volumes of liquid waste that must be treated for reuse, as well as emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide, the most important cause of global warming.

“The wells pollute the water and the methane escapes into the air. Many people don’t know what’s going on, they don’t have information. I don’t feel safe with how fracking has been done,” said Scroggins, who lives in Montrose with her husband, a retired teacher. There is a gas well just one kilometre from their home.

Fracking, with its tall steel drilling rigs, has modified the local landscape, along with the constant traffic of trucks hauling soil, sand and water.

Activists complain that the development of industry in rural areas like Montrose is ruining the countryside, while the accumulation of methane can lead to explosions or respiratory ailments among local residents.

Shale drilling rig in Montrose, Pennsylvania. Many rural areas in this northeastern state have seen their lives disrupted by the development of shale gas and the controversial fracking technique used to produce it. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Shale drilling rig in Montrose, Pennsylvania. Many rural areas in this northeastern state have seen their lives disrupted by the development of shale gas and the controversial fracking technique used to produce it. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In its Annual Energy Outlook 2015, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that about 11.34 trillion cubic feet of dry natural gas was produced directly from shale gas in the United States in 2013 – about 47 percent of total U.S. dry natural gas production that year.

And about 4.2 million barrels per day of crude oil were produced directly from shale oil or tight oil resources in the United States in 2014 – 49 percent of total U.S. crude oil production.

Oil is the main source of energy in the United States, accounting for 36 percent of the total, followed by natural gas (27 percent), and coal (19 percent).

In Pennsylvania, gas production soared from 9,757 cubic feet in 2008 to 3.05 million in 2013.

In this state, the site of the first U.S. oil boom, 9,200 wells have been drilled, and over 16,000 permits for fracking have been granted.

The United States is the country that is most heavily exploiting shale gas and oil at a commercial level.

Fracking was given a boost in 2005, when the Energy Policy Act exempted the technique from seven major federal environmental laws, ranging from protecting clean water and air to preventing the release of toxic substances and chemicals into the environment.

With that backing, the industry unleashed a flood of lawsuits seeking to dismantle local and state environmental, health and contractual regulations adverse to its interests.

In the case of Pennsylvania, the state legislature approved the Oil and Gas Act (Act 13) in September 2012, which restricted local governments’ ability to zone and regulate natural gas drilling and required municipalities to allow oil and gas development in all zoning areas.

But city councils, local residents and environmental organisations fought the law, and in 2013 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down sections of it, saying they were unconstitutional and violated citizens’ environmental rights. This allowed local communities to once again apply zoning rules in granting permits for shale gas production.

Along the side of the road, the traveller constantly sees signs reading Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. But what is happening in rural areas does not seem to be in line with the slogan.

Ray Kimble, a 59-year-old mechanic, has experienced that contradiction in Dimock Township, where he lives. He told IPS that in his community, which is near Montrose, the water has been polluted since 2009 by drilling and fracking operations.

“They have damaged the town. We don’t want them here,” said Kimble, who added that he has a chronic cough and his ankles are swollen from contact with toxic waste while he worked for the industry as a driver.

Now he refuses to drink the tapwater and dedicates his time to carrying clean water to families affected by the contamination.

Dimock, population 1,500, was featured in the prize-winning documentary “Gasland” by U.S. filmmaker Josh Fox, which exposed the damage caused by fracking and helped spawn the first lawsuits against the shale gas industry, which were settled out of court.

Kimble’s house is just over 150 metres from a gas well.

“There are short-term profits with shale gas, but what happens when the wells dry up and the waste is left?” activist Tyson Slocum remarked to IPS.

“There is polluted water, flow-back water, the transformation of rural areas damaged by the operation of wells. There are quite a few long-term legal and financial liabilities to ensure that that legacy is properly addressed,” said Slocum, the director of the Energy Programme of Public Citizen, a consumer interest group that has provided advice to people affected by fracking.

The industry is now facing the sharp drop in international oil prices, the credit crunch, and growing public opposition to fracking.

In the last eight months, some 400 towns and cities in 28 states have adopted vetoes or moratoriums on fracking. The most far-reaching decisions were taken in the states of Vermont, the first to ban fracking, in 2012, and New York, which did so in December.

“Why don’t they build a well besides a politician’s home? Citizens don’t want them near our houses,” said Scroggins.

“I hope there won’t be a major leak, because it will be devastating. But the industry doesn’t acknowledge it has done something bad,” the activist added.

Slocum says the states have bowed to the industry’s interests. “The balance between profits and public health has been vilified, the debate on jobs and economic benefits is secondary,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Brazil’s Crisis is a Blessing and a Cursehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/brazils-crisis-a-blessing-and-a-curse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-crisis-a-blessing-and-a-curse http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/brazils-crisis-a-blessing-and-a-curse/#comments Thu, 17 Sep 2015 08:08:51 +0000 Tarso Genro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142392 Tarso Genro

Tarso Genro

By Tarso Genro
PORTO ALEGRE, Sep 17 2015 (IPS)

The Lula development model that lifted 35 million people out of poverty and raised living standards for another 20 million people during the governments of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) has run its course.

This has come at a time when the global financial system is in crisis and is seeking economic recovery and profits by manipulating the interest rates paid by indebted countries, leaving their governments without much leeway to find alternative ways of meeting their commitments.

The current fiscal crisis in Brazil has emerged from these two historical situations.

The Lula model, underpinned by high commodity prices, drove social inclusion and increased the purchasing power of wage earners. It also promoted enormous investment in social housing and public education, embarked on a policy of diversified international relations, and made large investments in infrastructure.

It was a period of intense social dialogue among a wide spectrum of participants that went from bankers to landless peasants.

The model became exhausted, not because it failed, but because in fulfilling its goals it created new social demands.

The Lula governments reformed the class structure in Brazil, and now a large proportion of the population aspires to continue its upward mobility and improvement in their quality of life. This will be possible only through a further reduction of the country’s tremendous social inequalities, because the only way to grow the economy without increasing debt is to expand demand in the great mass domestic market in this country of 204 million people, a large proportion of whom are under-consuming according to the standards of advanced capitalism.

Brazil also possesses unexplored sources of wealth, the most obvious of which is its huge offshore oil reserves.

Some have blamed the present political crisis on corruption. Actually, it would be true to say that the crisis has been aggravated as a result of corruption cases initiated in the state apparatus decades ago. These were never before investigated effectively and independently, and they finally came to light during the governments of Lula and President Dilma Rousseff. Corruption emerged from criminal power systems embedded in the state during governments prior to those of the Workers’ Party (PT – Partido dos Trabalhadores). These were used by part of the PT for its own benefit and to maintain its power.

But it is important to remember that the discovery of these corrupt systems was possible because of the strengthening of organs for control and investigation, which occurred primarily under the Lula governments. Although the PT shared, along with all the other parties, in the corruption of the state and the political system, it is also true that corruption was never fought as hard as it was during the PT governments.

The crisis may therefore be seen as “blessed” because, after Brazil recovers from it, there will be a new anti-corruption consciousness in the country among political and business elites. Ultimately, if the PT wishes to survive as the proponent of a democratic and egalitarian utopia, it will have to undertake a profound organizational, programmatic, ethical and political reform.

The political crisis in Brazil cannot be fully understood without taking into account two vital factors in our history.

First, the period since the 1988 constitution is the longest democratic era in the country’s history. Although it arose from a pact with the military regime, it set the country on a course toward social democracy, which at the time was in reverse internationally because of pressure from neoliberal reforms.

Second, Brazilian society continues to have yawning social and economic inequalities, the consequences of the policies of an elite characterized by a colonial and slave-owning culture and opposed to any type of income redistribution through the state, which it views as an interloper trying to appropriate its private wealth.

These two factors gave rise to the current crisis as factions have struggled for power and to define the development model and reform of the political system that will take shape in the next government period.

At the center of the process is the following critical question: Will the model of state and society that is being restructured within the framework of the global crisis come closer to the European social model (adapted to Brazilian conditions)? Or will it generate a society where the population is divided into one-third extremely poor, one-third relatively poor and only one-third fully included – with all the ingredients for upheavals such as states of emergency and periods of authoritarianism.

What will be contested in Brazil in the coming decades, therefore, is not the implementation of a socialist or “post-capitalist” system, for which there is no existing paradigm, but whether there will be a national democratic project with greater or less social cohesion, with greater or less inequality and poverty.

The possibility of social democracy began to be constructed during the Lula governments and continued during the first Rousseff government (2011-2015). However in her second term, which began in January 2015, Rousseff was forced by internal political circumstances (the system of party alliances) and the international situation (the global economic crisis) to abandon that direction and to adopt monetary policies demanded by the liberal and neoliberal opposition.

She did this without consulting her own party base or the social and parliamentary forces that support her with increasing dissatisfaction. This is the impasse that characterizes Brazilian politics today and is motivating part of the opposition to attempt to remove the president by “lawful means,” as happened to former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, impeached and ousted in 2012 by parliament.

But the crisis is “cursed” on two accounts. On the one hand, never has so much hatred been unleashed against the segment of society represented by the PT and other left wing parties, opening wounds that will be difficult to heal.

For any incoming government calling itself left wing but acting in centrist and social democratic ways, unless it can rapidly respond to real demands it will be violently destabilized by disappointed mass movements, by the mass media and by conservative or falsely social democratic parties.

On the other hand, the ferocious campaign against the PT governments has itself created economic instability that has benefited the rent-extracting sector, increased the wealth of the rich and impoverished the rest of society. According to reliable sources, “large fortunes have grown again in the first half of 2015″, implying that the social deficit has increased as state functions have been reduced.

It is still too soon to predict the future of the PT and the Rousseff government. But it is certain that the losers in the political demonization and fascist radicalization promoted by dominant media outlets against the PT and the left are Brazilian democracy and the working population, who may experience a serious reversal of their social gains and their political participation.

There will be regrettable excesses during this period of judging the old systems of illegal financing of parties and of corruption, driven by contests for the upper hand between state institutions, and by the political manipulations instigated by the major media outlets against Lula and the PT.

Translated by Valerie Dee

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

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