Inter Press ServiceTierramerica – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 22 Jul 2017 20:24:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Toasting to a More Sustainable Planet with Argentine Winehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/argentine-wine-to-toast-for-a-more-sustainable-planet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentine-wine-to-toast-for-a-more-sustainable-planet http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/argentine-wine-to-toast-for-a-more-sustainable-planet/#respond Tue, 20 Oct 2015 21:37:50 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142748 The region of Cuyo in west-central Argentina is famous for its vineyards. But it is one of the areas in the country hit hardest by the effects of climate change, such as desertification and the melting of mountain top snow. And local winegrowers have come up with their own way to fight global warming. In […]

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Vineyards belonging to the Dominio del Plata winery in Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza. It is one of the companies taking part in the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, which involves a sustainable reconversion inthe wine-growing industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Vineyards belonging to the Dominio del Plata winery in Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza. It is one of the companies taking part in the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, which involves a sustainable reconversion inthe wine-growing industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LUJÁN DE CUYO, Argentina , Oct 20 2015 (IPS)

The region of Cuyo in west-central Argentina is famous for its vineyards. But it is one of the areas in the country hit hardest by the effects of climate change, such as desertification and the melting of mountain top snow. And local winegrowers have come up with their own way to fight global warming.

In the cup, malbec, Argentina’s flagship red wine, still has the same intense flavour and colour.

But behind the production process is a new environmental reconversion, which began four years ago in the arid province of Mendoza, where vineyards bloom in the midst of oases created by human hands.

Only 4.8 percent of the desert province of Mendoza is green; 3.5 percent is dedicated to agricultural production, which uses 90 percent of the water consumed, and the rest is urban areas.“Many people think investing in ecological practices has an additional cost and won’t necessarily bring the company any benefits. This shows that is not the case.” -- René Mauricio Valdés

“We are trying to maintain the same production levels, using less water and less energy, reducing waste, reusing waste products, and creating less pollution,” the provincial coordinator of the Federal Programme for Cleaner Production, Germán Micic, told Tierramérica.

The initiative, launched by the national Secretariat of the Environment and Sustainable Development, benefits some 1,250 small and medium-sized companies in Argentina.

It is carried out with technical and administrative support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funds from the Interamerican Development Bank. In Mendoza, 210 companies – 60 percent of them wineries – are participating. They receive advice and up to 28,000 dollars in funds.

“We’re producing the same wine, but in a sustainable manner,” said Luis Romito, the head of the Sustainability Commission of the Bodegas de Argentina wineries association, while participating in the Climate Change Forum organised this month in Mendoza by the National University of Cuyo and the UNDP.

Some of these practices have begun to be implemented by Dominio del Plata, a family winery at the foot of the Andes mountains, in Agrelo, a town in the department of Luján de Cuyo.

By changing equipment and modifying processes, the family business has managed to use less water in the production of its wine.

In the wine production process, water is mainly used for washing, rinsing, heating and cooling.

One example of the changes introduced was the replacement of manual washing of the grape picking lugs, which took some 20 minutes per unit, by automated industrial washers.

“The lug is washed in five minutes with this machine,” Marcelo del Popolo, the winery’s adviser on quality and environmental responsability, told Tierramérica. “We have reduced water consuption by some 60,000 litres a month. In three months of harvest, that’s 180,000 litres of water saved.

“And the water used in the washing process goes down a drain and is carried to a treatment plant, and is then used to irrígate the vineyards,” he said.

And irrigation systems are being improved in Mendoza, where 90 percent of water is used in agricultural activities, and where water shortages are increasingly severe as a result of global warming.

“Water is vital to our province, and we are being seriously affected by this problem,” Ricardo Villalba, an expert in geosciences and former director of the Mendoza-based Argentine Institute of Snow Research, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences, told Tierramérica. “Water is the element that controls regional development.”

Wine storage tanks with special jackets maintain temperatures more efficiently in wineries in the wine-growing region of Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza, which are taking part in a special programme to create more green-friendly processes to help combat the effects of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Wine storage tanks with special jackets maintain temperatures more efficiently in wineries in the wine-growing region of Luján de Cuyo in the Argentine province of Mendoza, which are taking part in a special programme to create more green-friendly processes to help combat the effects of climate change. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Our province basically depends on the water that comes from the snow up in the mountains, and all of the global forecasts and models indicate that there will gradually be less and less snow,” said Villalba, who is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The wine-growing industry, which represents six percent of GDP in Mendoza and 1.3 percent of GDP nationwide, also aims to reduce energy consumption, which in Argentina is responsible for 43 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

In the wineries, energy is used for heating, cooling, pumping of liquids and lighting.

“In each one of these stages we can incorporate modifications of equipment or processes, which make significant energy savings possible,” Micic said. “From jackets on the tanks to maintain temperatures more efficiently to the installation of advanced new pumps for a stronger water flow and lower energy consumption, through the change of compressors and lighting.”

Del Popolo said: “We keep track here of the water that comes in and the temperature we manage to achieve. By doing this we have reduced the energy used for heating by 15 percent.”

The company also uses green-friendly materials like lightweight wine bottles and lighter boxes that use less cardboard. Plastic and other waste products like broken bottles are classified, recycled and reused.

“We’re using boxes that we have already recycled many times over,” he said.

The benefits to the environment also bring considerable cost savings.

“We have addressed two fundamental questions: savings in energy and in water. And in both of them, we’re also seeing significant economic savings,” said the head of the winery, which plans in the future to invest in a solar thermal system for heating and fermentation.

This, according to UNDP representative in Argentina René Mauricio Valdés, is what makes the project self-sustainable.

“Many people think investing in ecological practices has an additional cost and won’t necessarily bring the company any benefits. This shows that is not the case,” said Valdés during a visit to the winery.

Fincas Patagónicas Tapiz, an olive oil producer in the neighbouring department of Maipú, is another company taking part in the programme in Mendoza.

Among other measures, it implemented a system to circulate water heated by solar energy around the tanks of oil to eliminate that energy expense.

It also insulated the room holding the tanks of oil, to keep the temperature steady. This made it possible to avoid the need to use air conditioning in the entire plant, which consumed an enormous amount of energy.

“If the temperature of the oil drops below 14 or 15 degrees Celsius, it solidifies and I can’t filter it,” plant manager Sebastián Correas explained to Tierramérica. “Which means that in the (southern hemisphere) winter I have to keep heating the entire plant until the warmer temperatures of September and October make it possible to bottle the oil.”

Argentina is not one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases. Producing 0.66 percent of all greenhouse gases released globally, it is 22nd in a ranking that counts the 28 European Union countries as a single bloc.

But Villalba, the scientific researcher, believes that Argentina, like Mendoza, has a role to play.

“We are going to have to prepare ourselves for this, for example to continue to be leaders in the production of malbec at a global level,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Native Women Green the Outskirts of the City, Feed Their Familieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/native-women-green-the-outskirts-of-the-city-feed-their-families/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-women-green-the-outskirts-of-the-city-feed-their-families http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/native-women-green-the-outskirts-of-the-city-feed-their-families/#respond Sat, 17 Oct 2015 13:42:14 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142717 The hands of women who have migrated from rural areas carefully tend to their ecological vegetable gardens in the yards of their humble homes on the outskirts of Sucre, the official capital of Bolivia, in an effort to improve their families’ diets and incomes. “The men worked in the construction industry, and 78 percent of […]

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Women from the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, who are from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bolivia’s official capital, with a basketful of ecologically grown fresh vegetables from their greenhouses, which have improved their families’ diets and incomes. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Women from the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, who are from poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Bolivia’s official capital, with a basketful of ecologically grown fresh vegetables from their greenhouses, which have improved their families’ diets and incomes. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Franz Chávez
SUCRE, Bolivia, Oct 17 2015 (IPS)

The hands of women who have migrated from rural areas carefully tend to their ecological vegetable gardens in the yards of their humble homes on the outskirts of Sucre, the official capital of Bolivia, in an effort to improve their families’ diets and incomes.

“The men worked in the construction industry, and 78 percent of the women didn’t have work – they had no skills, they washed clothes for others or sold things at the market,” Lucrecia Toloba, secretary of “productive development and plural economy” in the government of the southeastern department of Chuquisaca, told IPS.

Her hair in two thin braids and wearing traditional native dress – a bowler hat, a short, pleated skirt called a pollera, and light clothing for the mild climate of the Andean valleys – Toloba, a Quechua Indian, is an educator who now runs the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme in the region.“We organised as women, and now we eat without worry because we grow our food free of chemicals." -- Alberta Limachi

In her modest office, she explains that women are at the centre of the programme, which brings them recognition from their families and communities, diversifies their families’ diets, and offers them economic independence through the sale of the vegetables they grow ecologically in the city, which at the same time benefits from healthy, diversified fresh produce.

Five km away, on the outskirts of the city, women in the neighbourhoods of 25 de Mayo and Litoral, who belong to the Sucre Association of Urban Producers, met IPS with a basket of fresh produce from their gardens, including shiny red tomatoes, colourful radishes and bright-green lettuce.

A total of 83 poor suburban neighborhoods in Sucre are taking part in the project, which has the support of the national and departmental governments and of the .

The initiative has 680 members so far, said Guido Zambrana, a young agronomist who runs the Urban Garden Project.

The lunch we are served is soup made with vegetables grown in their backyard gardens, accompanied by tortillas made with cornmeal mixed with flour from different vegetables. Fresh produce is also grown in greenhouses built throughout the hills of Sucre, 2,760 metres above sea level and 420 km south of La Paz, the country’s political centre.

The women have learned how to grow vegetables and how to improve their family’s food security, Tolaba explained.“We want to reach zero malnutrition,” she said.

In Sucre temperatures range between 12 and 25 degrees Celcius. But in the greenhouses, built by the families with support from the government, temperatures climb above 30 degrees.

Sometimes, the temperatures marked by the thermometers in the greenhouses spike and the windows have to be opened. The greenhouses have roofs made of transparent Agrofil plastic sheeting and walls of adobe. They are built under the guidance of technical agronomist Mery Fernández.

Two of the peri-urban agricultural producers of Sucre proudly show one of their greenhouses, which families from 83 poor suburban neighbourhoods have set up in their yards as part of the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Two of the peri-urban agricultural producers of Sucre proudly show one of their greenhouses, which families from 83 poor suburban neighbourhoods have set up in their yards as part of the National Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

The luscious leafy chard and lettuce in the greenhouse of Celia Padilla, who came to Sucre from an indigenous village in the neighbouring department of Potosí with her husband in 2000 and settled in Bicentenario, a neighbourhood in a flat area among the hills surrounding the city.

Padilla, who also belongs to the Quechua indigenous community like most of the women in the association, joined the project with a garden of just eight square metres last year, and is now thinking about building a 500-square-metre greenhouse.

Greenhouse figures

On average, according to FAO statistics, each greenhouse run by the Sucre association produces some 500 kg of fresh produce a year, in three harvests. And an average of 60 percent of the food grown goes to consumption by the families, while the rest is sold, either by the individual farmers, collectively, or through the association.

A total of 17 different kinds of vegetables are grown, nine in each garden on average. The women and their families provide the land and the labour power in building the greenhouses. Besides planting and harvesting they select the seeds and make organic compost, in this sustainable community project.

The Bolivian organisers of the programme say each greenhouse can produce an average income of at least 660 dollars a year.

Her husband, a construction worker who does casual work in the city, is pleased with the idea of expanding the garden by building a greenhouse. Their home garden provides the family with nutritional food and brings in a not insignificant income through the sale of fresh produce to neighbours or at market.

With the earnings, “I buy milk and meat for the kids,” Padilla told Tierramérica, holding bunches of shiny green chard in her hands.

Water for irrigation is scarce, but a local government programme has donated 2,000-litre tanks to capture water during the rainy season and store it up for using in drip irrigation.

The chance to improve the family diet generated a good-natured dispute between Alberta Limachi and her husband, who came to this city from the village of Puca Puca, 64 km away.

The couple, who own a 150-square-metre plot of land on the outskirts of the city, had to decide between a family garden or using the space to build a garage. Limachi, one of the leaders of the urban producers, won the argument.

Her enthusiasm is contagious among her fellow urban farmers.

“We organised as women, and now we eat without worry because we grow our food free of chemicals,” she told Tierramérica, after proudly serving a snack of green beans and fresh salad.

One of the farmers on the outskirts of Sucre with her son, sitting proudly on the 2,000-litre water tank donated by the government of Chuquisaca. The tank stores rainwater used in drip irrigation on the organic vegetables she grows. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

One of the farmers on the outskirts of Sucre with her son, sitting proudly on the 2,000-litre water tank donated by the government of Chuquisaca. The tank stores rainwater used in drip irrigation on the organic vegetables she grows. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

“I don’t ask my husband for money anymore, and we don’t spend anything on vegetables,” Padilla said, pleased to help support her family. Her garden is well-known in the neighbourhood because she grows lettuce, chard, celery, coriander and tomatoes, and her neighbours come knocking every day to buy fresh vegetables.

A committee made up of associations of farmers and consumers monitors and certifies that the fresh produce is organic and of high quality, José Zuleta, the national coordinator of the Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Programme, told Tierramérica.

“The women grow their food without (chemical) fertiliser, using organic compost that can return to the soil, which means their production is sustainable,” Yusuke Kanae, an agronomist with the FAO office in Sucre, commented to Tierramérica.

Kanae, originally from Japan, offers the women technical know-how and simple practices such as converting a creative variety of containers – ranging from a broken old football to plastic television set packaging – into improvised pots for growing vegetables.

“Even if it’s just 20 bolivianos (slightly less than three dollars), the women can help buy notebooks and shoes,” said Kanae, to illustrate the importance of the women’s contribution to the household, which chips away at what he described as “sexist” dependence, while putting them in touch with their indigenous cultural roots.

Kanae also supports the introduction of organic vegetables in the city, and has encouraged the owners of the Cóndor Café, a vegetarian restaurant, to buy products certified by the women as organic.

Visitors to the restaurant enjoy substantial dishes prepared with the vegetables from the women’s peri-urban gardens, which combine Japanese and Bolivian cooking, and cost only three dollars a meal.

The manager of the restaurant, Roger Sotomayor, told Tierramérica that he enjoys supporting the family garden initiative. “We want to encourage environmentally-friendly production of vegetables,” he said, stressing the high quality of the women’s produce and the fact that the cost is 20 percent lower than that of conventional crops.

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

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Chile’s Altiplano Region Seeks Sustainable Tourismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/chiles-altiplano-region-seeks-sustainable-tourism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chiles-altiplano-region-seeks-sustainable-tourism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/chiles-altiplano-region-seeks-sustainable-tourism/#respond Tue, 22 Sep 2015 17:43:21 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142444 Chile’s altiplano or high plateau region, pounded by the sun of the Atacama desert, the driest place in the world, is home to dozens of indigenous communities struggling for subsistence by means of sustainable tourism initiatives that are not always that far removed from out-of-control capitalism. “Here, money talks,” Víctor Arque, a tourist guide in […]

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The Andes highlands town of San Pedro de Atacama, in the northern region of Antofagasta, is the main tourist destination in Chile. It receives more than one and a half million tourists a year, while the local residents are struggling to turn it into a sustainable municipality. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Andes highlands town of San Pedro de Atacama, in the northern region of Antofagasta, is the main tourist destination in Chile. It receives more than one and a half million tourists a year, while the local residents are struggling to turn it into a sustainable municipality. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA, Chile , Sep 22 2015 (IPS)

Chile’s altiplano or high plateau region, pounded by the sun of the Atacama desert, the driest place in the world, is home to dozens of indigenous communities struggling for subsistence by means of sustainable tourism initiatives that are not always that far removed from out-of-control capitalism.

“Here, money talks,” Víctor Arque, a tourist guide in San Pedro de Atacama, told Tierramérica. “If you don’t have money, no one’s interested in you.”

San Pedro de Atacama, the capital of tourism, archaeology and astronomy in northern Chile, is home to 4,800 people, 61 percent of whom belong to the Atacameño indigenous group, who refer to themselves as Lickantay in their Kunza tongue.

But during tourist season, hundreds of thousands of visitors come through the town, especially people from other countries drawn by the mysteries of the desert, its volcanoes and geysers.“All planning or studies indicating how we can do better and raise awareness of what we have and what is happening in the ecosystem are valuable.” -- Sandra Berna

The desert also offers some of the clearest night skies on the planet, and in the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array or ALMA Observatory, scientists are working to decipher enigmas of the night sky.

This small highlands town, located at 2,600 metres above sea level and 1,700 km north of Santiago, received over 1.6 million visitors from Chile and abroad in 2014, according to National Tourism Service statistics.

Tourists are awed by the stunning, unique landscape of salt flats, dunes, rock formations, geysers, thermal waters, crystal clear blue lagoons, canyons and snow-capped mountains.

In fact San Pedro de Atacama, in the northern region of Antofagasta, has become the leading Chilean destination for foreign tourists.

But there is well-founded concern in some sectors that the uncontrolled flood of tourists in the area will damage the diverse ecosystems in the municipality of San Pedro de Atacama, which covers 23,439 sq km.

The municipal authorities, together with the regional government, have launched several initiatives aimed at ensuring sustainable development.

One was the Project on Ecosystem Services (ProEcoServ), financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The project was extended to 2014, with 1.5 million dollars in financing. It consisted of generating tools for the assessment and economic valuation of ecosystem services.

In May a group of local residents completed a training in renewable alternative energies that could help solve the municipality’s electricity problems.

In July, 14 hotels, hostels and restaurants received the “Clean Production Agreement” certification, which foments environmentally friendly practices such as sustainable management of solid waste and efficient water and energy use.

Dawn at the El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta, visited by some 100,000 tourists a year. The geyser field is administered by two indigenous communities that were granted a concession for 30 years. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Dawn at the El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta, visited by some 100,000 tourists a year. The geyser field is administered by two indigenous communities that were granted a concession for 30 years. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“All planning or studies indicating how we can do better and raise awareness of what we have and what is happening in the ecosystem are valuable,” San Pedro de Atacama Mayor Sandra Berna told Tierramérica.

“I would like people to be more aware, to understand what science and studies say about our ecosystem,” she said.

Despite the progress made, the small centre of the town is packed with businesses offering tours to the main local attractions.

And in the wee morning hours on any given day in tourist season you can see a long line of headlights of cars winding their way up to the El Tatio geysers, one of the principal tourist attractions in the area, which receives an average of 100,000 visits a year.

El Tatio, which in the Kunza language means “grandfather who cries”, is a field of 80 geysers located at 4,200 metres above sea level, 97 km from San Pedro de Atacama.

It is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the third largest in the world, following Yellowstone in the United States and Dolina Giezerov in Russia.

Since September 2014, this natural marvel has been administered by the indigenous communities of the highlands villages of Toconce and Caspana, through a 30-year “free use concession” granted by the government of President Michelle Bachelet.

Tourists from Chile and abroad pay an entrance fee to visit El Tatio. But in addition, leaders of the local indigenous communities charge nearly 1,000 dollars for an interview with the press.

“That’s because this is then published around the world, and it’s you people who earn the profits,” the mayor of the village of Caspana, Ernesto Colimar, told Tierramérica.

Chiu Chiu, a town 38 km from Calama, in Chile’s northern highlands, depends on subsistence farming and tourism for a living. The main attraction is the San Francisco church, a national monument. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Chiu Chiu, a town 38 km from Calama, in Chile’s northern highlands, depends on subsistence farming and tourism for a living. The main attraction is the San Francisco church, a national monument. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Contrite, Luisa Terán, an Atacameño Indian from the same village, hastily clarified that this was an isolated case.

“There are people here who are mad about money, but not all of us are like that,” said Terán, who along with her cousin attended a course in India to become a “barefoot solar engineer” and installed the first solar panels in Caspana. “Most of us work hard for a living and try to protect our community,” she told Tierramérica.

The majority of the highlands villagers in Chile are family farmers who grow their own food and raise llamas, vicuñas and guanacos.

In communities like Caspana, 114 km from San Pedro de Atacama, local residents still use pre-Hispanic farming techniques, such as terraces.

Others, like the town of Chiu Chiu, have more limited tourist attractions, like the local church, although it was left nearly in ruins by the 2007 earthquake that hit Antofagasta.

Along the road between El Tatio and San Pedro is found Machuca. Although it is nearly a ghost town, it is an obligatory stop for tour guides.

Located 4,000 metres above sea level, in the hamlet of 20 houses there is one church, the main attraction for tourists, who buy traditional llama meat “anticuchos” or kebabs and goat cheese “empanadas” or hand pies.

The village has only a handful of residents, and is kept alive to receive tourists. Members of the families who used to live here take turns coming up to attend the visitors.

Only the buildings and landscape can be photographed: to take pictures of the members of the community, you have to pay.

“All of us want tourists to come, of course; you tell me what community wouldn’t want that, if it means more investment and if it means people could come back,” Terán said.

“Our peoples are almost destined to disappear, because every year dozens of families go to the cities so their children can study, or for work, so this would help us survive,” she added.

But “no one wants their town to become what San Pedro de Atacama is now, because that is the other extreme,” she said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cuban Agroecological Project Foments Local Innovationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/cuban-agroecological-project-aims-to-foment-local-innovation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuban-agroecological-project-aims-to-foment-local-innovation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/cuban-agroecological-project-aims-to-foment-local-innovation/#respond Wed, 16 Sep 2015 02:39:13 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142376 Armando Marcelino Pi divides his day between the university, where he teaches philosophy, work on his family farm, and coordinating a group of 33 agroecological farmers, in this mountainous rural municipality in western Cuba. “There is a need for a greater application of science and technology in agriculture; farmers must have access to the knowledge […]

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Armando Marcelino Pi and members of his family who work together on the La Carmelina agroecological family farm in La Palma in the mountains of the western Cuban province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Armando Marcelino Pi and members of his family who work together on the La Carmelina agroecological family farm in La Palma in the mountains of the western Cuban province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
LA PALMA, Cuba, Sep 16 2015 (IPS)

Armando Marcelino Pi divides his day between the university, where he teaches philosophy, work on his family farm, and coordinating a group of 33 agroecological farmers, in this mountainous rural municipality in western Cuba.

“There is a need for a greater application of science and technology in agriculture; farmers must have access to the knowledge available in research centres,” Pi told Tierramérica. He and 12 members of his extended family grow fruit and raise pigs, barnyard fowl and bees using environmentally-friendly techniques at La Carmelina, a seven-hectare farm.

Thanks to the use of good practices, the professor said the farm feeds the four families that work it. Although yields are not high, 90 percent of the farm is under production, with “complete independence from state inputs.”

“Many small farmers have not yet joined the agroecological movement,” said Pi, who blames this on a lack of knowledge of these practices, resistance to change, scarce available services for ecological farms, and low prices for organic foods, which are harder to produce.

La Carmelina produces everything from its own organic fertiliser to swine feed based on palm fruits, cornmeal and sugarcane flour.

In the search for greater and more sustainable growth in Cuban agriculture, researchers and ecological producers like Pi are working – in 45 of Cuba’s 168 municipalities so far – to establish a system of innovation in order to support local governments in boosting socioeconomic development.

“We are trying to organise municipal groups with a diverse range of actors, to create a Local Agricultural Innovation System (SIAL) which would be the first of its kind in the country,” said Iván Paneque, the coordinator of the Local Agricultural Innovation Programme (PIAL) in the western province of Pinar del Río, where La Palma is located.

The new initiative is promoted in a pamphlet with the slogan “towards a participative focus in development practices.”

The leaflet states that the SIAL expands the work of the PIALs, which in 2000 began to teach rural families to obtain their own seeds, while promoting greater participation by women and young people in agriculture, a pending task in rural Cuba.

The PIALs also help to create networks among farmers and assist them in marketing and selling their produce more effectively, while strengthening climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The rural mountainous municipality of La Palma in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The rural mountainous municipality of La Palma in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

This training programme, coordinated by the government’s National Institute of Agricultural Sciences with the support of international development aid, has improved the lives of 50,000 people in the 45 municipalities in 10 provinces where it is operating.

The plan is to reach an additional 30 municipalities by 2017.

The mission of the new SIAL platform is to provide people with alternatives for producing more with the limited resources available in this socialist island nation, which has been attempting to overcome an economic crisis for more than 20 years without dismantling all of the existing controls or throwing the economy open to the global market.

But experts say the government’s agricultural innovation system is barely functioning because of the economic depression and decades of excessive centralisation. Among the many hurdles faced in the quest to boost agricultural production they cite farmers’ limited access to necessary technologies and know-how.

In the meantime, Cuba cut public spending on research and development in half in the last four years, from 651.5 million dollars in 2010 to 380.5 million in 2014, according to the latest figures reported by the national statistics office, ONEI.

Advocates of agroecology told Tierramérica that it is time to take better advantage of the opportunities presented by the decentralisation of agriculture and the empowerment of local governments that have formed part of the economic reforms ushered in by the government of Raúl Castro since 2008.

As Paneque told Tierramérica, “many projects and people are working on local agricultural innovation, but not as a system.

“It’s not enough to only reach the cooperatives, we have to go beyond that, to the municipal governments and the municipal agriculture offices (the local representative of the agriculture ministry) among others, to work together and join forces and pool resources,” he said.

“We have already presented the SIAL to the La Palma municipal government and we are waiting for it to be approved,” said Paneque, who is also studying the progress made in this municipality, where initiatives undertaken by several specialists gave rise to the PIAL and its special biodiversity fairs, where farmers exchange seeds, seedlings, techniques and know-how.

Pork is the most widely consumed meat in Cuba, where hog raising is one of the activities on the seven-hectare La Carmelina ecological farm run by the Pi family in the municipality of La Palma in the mountains of the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Pork is the most widely consumed meat in Cuba, where hog raising is one of the activities on the seven-hectare La Carmelina ecological farm run by the Pi family in the municipality of La Palma in the mountains of the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The group includes farmers who have adopted innovative techniques, researchers from different disciplines, representatives of the municipal branch of the Agriculture Ministry, the president of the local government, and activists from rural organisations and associations of agricultural technicians and agronomists.

In his view, the system will enable “wider dissemination of the good practices we are implementing at a local level, which can be an example for everyone to follow.”

He also said it would provide a platform for dealing with burning issues with local authorities, such as the need to certify agroecological products, obtain competitive prices for organic foods, support the creation of small canning companies, and extend the use of techniques to preserve the soil.

Paneque said that with support from the authorities, all farmers in La Palma could cover their own supplies of bean seeds. Farmers trained in techniques for seed conservation and improvement now have “a local bank of seeds, of 285 varieties of beans,” he said.

The main economic activity in this mountainous municipality of just under 35,000 people spread out over 636 sq km is agriculture, including tobacco farming, stockbreeding, and forestry.

University professor Bárbara Mosquera said the system “will establish connections between the government and the agencies and institutions that can facilitate innovative processes for development.

“There have been many good experiences among the cooperatives and individual farmers, to be replicated,” she said.

The SIALS, which so far have emerged in 45 municipalities that now have networks of farmers, still have to be approved by the local governments. Representatives of the project’s national leadership told Tierramérica that 26 municipalities have signed agreements with a view to giving the new collectives institutional status.

“Know-how and the creativity of individuals play a key role in Cuban agriculture, which has been hit hard by the economic crisis, and where inputs are scarce,” said Rodobaldo Ortiz, general coordinator of the PIAL, in a meeting with journalists in Havana.

“People should produce ecologically and adapt these techniques to their land,” he proposed, referring to the 500,000 farms in this Caribbean island nation.

Family farms, backyard gardens and urban agriculture have led the agroecology trend, although it is also present in all forms of agriculture in the country, where cooperatives are dominant.

Agriculture, led by tobacco, sugarcane, and vegetables, grew 4.8 percent in the first half of the year – one-tenth more than overall economic growth. In 2014, the sector represented 3.8 percent of GDP.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Should Lead in Protecting the Planet’s Oceanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/latin-america-should-lead-in-protecting-the-planets-oceans/#respond Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:25 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142018 Latin America should assume a position of global leadership by adopting effective measures to protect the oceans, which are threatened by illegal fishing, the impacts of climate change, and pollution caused by acidification and plastic waste. “The whole world is lagging in terms of effective measures to protect the oceans, and Latin America is no […]

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Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

Latin America should assume a position of global leadership by adopting effective measures to protect the oceans, which are threatened by illegal fishing, the impacts of climate change, and pollution caused by acidification and plastic waste.

“The whole world is lagging in terms of effective measures to protect the oceans, and Latin America is no exception,” Alex Muñoz, executive director of Oceana – the world’s largest international organisation dedicated solely to ocean conservation – in Chile, told Tierramérica.

But, he added, “We hope the region will take on a leadership role in this area, creating large protected marine areas, eliminating overfishing and creating better systems to combat illegal and unreported fishing.”

The perfect occasion for that, he said, would be the second international Our Ocean Conference, to be held Oct. 5-6 in Valparaiso, a port city 120 km northwest of Santiago, Chile.“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact.” -- Alex Muñoz

In the conference, 400 government representatives, scientists, members of the business community and environmental activists from 90 countries should “commit to carrying out concrete actions to tackle the grave threats that affect the oceans,” Chile’s foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz, told Tierramérica.

“The big global themes should be addressed from a broad, inclusive perspective,” the minister said.

The central pillar of the global system for governance of the oceans is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), adopted in 1982, to be completed with a treaty to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction, as the U.N. General Assembly decided in June.

But, the foreign minister argued, “as a complement, we see as indispensable initiatives making possible a more detailed and direct analysis of the efforts that governments are making to protect this valuable resource.”

The first edition of the international conference on oceans, held in 2014 in Washington, gave rise to alliances and voluntary initiatives for more than 800 million dollars, aimed at new commitments for the protection of more than three million square km of ocean.

In Valparaíso, meanwhile, the participating countries will report the progress they made over the last year and undertake new commitments.

“These meetings generate healthy competition between countries to make announcements that otherwise wouldn’t be made,” said Oceana’s Alex Muñoz.

“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact,” he said.

He added that since the 2014 conference, “many governments have been motivated to create large marine parks or to sign accords to fight illegal fishing, like the New York United Nations accord, which hadn’t been ratified for a number of years.”

He was referring to the U.N. accord on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, signed in 1995.

Chile, he pointed out, is one of the countries that signed the agreement after the first Our Ocean Conference.

In this year’s conference in Valparaíso “we hope important announcements will be made on the creation of large new protected marine areas,” said the Oceana director, who added that Chile, as host country, “should set an example with a large marine park in the Pacific ocean.”

Threatened riches

Oceans cover more than70 percent of the planet’s surface, but only one percent of the world’s oceans are protected. Between 50 and 80 percent of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface, and 97 percent of the planet’s water is salty, according to U.N. figures.

Phytoplankton generates about half of the oxygen in the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and the vast variety of highly nutritious products provided by the oceans contributes to global food security.

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A study published in April by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that the oceans conceal some 24 trillion dollars of untapped wealth.

Oceans are also an inspiration for artists and for poets like Chile’s 1971 Nobel Literature prize-winner Pablo Neruda (1904-1973).

In the poem “The Great Ocean” he wrote: “If, Ocean, you could grant, out of your gifts and dooms, some measure, fruit or ferment for my hands, I’d choose your distant rest, your brinks of steel, your furthest reaches watched by air and night, the energy of your white dialect downing and shattering its columns in its own demolished purity.”

But the WWF study warns that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.

Latin America, where five of the world’s 25 leading fishing nations are located – Peru, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, in that order – is not free from these dangers.

In Chile, 16 of the 33 main fisheries are in a critical situation due to over-exploitation, according to a government report.

Climate phenomena threaten large-scale anchovy fishing in Peru, the world’s second largest fishing nation after China.

Illegal fishing, meanwhile, is jeopardising some species of sharks, like the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), found along Central America’s Pacific coast, as well as the Patagonian toothfish or Chilean seabass (Dissostichus eleginoides), and sea cucumbers (Holothuroidea).

Foreign minister Muñoz said illegal fishing is a 23 billion dollar industry – “very close to the amount moved by drug trafficking.”

To this is added the severe problem of pollution from plastic waste faced by the world’s oceans. In 2010 an estimated eight million tons of plastic were dumped in the sea, killing millions of birds and marine animals.

Plastic represents 80 percent of the total marine debris in the world’s oceans.

Ocean acidification, meanwhile, is one of the consequences of climate change, and its effects could cause major changes to species and numbers of fish living in coastal areas over the next few years.

The foreign minister stressed that these conferences must continue to be held, due to “the urgent need to protect our seas and to follow up on government commitments and the progress they have made, while they pledge to carry out further actions.”

At this year’s conference, he said, the main focuses will include the role of local island communities and philanthropy at the service of marine protection and conservation, and there will be a segment on governance, exemplified in the system for the regulation of the high seas.

He also announced that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the creator of the initiative, confirmed a third edition of the Our Ocean Conference, to be held once again in Washington in 2016.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pope Francis Joins Battle Against Transgenic Cropshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pope-francis-joins-battle-against-transgenic-crops/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 06:51:30 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141938 A few centuries ago, the biotechnology industry would have been able to buy a papal bull to expiate its sins and grant it redemption. But in his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis condemns genetically modified organisms (GMOs) without leaving room for a pardon. In his second encyclical since he became pope on […]

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There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

There is no papal bull on transgenic crops in Laudato Si, the second encyclical of Pope Francis, “on the care of our common home” – planet earth. Credit: Norberto Miguel/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

A few centuries ago, the biotechnology industry would have been able to buy a papal bull to expiate its sins and grant it redemption. But in his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis condemns genetically modified organisms (GMOs) without leaving room for a pardon.

In his second encyclical since he became pope on Mar. 13, 2013 – but the first that is entirely his work – Jorge Mario Bergoglio criticises the social, economic and agricultural impacts of GMOs and calls for a broad scientific debate.

Laudato Si – “Praise be to you, my Lord” in medieval Italian – takes its title from Saint Francis of Assisi’s 13th-century Canticle of the Sun, one of whose verses is: “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”

It is the first encyclical in history dedicated to the environment and reflecting on “our common home” – planet earth.“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’.” – Laudato Si

The encyclical, which was published Jun. 18, acknowledges that “no conclusive proof exists that GM cereals may be harmful to human beings.” But it stresses that “there remain a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated.”

“In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to ‘the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production’,” it adds.

As a result, says the first Latin American pope, farmers are driven to become temporary labourers, many rural workers end up in urban slums, ecosystems are destroyed, and “oligopolies” expand in the production of cereals and inputs needed for their cultivation.

Francis calls for “A broad, responsible scientific and social debate…one capable of considering all the available information and of calling things by their name” because “It sometimes happens that complete information is not put on the table; a selection is made on the basis of particular interests, be they politico-economic or ideological.”

Such a debate on GMOs is missing, and the biotech industry has refused to open up its databases to verify whether or not transgenic crops are innocuous.

According to the encyclical, “Discussions are needed in which all those directly or indirectly affected (farmers, consumers, civil authorities, scientists, seed producers, people living near fumigated fields, and others) can make known their problems and concerns, and have access to adequate and reliable information in order to make decisions for the common good, present and future.”

Miguel Concha, a Catholic priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre in Mexico, said this country “is already a reference point in the fight for the right to a healthy environment, due to the determined efforts of social organisations. This encyclical reinforces our collective demand,” he told Tierramérica.

The priest said the encyclical warns of the social, economic, legal and ethical implications of transgenic crops, just as environmentalists in Mexico have done for years.

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In a local market in Mexico, María Solís shows the different colours of native maize that she grows. Native crops are threatened by attempts to introduce large-scale commercial planting of GM maize in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The document holds special importance for nations like Mexico, which have been the scene of intense battles over transgenic crops – in this country mainly maize, which has special cultural significance here, besides being the basis of the local diet.

That is also true for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which together with southern Mexico form Mesoamérica, the seat of the ancient Maya civilisation.

The pope is familiar with the impact of transgenic crops, because according to experts his home country, Argentina, is the Latin American nation where GMOs have done the most to alter traditional agriculture.

Soy – 98 percent of which is transgenic – is Argentina’s leading crop, covering 31 million hectares, up from just 4.8 million hectares in 1990, according to the soy industry association, ACSOJA.

The monoculture crop has displaced local producers, fuelled the concentration of land, and created “a vicious circle that is highly dangerous for the sustainability of our production systems,” Argentine agronomist Carlos Toledo told Tierramérica.

Just 10 countries account for nearly all production of GMOs: the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Pakistan and Uruguay, in that order. Most of the production goes to the animal feed industry, but Mexico wants GM maize to be used for human consumption.

In July 2013, 53 individuals and 20 civil society organisations mounted a collective legal challenge against applications to commercially plant transgenic maize, and in September of that year a federal judge granted a precautionary ban on such authorisations.

Since March 2014, organisations of beekeepers and indigenous communities have won two further provisional protection orders against commercial transgenic soybean crops in the southeastern states of Campeche and Yucatán.

On Apr. 30, 2014, eight scientists from six countries sent an open letter to Pope Francis about the negative environmental, economic, agricultural, cultural and social impacts of GM seeds, especially in Mexico.

In their letter, the experts stated: “…we believe that it would be of momentous importance and great value to all if Your Holiness were to express yourself critically on GM crops and in support of peasant farming. This support would go a long way toward saving peoples and the planet from the threat posed by the control of life wielded by companies that monopolise seeds, which are the key to the entire food web…”

Laudato Si indicates that the pope did listen to their plea.

“The encyclical is very encouraging, because it has expressed an ecological position,” Argelia Arriaga, a professor at the University Centre for Disaster Prevention of the Autonomous University of Puebla, told Tierramérica. “It touches sensitive fibers; the situation is terrible and merits papal intervention. This gives us moral support to continue the struggle.”

But legal action has failed to curb the biotech industry’s ambitions in Mexico.

In 2014, the National Service for Agri-Food Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) received four applications from the biotech industry and public research centres for experimental planting of maize on nearly 10 hectares of land.

In addition, there were 30 requests for pilot projects involving experimental and commercial planting of GM cotton on a total of 1.18 million hectares – as well as one application for beans, five for wheat, three for lemons and one for soy – all experimental.

SENASICA is also processing five biotech industry requests for planting more than 200,000 hectares of GM cotton and alfalfa for commercial and experimental purposes.

“This is an economic and development model that ignores food production,” said Concha, the priest who heads the Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Centre.

The participants in the collective lawsuit against GMOs, having successfully gotten federal courts to throw out 22 stays brought by the government and companies against the legal decision to temporarily suspend permits for planting, are now getting ready for a trial that will decide the future of transgenic crops in the country.

Arriaga noted that the focus of the encyclical goes beyond GM crops, and extends to other environmental struggles. “For people in local communities, the pope’s message is important, because it tells them they have to take care of nature and natural resources. It helps raise awareness,” the professor said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous People in Brazil’s Amazon – Crushed by the Belo Monte Dam?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/#respond Thu, 16 Jul 2015 21:57:33 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141614 Ethnocide, the new accusation leveled against the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, brings to light deeper underlying aspects of the conflicts and controversies unleashed by megaprojects in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Federal prosecutor Thais Santi announced that legal action would be taken “in the next few weeks” against Norte Energía, the company building the dam, on the […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Has Uneven Record on Environmental Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-uneven-record-on-environmental-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-has-uneven-record-on-environmental-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-uneven-record-on-environmental-sustainability/#respond Mon, 13 Jul 2015 21:21:54 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141561 Millions of Latin Americans have better access to clean water and decent housing than 25 years ago. But the region still faces serious environmental challenges, such as deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions – a legacy of the model of development followed in the 20th century. Fifteen years after signing on to the eight Millennium Development […]

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A worker prepares seeds in the nursery where Costa Rica’s energy utility, ICE, grows 300,000 trees a year in Cachí, in the central province of Cartago, which it distributes to the public as well as institutions and companies. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

A worker prepares seeds in the nursery where Costa Rica’s energy utility, ICE, grows 300,000 trees a year in Cachí, in the central province of Cartago, which it distributes to the public as well as institutions and companies. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

Millions of Latin Americans have better access to clean water and decent housing than 25 years ago. But the region still faces serious environmental challenges, such as deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions – a legacy of the model of development followed in the 20th century.

Fifteen years after signing on to the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the countries of Latin America have made significant headway in eradicating slums, expanding sanitation services, and providing access to clean water.

But progress towards ensuring environmental sustainability is lagging due to a fossil fuel-intensive development model based on the extraction of minerals and monoculture agriculture and livestock raising that expand at the expense of the forests.

“There has been uneven progress, with ups and downs,” said Joseluis Samaniego, director of the Division for Sustainable Development and Human Settlements of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

“In general terms, you have clear, outstanding advances in terms of access to water and sanitation, and we have the impression that those targets will be met,” he told Tierramérica from ECLAC’s regional headquarters in Santiago.

These targets form part of the seventh MDG, which refers to ensuring environmental sustainability, with measurable time-bound targets for the end of this year, based on 1990 indicators.

At year-end, the MDGs will be replaced by 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the heads of state and government of the 193 United Nations member states are to approve at a summit in September.

Of the targets set by the seventh MDG, this region met the one for halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, five years before this year’s deadline. And between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the population with sustainable access to an improved water source increased from 85 to 95 percent, although there are still millions of Latin Americans without clean water.

Furthermore, from 1990 to 2014, the proportion of Latin Americans living in slums was nearly cut in half, from 37 to 20 percent, according to U.N. figures.

But that means there is still a long way to go, with more than 100 million people in this region living in slums and shantytowns.

Samaniego said the progress made towards meeting these targets reflects the region’s public spending effort and the clarity of the goals.

“When the MDGs were approved…the clear targets and incentives for monitoring helped countries organise and move forward towards the goals,” the ECLAC official said.

But with respect to incorporating sustainable development and the environment in public policies, there have been fewer advances.

“In terms of deforestation, we’re not doing so well,” said Samaniego. “From 1990 to 2010, forest cover shrank from 52 to 47.4 percent.”

The latest U.N. report assessing global and regional progress towards the MDGs, published Jul. 6, shows that Latin America has not made impressive progress in achieving environmental sustainability.

“Forests are disappearing at a rapid pace, despite the establishment of forest policies and laws supporting sustainable forest management in many countries,” says a regional synthesis document on the report.

Latin America’s economies are still fairly carbon-intensive. One mechanism to measure this is carbon intensity, or how many grams of carbon it takes to produce one dollar of GDP.

While the global average dropped from 600 grams per dollar in 1990 to 470 in 2010, the regional average only fell from 310 to 280 grams per dollar of GDP – an almost statistically insignificant change, according to Samaniego.

That view is shared by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) regional experts.

“There is an almost linear correlation between a country’s GDP growth and energy consumption, and as long as the energy mix is still based on fossil fuels, it will be directly linked to a rise in emissions,” said Gonzalo Pizarro, regional adviser on poverty, MDGs and human development at the UNDP regional service centre for Latin America and the Caribbean, in Panama City.

In 1990, the region emitted just under one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent – less than five percent of the world total.

Although the region’s share remained the same in 2011, in just two decades emissions produced by Latin America and the Caribbean rose 80 percent, to 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2, according to the UNDP.

This target, included in the seventh MD, has one particularity: although policies arise from internal decision-making in each country, the results have a global impact.

Although indicators like emissions and loss of forest cover “are linked to people’s well-being, they also have to do with the development model followed by countries,” Pizarro told Tierramérica.

“In economies based on raw materials or commodities, like most of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, the deforestation rate will remain high, because economic pressure to exploit the forests will continue to be extremely heavy,” he said.

According to the expert, the challenge to be met is modifying the energy mix, while the decisions taken by countries are still focused on the large-scale production of commodities that affect biodiversity.

“As long as decision-makers are incapable of comparing the short-term benefits of this exploitation with the real value of the ecosystemic services provided by forests, this is likely to continue happening on a large scale,” Pizarro said.

The ECLAC and UNDP experts recognised the environmental efforts made by countries in the region like Cuba and Costa Rica, which have reforested; Chile and Uruguay, which have successfully integrated forest industries in their economies; and Brazil, which reduced deforestation in the Amazon.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Growing Mobilisation Against Introduction of Fracking in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/growing-mobilisation-against-introduction-of-fracking-in-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-mobilisation-against-introduction-of-fracking-in-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/growing-mobilisation-against-introduction-of-fracking-in-spain/#respond Tue, 02 Jun 2015 08:01:09 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140916 Thousands of people in Spain have organised to protest the introduction of “fracking” – a controversial technique that involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock to release gas and oil. “We are all different kinds of people, local inhabitants, who love our land and want to protect its biodiversity,” activist […]

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Hundreds of demonstrators protest against fracking in Santander, the capital of the northern Spanish region of Cantabria. Credit: Courtesy of Asamblea Contra el Fracking de Cantabria

Hundreds of demonstrators protest against fracking in Santander, the capital of the northern Spanish region of Cantabria. Credit: Courtesy of Asamblea Contra el Fracking de Cantabria

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

Thousands of people in Spain have organised to protest the introduction of “fracking” – a controversial technique that involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock to release gas and oil.

“We are all different kinds of people, local inhabitants, who love our land and want to protect its biodiversity,” activist Hipólito Delgado with the Asamblea Antifracking de Las Merindades, a county in the northern province of Burgos, told Tierramérica.

The company BNK España, a subsidiary of Canada’s BNK Petroleum, has applied for permits to drill 12 exploratory wells and is awaiting the environmental impact assessment required by law.

On May 3 some 4,000 people demonstrated in the town of Medina de Pomar in the province of Burgos, demanding that the government refuse permits for exploratory wells because of the numerous threats they claimed that hydraulic fracturing or fracking posed to the environment and health.

While no permit for fracking has been issued yet in Spain, 70 permits for exploration for shale gas have been granted and a further 62 are awaiting authorisation, according to the Ministry of Industry and Energy.

“Thanks to the fight put up by local inhabitants, “a permit for exploration in the northern region of Cantabria was cancelled in February 2014, activist Carmen González, with the Asamblea Contra el Fracking de Cantabria, an anti-fracking group mainly made up of people from rural areas in that region, told Tierramérica.

Critics of fracking say it pollutes underground water supplies with chemicals, releases methane gas – 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere, and can cause seismic activity.

“There are more and more negative reports on fracking,” geologist Julio Barea, spokesman for Greenpeace Spain, told Tierramérica. He said that in this country there is “complete social and political opposition to the technique, which no one wants.”

But Minister of Industry and Energy José Manuel Martínez Soria backs the introduction of fracking “as long as certain conditions and general requisites are fulfilled.”

A year ago, 20 political parties, including the main opposition party, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), signed a commitment in the legislature to ban fracking when the government elected in December is sworn in, “because of its irreversible environmental impacts.”

Only four right-wing and centre-right parties, including the governing People’s Party, which is promoting unconventional shale gas development, refrained from signing the accord.

Thousands of protesters took part in a demonstration against fracking on May 3, 2015 in the northern municipality of Medina de Pomar, where 12 permits have been granted for shale gas exploration. Credit: Courtesy of Ecologistas en Acción

Thousands of protesters took part in a demonstration against fracking on May 3, 2015 in the northern municipality of Medina de Pomar, where 12 permits have been granted for shale gas exploration. Credit: Courtesy of Ecologistas en Acción

Fracking involves drilling a vertical well between 1,000 and 5,000 metres deep, down to gas-bearing layers of shale rock. Then the well is extended horizontally up to three km, and between 10,000 and 30,000 cubic metres of water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressure to fracture the rock and release the oil and gas, which along with the additives is pumped up to the surface.

The companies interested in fracking in Spain downplay the dangers and stress this country’s shale gas potential, especially in Cantabria, the Basque Country and Castilla y León – where Burgos is located – in the north, although exploration permits have also been granted in other regions.

“Like any activity it involves risks, but the technological advances make it possible to minimise them,” said Daniel Alameda, director general of Shale Gas España, a lobbying group for prospectors in Spain.

In an interview with Tierramérica, Alameda said the companies “are totally aware that they have to respect the environment.”

He argued that it is “technically impossible” for fracking to pollute aquifers since the hydraulic fracturing takes place some 3,000 metres below the underground water reserves, and the wells are isolated with a protective barrier of steel and cement.

“It’s a load of eyewash to say fracking doesn’t pollute,” activist Samuel Martín-Sosa, international coordinator at Ecologistas en Acción, told Tierramérica.

He pointed out that a court sentence has already been handed down against fracking, in the U.S. state of Texas, where an oil company was ordered in 2014 to pay damages to a family who suffered numerous health problems because of the proximity of a number of natural gas wells.

Shale Gas España also denies any link between fracking and seismic activity. “We don’t cause earthquakes. We have all of the tools necessary to ensure that the activity does not pose a threat to local residents or to the companies themselves,” Alameda said.

But in a 2014 document, the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain warned that fracking could cause radioactivity in water, pollute aquifers and the atmosphere, and cause earthquakes.

Martín pointed out that most lawsuits never make it to trial because the companies reach out-of-court settlements containing confidentiality clauses that prevent those affected by the wells from speaking out.

The United States is the world’s leading producer of shale oil and gas, followed by Argentina. In July 2011 France became the first country in the world to ban fracking, and 16 other European Union countries have since followed suit, while Spain and 10 others permit the use of hydraulic fracturing, with the United Kingdom in the lead.

Alameda said shale gas would create jobs, reduce energy dependency and improve the country’s trade balance.

Spain imports around 80 percent of the energy it consumes, according to statistics from the 2011-2020 Energy Efficiency and Savings Action Plan. Those involved in the exploitation of unconventional gas estimate that their wells will make the country self-sufficient for 90 years – although that can only be proven through exploration.

But to reduce dependency, “the way forward is not the extraction of gas; we can’t allow the continued burning of fossil fuels,” said Martín-Sosa of Ecologistas en Acción.

The environmentalist criticised “the absolute promotion” of shale gas by the government, when what is needed, he said, is “a change in energy model” starting with the replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy sources.

But clean energy “faces more hurdles than ever” from the national government, he complained.

Shale Gas España, meanwhile, asserts that “the oil and gas industry is compatible with renewable energies.”

In 2013 and 2014, four of Spain’s 17 “autonomous communities” or regions passed laws banning fracking. But the central government introduced changes in the authority over the development of fracking, which allowed the regional laws to be revoked by the Constitutional Court.

Martín-Sosa said that what is needed is a national ban on fracking, rather than attempts to regulate it.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Laissez Faire Water Laws Threaten Family Farming in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/laissez-faire-water-laws-threaten-family-farming-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laissez-faire-water-laws-threaten-family-farming-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/laissez-faire-water-laws-threaten-family-farming-in-chile/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 07:44:19 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140818 Family farmers in Chile are pushing for the reinstatement of water as a public good, to at least partially solve the shortages caused by the privatisation of water rights by the military dictatorship in 1981. “Why should we pay for water rights if the people who were born and grew up in the countryside always […]

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Cascada Barba de Abuelo, a waterfall in Aitken Park in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Although the region has some of the world’s biggest freshwater reserves, local residents have to pay for the water they use for household needs and irrigation. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Cascada Barba de Abuelo, a waterfall in Aitken Park in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Although the region has some of the world’s biggest freshwater reserves, local residents have to pay for the water they use for household needs and irrigation. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, May 27 2015 (IPS)

Family farmers in Chile are pushing for the reinstatement of water as a public good, to at least partially solve the shortages caused by the privatisation of water rights by the military dictatorship in 1981.

“Why should we pay for water rights if the people who were born and grew up in the countryside always had access to water?” Patricia Mancilla, a rural women’s community organiser in the southern region of Patagonia, remarked to Tierramérica.

That is a question echoed by small farmers throughout Chile.

This long, narrow country is rich in water, but it is unequally distributed: while to the south of Santiago annual freshwater availability per capita is over 10,000 cubic metres, it is less than 800 cubic metres per capita in the north, according to a 2011 World Bank study.

But the 1980 constitution made water private property, and the Water Code gives the state the authority to grant use rights to companies free of charge and in perpetuity. Water use is regulated by the Code, according to the rules of the free market.

The laissez-faire Code allows water use rights to be bought, sold or leased, without taking into consideration local priorities and needs, such as drinking water.

“Chile is the only country in the world to have privatised its water sources and water management,” activist Rodrigo Mundaca, secretary general of the Movement for the Defence of Water, Land and the Environment (MODATIMA), told Tierramérica.

Mundaca, an agronomist, added that Chile’s legislation “separates ownership of water from ownership of land, giving rise to a market for water,” which means there are people who own land but have no water, and vice versa.“Water is now, without a doubt, the most important environmental issue in this country. Small farmers have lost their land, and there are municipalities like Petorca, where more than 3,000 women live on their own because their husbands and partners have gone elsewhere to find work.” -- Rodrigo Mundaca

The 1973-1990 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet created two categories of water use rights: consumptive and non-consumptive.

Consumptive water use refers to water that is removed from available supplies without returning to a water resource system.

In this category, 73 percent of water rights have gone to agriculture, nine percent to the mining industry, 12 percent to industry and six percent to the sanitation system, Mundaca said.

Non-consumptive use refers to water that is used but not consumed. This mainly includes water withdrawn for the purpose of generating hydroelectricity, and since 2009, 81 percent of these water use rights have been in the hands of the Italian-Spanish company Enel-Endesa, the activist said.

As a result, “today the communities of northern Chile are at loggerheads with the mining corporations, over water use; the communities of central Chile with agribusiness and agroexporters; and communities in the south with hydropower plants and forestry companies,” Mundaca said.

“Water is now, without a doubt, the main environmental issue in this country. Small farmers have lost their land, and there are municipalities like Petorca, where more than 3,000 women live on their own because their husbands and partners have had to leave to find work,” he added.

Latin America in general is one of the regions most vulnerable to the crises caused by climate change, according to the World Bank. But in Chile, small farmers are less vulnerable to climate change than to the “theft” of their water by large agroexporters, activists say.

Petorca, a case in point

“The water business reflects the conflicts of interest, influence peddling and corruption in Chile,” Ricardo Sanhueza told Tierramérica. Sanhueza is a small farmer who lives in the municipality of Petorca, 220 km north of Santiago, which illustrates the impact of the water management model put in place 34 years ago.

“I remember that even though we suffered from a major drought between 1987 and 1997, we always had clean drinking water,” he said.

The 70,000 people who live in Petorca, located in the province of the same name, depend on tanker trucks for their water supply.

“The problem here isn’t related to the climate,” he said. “The problem is the over-exploitation of the land and the abusive use of water….Political interests are undermining the foundations of small-scale family farming.”

According to a study by the National Human Rights Institute (INDH), a government body, the province’s water shortages are not only caused by drought but also by “business activities in that area.”

The report also states that the granting of rights to use water sources that have been exhausted has played a part in generating a water crisis that seriously affects the quality of life of the residents of the province of Petorca.

The prioritisation of the use of water for productive activities rather than human consumption has aggravated the problem, the study goes on to say.

Mónica Flores, a psychologist with the municipal Public Health Department, told Tierramérica with nostalgia that the Petorca river had completely dried up, putting an end to social activities and community life surrounding the river.

“The river emerged in the Andes mountains and flowed to the ocean,” she said. “But today you just see a gray line full of dirt and stones.”

“It marked a before and after,” Flores said. “My childhood revolved around the river: I played there with my friends, we would swim, we would flirt with each other. But my daughter’s life isn’t the same, it’s much lonelier.

“Many rituals played out by the river, which was the heart, the spinal column of the province,” she said, stressing the impact on the local population of the drying up of the river.

But Petorca is just one example of the water problem in Chile.

On Mar. 22, World Water Day, the INDH declared that “Chile’s development cannot come at the cost of sacrificing the water of local communities, or at the cost of mortgaging the future of coming generations.”

The hydric resources commission in the lower house of Congress is currently debating a reform of the Water Code, which would represent significant advances, such as giving a priority to water use for essential needs and replacing water use rights in perpetuity with temporary rights.

But the modifications will not be retroactive, and most water use rights have already been granted.

Moreover, the water use privileges enjoyed by the mining industry will not be touched by the reform. Nor has the question of water shortages for essential uses by small farmers and indigenous communities been addressed. And there is no talk of a constitutional amendment to make water a public good once again.

The constitution put in place by the dictatorship “states that all people are free and equal in dignity and rights,” Mundaca said. “However, vast segments of the population, deprived of water, depend on tanker trucks for drinking water, can only do a quick rinse around key areas instead of showering, and go to the bathroom in plastic bags.

“It’s shameful and wrong. People have to regain access to water one way or another,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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School Gardens Combat Hunger in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina/#respond Sat, 23 May 2015 07:31:40 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140778 In Argentina, where millions of families have unmet dietary needs despite the country’s vast expanse of fertile land, the Huerta Niño project promotes organic gardens in rural primary schools, to teach children healthy eating habits and show them that they can grow their own food to fight hunger. Of the 105 students who board Monday […]

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Rita Darrechon, the principal at the La Divina Pastora rural school, talks to a group of schoolchildren about the garden where they are growing food for their school meals. Credit: Fundación General Alvarado

Rita Darrechon, the principal at the La Divina Pastora rural school, talks to a group of schoolchildren about the garden where they are growing food for their school meals. Credit: Fundación General Alvarado

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 23 2015 (IPS)

In Argentina, where millions of families have unmet dietary needs despite the country’s vast expanse of fertile land, the Huerta Niño project promotes organic gardens in rural primary schools, to teach children healthy eating habits and show them that they can grow their own food to fight hunger.

Of the 105 students who board Monday through Friday at the La Divina Pastora rural school in Mar del Sur in the municipality of General Alvarado, 80 percent come from poor families.

“Ten percent have nutritional deficiencies, from their first year of life, even from the period of breastfeeding or even the pregnancy itself. We see calcium deficiency, which can lead to cavities and affects growth,” the school principal, Rita Darrechon, told Tierramérica.

The privately run public school, located 500 km southwest of the capital, serves children between the ages of six and 14, and a few older children who have repeated grades.

The children live in rural or semi-urban areas in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. But most of them were raised without any farming culture or knowledge about or tools for agriculture.

“In places that were historically farming areas, kids do not know what to do with the land,” the general coordinator of the Huerta Niño Foundation, Bárbara Kuss, told Tierramérica. “They don’t know that if they’re hungry, the seeds in their hand can feed them.”

The aim of the non-profit institution founded in 1999 by businessman Federico Lobert is to help reduce hunger among students in rural schools.

The initiative first began to take shape when Lobert, during a trip as a young man, heard a rural schoolteacher say “the kids couldn’t study because they hadn’t eaten anything except orange tree leaves to calm their stomachaches.”

He described this as a “sad paradox” in a country “that produces so much food for millions of people around the world.”

The gardens benefit 20,000 children in 270 rural schools in low-income areas, like La Divina Pastora. The vegetables and fruit they grow are eaten by the students in the school lunchroom.

“It seems like a really good opportunity to promote, together, a healthy diet, using natural resources that are within their reach,” said Darrechon.

A boy leans against bags of onions at a farm in the town of Arraga in the northwest province of Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest parts of the country, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A boy leans against bags of onions at a farm in the town of Arraga in the northwest province of Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest parts of the country, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

According to the National Survey on Nutrition and Health, 35 percent of children in Argentina live in households with “unmet basic needs”. Of that proportion, only 53 percent receive food assistance from different social programmes.

The regions with the highest percentages of children living below the poverty line are the northeast (77 percent) and the northwest (75.7 percent).

Children with serious malnutrition are more vulnerable to falling ill, and they suffer from stunted growth, with lifelong consequences, Kuss said.

Huerta Niño seeks to address these nutritional deficiencies, under the slogan “it’s not about giving people food, but about teaching them to produce their own.”

The foundation’s involvement in each school lasts approximately a year, but the impact, Kuss said, “lasts a lifetime.”

The first step is putting up a fence around a half-hectare plot of land.

“We teach them why they have to keep the fence in good repair, why it can be bad for our health if dogs or other animals get into the garden; they are taught that manure is a fertiliser but that dog feces aren’t,” she added.

Meetings are held with the students, parents and teachers to determine what is needed, depending on the climate, the quality of the soil, and the access to water.

The next step is to prepare the soil, and the students are taught how to plant and harvest, and they learn the complete cycle in both planting seasons – autumn-winter and spring-summer.

“We explain what to do step by step, because it’s really nice when the tomatoes turn red and the lettuce sprouts, but what do you do later with the lettuce? Do you just pick the leaves? Or do you pull it up by the roots? Do you plant again or do you wait till the next season?” Kuss said.

Huerta Niño has backing from the Education Ministry and receives technical support and seeds from Pro Huerta, an agroecological community programme run by the government’s National Agricultural Technology Institute.

With donations from individuals, companies and organisations, it spends some 4,500 dollars on each school garden, providing tools adapted to children, agricultural supplies and inputs, and special expenses for windmills or specific irrigation systems.

According to Kuss, community participation is essential for the project to be sustainable.

“A garden needs attention. If you don’t control the pests, you don’t irrigate, you don’t weed, you don’t rotate the crops, it dies,” she said.

“That would be a failure for the kids, which is the last thing they need, with the problems they already have,” she stressed.

The initiative promotes agroecological practices that use organic fertilisers and pesticides. For example, aromatic flowers are planted to ward off insects.

Chemical pesticides are not used, although surrounding fields are often sprayed.

“We teach them that the tomato that grows in their garden might not be as big as the ones in the supermarket, but it will be red and tasty,” Kuss said.

The garden forms part of the educational curriculum: from math (measuring the borders of the garden) to natural sciences and reading and writing (using instructional booklets).

“It’s like an open-air laboratory. Learning through hands-on experience is much easier than learning by reading a book,” Darrechon said.

Sometimes the students make their own gardens in their homes or communities, and some former students of La Divina Pastora have gone on to secondary school studies in agriculture.

The initiative also teaches healthy eating habits – but not without running into certain difficulties.

“The radishes were so nice and red, but when the kids bit into them they would throw them away,” Darrechon said. “We had to disguise them or process other vegetables like chard in tarts or pies, mixed with ground beef to hide the taste, because they come from a culture of junk food or meat and potatoes.”

In schools in poor outlying semi-urban areas in Buenos Aires, some gardens have also helped combat violence and school dropout “by keeping kids in school with something interesting that keeps them off the streets,” said Kuss.

The representative in Argentina of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Valdir Welte, told Tierramérica that school gardens are playing an “extremely important” role in improving diets and eating habits and fighting hunger.

He also said they are “an educational tool that strengthens the learning process and foments values such as solidarity, cooperation and collective work.”

“Children don’t only need to eat well; they must also learn about a healthy diet and learn how to grow their own food in case they need to,” said Welte.

He also said gardens “can be educational and training spaces for the entire community, where heads of households acquire the necessary skills for producing their own foods.”

Kuss said these benefits from the gardens are as tangible as the fruit and vegetables produced.

“We don’t only give them food,” she said. “We’re offering them different values they can touch with their hands. Helping them, and telling them: you can do it.”

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Costa Rica’s Energy Nearly 100 Percent Cleanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/costa-ricas-energy-nearly-100-percent-clean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-ricas-energy-nearly-100-percent-clean http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/costa-ricas-energy-nearly-100-percent-clean/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 17:01:30 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140463 Costa Rica has almost reached its goal of an energy mix based solely on renewable sources, harnessing solar, wind and geothermal power, as well as the energy of the country’s rivers. In April, the state electricity company, ICE, announced that in 2015, 97 percent of the country’s energy supply would come from clean sources. “The […]

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Seven percent of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from wind power, thanks to wind farms such as the ones operating in the mountains of La Paz and Casamata, 50 km from San José. But the automotive industry remains a hurdle to the country’s dream of achieving a totally clean energy mix. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Seven percent of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from wind power, thanks to wind farms such as the ones operating in the mountains of La Paz and Casamata, 50 km from San José. But the automotive industry remains a hurdle to the country’s dream of achieving a totally clean energy mix. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 5 2015 (IPS)

Costa Rica has almost reached its goal of an energy mix based solely on renewable sources, harnessing solar, wind and geothermal power, as well as the energy of the country’s rivers.

In April, the state electricity company, ICE, announced that in 2015, 97 percent of the country’s energy supply would come from clean sources.

“The country as such, along with its energy and environmental policies, has decided that it wants its energy development to be based on renewable sources,” Javier Orozco, the head of ICE’s System Expansion Process, told Tierramérica.

But this Central American country of 4.5 million people still depends partially on fossil fuels. The official said “we use thermal energy generation as a complement because renewables depend on the climate and you can’t guarantee that there will always be wind or water.”

The country’s energy supply is based almost totally on clean sources. In March ICE announced that in the first 75 days of the year, not a single litre of oil nor kilo of coal were burnt to generate electricity in the country.

“In our country, we build thermal plants to keep them turned off. Our aim is to have thermal plants that are turned off most of the time,” Orozco said.

That objective is not always met, principally because hydroelectric power varies with seasonal stream flows. The year 2014 was dry and the country’s fossil fuel use hit a record level, generating 10.3 percent of the total electricity supply.

Since the mid-20th century, Costa Rica’s energy mix has been largely based on hydroelectricity. But the country has gradually reduced its dependence on that energy source, and in 2014 hydropower accounted for only 63 percent of the total demand of 2,800 MW, while geothermal energy supplied 15 percent and wind power seven percent.

Last year’s large petroleum bill was caused by the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world, which hit Central America hard and triggered one of the worst droughts in over half a century.

Projections of the future impact of climate change play a double role: while the world has to seek cleaner sources of energy to curb global warming, Costa Rica must diversify its energy mix because of the changes in hydrological patterns.

The country is thus exploring the limits of renewable energies and the possibility of generating 100 percent clean energy is on the table, as part of a strategy based especially on geothermal power.

This source of energy is hidden under the volcanoes of northwest Costa Rica. Local scientists and engineers are perfecting the technique of using the earth’s heat to generate electricity.

“We are planning the construction of the new geothermal plant, Pailas II, and we are at the stage of feasibility studies for a new field. Geothermal power is important because it isn’t subject to climate change, but is constant,” Orozco explained.
The plant will have 50 MW of installed capacity and it will join the ones already in operation: Pailas (35 MW), and Miralles (165 MW). That means that only 23 percent of the country’s geothermal potential of 865 MW is being used, according to ICE figures.

But the problem with respect to developing this source of energy is that the rest of the potential lies in national parks, where exploiting it is banned by law.

That raises the question of what definition of green energy the country will accept.

Experts like former minister of environment and energy René Castro (2011-2014) see the development of geothermal energy as viable.

“It is possible,” Castro told Tierramérica. “Two changes are needed: ICE would need to expand geothermal energy production, and the extraction of this source of energy in national parks would need to be authorised, while paying royalties to the parks and replacing the land used, twice over: if 50 hectares are used (in a park), the equivalent of 100 percent of its ecological value would be replaced.”

The other measure proposed by Castro is “to authorise the private sector to generate electricity with biomass from pineapple or banana plant waste, or sawdust,” and later sell it to ICE, which administers the energy supply and is the biggest producer of electricity.

Private operators represent 14.5 percent of total energy generation and one-fourth of installed capacity. But they face legal restrictions when it comes to expanding their share.

The investment needed would be similar to what is projected by ICE, which is close to one percent of GDP, the former minister said. “What would change is that instead of one single investor, ICE, it would be the dominant one, accompanied by around 30 other companies and cooperatives,” he said.

The country is in urgent need of holding this debate.

In July 2014, the legislature approved a loan from the European Investment Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency to build the Pailas II geothermal project.

ICE is building plants that will expand its current installed capacity of 2,800 MW by an additional 800 MW.

At the same time, the government is holding a national dialogue on electrical energy, to discuss these issues, and a national dialogue on transportation and fuels, which will address the hurdle to Costa Rica’s dream of green energy: the fuel used in transportation.

Transport, the weakest link

“The transportation sector is the biggest energy consumer at a national level and is responsible for 67 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions,” said the current minister of environment and energy, Édgar Gutiérrez, at the start of the national dialogue talks.

That is why “addressing the challenges in this sector is a priority” for the government, he said.

No matter how clean Costa Rica’s energy mix becomes, the country will still produce emissions and will still have a “dirty” development model because of land transport.

One possible solution could come from Costa Rican-born scientist and former astronaut Franklin Chang, who is working on a hydrogen-based renewable energy system.

“The problem doesn’t lie in electricity but in transportation,” he told Tierramérica. “That’s where we have to distance ourselves from the use of petroleum, introduce our own fuel in our own country with hydrogen-based technologies.”

From his laboratory in Guancaste, in western Costa Rica on the Pacific Ocean, Chang has partnered with Costa Rica’s state oil refinery, RECOPE, to create a pilot plan with several hydrogen-fueled vehicles, and has reached the test stage. But a technicality has stalled the 2.3 million dollar project.

In October, his company, Ad Astra, announced that it was ready to launch the final phase.

“It was the final flourish – we were going to install and create a small ecosystem of hydrogen vehicles,” said Chang. But RECOPE was unable to overcome the legal obstacle to operate using that energy source. “In March I announced that I was totally fed up.”

The legislature is currently studying a solution to enable RECOPE to invest in clean energy sources, but until then the project will be stalled.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Blue Amazon, Brazil’s New Natural Resources Frontierhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier/#respond Sat, 02 May 2015 06:49:52 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140417 The Atlantic ocean is Brazil’s last frontier to the east. But the full extent of its biodiversity is still unknown, and scientific research and conservation measures are lagging compared to the pace of exploitation of resources such as oil. The Blue Amazon, as Brazil’s authorities have begun to call this marine area rich in both […]

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An oil tanker in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Just 250 km from the coast lie the country’s presalt oil reserves, the wealth of the so-called Blue Amazon. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

An oil tanker in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Just 250 km from the coast lie the country’s presalt oil reserves, the wealth of the so-called Blue Amazon. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 2 2015 (IPS)

The Atlantic ocean is Brazil’s last frontier to the east. But the full extent of its biodiversity is still unknown, and scientific research and conservation measures are lagging compared to the pace of exploitation of resources such as oil.

The Blue Amazon, as Brazil’s authorities have begun to call this marine area rich in both biodiversity and energy resources, is similar in extension to the country’s rainforest – nearly half the size of the national territory.

And 95 percent of the exports of Latin America’s giant leave from that coast, according to official figures.

Brazil’s continental shelf holds 90 and 77 percent of the country’s proven oil and gas reserves, respectively. But the big challenge is to protect the wealth of the Blue Amazon along 8,500 km of shoreline.

“We haven’t fully grasped just how immense that territory is,” Eurico de Lima Figueiredo, the director of the Strategic Studies Institute at the Fluminense Federal University, told Tierramérica. “To give you an idea, the Blue Amazon is comparable in size to India.”

“But we aren’t prepared to take care of it; it isn’t yet considered a political and economic priority for the country,” the political scientist said.

Figueiredo, who presided over the Brazilian Association of Defence Studies (ABED) from 2008 to 2010, said the Blue Amazon is a term referring to the territories covered by new treaties on international maritime law.

Brazil is one of the 10 countries in the world with the largest continental shelves, in an ocean like the Atlantic which conceals untold natural wealth that offers enormous economic, scientific and technological potential.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) comprises an area which extends to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) off the coast.

Official map of part of the Blue Amazon, off the east coast of Brazil, where conservation and research are lagging behind economic development, mainly by the oil industry. Credit: Government of Brazil

Official map of part of the Blue Amazon, off the east coast of Brazil, where conservation and research are lagging behind economic development, mainly by the oil industry. Credit: Government of Brazil

Brazil’s EEZ was originally 3.5 million sq km. But it later claimed another 963,000 sq km, which according to different national institutions – including scientific bodies – represents the natural extension of the continental shelf.

The U.N. Convention’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), made up of 148 countries, has so far sided with Brazil, adding 771,000 sq km to its EEZ. The decision on the rest is still pending.

Brazil’s demand, at least with respect to the expansion of the continental shelf granted so far, meets the requisites of the U.N. Convention and grants the country the power to exploit the resources in the expanded area and gives it the responsibility of managing it.

The recognition of Brazil’s claim, although only partial, has annoyed some neighbour countries, because of the huge economic benefits offered by the additional continental shelf it was granted.

Figueiredo said the challenge now is to monitor and protect the continental shelf. “We don’t have full sovereignty with regard to the maritime territory. Brazilian society is unaware of the important need to protect the Blue Amazon. There are enormous shortcomings, with respect to our needs.”

In 2005 a plan was approved to upgrade the navy with an estimated investment of 30 billion dollars until 2025. Defending a country is a complex task, said Figueiredo, because it involves a number of dimensions: military, economic, technical and scientific.

But scientific research in Brazil’s marine territory is currently far outpaced, he said, by the exploitation of resources such as the oil located 250 km off the coast and 7,000 metres below the ocean surface, beneath a thick layer of salt, sand and rocks.

Development of the so-called presalt reserves, discovered a decade ago, would make Brazil one of the 10 countries with the largest oil reserves in the world. And they already provide 27 percent of the more than three million barrels a day of oil and gas equivalent produced by this country.

“That region belongs to Brazil, the country has assumed commitments with the U.N. to monitor and study the living and non-living resources like oil, gas and minerals. If we don’t preserve it, we’ll lose this great treasure,” oceanographer David Zee, at the Rio de Janeiro State University, told Tierramérica.

In his opinion, Brazil is far from living up to the commitments assumed with the international community. “We have duties – we have to meet the U.N.’s scientific research requirements. We have to take greater care of our marine resources,” he said.

Apart from the oil and gas wealth, a large part of the EEZ borders the Mata Atlántica ecosystem, which extends along 17 of Brazil’s 26 states, 14 of which are along the coast.

The environmental organisation SOS Mata Atlántica explains that coastal and marine areas represent the ecological transition between land and marine ecosystems like mangroves, dunes, cliffs, bays, estuaries, coral reefs and beaches. The biological wealth of these ecosystems turns marine areas into enormous natural nurseries.

And the convergence of cold water from the South with warm water from the Northeast contributes to biological diversity and provides shelter for numerous species of flora and fauna.

But only 1.5 percent of Brazil’s maritime territory is under any form of legal protection, Mata Atlantica reports.

Thus, ensuring national sovereignty over jurisdictional waters is still an enormous political and military challenge. In March, some 15,000 naval troops and 250 Navy boats and aircraft took part in Operation Blue Amazon, the biggest of its kind carried out so far in Brazilian waters.

“This was an opportunity to train and guarantee the security of navigation, crack down on drug trafficking, and patrol the sea. The mission involved the entire territorial extension of Brazil,” Lieutenant Commander Thales da Silva Barroso Alves, commander of one of the three offshore patrol vessels that Brazil has to monitor the Blue Amazon, told IPS.

These vessels control the extensive coast in “areas of great economic interest, exploitation and accidents. Illegal fishing is also a recurrent issue,” he said.

The officer argued that the extraction of marine resources should be carried out in a “conscious, sustainable fashion,” with the aim of preserving biodiversity.

Figueiredo, the political scientist, concurs. “Our ability to defend the Blue Amazon depends on our capacity to develop technical-scientific means of protecting biodiversity in such an extensive area,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Tailings Ponds Pose a Threat to Chilean Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 07:39:50 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140244 Chile lives under the constant threat of spillage from tailings ponds, which became even more marked in late March after heavy rains fell in the desert region of Atacama leaving over two dozen people dead and missing and thousands without a home. Copiapó, capital of the region of the same name, 800 km north of […]

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The Ojancos tailings dam abandoned by the Sali Hochschild mining company, which spilled toxic waste after the late March thunderstorm that caused flooding in northern Chile. The waste reached the Copiapó river and the water supply on the outskirts of the city of Copiapó. Credit: Courtesy Relaves.org

The Ojancos tailings dam abandoned by the Sali Hochschild mining company, which spilled toxic waste after the late March thunderstorm that caused flooding in northern Chile. The waste reached the Copiapó river and the water supply on the outskirts of the city of Copiapó. Credit: Courtesy Relaves.org

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

Chile lives under the constant threat of spillage from tailings ponds, which became even more marked in late March after heavy rains fell in the desert region of Atacama leaving over two dozen people dead and missing and thousands without a home.

Copiapó, capital of the region of the same name, 800 km north of Santiago, is in an area full of tailings dams, Henry Jurgens, the founder of the non-governmental organisation Relaves (Tailings), told Tierramérica.

He explained that pollution with heavy metals “was already a reality” before the recent thunderstorm and flooding, but that the catastrophe “made this reality visible and more severe.”

In early April, the organisation detected tailings pond spills when it took water and mud samples in different parts of the Atacama region. But the government’s National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) reported that the tailings impoundments that hold toxic waste are in stable condition.

The Atacama desert, the world’s driest, was the main natural area affected by the flooding caused by the Mar. 23-24 heavy rainfall, which dropped the equivalent of one-quarter of a normal year’s precipitation on the area.

Experts say the rain may have stirred up heavy metals lying quietly in abandoned ponds.

Tailings, the materials left over after valuable minerals are separated from ore, contain water, chemicals and heavy metals such as cyanide, arsenic, zinc and mercury, deposited in open-air ponds or impoundments.

These toxic substances build up in the body and cause serious health problems.

Arsenic, for example, has no color, odor or taste, which makes it undetectable by people who consume it. Experts warn that long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer of the skin, lungs or bladder.

The main source of wealth in this mining country is copper. In 2014 alone, this country of 17.5 million people produced 5.7 billion tons of copper, 31.2 percent of the world total.

But for each ton of fine copper produced, 100 tons of soil with toxic by-products must be removed and stored.

There are 449 identified tailings ponds in this country, according to official figures. But there are dozens of others that have not been “georeferenced,” another member of Relaves, Raimundo Gómez, complained to Tierramérica.

The dusty exterior of the División de El Teniente, the world’s biggest copper mine, located in the Andes mountains 150 km south of Santiago. Solid and liquid waste products are treated in the mine and sulfur emissions are controlled. But that is not the case in all of the country’s mines. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The dusty exterior of the División de El Teniente, the world’s biggest copper mine, located in the Andes mountains 150 km south of Santiago. Solid and liquid waste products are treated in the mine and sulfur emissions are controlled. But that is not the case in all of the country’s mines. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“There is no real register of abandoned tailings ponds in the country,” said Gómez. “Sernageomin estimates that there are 90 of these toxic deposits in the Atacama region alone. That is really a lot.”

He also noted that “there is a great lack of information about the issue; communities do not know that they are living next to tailings ponds, and people are unaware of the danger that they pose to health and that they pollute the water.”

“We can see the profits left by mining. But we don’t see the negative effects, which we all end up paying in the end,” Gómez said. “It’s like when you go to a dinner and you talk about how delicious it was, but you don’t tell what you did in the bathroom afterwards.”

The earthquake that shook Chile on Feb. 27, 2010 caused the collapse of an abandoned tailings pile that buried an entire family under tons of toxic sludge.

The victims, a couple and their two children, worked on the farm where Jurgens and his family lived for six years near the southern town of Pencahue, unaware that they were living next to a toxic, unstable tailings pile.

“It wasn’t till then that I found out what it was, and all the things that could happen,” he said.

“People are totally ignorant about this. They’re often drinking polluted water and aren’t warned by the relevant institutions….That’s just humiliating and terrible,” Jurgens said.

Although experts say the worst risk is posed by abandoned tailings dumps, the ones that are still in use can also be dangerous.

That is the case of Caimanes, a town of 1,000 located near the El Mauro tailings dam of the company Los Pelambres, the sixth-largest copper producer in Chile, which belongs to the Luksic’s, the richest family in the country.

El Mauro, which in the Diaguita indigenous language means the place where the water spouts, is located eight km upriver from Caimanes.

The seven km-long dam, with a wall 270 metres high, is the biggest chemical waste dump in Latin America.

The dump has hurt the local biodiversity and polluted the water used by the people of the town.

The main study on water pollution by tailings ponds, carried out in 2011 by Andrei Tchernitchin at the University of Chile, found high levels of heavy metals in a number of rivers.

“At the Caimanes bridge, the iron level was 50 percent higher than the limit and the manganese sample was nearly double the level permitted for drinking water,” Tchernitchin told Tierramérica.

He returned to take more samples for a second study, in February 2012. In a small pond, a few centimetres above a swamp, he found levels of manganese far above the internationally accepted limit.

“The limit is 100 micrograms of manganese per litre, and we found 9,477 micrograms. The iron level was also 30 percent above the limit,” he said.

He warned that if this severe level of pollution continued, the effects on the health of the local population would be serious. “Long-term exposure to manganese can cause diseases of the central nervous system such as psychosis, Parkinson’s disease and dementia,” Tchernitchin said.

On Mar. 6, a local court accepted a lawsuit brought by the Caimanes Defence Committee on Dec. 19, 2008 and ordered the tailings pond to be removed.

The mining company appealed, and the regional Appeals Court is to hand down a ruling shortly.

Jurgens and Gómez called for a law on tailings that would indicate how many impoundments exist in the country, how many have been abandoned, and what chemicals they contain.

“A strict law is needed, on one hand, and informed citizens on the other. We have neither of these,” Gómez argued.

“It is really paradoxical that we consider ourselves a mining country and always talk about how much copper we’re going to export, but no one is aware of the amount of waste we’re going to produce,” he said.

“We have to learn how to assess the negative aspects of mining and to raise awareness of that and of the large number of tailings ponds and waste that is literally dumped throughout the country,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Slow to Pledge Emissions Cutshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts/#respond Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:28:04 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140208 Latin America is making heavy weather of setting targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, which all countries must present ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference later this year. Shortfalls in the national mechanisms for funding these voluntary action plans for adapting to climate change and mitigating or reducing polluting […]

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Climate change is causing violent storms, prolonged droughts and temperature extremes. In August 2014, at the height of summer, a hailstorm turned the yard white in this house in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Climate change is causing violent storms, prolonged droughts and temperature extremes. In August 2014, at the height of summer, a hailstorm turned the yard white in this house in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

Latin America is making heavy weather of setting targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, which all countries must present ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference later this year.

Shortfalls in the national mechanisms for funding these voluntary action plans for adapting to climate change and mitigating or reducing polluting emissions are largely responsible for holding up the process.

By Mar. 31, the first deadline for registering Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), only Mexico had done this. In the rest of the world, Switzerland, the European Union as a bloc, Norway, the United States, Gabon and Russia, in that order, had also filed their plans.

“The time taken by international negotiations and the debate over who is responsible for climate change should not be an excuse” for Latin American countries “not to make progress with risk prevention” in regard to climate change, said María Marta di Paola, a researcher with the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), an Argentine NGO.

Di Paola criticised the “marginal role” assigned to climate change by public policies in Argentina, which are merely “reactive in nature,” kicking in only when flooding or droughts occur as a result of the phenomenon, she told Tierramérica.

Brazil , the region’s foremost producer of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, emits nearly 1.5 billion tonnes a year of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Mexico follows, with 608 million tonnes a year, and then Venezuela with 401 million tonnes.

Argentina emits 180 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, Colombia 75 million tonnes and Chile 72 million tonnes.

The main sources of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in the region are deforestation due to change of land use, farming, energy generation and fuel use.

The region’s position at international forums is that responsibility for climate change is common but differentiated, and Latin America is particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon, experiencing intense storms, devastating drought, wide temperature oscillations, a rise in sea levels and the melting of Andean glaciers, with high human, social and economic costs.

In Mexico’s INDC the country committed itself to a 25 percent reduction in total emissions by 2030, compared to its 2013 emissions as the baseline. It proposes to do this by achieving a 22 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and a 51 percent reduction in black carbon (inorganic carbon in soot) produced from diesel-fuelled transport vehicles and fuel oil fired electricity generation.

The climate action plan includes having carbon dioxide emissions peak in 2026. According to the document, it would be possible to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030 if additional finance and technology transfer were made available as part of a global agreement.

The main sectors involved are energy, industrial processes and final fuel consumption, agriculture, waste products, land use change and forests, but no details are given and there is no road map for the fulfilment of the targets.
“The key to their achievement lies in concrete mechanisms: where the funding will come from, inter-governmental coordination, and overcoming the lack of local technical capabilities,” said Javier Garduño of the Mexican office of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an NGO.

For instance, he told Tierramérica, “in transport, there is no legal framework to align mobility with sustainability.”

At the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the UNFCCC, held in Warsaw in 2013, it was decided that each state party would have until October 2015 to submit their INDC, which will be analysed at COP 21, due to be held in Paris in December.

Ahead of the climate conference, the UNFCCC will write a report on the voluntary commitments undertaken, calculate whether they will be sufficient to reduce emissions to the levels proposed by climate experts, and suggest how to incorporate them into a new binding global treaty on climate change, to be approved in Paris for entry into force in 2020.

Research from the NewClimate Institute for Climate Policy and Global Sustainability, based in Germany, for the UNFCCC and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found that of the 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries accounted for in the results, 33 percent have initiated a national discussion, the first stage of preparing their INDC.

Another 25 percent of countries have proceeded to the technical design of their plans and 17 percent are conducting political debate, while nearly 17 percent have not yet begun to prepare the measures and eight percent have completed internal debates.

Latin American countries identified, among the challenges they face in the preparation of their INDC, limited expertise for the assessment of technical options, lack of certainty on what to include, and the short timeframe available for the process.

They also reported lack of coordination and of understanding (e.g. between ministries); lack of agreement on priority mitigation options; difficulty with engaging relevant stakeholders; lack of internal agreement on desired ambition level; and conflict with other political priorities.

Except for Chile and Mexico, countries repeatedly complained of lack of consultation and of inclusion of civil society in the plans.

“Colombia’s actions should be transparent, inclusive and participatory,” Milena Bernal, a researcher with the Colombian NGO Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad (Environment and Society Association), told Tierramérica.

This is particularly necessary, in her view, “when determining specific contributions from the forestry sector, land use, energy generation, and management of financial resources that may be received by the country.”

Most Latin American countries have legislation on climate change, or related to it. Mexico passed laws in 2012 stipulating emissions reduction of 30 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050, as well as creating the Special Programme on Climate Change.

Argentina is preparing its Third Communication on Climate Change, an inventory of emissions to present to UNFCCC, and since 2011 the National Strategy on Climate Change.

Chile has had a national plan for adaptation to climate change since December, with specific policies for the forestry, agriculture and livestock sector; biodiversity; fisheries and aquaculture; health; infrastructure; cities; tourism; energy; and water resources.

Colombia is drawing up its National Climate Change Policy, which is likely to include its INDC, according to experts.

“In Argentina there are laws linked to the subject, such as the laws on native forests, glaciers and renewable energy, but they are poorly enforced and the budgets for the different programmes are declining,” di Paola said.

In Bernal’s view, mechanisms need to be defined for the achievement of the INDC commitments made this year.

“It is to be hoped that ambitious contributions will be put forward, in the sense of defining not only the percentages of emissions reductions, but also the actions to be taken with the resources available, and additional actions that could be taken if there is a greater flow of finance from international funding sources,” she said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Deforestation in the Amazon Aggravates Brazil’s Energy Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/deforestation-in-the-amazon-aggravates-brazils-energy-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deforestation-in-the-amazon-aggravates-brazils-energy-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/deforestation-in-the-amazon-aggravates-brazils-energy-crisis/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 19:22:04 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140016 In Brazil water and electricity go together, and two years of scant rainfall have left tens of millions of people on the verge of water and power rationing, boosting arguments for the need to fight deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Two-thirds of Brazil’s electricity comes from dammed rivers, whose water levels have dropped alarmingly. The […]

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An Arara indigenous village along the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River, whose flow will be severely reduced when a large part of the water is diverted in a canal that will feed into the Belo Monte dam, which will be the third-largest hydropower station in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

An Arara indigenous village along the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River, whose flow will be severely reduced when a large part of the water is diverted in a canal that will feed into the Belo Monte dam, which will be the third-largest hydropower station in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 3 2015 (IPS)

In Brazil water and electricity go together, and two years of scant rainfall have left tens of millions of people on the verge of water and power rationing, boosting arguments for the need to fight deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Two-thirds of Brazil’s electricity comes from dammed rivers, whose water levels have dropped alarmingly. The crisis has triggered renewed concern over climate change and the need to reforest river banks, and has given rise to new debate about the country’s energy system.

“Energy sources must be diversified and we have to reduce dependency on hydroelectric stations and fossil fuel-powered thermoelectric plants, in order to deal with more and more frequent extreme climate events,” the vice president of the non-governmental Vitae Civilis Institute, Delcio Rodrigues, told Tierramérica.

Hydroelectricity accounted for nearly 90 percent of the country’s electric power until the 2001 “blackout”, which forced the authorities to adopt rationing measures for eight months. Since then, the more expensive and dirtier thermal power has grown, to create a more stable electricity supply.

Today, thermal plants, which are mainly fueled by oil, provide 28 percent of the country’s power, compared to the 66.3 percent that comes from hydroelectricity.

Advocates of hydropower call for a return to large dams, whose reservoirs have a capacity to weather lengthy droughts. The instability in supply is due, they argue, to the plants of the past, which could only retain water for a limited amount of time due to environmental regulations.

But “the biggest reservoir of water is forests,” said Rodrigues, explaining that without deforestation, which affects all watersheds, more water would be retained in the soil, which would keep levels up in the rivers.

“Forests are a source, means and end of water flows, because they produce continental atmospheric moisture and help rain infiltrate the soil, which accumulates water, and they protect reservoirs,” said climate researcher Antonio Donato Nobre.

“In the Amazon, 27 percent of the forest is affected by degradation and 20 percent by total clear-cutting,” said Nobre, with the Amazon Research Institute and the National Institute for Space Research.

That fuels forest fires. “Fires didn’t used to penetrate moist areas in the rainforest that were still green, but now they do; they advance into the forest, burning immense extensions of land,” he told Tierramérica.

“Trees in the Amazon aren´t tolerant of fire, unlike the ones in the Cerrado (wooded savannah) ecosystem, which have adapted to periodic fires. It takes the Amazon forests centuries to recover,” he said.

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric dam during construction, in 2010. When it was almost complete, in 2014, the work site was affected when the Madeira River overflowed its banks – a phenomenon blamed at least in part on deforestation. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric dam during construction, in 2010. When it was almost complete, in 2014, the work site was affected when the Madeira River overflowed its banks – a phenomenon blamed at least in part on deforestation. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The scientist is worried that deforestation is affecting South America’s climate, even reducing rainfall in Southeast Brazil, the most populated part of the country, which generates the most hydroelectricity.

“Studies are needed to quantify the moisture transported to different watersheds, in order to assess the climate relationship between the Amazon and other regions,” he said.

But in the eastern Amazon region, where the destruction and degradation of the rainforest are concentrated, climate alterations are already visible, such as a drop in rainfall and a lengthening of the dry season, he noted.

In the Xingú river basin this could be the year with the lowest precipitation levels in 14 years of measurements in the municipality of Canarana – where the headwaters lie – according to the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), which is carrying out a sustainability programme for indigenous people and riverbank dwellers in the river basin.

If that trend continues, it will affect the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant under construction 1,200 km downriver. With a capacity to generate 11,233 MW, it is to be the third-largest in the world once it comes onstream in 2019.

But the plant’s generation capacity could fall by nearly 40 percent by 2050, with respect to the projected total, if deforestation continues at the current pace, according to a study by eight Brazilian and U.S. researchers published in 2013 by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

In 2013, deforestation in the Xingú river basin already reached 21 percent, the ISA estimated.

Other major hydropower dams under construction in the Amazon region could also suffer losses. In the Madeira River, torrential water flows in 2014 in tributaries in Bolivia and Peru submerged the area where the Jirau and Santo Antônio dams were built, affecting the operations of the plants, which had recently come onstream.

Map of the Xingú River basin in Brazil’s Amazon region. The part marked in green – indigenous territory and officially protected zones – are surrounded by deforested areas (marked in red). The basin, which covers 511,149 sq km, is bigger than all of Spain. And the deforested area, 109,166 sq km, is as big as Cuba. Credit: Courtesy of the Socioenvironmental Institute

Map of the Xingú River basin in Brazil’s Amazon region. The part marked in green – indigenous territory and officially protected zones – are surrounded by deforested areas (marked in red). The basin, which covers 511,149 sq km, is bigger than all of Spain. And the deforested area, 109,166 sq km, is as big as Cuba. Credit: Courtesy of the Socioenvironmental Institute

The tendency in the southern part of the Amazon basin is “more intense events, with more marked low and high water levels” such as the severe droughts of 2005 and 2010 and worse than usual flooding in 2009 and 2012, said Naziano Filizola, a hydrologist at the Federal University of Amazonas.

“Besides modifying water flows, deforestation is linked to agriculture, which dumps pesticides in the river, such as in the Xingú River, where indigenous people have noticed a reduction in water quality,” he told Tierramérica.

Hydroelectric construction projects fuel that process by drawing migrant workers from other parts of the country and abroad, expanding the local population without offering adequate conditions, he added.

Nevertheless, the most intense impact on the energy supply due to insufficient rainfall is now being seen in the Planalto Central highlands region, where the Cerrado is the predominant biome. The savannah ecosystem, where the main rivers tapped for hydropower rise, is the second-most extensive in Brazil, after the Amazon rainforest.

The Paraná River, which runs north to south and has the highest generating capacity in Brazil, receives half of its waters from the Cerrado. And in the case of the Tocantins River, which flows towards the northern Amazon region, that proportion is 60 percent, said Jorge Werneck, a researcher with the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA.

Those two rivers drive the two biggest hydropower stations currently operating in Brazil: Itaipú, which is shared with Paraguay, and Tucuruí. Both are among the five largest in the world.

Another example is the São Francisco River, the main source of energy in the semiarid Northeast: 94 percent of its flow comes from the Cerrado.

In the area where he makes his field observations, around Brasilia, where several rivers have their headwaters, Werneck, a specialist in hydrology with EMBRAPA Cerrado, has seen a general tendency for the dry season to expand.

“But data and studies are needed to verify the link between deforestation in the Amazon and changes in the rainfall patterns in Brazil’s west-central and southeast regions,” he said.

In 2014 there was drought in both of these regions, which comprise most of the Cerrado, but “there was no lack of moisture in the Amazon – in fact it rained a lot in the states of Rondônia and Acre,” on the border with Bolivia and Peru, where there was heavy flooding, he said.

Forests provide a variety of ecological services, but it is not possible to assert that they produce and conserve water on a large scale, he said. The treetops “keep 25 percent of the rain from reaching the ground, and evapotranspiration reduces the amount of water that reaches the rivers, where we need it,” he added.

“Assessing the hydrology of forests remains a challenge,” he said.

But Nobre says large forests are “biotic bombs” that attract and produce rain. In his opinion, it is not enough to prevent deforestation in the Amazon; it is urgently necessary to reforest, in order to recuperate the rainforest’s climate services.

One example to follow is the Itaipú hydropower station, which reforested its area of direct influence in the Paraná River basin, revitalising the tributaries, through its programme “Cultivating good water”.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Nicaragua’s Future Canal a Threat to the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/#respond Tue, 31 Mar 2015 07:45:01 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139956 The new interoceanic canal being built in Nicaragua has brought good and bad news for the scientific community: new species and archeological sites have been found and knowledge of the local ecosystems has grown, but the project poses a huge threat to the environment. Preliminary reports by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) […]

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Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The new interoceanic canal being built in Nicaragua has brought good and bad news for the scientific community: new species and archeological sites have been found and knowledge of the local ecosystems has grown, but the project poses a huge threat to the environment.

Preliminary reports by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) revealed the existence of previously unknown species in the area of the new canal that will link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The study was commissioned by Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND Group), the Chinese company building the canal.

Among other findings, the study, “Nicaragua’s Grand Canal”, presented Nov. 20 in Nicaragua by Alberto Vega, the consultancy’s representative in the country, found two new species of amphibians in the Punta Gorda river basin along Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.

The two new kinds of frogs have not yet been fully studied, said Vega, who also reported 213 newly discovered archaeological sites, and provided an assessment of the state of the environment along the future canal route.

The aim of the study was to document the main biological communities along the route and in adjacent areas, and to indicate the species and habitats in need of specific conservation measures in order to identify opportunities to prevent, mitigate and/or compensate for the canal’s potential impacts.

The 278-km waterway, which includes a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca, will be up to 520 metres wide and 30 metres deep. Work began in December 2014 and the canal is expected to be completed by late 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars.

The environmental impact study will be ready in late April, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the presidential Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, told Tierramérica.

“The studies are carried out with cutting-edge technology by an international firm that is a leader in this area, ERM, with a team of experts from around the world who were hired to provide an exhaustive report on the environmental impact and the mitigation measures,” he said.

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, told Tierramérica that HKND’s preliminary documents reveal that the canal will cause serious damage to the environment and poses a particular threat to Lake Cocibolca.

The 8,624-sq-km lake is the second biggest source of freshwater in Latin America, after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo.

Campos pointed out that HKND itself has recognised that the route that was finally chosen for the canal will affect internationally protected nature reserves home to at least 40 endangered species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

The route will impact part of the Cerro Silva Nature Reserve and the Indio Maiz biological reserve, both of which form part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (CBM), where there are endangered species like scarlet and great green macaws, golden eagles, tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, anteaters and black lizards.

Along with the Bosawas and Wawashan reserves, Indio Maíz and Cerro Silva host 13 percent of the world’s biodiversity and approximately 90 percent of the country’s flora and fauna.

This tropical Central American country of 6.1 million people has Pacific and Caribbean coastlines and 130,000 sq km of lowlands, plains and lakes. There have been several previous attempts to use Lake Cocibolca to create a trade route between the two oceans.

The Cocibolca Group, made up of a dozen environmental organisations in Nicaragua, has warned of potential damage by excavation on indigenous land in the CBM, on the country’s southeast Caribbean coast.

One site that would be affected is Booby Cay, surrounded by coral reefs and recognised by Birdlife International as an important natural habitat of birds, sea turtles and fish.

Studies by the Cocibolca Group say that dredging with heavy machinery, the construction of ports, the removal of thousands of tons of sediment from the lake bottom, and the use of explosives to blast through rock would have an impact on the habitat of sea turtles that nest on Nicaragua’s southwest Pacific coast.

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

The selected route, the fourth of the six that were considered, will run into the Pacific at Brito, 130 km west of Managua. A deepwater port will be built where there is now a beach that serves as a nesting ground for sea turtles.

ERM’s Talavera rejects the “apocalyptic visions” of the environmental damage that could be caused by the new waterway. But he did acknowledge that there will be an impact, “which will be focalised and will serve to revert possible damage and the already confirmed damage caused by deforestation and pollution along the canal route.”

The route will run through nature reserves, areas included on the Ramsar Convention list of wetlands of international importance, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) biosphere reserves, and water basins.

According to Talavera, besides the national environmental authorities, HKND consulted institutions like the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International, “with regard to the feasibility of mitigating and offsetting the possible impacts.”

The canal is opposed by environmental organisations and affected communities, some of which have filed a complaint with the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In an IACHR hearing on Mar. 16, Mónica López, an activist with the Cocibolca Group, complained that Nicaragua had granted HKND control over the lake and its surrounding areas, including 16 watersheds and 15 protected areas, where 25 percent of the country’s rainforest is concentrated.

López told Tierramérica that construction of the canal will also lead to “the forced displacement of more than 100,000 people.”

In addition, she criticised “the granting to the Chinese company of total control over natural resources that have nothing to do with the route but which according to the HKND will be of use to the project, without regard to the rights of Nicaraguans.”

The 2013 law for the construction of the Grand Interoceanic Canal stipulates that the state must guarantee the concessionaire “access to and navigation rights to rivers, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water within Nicaragua and its territorial waters, and the right to extend, expand, dredge, divert or reduce these bodies of water.”

The state also gives up the right to sue the investors in national or international courts for any damage caused to the environment during the study, construction and operation of the waterway.

In the IACHR hearing in Washington, representatives of the government, as well as Talavera, rejected the allegations of the environmentalists, which they blamed on “political interests” while arguing that the project is “environmentally friendly”.

They also repeated the main argument for the construction of the canal: that it will give a major boost to economic growth and will enable Nicaragua, where 42 percent of the population is poor, to leave behind its status as the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Banana Workers’ Strike Highlights Abuses by Corporations in Costa Ricahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/banana-workers-strike-highlights-abuses-by-corporations-in-costa-rica/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=banana-workers-strike-highlights-abuses-by-corporations-in-costa-rica http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/banana-workers-strike-highlights-abuses-by-corporations-in-costa-rica/#respond Wed, 18 Mar 2015 20:00:31 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139738 A strike that has brought activity to a halt since January on three major banana plantations on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, along the border with Panama, has highlighted the abuses in a sector in the hands of transnational corporations and has forced the governments of both countries to intervene. More than 300 labourers, almost […]

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Workers on strike at the Sixaola plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean region rest after sharing a pot of beans, while they wait for news from the leaders of their trade union about the conflict with the transnational corporation Fresh Del Monte . Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

Workers on strike at the Sixaola plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean region rest after sharing a pot of beans, while they wait for news from the leaders of their trade union about the conflict with the transnational corporation Fresh Del Monte. Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

A strike that has brought activity to a halt since January on three major banana plantations on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, along the border with Panama, has highlighted the abuses in a sector in the hands of transnational corporations and has forced the governments of both countries to intervene.

More than 300 labourers, almost all of them indigenous Panamanians working on plantations for a branch of the U.S. corporation Fresh Del Monte, have been on strike since Jan. 16 to protest harassment of trade unionists, changes in schedules and working conditions, delayed payment of wages and dismissals considered illegal.

“The company laid us off on Dec. 31 and when it rehired us on Jan. 3 it said we were new workers and that any modification of the work applied to us. But according to legal precedent, to be considered a new worker at least a month has to go by,” Federico Abrego, one of the striking workers from Panama, told Tierramérica by phone from the area.

Abrego and most of the more than 300 workers on strike on the Sixaola plantations 1, 2 and 3 belong to the Ngöbe and Bugle indigenous groups, who live in a self-governed indigenous county in Panama across the border from Costa Rica, where many go to find work.

Between 70 and 90 percent of Panama’s 417,000 indigenous people live in poverty, according to a 2014 United Nations report.

Observers say the latest conflict between workers and Fresh Del Monte in the Caribbean municipality of Talamanca, 250 km southeast of San José, is the result of decades of accumulation of land on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, mainly by large foreign banana producers, but in recent years by pineapple growers as well.

Talamanca is in the second-to-last place among the country’s 81 municipalities in the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index. Most of Talamanca’s population is indigenous, and banana and plantain plantations cover 37 percent of the territory.

“The plantations that are on strike belong to Corbana (Corporación Bananera Nacional) and are leased to Fresh Del Monte,” lawmaker Gerardo Vargas, who represents the Caribbean coastal province of Limón, told Tierramérica. “Two years ago there was a big strike over the subhuman conditions, poor wages and immigration problems and a union was founded.”

“In December the contract with Corbana expired, and when they renewed it, the company did something that infringed the rules: they set up a new union, dismissed all of the workers, and only hired back those who were in the new union. The new conflict broke out as a result,” said Vargas, of the left-wing Broad Front coalition.

Corbana was created by the government and the owners of banana plantations to bolster production and trade. In the past it also produced bananas on land that it now leases to companies that basically use the property as their own.

“The concentration of land in Limón is getting dangerous,” warned the legislator from the banana-producing province. “Today hundreds and hundreds of families have to sell their land to become hired labour.”

Abrego is a classic example of these plantation workers. The 53-year-old Gnöbe Indian has been working on banana plantations in Costa Rica since 1993. He now lives with his wife and eight children, half of whom are still of school age, in a house that belongs to the Banana Development Corporation (Bandeco), a branch of Fresh Del Monte.

“My fellow strikers ask me about the food and tell me the same thing my family tells me at home: that they don’t have anything to eat while we’re waiting to be rehired,” said Abrego, the leader of the trade union at the Sixaola 3 plantation.

A burnt vehicle that workers on strike at a Sixaola banana plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region say was set on fire as part of the violent actions against them carried out in reprisal by banana-growing companies. Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

A burnt vehicle that workers on strike at a Sixaola banana plantation in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region say was set on fire as part of the violent actions against them carried out in reprisal by banana-growing companies. Credit: Fabián Hernández Mena/IPS

“I’m trying to get by without an income, with what I can scrounge up. But there are guys with small children who are having a harder time,” he said with a heavy heart, before explaining that the striking workers prepared communal meals to survive.

An estimated 95 percent of the strikers are indigenous people from Panama. “We’re on this side (of the border) for work,” said Abrego, a legal resident in Costa Rica. “We didn’t come here to steal or to take the bread out of anyone’s mouth. It’s rare to see a Costa Rican working on a banana plantation.”

The strike escalated when banana workers from Panama blocked traffic for a number of hours on the bridge over the Sixaola river, which connects Costa Rica and Panama, on Feb. 20-21.

The roadblock and the fact that the strike is being held by Panamanians on a Costa Rican plantation forced both governments to establish a negotiating table after an agreement reached on Feb. 27, which is to deliver its recommendations in a month.

Taking part in the talks are representatives of Bandeco, the local branch of the Sitepp (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Empresa Pública y Privada) trade union, Costa Rica’s Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and Panama’s Ministry of Labour.

Besides the creation of the binational commission and its report, the agreement included “the company’s promise to immediately rehire 64 workers and to not evict the dismissed workers from their homes,” Costa Rica’s Deputy Minister of Labour Harold Villegas told Tierramérica.

The plantations in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region are the scenario of frequent conflicts between workers and the big banana companies, and the current strike on the Sixaola plantations is just one example. In 2013, Sitepp held a strike to protest poor working conditions and the complaints are piling up in the Ministry of Labour.

In May 2014, an inspection by the ministry revealed a number of violations of the country’s labour laws and ordered the companies to redress them.

For example, according to the report by the national inspection office, “on occasion, company officials use different forms of intimidation against the workers, either through verbal abuse or shouting or practices of labour harassment.”

“After these denunciations were made, they set up a union, tailored to the needs of the company,” the president of Sitepp, Luis Serrano, told Tierramérica. “Through that union they were trying to take over the negotiation of the collective bargaining agreement that expired in December. They launched a campaign against us and started to give benefits to the union in alliance with the company, which they created.”

The union leaders complain that despite the binational agreement, they have not yet received food support from the institutions, although the 64 workers covered by the accord were rehired.

A large proportion of the banana industry is in the hands of transnational corporations. Besides Fresh Del Monte, there are branches of other U.S. firms like Chiquita Brands, which controls 24 percent of the country’s banana exports, or the Dole Food Company.

The banana industry carries a heavy weight in the country, especially the Caribbean coastal region. According to statistics from Corbana, it employs 6.2 percent of Costa Rica’s workforce and 77 percent of all workers in the Caribbean region.

The industry represents seven percent of the country’s exports, and last year it brought in 900 million dollars.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Socioenvironmental Catastrophe Emerges from the Ashes of Patagonia’s Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/socioenvironmental-catastrophe-emerges-from-the-ashes-of-patagonias-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=socioenvironmental-catastrophe-emerges-from-the-ashes-of-patagonias-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/socioenvironmental-catastrophe-emerges-from-the-ashes-of-patagonias-forests/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 07:43:44 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139697 In the wake of the fire that destroyed more than 34,000 hectares of forests, some of them ancient, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, the authorities will have to put out flames that are no less serious: the new socio-environmental catastrophe that will emerge from the ashes. The worst forest fire in the history of the […]

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Lake Cholila, to the right, with part of its valley enveloped in smoke on Mar. 12, in the province of Chubut, in Argentina’s Patagonia region. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Wegrzyn

Lake Cholila, to the right, with part of its valley enveloped in smoke on Mar. 12, in the province of Chubut, in Argentina’s Patagonia region. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Wegrzyn

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

In the wake of the fire that destroyed more than 34,000 hectares of forests, some of them ancient, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, the authorities will have to put out flames that are no less serious: the new socio-environmental catastrophe that will emerge from the ashes.

The worst forest fire in the history of the country will take a while longer to fully extinguish in the area surrounding Cholila, a town set amidst the lakes, valleys and mountains in the northwest part of the southern province of Chubut. Its 2,000 residents are longing for the start of the rainy season in April in this region that borders Chile and the Andes mountains.

But in the town, which counts among its tourist attractions the fact that the legendary U.S. outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid bought a ranch in Cholila in 1902, as a hideout, the big fear now is what will come after the fire.

The blaze broke out on Feb. 15 and was officially extinguished on Mar. 6, although there are still some hot spots, predicted to burn for another few weeks, according to experts.“The wind cycles will change, as will the availability of oxygen, the humidity and evapotranspiration in the environment will be reduced, temperatures will rise, there will be more solar radiation and light, and the greenhouse effect will be aggravated.” -- Silvia Ortubay

“We are very anxious. We lost the surrounding wilderness where we had chosen to live, and of course economic activity will be hurt,” pilot Daniel Wegrzyn, who had to close his inn on Lake Cholila, which was not affected by the flames but served as an evacuation shelter, told Tierramérica by phone.

“The fires could hurt air quality and health due to the smoke and dust for months or years,” Thomas Kitzberger, an expert in Patagonian forests at the National University in Comahue, told Tierramérica.

The fire also devastated pasture land.

But livestock farming and ecotourism are not the only areas that have suffered losses.

“Ecological damage is what lies ahead,” said Wegrzyn.

The blaze destroyed forests of cypress, Antarctic beech (Nothofagus antártica), lenga beech (Nothofagus pumilio), coigüe or Dombey’s southern beech (Nothofagus dombeyi), Chilean feather bamboo (Chusquea culeou), and giant trees such as the Patagonian cypress (Fitzroya cupressoides).

It also killed, or drove away, endemic fauna such as tiny pudu deer, lizards, birds and foxes, and endangered species like the rare huemul or south Andean deer.

Kitzberger explained that these ecosystems are home to plants that are “relatively well adapted to fire like species that grow in scrubland and on the steppes, which are resilient and quickly put out new shoots after a fire.”

An isolated hotspot throws up smoke in the Alerce River valley on Mar. 11, after some rain fell in the area. Argentina’s southern Patagonia region suffered the worst forest fire in the country’s history. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Wegrzyn

An isolated hotspot throws up smoke in the Alerce River valley on Mar. 11, after some rain fell in the area. Argentina’s southern Patagonia region suffered the worst forest fire in the country’s history. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Wegrzyn

Others, like the forests of cypress, Dombey’s southern beech or Patagonian cypress, which are moderately resilient, “can survive fire and recolonise burnt areas.” But in the case of Patagonian cypress trees that have been badly burnt, the seedbeds have been killed and are basically irrecoverable, because it would take centuries for a new forest to grow.

Furthermore, “the lenga beech is incapable of regenerating on these sites (of intense fires) or does so very slowly, which means it would also take centuries to grow back,” he said.

Kitzberger pointed out that the forests are the habitat of numerous species, and “create locally stable conditions that make it possible for ecosystems to function.” When they are burnt down, “they give rise to ecosystems with more bushes or species of grass,” which do not play the same roles, he said.

According to biologist Silvia Ortubay, there will be climate modifications that will extend to other ecosystems.

“The wind cycles will change, as will the availability of oxygen, the humidity and evapotranspiration in the environment will be reduced, temperatures will rise, there will be more solar radiation and light, and the greenhouse effect will be aggravated,” she told Tierramérica from the area.

There is a risk of worse flooding and drought, which means “drawing up a plan for restoring the ecosystem should be a top priority,” she added.

She stressed that the local vegetation, organic matter and tree roots are a protective layer for the soil and act as a natural barrier for water, and that with the first rains and the dispersal of ashes, this layer will erode and suffer fertility loss.

Runoff will also increase, causing mudslides and creating steeper inclines and ditches which aggravate the situation.

At a regional level, “when the forest cover is eliminated by severe fires that affect upper river basins, the capacity of regulation and provision of good quality water is undermined, and the supply of energy generated by dams downstream is modified,” said Kitzberger.

Ortubay said the transportation of sediments could also muddy Patagonia’s lakes, “which are considered the world’s clearest,” while the degradation of river basins, with lower water levels in the summertime and higher levels in the winter, would create floods or drought.

Moreover, said the biologist, the deterioration of the forest will generate grasslands that will attract cattle, which will be an obstacle for seedlings to take root and for trees to grow back.

And the cattle, through their manure, will spread seeds of invasive exotic species like sweet briar, one of their favourite foods.

Wegrzyn complained about the lack of risk evaluation and “the delay in taking action,” while warning about the risk of new fires breaking out, based on what he has seen while flying over the area.

He said everyone knew this was “a critical year” because of a phenomenon that occurs every half century: the flowering and death of the Chilean feather bamboo, which produces an enormous amount of highly flammable dry vegetation.

There was also a severe drought and climate conditions that favoured strong winds and high temperatures in the southern hemisphere summer, “which were decisive for the expansion of the fire,” that at one point was spreading at one kilometre per hour.

According to Wegrzyn, a few lookout towers in strategic spots, a good radio system and air patrols would have been sufficient to provide an early warning.

Activist Darío Fernández told Tierramérica from Cholila that if caught early, “the fire could have been extinguished with shovels,” avoiding the need for bringing in brigades of firefighters, airtankers and helitankers from neighbouring Chile.

Intentional fire

The government sacked the official responsible for the National Fire Management Plan over errors in how the fire was handled, and stated that it had been intentionally set.

That is also the conclusion of Chubut Governor Martín Buzzi, who said the fire was linked to the real estate business, which due to the ban on cutting down trees, protected as part of the country’s natural heritage, “makes them disappear.”

To curb the land speculation, Buzzi announced measures such as a 10-year moratorium on selling or transferring land with forests that have been burnt, and the creation of an investigative committee.

Fernández, born and raised in Cholila, who had predicted intentionally set fires, noted that between 2003 and 2011, the previous governor, Mario das Neves, distributed public land by decree, in violation of the provincial constitution.

Fernández said the “green business” involves everything from country clubs and tourist developments to the forestry industry, which “needs to eliminate native species” in order to introduce commercial timber like pine. “The common denominator is the clearing of forests,” he added.

These allegations run counter to the hypothesis that lightning started the fire – which Kitzberger and Wegrzyn said was improbable, since the last thunderstorm in the region happened on Feb. 3, 12 days before the fire started. However, both of them acknowledged that fire originated by lightning can smolder for days before a blaze breaks out.

“But it is not likely that such a long time would go by between the start and the spread of the blaze,” said Kitzberger, especially since one of the first fires was detected by satellite image in a valley, “and lightning tends to strike on mountaintops or hillsides, higher up than in valleys.”

Nevertheless, he said that since the 1990s, in the north of the Patagonia region there has been a marked increase in the frequency and magnitude of electric storms and drought, which intensify fires.

For example, in the Nahuel Huapi National Park, 160 km from Cholila, the last thunderstorm caused eight small fires, he said.

“From politics to the mafia there is just one tiny spark,” Cholila Online, a digital newspaper founded by locals, wrote, summing up the doubts about the origin of the worst fire in Argentine history.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Brazil – from the Droughts of the Northeast to São Paulo’s Thirsthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/brazil-from-the-droughts-of-the-northeast-to-sao-paulos-thirst/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-from-the-droughts-of-the-northeast-to-sao-paulos-thirst http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/brazil-from-the-droughts-of-the-northeast-to-sao-paulos-thirst/#respond Tue, 10 Mar 2015 18:43:39 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139582 Six million people in Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, may at some point find themselves without water. The February rains did not ward off the risk and could even aggravate it by postponing rationing measures which hydrologists have been demanding for the last six months. The threat is especially frightening for millions of people who […]

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A puddle is all that is left in one of the reservoirs of the Cantareira System, which normally supplies nearly half of the São Paulo metropolitan region. Courtesy of Ninja/ContaDagua.org

A puddle is all that is left in one of the reservoirs of the Cantareira System, which normally supplies nearly half of the São Paulo metropolitan region. Courtesy of Ninja/ContaDagua.org

By Mario Osava
SÃO PAULO , Mar 10 2015 (IPS)

Six million people in Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, may at some point find themselves without water. The February rains did not ward off the risk and could even aggravate it by postponing rationing measures which hydrologists have been demanding for the last six months.

The threat is especially frightening for millions of people who have flocked here from Brazil’s poorest region, the semi-arid Northeast, many of whom fled the droughts that are so frequent there.

The Nordestinos did not imagine that they would face a scarcity of water in this land of abundance, where most of them have prospered. The most famous of them, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, became a trade union leader and eventually president of the country from 2003 to 2011.

“Our water tank holds 4,500 litres, which lasts us two days,” Luciano de Almeida, the owner of the restaurant Nación Nordestina, which serves 8,000 customers a month, told Tierramérica. “I’m looking for a place to put another tank so I’ll have 10,000 litres, negotiating with neighbours, since my roof might not support the weight.”

Many people in this city of 22 million people share his concern about storing more water, especially in the Zona Norte or northern zone of Greater São Paulo, which will be the first area affected by rationing if the state government decides to take measures aimed at guaranteeing water supplies year-round.

The Zona Norte is supplied by the Cantareira system of interconnecting reservoirs which, on the verge of collapse, is still providing water for six million people. It supplied nine million people up to mid-2014, when one-third of the demand was transferred to the other eight systems that provide water in the city.“Life in the Northeast has gotten easier. With the government’s social benefits, people aren’t suffering the same deprivations as before, even during the current drought, one of the worst in history.” -- Luciano de Almeida

It is precisely the Zona Norte that is home to many of the Nordestino migrants and their descendants, as reflected by the numerous restaurants that offer typical food from the Northeast, such as carne-de-sol (heavily salted beef cured in the sun), cassava flour and different kinds of beans.

Almeida, 40, was born in São Paulo. But his father came from the Northeast, the first of 14 siblings to leave the northeastern state of Pernambuco in search of a better life in the big city. He came in 1960, two years after one of the worst droughts ever to hit the region.

He found a job in a steel mill, where “he earned so much money that a year later he went back home for vacation.” His brothers and sisters started to follow in his footsteps, said Almeida, who discovered his vocation when he spent eight years working in the restaurant of one of his uncles, before opening his own.

“Life in the Northeast has gotten easier. With the government’s social benefits, people aren’t suffering the same deprivations as before, even during the current drought, one of the worst in history,” said Almeida, who frequently visits his father’s homeland, where his wife, with whom he has a seven-year-old daughter, also hails from.

And the rural population, the hardest-hit by drought, has learned to live with the semi-arid climate in the Northeast, collecting rainwater in tanks, for drinking, household use and irrigation of their small-scale crops. This social technology has now been adapted by the Movimento Cisterna Já, a São Paulo organisation, to help people weather the water crisis here.

A rural settlement in the northeast Brazilian state of Pernambuco, where water tanks have been installed to collect and store rainwater and make it fit for drinking. Initiatives like this one have modified the local population’s relationship with the recurrent drought in the semi-arid region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A rural settlement in the northeast Brazilian state of Pernambuco, where water tanks have been installed to collect and store rainwater and make it fit for drinking. Initiatives like this one have modified the local population’s relationship with the recurrent drought in the semi-arid region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“One of my 20 employees decided to go back to the Northeast; he plans to use his savings to buy a truck and sell water there,” said Almeida. This reverse migration is driven by the improved living conditions in that region, Brazil’s most impoverished and driest area.

Paulo Santos, the 38-year-old manager of the restaurant Feijão de Corda in the Zona Norte, also plans to return to his home city, Vitoria da Conquista in the northeast state of Bahía, which he left 20 years ago “to try my hand at better work than farming.”

“I’m tired, life in São Paulo is too stressful. The drought makes things worse, but there will be a solution to that one way or another. Vitoria da Conquista has grown a lot, now it has everything, and living standards there are better,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Water, a network of 46 social and environmental organisations from the state of São Paulo, is lobbying the state government and mobilising society with the aim of “building water security” in the city.

The February rains, which were heavier than average, helped the Cantareira system’s reservoirs recover some of their capacity. But the situation is still “extremely serious,” Marussia Whately, the head of the Alliance, told Tierramérica.

“This requires an all-out effort, especially to relieve the suffering of the poor outlying neighbourhoods, which do not have water tanks and can’t store up water for the hours or days without supply,” said Delcio Rodrigues, an activist with the group and the vice president of the Vitae Civilis Institute, which focuses on climate change.

But, he complained, the state government and its water company, Sabesp, prefer “to generate confusion” by reporting that on Feb. 23 the water level in the Cantareira system reached 10.5 percent, double the late January level – while failing to clarify that they were referring to the “dead” or inactive storage water in the Cantareira system below the intake point, the water that cannot be drained from a reservoir by gravity and can only be pumped out.

The company has been using this storage water since July 2014.

Using the intake point as the reference, the level is minus 18.5 percent – far below the 12.3 percent of April 2014.

The water crisis is the result of two years of drought in southeast Brazil. Exceptional rainfall would be needed in the rest of March in order to store up water for the six-month dry season. But because that is unlikely, experts in hydrology are calling for immediate rationing to avoid a total collapse.

Sabesp has imposed undeclared rationing by reducing the water pressure in the pipes, which leads to an interruption in supply in many areas during certain parts of the day. The company also fines those who increase consumption and offers discounts to those who reduce it.

But the Alliance for Water is calling for emergency measures such as public campaigns, transparent crisis management and heavy fines against waste. It also proposes 10 medium-term actions, such as more participative management, reduction of water loss, reforestation of drainage basins, and improved sewage treatment.

In its attempt to avoid the political costs of rationing, the state government decided to use water from the Billings reservoir to meet demand. According to Rodrigues, this is “appalling” because that water is heavily polluted, with mercury, for example, which poses a serious health risk.

But because of the crisis, reforestation has been stepped up in the water basins. That is necessary for the Cantareira system, where only 20 percent of the original vegetation still survives, Whately said. Forests improve water production and retention and curb erosion, but it is a long-term solution, and cannot resolve the current emergency, she added.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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