control of water
Peru's Transport and Communications Ministry on Sept. 7 signed a contract with Chinese state-owned engineering giant SinoHydro to build the Hidrovía Amazónica, a mega-project aimed at turning the Amazon's major rivers into arteries for delivering the resources of the rainforest basin to foreign markets. Peruvian firm Construcción y Administración SA (CASA) is also to be a partner in the deal, announced earlier this year by the government's foreign investment arm, ProInversión. With a projected cost of $95 million, the Hidrovía calls for dredging 2,687 kilometers of Amazon waterways to make them navigable year-round. It encompasses stretches of the rivers Marañón and Amazonas (from Saramiriza to Santa Rosa), Huallaga (from Yurimaguas to the Marañón) and Ucayali (from Pucallpa to the Marañón). These rivers usually are too low for commercial navigation during the July-October dry season). Proinversión claims to have carried out a "prior consultation" with impacted communities along the rivers, having won 40 agreements to proceed with work. (Gestion, Sept. 7; El Peruano, July 17; BBC Mundo, July 7)
A consortium led by China Three Gorges Corp has agreed to buy a giant hydro-electric plant under construction in Peru from scandal-mired Brazilian company Odebrecht. The Chinese consortium, also including Hubei Energy Group, is reported to be paying $1.39 billion for the Chaglla power plant, which is located on the Río Huallaga in Chaglla and Chinchao districts of Huánuco region. The Chaglla complex has recieved $150 million in funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. When completed, it will be Peru's third largest hydro-electric facility.
The daughter of assassinated Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres survived an armed attack, just weeks after being named leader of the indigenous alliance formerly led by her mother. Bertha Zuñiga, 26, was assaulted along with two other members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPNIH) as they drove back from a visit to the community of Cancire in Santiago Puringla municipality, La Paz department, on June 30. Three assailants hurled rocks and tried to hack the COPINH members with machetes, after forcing their vehicle to stop by blocking the raod with a pick-up truck. The activists managed to escape, but came under renewed attack as the driver of the pick-up tried to force their vehicle off the cliff-edge road.
With the signature of President Salvador Sánchez Ceren, El Salvador on April 27 became the first country on Earth to ban the mining of metals—following a long campaign by campesinos and their ecologist allies. The law, passed by the country's Legislative Assembly March 29, bans "prospection, exploration, exploitation, extraction or processing of metallic minerals in El Salvador." Mauricio Sermeno, leader of the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES), said the law "is necessary in the face of an industry which, far from bringing any benefit to communities, brings serious pollution to water sources and the environment." (Duluth News Tribune, April 28; AFP, Inhabit, April 27)
Mining multinational AngloGold Ashanti announced April 27 that it will abandon its planned mega-project at La Colosa, in Colombia's central department of Tolima, following a popular vote by local residents to reject the project last month. Members of Cajamarca municipality held the vote or consulta March 26. Leader of the "No" campaign, Renzo García of the local Environmental Committee for Defense of Water and Life, called the company's decision to abide by the vote "a good sign for democracy." (El Espectador, April 27)
Seven of Burma's hold-out ethnic rebel armies formed a new committee this week to prepare collective talks with the government in anticipation of the next round of peace negotiations. Participating groups in what is now being called the "Northern Alliance" were the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The meeting was held in Pangkham, administrative capital of the UWSA-controlled territory. After eight other northern ethnic armies have signed peace deals in recent years, these groups remain officialy at war with the Tatmadaw, the government's armed forces.
The high court in India's Uttarakhand state issued a ruling March 20 recognizing the Ganga (Ganges) and Yamuna as "living entities," officially giving these rivers that have seen long years of ecological damage a legal voice. "This order may be seen as a precedent and come across as strange but it is not any different from the status of being a legal entity as in the case of family trusts or a company," said Raj Panjwani, attorney with India's National Green Tribunal, a body charged with prosecuting enviromental crimes. Under the ruling, the rivers are accorded all rights guaranteed by India's constitution, including the right not to be harmed or destroyed. The ruling, which comes in a public interest litigation brought by the NGT, mandates action by the national government if Uttarakhand state authorities fail to meet their responsibilities regarding the rivers.
New evidence is deepening fears in the scientific community that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years. Already, per capita availability of fresh water in the region—encompassing 22 countries and home to nearly 400 million inhabitants—is 10 times lower than the world average. The region's fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50% by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). By century's end, higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields by up to 55%. "Looming water scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an urgent and massive response," said FAO director general Graziano da Silva on his recent visit to Cairo.