nicaragua canal update

More analysis is appearing on a regular basis about the impact of the canal. A lot of the heated debate focuses on its environmental impact. For those in favour, the project is seen as a way of protecting the environment, particularly providing economic opportunities which will halt the movement of the agricultural frontier, and undertaking a huge re-afforestation project.

There’s no doubt that the area along the route has been the subject of degradation for many decades. Earlier this week Toni Solo on Tortilla Con Sal lambasted the international coverage of the canal, particularly from newspapers like the Guardian (The Sensationalist Campaign against Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal – see here). Instead of seeing the canal as devastating a pristine environment, Solo presents the case that the canal might be the only way to save the rainforest. At the heart of the article is a startling map, which shows the progress of the agricultural frontier since 1980.

deforestation_without_canal

Even during the Revolution of the 1980s, the vanishing of the forest continued. The policies championed by people within the government like Jaime Incer only managing to slow the rate of disappearance. There’s no doubt what this means for the people living on the land. In March the Nicaragua Network visiting the Bosawas reserve. It’s in the north of the country, well away from the canal route. But the desciption of the pressures that face indigenous people in the Bosawas is exactly the same as those faced by people on the South Caribbean Coast.

Every indigenous group we met with has experienced a massive invasion from all sides, starting slowly decades ago and increasing with time. There are now almost as many mestizo campesinos on indigenous land as there are indigenous. The Mestizos are even talking about marking out their own territory in the indigenous area. More come every day, clearing the forest as they go, using the land for pasture, crops and more cattle than the land can support. Some use or sell the wood, others simply burn it. Not only is the land deforested, but the cattle further damage the land and pollute the rivers.
March 2014 Nicaragua Network delegation report
In their most recent round up of the Nicaraguan media, Nicanet summarised proceedings from a conference of the Cocibolca group, made up of some of the country’s leading NGOs.  The well repected Centro Humboldt directly challenged the idea that the canal would pass through land which has already been degraded. Here’s a part of Nicanet’s report in their news summary of Oct 7:

On Sept. 29, the Cocibolca Group, composed of environmental and other civil society organizations, held a forum in Managua where they presented the results of their independent study of the social, environmental, and legal impacts of the canal. The study reported that 109,000 people will be displaced by the canal which will also affect 193,000 hectares of forest, more than 40 species of animals, as well as nature preserves that include protected wetlands. Maura Madriz of the Humboldt Center said, “Almost 60% of the area affected by the canal is covered in forests, including broad-leafed forests, mangroves, and palm. It is not true that all of the territory which the canal will go through is destroyed and, even if it were, that is not justification for a project of this type.”  The study examined the territory ten kilometers on each side of the chosen 278 kilometer route of the canal.

The Humboldt study indicated that during the rainy season the canal will need 7.5 million cubic meters of water each day and during the dry season 8.4 million cubic meters while the current supply is 14.7 million cubic meters. However, Victor Campos, deputy director of the Humboldt Center, said, “Due to climate change, between 2015 and 2039, we expect a reduction during critical years of up to 35%, which would leave available only 8.45 million cubic meters of water daily, meaning that the canal would be operating with all the water available and by 2039 with a deficit of three to four percent.” Campos said that, in order to fill the planned Atlanta artificial lake, 7.4 billion cubic meters of water would be needed from the watershed of the Punta Gorda River. This would take three consecutive rainy seasons making it unlikely that the canal could begin operations in 2019 as proposed, Campos said.

Whilst de-forestation is a massive issue, it is not the only environmental consideration. The Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences has organised three forums to look at the ecological impact of the canal (we have reported some of their views in previous blogs). One of their members, ecologist Jean Michel Maes, acknowledged some of the positive enviromental impact of the canal, but outlined other issues in a recent Envio (see here):
On balance, the only positive aspect of the canal, in addition to a possible activation of the economy during the construction phase, would be the large-scale reforestation needed for proper operation of the canal. On the other hand, there are numerous negative aspects:
  • Little assurance that even if the environmental impact study is done rigorously and seriously it will be taken into account.

  • The absence of the environmental aspect in the law, which could remain at the discretion of the concessionaire.

  • The loss of a legal framework for the government of the Republic to act as the representative of the people of Nicaragua and defender of the nation’s natural heritage.

  • A marine impact with potential pollution problems to other countries in the region as well as the coastal marine impact in Nicaragua.

  • A drastic impact on Lake Cocibolca, a valuable freshwater resource, knowing that the importance of this resource will grow enormously with the passage of time.

  • Change in the course of the rivers affected by the canal that would increase the amount of sedimentation, both in the rivers and the lake.

  • The canal’s exit point on the Pacific coast conflicts with plans for developing tourism.

Spokespeople for the National Canal Commission are expecting the studies to be completed by mid October, with a start time next year. Meanwhile, the esimtated construction cost has risen from an initial $40 billion to $50 billion and indigenous people and farmers have been protesting at the lack of consultation. Nicanet also reported in its update that Canal officials have started a door to door census to speak to individuals, though as yet there are no reports of collective discussions on any issues that arise from the communal land ownership of the indigenous communities:

The census of properties and homes along the route of the proposed shipping canal across Nicaragua is proceeding according to schedule on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the country, according to government officials. Communities along the route of the canal are being visited by groups composed of representatives from the Chinese HKND Group (which holds the canal concession), the Office of the Attorney General (which oversees property rights), the General Directorate of Revenue (DGI), and the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER). The group is accompanied by members of the National Police and Army but these personnel do not enter the homes nor are they involved in the compilation of information. According to a spokesperson, the census is simple and is only carried out with the permission of the home or property owner. In the community of Tola, Rivas, Belkis Gonzalez, a 32 year old homemaker, knowing that her home was in the route of the proposed canal, received the census takers into her home, answered the questions to fill out the form, and allowed the workers to measure her property. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, where the Caño Chiquito River joins the Punta Gorda River before it reaches the Caribbean Sea, member of the census group travel by boat from early morning to visit locals who, while allowing the census workers to compile their data, take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions about the impact that the canal will have on their lives. (Informe Pastran, Oct. 2, 6; Radio La Primerisima, Oct. 2, 6)

Other property owners protested the canal census in El Tule, Department of Rio San Juan, and in San Jorge, Department of Rivas.  La Prensa reported that two thousand people protested in El Tule with signs that said, “We demand respect for private property! No to the canal!” “In San Miguelito we will not sell our land!” and “What do the farmers want? For the Chinese to go!” [¿Que quieren los campesinos? ¡Que se vayan los chinos!] Some of the protesters said that they took up arms against the Sandinista government in the 1980s and would now defend their properties at any cost. The protesters, some of whom were on foot and others on horseback, continued their march throughout a downpour of rain. (La Prensa, Sept. 29, Oct. 3)



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