“It was not nice work, but given the pattern of the country’s development, it had to be done.” – John Steinbeck, East of Eden
After an early February victory against proposed mining projects, the indigenous Ngäbes (pronounced naw-bey) continue to struggle to prevent construction of hydroelectric dams that could negatively impact their environment. Negotiations continue, now with UN involvement, but it seems unlikely the Ngäbes will be able to stop hydroelectric construction much longer.
The struggle of one indigenous group in one small Central American country may seem irrelevant in the face of more publicized world issues, like Jeremy Lin, but their fight represents a consistent human choice to sacrifice the environment in favor of economic development.
Hydro in Panama
Panama’s government has its sights on 31 hydro projects by 2013, including seven near the borders of indigenous territory. The government claims that the projects will reduce national energy costs and increase national income through export. However, these have proved inadequate motivators for the indigenous of whom only 1% have electricity and who already do not trust the government to compensate them for absorbing the potential environmental impacts.
While it is difficult to say exactly what negative impacts will result, previous hydro projects on indigenous land in Panama resulted in displacement due to flooding, increased mosquito breeding grounds (in a country with a dengue problem) and submersion of trees, vegetation and farmland.
Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the Myanmar and Chinese governments to re-examine the project on the Irrawaddy River
Burma pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has joined forces with environmentalists and minority groups with an appeal for a rethink of a large dam project.
Suu Kyi urged the Myanmar and Chinese governments to re-examine the project on the Irrawaddy River in the interest of national and international harmony.
The Nobel peace prize winner called the waterway “the most significant geographical feature of our country.”
Environmental groups, members of the Kachin ethnic minority and other people living along the river say the Myanmar-China Myitsone Hydroelectric Project in northern Kachin state will displace villagers and upset the ecology of the important food source.
The 3.6 billion dollar (£3.1 billion) dam being built by China in the Kachin heartland is expected to flood an area the size of Singapore.
The Burmese government has not said how much of the energy will be sold to China.
In her appeal, Suu Kyi said some 12,000 people from 63 villages have been relocated and it is not clear whether they will be fairly compensated.
The government said only 2,146 people from five villages had been relocated.
For decades, several ethnic groups have waged guerrilla wars for greater autonomy, including more control over resources in their regions. In March, fighting broke out between the 8,000-strong Kachin militia and the government.
That fighting was related to dams and other large projects being built by China.
Chinese paramilitary police crushed a five-day protest by up to 2,000 Chinese villagers who complained that they weren’t being paid enough to relocate for one of China’s largest hydroelectric power projects, according to local officials.
The villagers set roadblocks, physically harassed officials and damaged government vehicles in Suijiang County in the southwestern province of Yunnan before being dispersed by paramilitary police on Tuesday afternoon, the officials said.
More than a dozen police were injured, they said. No demonstrators were hurt, said a local-government spokeswoman, who agreed to be identified only by her surname, Wu. The reports of injuries couldn’t be independently confirmed.
The protest was one several examples of civil unrest triggered by land disputes in China, where farmers increasingly are being forced to relocate to make way for housing, golf courses or large infrastructure projects.
Suijiang County is on the border between Yunnan and Sichuan province. It is near the Jinsha River site of the Xiangjiaba Hydroelectric Station, which is designed to be one of China’s largest.
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Following several large protests, Costa Rica’s indigenous Terraba people have filed a lawsuit seeking to halt construction of a hydro-electric power station due to flood a large swath of their territory, officials said Wednesday.
The power plant is the biggest such project in Central America. It is expected to produce up to 630 megawatts starting in 2016.
The lawsuit was filed on March 21 by the Terraba Indian Territory development association before the administrative court, a spokesperson said.
According to Gabriella Habtom, secretary of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
…Costa Rica, through its state-owned electricity company, intends to construct a hydroelectric dam (“the Diquis dam”) that will flood at least ten percent of the Térraba people’s titled lands. As well as permanently depriving the Térraba of the use and enjoyment of these lands, the Diquis dam, if built in the manner currently proposed, will also flood a large number of sites of sacred, cultural and archaeological significance to the Térraba people. These include sites of fundamental importance to their identity, cultural integrity, and spiritual and religious freedom, including many hundreds of burial sites and geographical features that are considered to be ‘pillars of Térraba existence and identity’.
The Terraba number approximately 750 people. The proposed project would bring in 9,000 non-indigenous workers and their familes, causing long term, multi-generational social and environmental impacts on the region and the Terraba people.
According to the UN, only 1.68 percent of Costa Rica’s population is indigenous.