Economist Raúl Prebisch was among the first to realize that developing countries are better off producing their own goods than importing from the developed countries. But without “a little help from my friends”, ideas are not easy to spread.
Angelina Jolie visiting refugee camps in Africa, George Clooney fighting for Darfur, Shakira building schools, etc, etc. It seems we are surrounded by open-handed people. What would the world do without these superstars saving the world?
Bilateral development aid and conditionality have been going hand in hand for several years, and are often linked to neoliberal reforms or human rights. Lately, state leaders and the civil society in the Global North have been campaigning for gay rights in the Global South.
Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, is home to a rich and very diverse wildlife. Nearly one-fifth of the country are protected national parks or nature reserves. However, plans of a new large scale canal project to connect the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, risks destroying the country’s unique ecosystems and wild life.
Determined to lift Nicaragua out of poverty and unemployment, the government have made plans to create a new shipping route through Nicaragua. This would offer an alternative to the existing Panama Canal, which has been a key conduit for international maritime trade crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean for one hundred years.
The most likely route of the new Nicaragua Canal is 286 kilometers long and would go through Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking-water reservoir in Central America.
To rival the expanded Panama Canal (scheduled for completion in 2015) by accommodating ships of up to 400,000 tons, the proposed Nicaraguan waterway will be 27.6 metres deep. Lake Nicaragua, however, has an average depth of only 15 meters and extensive dredging would hence be required to meet this ambition.
Needless to say dredging would have profound impacts on the soil and could lead to erosion. Additionally, changes in the chemical composition and changed oxygen levels in the water from pollutants and construction could harm local maritime ecosystems and endanger unique species that are found nowhere else in the world. Moreover, the lake is home to fish species key to evolutionary science.
The excavation of hundreds of kilometers from coast to coast will destroy around 400,000 hectares of rainforests and wetlands. Apart from the destruction of forests the project threatens animals on the UN-list of endangered species such as the jaguar, the tapir as well as several types of parrots and sea cows.
Some 240 kilometers north of the most likely route of the canal, lies the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve. The reserve contains 2 million hectares of tropical forest and is the last refuge of many disappearing species. Less than 115 kilometers to the south is the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, with more than 318,000 hectares of tropical dry forest.
Sources - Matthew Twombly & Kelsey Nowakowski, NG staff, Ana M.Myers
UNEP, UNIDAD SIG; Ministerio Agropecuario Y Forestal Nicaragua, IUCN, Gran Canal Interocéanico por Nicaragua, HKND Group
The funding for the project comes from one of China’s richest men- Wang Jing- who owns Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND). Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega hopes that the new mega-project will increase GDP and provide employment for up to 200,000 people.
”The canal could give a large economic boost to Nicaragua, which is a very poor country. The construction of the canal will undoubtedly create employment and will hopefully also lead to economic development. However, the project has a profound effect on the environment and it would therefore be reasonable to investigate the consequences more thoroughly before proceeding” according to Danish Minister for Trade and Development Mogens Jensen.
Investigations on the environmental impacts of the megaproject have already been made by the British consultancy firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM), but have not been made public, perhaps because the study is paid for by HKND.
Gabriel Alvarez, a law professor at Nicaragua’s National Autonomous University, not only criticizes the lack of transparency, but claims that there have been 32 charges of unconstitutionality - a number he says is unprecedented in Nicaragua.
Alvarez’s viewpoint is echoed in other parts of society: “It’s like there’s an unwritten slogan: ‘The canal at any cost’,” says Manuel Ortega Hegg, vice-president of Nicaragua’s Academy of Science.
Jens Jaeger is International Issues Editor at Internal Voices. He is currently working at the United Nations Regional Information Centre (UNRIC)