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Nicaragua: pros and cons of the interoceanic canal


In July, LAB Partner Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign released a detailed study of the project to construct a new canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific across Nicaraguan territory. The full report can be dowloaded here. Some highlights are given below: In its introduction, the report asks: ‘Is the canal construction the only way of lifting Nicaragua out of centuries of under-development and high levels of poverty? Is it the only way of finding the resources to protect the environment? Or are the potential, economic, social and environmental risks too high a price to pay? This NSC briefing looks at the pros and cons of what will be one of the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in Latin American history.’ Some facts and figures:
  • After the first year of operations, Nicaragua will receive a 1% stake in the canal consortium with its share increasing by 10% each decade. In addition, Nicaragua will also receive $100 million in ten annual payments for the concession.
  • The 173-mile canal, costing an estimated $50 billion, could handle the world’s new generation of cargo ships including those already too large to navigate the Panama Canal, which it would therefore complement rather than compete with. The project would include two deep-water ports, a railway, two new cities, tourist resorts, free trade zones and an international airport.
  • On 7 July 2014, the Advisory Commission for the Development of the Grand Canal announced that the route would begin at the mouth of the Brito River south of Rivas, pass through Lake Nicaragua and end at the mouth of the Punta Gorda River in the South Caribbean Autonomous Region.
  • According to HKND and the UK company Environmental Management Services, the route has been chosen to minimise the impact on protected areas and wildlife of the Mesoamerican corridor, the area’s water resources and indigenous territories, and to minimise the displacement of communities.
  • Work on the canal is due to start at the end of 2014 and would take an estimated five years.
What about the environmental impact? Proponents and opponents of the canal agree that the key area of major concern is the environmental impact of such a vast project, particularly on Lake Cocibolca (Nicaragua), the largest reservoir of water in the region. However, there is disagreement about whether the canal would contribute to protecting the environment globally and nationally or whether the potential environmental risks are too high a price to pay. In ‘El Canal Interoceanico por Nicaragua: Aportes al debate’ published by the Nicaraguan Academy of Science, Jaime Incer Barquero (former environmental advisor to the presidency) and other environmentalists, engineers and academics express strong concerns about the ecological degradation of eco and aquatic systems, especially dredging and maintaining a channel across Lake Cocibolca 103 km long, 27 m deep and 270-500 m wide. Barquero points out that ‘extensive studies would be needed to fully evaluate and minimise risks; these studies would take years to prepare.’ Jorge Huete, president of the Nicaraguan Academy of Science, claims that 400,000 acres of forest would be destroyed during the construction, and criticises the lack of scientific impact studies. ‘…extensive studies would be needed to fully evaluate and minimise risks; these studies would take years to prepare.’ Jaime Incer Barquero, former environmental advisor to the presidency, commenting on the time scale for feasibility studies and construction.

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