Date: Wed, 26 Aug 98 15:51:32 CDT
Dam Dilemna in Honduras (Patuca River)
From Rainforest Alliance, Conservation Media Center, August 1998
Elvin Santos, minister of natural resources and the environment in Honduras, is in a jam. He figures the country needs to generate 15 percent more energy in the next few years to meet skyrocketing demand, to create needed jobs and to put the faltering economy back on track. "If we don't look for a way to produce clean energy at an acceptable price," he warns, "we are simply going to stagnate."
Santos thinks he has found a way: three dams on the Patuca River in a forested area known as the Mosquitia. But conservation and indigenous groups are attacking his clean-energy solution. The dam sites lie in the middle of what biologists envision as a protected, forested corridor along the Caribbean Coast from Mexico all the way to Panama. "The only complete and continual block of tropical rainforest left in Honduras is in the Mosquitia," says Osvaldo Munguia, director of MOPAWI, a conservation and indigenous-rights group long active in the area. "The region has plant and wildlife species no longer found anywhere else in the country."
Four indigenous groups - the Miskitos, Tawahkas, Garifuna and Pech - live near the Patuca and fish in the now free-flowing river. Munguia says a principal concern is the 62-mile road that would be built to the site of the first, 270-megawat dam. The fear is that the road will encourage land-hungry farmers to settle in the area, where they will slash and burn forests to plant subsistence crops.
While the Tawahkas have title to some of their claimed territory, Munguia says that the Miskitos and Pech are still negotiating with the government for land titles. "They worry that if they don't have their territories well defined, colonists would come down the road and occupy their lands, and the indigenous peoples will have no legal instruments to defend against the invasions," he explains.
Steve McAdams, director of project development for the proposed dam builders, the Panda Patuca Company, is also worried about the road. The company, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Panda Energy International, would own and operate the $600 million dam. Erosion caused by deforestation could limit the dam's generating capacity. "So if we don't protect the Patuca's watershed, we cut our own throats," he explains. He believes access to the road could be controlled, perhaps by private security forces, or he speculates, "We might pay the military to guard the road."
Before the dam can be built, an environmental impact study, now underway, must be completed. In a declaration released in May that outlines their concerns about the dam, representatives of the four indigenous groups demanded that the study be "independent, objective, complete, and with the full participation of our people."
McAdams believes the project "will work from an environmental perspective and will provide Honduras with good, low-cost energy over the long term." But if differences with conservationists and indigenous groups can't be worked out, the dam "will never be built," he concedes. "We are not in the business of steamrolling people."
In that case, Minister Santos will still have his dilemma. "I have to look for a balance between development and the environment," he says. "We can not dedicate ourselves only to growing trees."
CONTACTS: Panda Energy Intl., 4100 Spring Valley Road, #1001, Dallas, TX 75244 USA, tel 972/980-7159 In Honduras, Min. Elvin Santos, tel 504/232-1861, fax 504/232-6250 MOPAWI, Apdo. 2175, Tegucigalpa, tel 504/235-8659, fax 504/239-9234 Tawahka Federation, tel-fax 504/237-7210
This article is provided from the Rainforest Alliance's Conservation Media Center, based in San Jose,Costa Rica. For more information, contact Diane Jukofsky or Chris Wille, Rainforest Alliance, Apdo. 138-2150, Moravia, San Jose, Costa Rica; Phone: 506-240-9383; Fax: 506-240-2543; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org