A China-backed mega proyect to cut a new canal across Central America threatens vital wildlife, wetlands and a Biosphere Reserve, warn experts.
In a recent edition of the journal Nature, two prominent environmental scientists warn that the project threatens “environmental disaster” for Nicaragua. At risk are “some of the most fragile, pristine and scientifically important” regions of Central America, they warn.
The effects of construction, major roadways, a coast-to-coast railway system and oil pipeline, neighboring industrial free-trade zones, and two international airports will transform wetlands into dry zones, remove hardwood forests, and destroy the habitats of animals including those of the coastal, air, land, and freshwater zones.
Nicaraguan officials granted 50-year rights to build and oversee the $40 billion canal to a Hong Kong-based firm, bypassing environmental reviews in the process. The 186-mile-long (300-kilometer-long) canal would connect the Pacific to the Caribbean, creating a rival to the Panama Canal.
The excavation of hundreds of kilometres from coast to coast, traversing Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking-water reservoir in the region, will destroy around 400,000 hectares of rainforests and wetlands.
The threats to Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in the region are quite serious. The lake is too shallow for the draught of the ships anticipated for this megacanal. Dredging will be compulsory and, in all likelihood, dams on the river that drains from the lake to the Caribbean Sea will also be needed.
The accompanying development could imperil surrounding ecosystems. Some 240 kilometres north of the most likely route of the canal lies the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve — 2 million hectares of tropical forest that is the last refuge of many disappearing species.
Less than 115 kilometres to the south is the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, with more than 318,000 hectares of tropical dry forest. Worse still, the probable canal route cuts through the northern sector of the Cerro Silva Natural Reserve.
Based on this route, scientists and environmentalists have estimated the amount of hectares that will be incorporated into canal zone and its subprojects. These hectares extend through forests, reserves, wetlands, and land designated as autonomous and belonging to the traditional indigenous populations of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.
Migration routes for animals through this corridor would be truncated. Forests would be cut to make way for the rail line, the canal, the oil pipeline. Wetlands would most likely be drained or filled for the international airports and the planned industrial zones.
According to some government advisers, the canal has the potential to increase Nicaragua’s annual growth from 4.5 percent to as much as 15 percent in 2016, and then back down to 8 percent per year.
These are certainly heady figures for a developing nation. And according to the concession agreement, in 50 years, Nicaragua will own 51 percent of the shares in the enterprise.
But, what will be the environmental cost?
Gustavo Carrasquel | ANCA24