Category Archives: Responsibility and Justice

CSO’s warn government and society about the dangers of introducing Genetically Modified Organisms in Mozambique

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The agricultural and food crisis is being felt in different parts of the world, especially in countries that are most vulnerable to climate change, where agriculture is one of the main sources of income for families. This has led to the engagement of a number of material and financial resources – supposedly in order to meet the need and demand for basic foods – through various initiatives promoted by multinational companies of production and multiplication of seeds tolerant to different conditions of nature.

At the same time, the demand for food to address hunger and malnutrition has been used as a pretext to boost the industrial food production business conducted by large multinational companies, using unsustainable technological practices that endanger human health and the ecological balance in general. These practices include the use of biotechnology – especially the so-called genetic engineering, which makes use of scientific knowledge like the application of techniques of manipulation and recombination of genes – for the production of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), thus seeking to meet the growing challenge of food production. GMOs have also been used under the pretext of their useful application in animal farming and in the pharmaceutical industry for health care improvements. However, there are several implications for the use of these bodies, which in recent years have given rise to major debates within the scientific community.

On the European continent, a number of countries have enthusiastically embraced the production and consumption of genetically modified organisms, but today, according to Dr. Angelika Hilbeck[1], as a result of this and other wrong decisions, Europe has lost about 80% of its population of insects and faces a biodiversity crisis. Curiously, today, many of these European countries have introduced policies to discourage the production, marketing and consumption of products resulting from genetic manipulation because of the implications that have been placed on human health and the environment. Even so, year after year, the international campaign carried out by large corporations with the aim of promoting the production, commercialization and consumption of GMOs – especially in the Southern countries (a.k.a. “developing countries”), as is the case of Mozambique – continues to increase.

Since 2001 – when we ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (Resolution 11/2001) – Mozambique has been working on the elaboration of national biosafety legislation. This work culminated with the approval of the Regulation on Bio-security on the management of Genetically Modified Organisms (Decree No. 6/2007), which established preventive measures and rules for controlling activities involving GMOs. This decree provided for a series of preventive measures, especially with regard to the import, marketing and research of GMOs. However, seven years later, part of these measures were changed with the repeal of the aforementioned decree and consequent approval of Decree No. 71/2014 – a change whose purpose was clearly to create room to allow the production of GMO crops. Legislation “tweaks” such as this one, are being carried out without the effective consent of the public that potentially consumes these products, thus violating Article 5 of Decree No. 27/2016 that regulates the Consumer Protection Law and also what was stipulated by the Nagoya Protocol regarding the right to information about products entering the country and their impacts.

The project for the introduction of Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) is a clear example that demonstrates the kind of pressure Mozambique is subject to regarding GMO introduction into its agricultural production system. The WEMA project involves five countries – Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – and is a public-private partnership, co-ordinated by the African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) in partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Monsanto and the national agrarian research bodies of the countries in question; and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Howard G. Buffet Foundations. At present, in Mozambique, the project is in its test phase in confined fields and consists basically of the production of maize varieties, both conventional and genetically modified, that are drought tolerant and resistant to insects.

In Mozambique, little is known about the real impacts of GMOs, and public debate on this issue is almost non-existent. Due to the Government’s clear intention to allow the production of GMOs in the country without an effective public consultation, since 2017, a group of organisations has sought to start this debate in a more open, democratic and transparent manner. In this context, the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and Justiça Ambiental (JA) organized a two-and-a-half day training workshop to share updated information on GMOs in Africa, – with an emphasis on Mozambique – as well as knowledge on Biosafety Regulations under the auspices of the Biosafety Protocol in Mozambique, with emphasis on human health, environmental and socio-economic impacts. The workshop was attended by peasants, civil society organisations, government representatives and academics.

In addition to ACB representatives from some African countries, the workshop also had internationally renowned experts on GMOs and its impacts (such as the aforementioned Dr. Angelika Hilbeck or Dr. Lim Li Ching) and in themes related to Biosafety. During the meeting, the researchers presented several scientific studies that point out the impacts of GMOs on the environment and human health in the world – including antibiotic resistance. For the researchers, the safety of GMOs is still very questionable, and while this doubt prevails, the Precautionary Principle set forth by the Cartagena Protocol – to which Mozambique is a signatory – should guide us.

JA regrets that the path to avoid the production of GMOs in Mozambique is never going to be a short one, since governments such as ours are easily manipulated and taken over by large international corporations – such as Monsanto – that intervene in countries agricultural production policies while, at the same time, regretably do not allow, for example, that their genetically modified seeds be subjected to independent and impartial research, claiming the Principle of Intellectual Property. For the sake of science and knowledge, JA believes that technologies must be studied, but those studies must be conducted impartially and independently. The interests of the companies that fund the researches cannot hold them hostage. Important aspects for science and for general public knowledge can never run the risk of being omitted. Moreover, these circumstances only demonstrate that the alleged benefits of GMOs may be a mere product of policy decisions resulting from such public-private partnerships.

In addition, as one of the researchers pointed out during the workshop, truly unbiased studies have to ask the right questions and try to answer them as thoroughly as possible. A study that does not comprehensively address issues pertaining to its purpose, but chooses to answer specifically “commissioned” questions, cannot be taken seriously. The same researcher said she believes in several other technological solutions for seed improvement to increase agricultural production and productivity that do not necessarily require the use of GMOs, provided that the same financial resources granted to GMOs are made available for this purpose.

In conclusion, JA calls on the Government to conduct a broad, transparent and impartial public consultation with all sectors of Mozambican society, without distinction, in order to ensure that policies that only benefit private entities, albeit to fundamental aspects such as human rights and the environment, are not imposed on society.

[1] Angelika Hilbeck, PHD, is a senior researcher and lecturer at the Institute for Integrative Biology of Zurich (ETH Zurich). Specialized in biodiversity and conservation, ecology, entomology and transgenics. She is the author of various books on the problem of genetically modified organisms.

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“NATURE-BASED TOURISM INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE”

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It was with pomp and circumstance that the “NATURE-BASED TOURISM INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE” took place between the 7th and 9th of June 2018 in one of the most expensive hotels in Maputo. A gala dinner and a bunch of speeches by people who all seemed to be very aware that we should have a nature-oriented tourism…

News about the Conference filled the media every day, and there was not a single STV newscast that did not feature it, bringing it straight to our homes.

All entrepreneurs, investors, government members, statesmen and former presidents, as well as world conservation specialists, were present at the great event of the month, advertised daily in prime-time television, with beautiful images of Mozambique’s fauna and flora enchanting our eyes – such is the natural beauty of this country.

But unfortunately, the reality is different. Nature was only a pretext. A beautiful word. An excuse to call in more investors. Because being sustainable, protecting the environment and being environmentally conscious is very fashionable today.

All these beautiful words are only meant to try to secure more and more investments. Hypocrisy abounds in our social environment. And if, this time around, this is the chosen narrative, in other occasions pollution-prone activities that damage the environment severely are shamelessly promoted: like coal mining in Tete or the oil and gas industries offshore drilling in one of Mozambique’s most beautiful nature sanctuaries: Cabo Delgado – the province of the crystal clear waters of Pemba, Ibo, Quirimbas, Mocímboa da Praia and many other beaches.

From Rovuma to Maputo, across the Mozambican coast, inland and on the islands along the Indian Ocean, there is immense tourist potential. However, the oil and gas industry, the timber industry, agribusiness and other environmentally damaging investments are competing with this potential. The countless beauties and natural riches scattered throughout Mozambique – such as the beautiful Inhambane Province with its beautiful beaches and the beautiful Bazaruto Archipelago, the plateaus and hills of Chimanimani, Mount Mabu, the beautiful Gorongosa or the unique biodiversity of our reserves and natural parks – are being threatened by pipelines, deep-sea ports, forest plantations, monocultures…

Throughout Mozambique many are the examples of this, and nature is definitely the last thing in their minds when they sign these great business deals, memorandum of understanding, mining concessions or even the fabulous contracts to build hotels or lodges in clear contempt for the most basic environmental standards.

Mozambique is suffering. There are huge open craters in the mountains, there are corals being destroyed by oil rigs, there are entire forests being (legally or illegaly) destroyed for its wood. And they still have the nerve to say that they are defending nature? What they are doing indeed is spending millions of meticals on yet another business conference in an expensive hotel with a gala dinner where the price of a meal is three times the value of a minimum wage. This, in a country where there are people dying of acute malnutrition. A country that carries on its back a huge debt. A country with all kinds of basic needs, from transport to health care.

“NATURE-BASED TOURISM INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE”? Forgive me gentlemen, but really?!! We need serious leaders that think about the good of the country and the improvement of life of the Mozambican people, not of leaders burping caviar at 5-star hotels in Maputo and selling nature by the square meter to the first crook that shows up!

Think seriously about nature and everything that is being destroyed instead of promoting these ridiculous deals in the name of the nature. Nature does not deserve this treatment, nor does the Mozambican People.

Dirty Energy at the Climate Justice Meeting

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The theme for Day 2 of our Climate Justice meeting that happened last week was Dirty Energy. The topics ranged from oil and gas to coal and waste management.

The day started with an input by Makhoma Lekalakala on the impacts of coal mines and coal-fired power stations in South Africa, but which happen around the world. These include water pollution from acid mine drainage, which continues even after the operations are over, because they are either not decommissioned or not closed properly. There is major air pollution, with nearby communities struggling with breathing. In fact, health degradation is the worst impact, and is an externality not included in the price of coal. Another issue is food insecurity, as people are displaced from their farmlands and water sources.

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Perito Alper Tarquinho talked about the situation of coal mining in Mozambique. When companies talk to communities about new coal operations, they say that this ‘development’ will bring them direct benefits and bring money to the country and the people. But this ‘development’ actually harms people. People are not respected in the companies’ decision making processes. What is most important to them is to satisfy their shareholders.

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Verónica da Silveira Reino took this further by giving the example of Vale who mines coal in Tete province in Mozambique. It doesn’t consult and forces community members to sign documents which will agree to their forced removals from their homes and their fertile land.

Indian company Jindal, also in Tete is operating where the community still lives.

Thomas Mnguni talked about Eskom, which knows its legal obligations but does not comply. The work they do as groundWork is to point out how Eskom, which is a state-owned entity violates our human rights, according the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution. People deserve the right to health, land and a clean environment.

Niven Reddy explained the waste to energy system, which is the thermal treatment of waste. This enforces wasteful culture. For GAIA, burning waste is not the solution, recycling and composting is. If things can’t be re-used or recycled, they should not be produced in the first case.

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Daniel Ribeiro talked about the impacts of mega-dams. Rivers are vital for distribution of nutrients and sediments. Dams impede this cycle and aggravate erosion. 20% of river fish species were decimated due to mega-dams. 63% of all forced displacements are due to mega dams.

It’s also a water-grab, the wall of the dam is used to remove people from access to water. Mega-dams are also linked to increased seismic activity. Methane emissions are also another impacts of Dams. There are major human rights abuses against people fighting dams. Land is very central to rural communities, we must fight for it. Dams take up huge amount of land leading to loss of life, loss of culture and loss of traditional territories.

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Greg Muttitt spoke on the global politics of oil. The most important politics of oil, he says, is the struggle against the oil industry. He spoke of three activists from history from whom he gained inspiration to fight the oil industry. The first was American journalist Ida Tarbell who wrote a book about Standard Oil in the 1800’s which led to a successful court case against the oil industry.

The second was Mohammed Mosadegh, the Prime Minister of Iran, who forced BP out of the country in the 1950’s. He who was removed from power in a coup in 1953, by the Shah who was a big supporter of BP. This brought the oil companies back and created authoritarian rule.

The third was Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who led a non-violent campaign against Shell and other companies in the 1980’s. In 1994, the state framed him for murder and executed him.

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Something we keep seeing a lot through history is how companies go into a new country to drill for oil, and sign a bad deal with the government, who often does not have the same legal and financial expertise as the companies from the global North. When the oil is flowing, and the state realizes that the deal does not benefit them, it is too late.

Not only does the industry need to stop looking for more oil, it needs to stop building pipelines and terminals, and those in operation must be shut down before they run out. Solutions will not come from corporations but from social movements in the north and south. Our movements are stronger now than ever before.

Thuli Makama talked about the politics of oil in Africa and said that people often assume that if oil development happens in Africa, the profit will flow down to communities, but that is never the case. This is the nature of the beast. It is carefully engineered.

The discussions of what will happen with oil exploitation in Africa do not take place in Africa, but in European boardrooms with corporations, financial institutions and states present.

An issue is that extraction is preceded by conflict. Oil and conflict are cousins, it is most often that where you find the one you will find the other. Oil money also ends up funding armed conflict.

Another feature of oil in Africa is causes a lot of suffering at local level. In the Niger delta, oil operations kills farming, fishing and biodiversity, and the people can no longer feed themselves. African governments are captured and cannot rise against corporations.

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Mike Karipko said that the discovery of oil in your community is a declaration of war on your community! A war on your land, your daughters, your mothers. And oil is so cheap because all the costs to the environment, land rivers and the community are externalized, as big government officials are bought over by companies. Because the companies provide the government with bribes, the tax money of the people is no longer important, so they are not listened to.

Emem Okon talked about the impact that dirty energy has on women. Whatever the impact on a community, the impact on women will be triple, like we see in the Niger Delta. Women are the lifeline in a community and any bad impacts increases the burden on women. For example, women are the farmers and providers of food and water for their families. If their farmland is taken and water is polluted, and there is no other source of livelihood, they are traumatised.

Ike Teuling spoke about the campaign by the farming community of Groningen in the Netherlands, where Shell has gas fields. The drilling regularly created tremors and earthquakes. 100,000 houses were damaged and collapsed, each of these farming families are taking Shell to court individually. These are farmers who are often uneducated having to face Shell’s lawyers every day. The state constantly says that the safety of people in Groningen is most important, but the gas drilling cannot stop because they depend on it for power.

These people have realised that compensation is not enough – if Shell compensates them for the destruction of a house but they continue to drill, their next house will also collapse. So they joined the movement against gas completely.

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João Mosca said huge parts of corporate profits are not charged as tax, so the state doesn’t collect big amounts as revenues which could be spent on education and healthcare. Until 2016, the Mozambican economy was growing, but who actually benefited? We have a massive increasing external debt.

When companies come and promise job creation, they actually provide very few jobs, because the projects are capital intensive and not labour intensive. The jobs that are available are non-qualified positions leading to even more exploitation of labour.

Fatima Mimbire spoke on the Redistribution of Wealth and Investment in Community Development of the gas exploration in Mozambique to compensate the communities that are impacted by the gas exploration and the models of processes and regulations that needed to be installed. That the legal framework is fragile and that in reality there are many negative examples, all over the world.

Daniel Ribeiro presented on the impacts of gas in Mozambique. There are no examples in Africa that are able to escape this reality. Many impacts are difficult to predict. For example, when boats come from the other side of the world to transport gas, they come empty to carry the gas back. But they add water on the way to keep the ship stable. This brings ballast water which brings organisms not from our coast. This is a reason for the invasion of alien species int the coast.

Our bio system is already diminishing. When drilling takes place, more than 300 chemicals are released that are found to be cancer-causing, in humans, and more than 1000 which are fatal to animals and plants.

The gas industry is notorious for human rights violations. In fact, according to the UN, an increase in human rights violations is proportionate with an increase in dependancy on oil and gas.

Many countries are regarding gas as a ‘transition’ fuel to renewable energy, because they say it has less impact on climate change, because it emits less CO2 than oil. But gas emits methane which is 80% stronger than CO2 over 20 years. Apart from that, the process of exploiting gas is very difficult to control. There is a lot of leakage, and no technology currently available to solve these problems. We need to distinguish their lies from truth. When they say Mozambique will develop through gas, this is a lie. Our debts will only increase.

The discussions at the end of the presentations were intense and with many interventions arising from the participants. Unfortunately we had to end the debate, because we were already past the time and there was still the next day, full of more presentations and debates.

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The “ A, B , C “ of Large and Mega Dams

 What is a Dam, large and Mega?

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It is a big cement hall, that stop the course of the river. The word seems to be related to the Greek word taphos, meaning “grave” or “grave hill”, in reality it is a tombstone for the river.

By the International Commission of Large Dams (ICOLD), a large dam is higher than 15m while a Mega dam is over 100m. Most Mega dams worldwide are used for energy production.

Mega dams have been the center of many debates, research and studies for the last decade.

Between 1930 and 1970, the boom of Mega dams was seen to be synonymous with “economic development” and a symbol of human ability to assert control over nature. But then the truth of their negative impacts started to arise, and it become the center of many debates and arguments around costs-versus-benefits, ecological impacts, social impacts, etc.

From one side the proponents claim dams as a source of energy and as such a tool for development, from another side the opponents state that those benefits are far outweighed by disadvantages such as loss of communities livelihoods and rivers ecosystems to name just some.

The late 1980s and 1990s era, were marked by large protests, and controversial debates about mega dams. Pressure and huge campaigns from civil society, social movements and communities affected by dams to stop financing mega-dams. Same financed institutions, with the pressure and information about crimes against human rights, by mega dams financed by the world bank, funds were decrease to the world Bank Dams projects. Due to such an outcry, an independent commission under the chairmanship of Kader Asmal, the South African water minister, was created in April 1997, the “World Commission on Dams (WCD)”, to research the environmental, social and economic impacts of mega Dams globally. The WCD was composed of members of civil society, academia, private sector, professional associations and government representatives. The report findings and recommendations were launched under the patronage of Nelson Mandela in November 2000. The WCD found that while “ dams have made an important and significant contribution to human development, and benefits derived from them have been considerable… in too many cases an unacceptable and often unnecessary price has been paid to secure those benefits, especially in social and environmental terms, by people displaced, by communities downstream, by taxpayers and by the natural environment.” The study also made recommendations and provided guidelines which all dam projects should follow, including five core values and seven priorities detailed below:

Values

Equity,

Sustainability,

Efficiency,

Participatory decision-making and

Accountability.

Priorities

Gaining public acceptance,
comprehensive options assessment,

Addressing existing dams,

Sustaining Rivers and Livelihoods
Recognising entitlements and sharing benefits,
Ensuring compliance and

Sharing rivers for peace, development and security.

For a while, the understanding of the large costs of Mega dams started to become a reality, but suddenly with the climate crises, they came back with the tag of “Solution for Climate change”. But it is not a solution. It is riddled with problems and earns our tag of “false solution”.

At JA’s last year climate justice meeting “Seeding Climate justice II”, held in Maputo, JA invited Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Director of International Rivers (IR), who presented the impacts of dams on the climate, and debunked the myth that mega dams are one of the energy sources to address our climate crises. Without going into the known social and environmental impacts, the presenter began her presentation by asking “Hydro dams, do they provide CLEAN energy? NO, THEY DON’T, ITS NOT TRUE! They exacerbate climate change instead”. Dams especially tropical dams can often produce a huge amount of methane and carbon dioxide from rotting biomass in the reservoir. Then there are huge impacts of droughts and floods on the energy production, and dependency of hydroelectric on a changing climate is questionable.

Rudo spoke about the breakthrough research done in 2012, “ A Risky Climate for Southern African Hydro”, there was a lot of opposition, attacked by politicians, statements that IR ‘’was scaring people, and that was not going to happen’’. But it is real, 4 years after, we see that is happen, this year, Lake Kariba never went above 20% capacity, Lesotho Katse dam was 63%, Zambia that was 80% dependent of Hydro, due to a 2 years drought is turning into solar. This is real , Zambezi Basin countries will have a decrease in stream flow, as many studies estimate and a decrease of run-off to be between 26% to 40% by 2050. No one is trying to scare people, but it is already happen and is going to only become worse.

We recall back in 2012, when Rudo come to Maputo to present the finding of this study, we were attacked by most of the government participants at the launch meeting, to the point of becoming quite an ugly and unproductive meeting.

We raised the question again, how can Mozambique build a dam as risky as it is Mphanda Nkuwa is to the environmental and communities, seismic risk, and now adding the economic and climate change risk? Those risks exist, due to extreme climate changes, and they must be included in any evaluation and decision to build or not a dam.

But as the researcher stated on their study, that government, dam builders and decisions makers, are not taking into consideration the economic risks associated to climate change, in his wordsThere is been a neglect of climate risks in hydropower planning – in an approach that might be called either ‘wait and see’ or ‘head in the sand’ ”.

But it still amazes me how difficult is for people to understand and see mega dams for what they really are: a monstrosity that destroys lives, livelihoods and rivers ecosystem, to say some. In a way I can understand if you look into a coal power station, you see ugliness, you see smoke, pollution and a landscape that no one wants to live there if they have a choose. At the other end, a mega dam is an huge infrastructure that makes any engineers proud of it, a lake, and an enormous hall that splits water in amazing speed, and a sound that make you feel small in this world… for sure looks much better then a coal power station. But it is just that, a facade. Because it is not synonymous with development, just ask the 40-80 million people displaced by dams, how their lives and livelihoods have been destroyed. Neither is it a solution for climate change as it often emits methane (more in tropical areas), destroys forests for the reservoir. Neither it is good for the environmental as it block rivers and inundates forests and agricultural land , and deny downstream enough water for wetlands to operate accordingly. Neither they protect us, from flood if they are not build to do so, or a way to keep water during drought.

Why they do not protect us from floods…. Well, if they are build just for that, yes, but you do not need a Mega dam for that, a mega dam is either for energy production, irrigation or water supply. To produce energy, you need to keep as much water as possible, and then when a big flood comes, there is no space to keep all the water in, same for irrigation, and to protect us from floods we do not need mega dams, small dams are the ideal, and system that can divert water when is too much, same for drought.

JA released in 2009 a study about renewable energy sources for Mozambique, another study that was attacked by the government participants in such a way that the author had difficulties to do his presentation without being constantly interrupted, simply because that study showed that we do not need Mphanda Nkuwa, and there are other ways forward to have energy for everyone with less impacts. The magic potion is not that difficult, we need to start with decentralized energy systems, clean energy, solar, wind, even mini to small hydro dams, a mix of energy sources, which must be affordable by all people.

We can do, and we should think more on solutions to tackle and minimize climate change impacts, instead to follow a path that put us where we are…. In a crises, can we be more smart and take decisions that are smarter, at least we live in a era that we have many options, and we know what mistakes where made, that we can avoid them.

So why build mega dams, to destroy rivers systems, communities livelihoods, increase climate impacts adding the economic risk , is really a mega dam worthwhile? It is not a solution for the climate crises we are hurtling towards. Climate change will affect rivers flow, and worsen extreme and intense floods and droughts that will put a risk on the economic benefit, so why ????

For whom and what. That’s the million dollar question. Because is not for us the people, is not a solution for our climate crises, is not for the environment…. who is it for? And what is it for?

Some info on dams, from the article of 12 dams that change the world from: https://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/227-3

Chixoy: the grave on the Rio Negro

Dam-affected communities have often suffered repression and human rights abuses. In 1982, more than 400 indigenous men, women and children were massacred to make way for the World Bank’s Chixoy Dam in Guatemala. In a historic breakthrough, the country’s government in 2014 signed a $154m reparations agreement with the affected communities.

Banqiao: the dam that washed away

When dams are not properly built or maintained, they can break. In the world’s biggest dam disaster, the failure of China’s Banqiao Dam killed an estimated 171,000 people in 1975. In more than 100 cases, scientists have also linked dam building to earthquakes. Strong evidence suggests that China’s Sichuan earthquake, which killed 80,000 people in 2008, may have been triggered by the Zipingpu Dam.

Yacyretá: the monument to corruption

Large dams are often pet projects of dictators. Lacking accountability leads to massive corruption and cost overruns. On average, large dams experience cost overruns of 96% and are not economic. The cost of Argentina’s Yacyretá Dam has mushroomed from $2.5bn to $15bn. A former president called Yacyretá “a monument to corruption”.

Merowe: when Chinese dam builders went global

In 2003, the Chinese government decided to fund the Merowe Dam in Sudan as its first big overseas hydropower project. The dam displaced more than 50,000 people and caused serious human rights violations. Chinese banks and companies are by now involved in some 330 dams in 74 countries, leading an unprecedented global dam building boom.

Glines Canyon: the dam that came down

Dams have serious environmental impacts, and their benefits dwindle as they age. Since the 1930s, the United States has removed more than 1,150 dams to restore river ecosystems and particularly fish habitats. In 2014, the 64 meters high Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River in the Pacific northwest was breached in the world’s biggest dam removal so far.

Patagonia: the dams that were never built

Recent years, solar and wind energy have seen their commercial breakthrough. These renewable energy sources are cleaner than coal or hydropower and can be built were people need electricity, even far away from the electric grid. In 2014, Chile cancelled five dams in the Patagonia region under strong public pressure and approved 700 megawatts of new solar and wind farms.

Kariba: the dam that ended poverty in Southern Africa (or did it?)

The Kariba Dam on the Zambezi was built in the 1950s to power Zambia’s copper belt, as the first large dam funded by the World Bank. Kariba was considered the symbol of a “brave new world”, in which controlling nature would bring quick economic development. Yet the 57,000 people who were displaced by the dam suffered famine and are still impoverished

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References on WCD and more info:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Commission_on_Dams

https://energypedia.info/wiki/World_Commission_on_Dams_(WCD)_Report

http://www.unep.org/dams/documents/Default.asp?DocumentID=663

https://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/the-world-commission-on-dams

http://www.unep.org/dams/WCD/report/WCD_DAMS%20report.pdf

more https://www.internationalrivers.org/questions-and-answers-about-large-dams

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CORPORATE IMPUNITY: STRATEGIES OF STRUGGLE (PART II)

As we mentioned in last month’s article, corporate impunity – the crime that does pay off – is a complicated matter. At the moment, our chests are still filled with the breath of fresh air brought to us at the end of last month by the second session of the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT), where a panel of 8 jurors and almost 200 participants listened attentively to the complaints of communities and activists who suffer first hand the consequences of a system that favours and protects transnational corporations. Experts noted and reiterated what is no longer news to us: the criminal behaviour of these corporations reflects the field of impunity in which they operate. In addition to providing us with a (unpublished) report of deliberations that will help to expose the behaviour of these companies, this jury also made clear that the mobilization of peoples and the opening of spaces like this court are a fundamental part of the fight for justice.

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About PPT, we have little more to say right now. You can find more information on the cases presented here, or read the press release of Southern Africa’s Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power’s (of which we are part) here. This year, the visibility given to the different cases was notorious (like this article on ProSavana in the South African press), and there was also room for an update on the cases brought to the PPT last year in Swaziland. But this is not the time to slow down – after the PPT, more important moments regarding this issue are coming up.

Nowadays, there is a great legal asymmetry between, on the one hand, the endless regulations that protect and safeguard private investments (even shielding them from political decisions that may conflict with the companies’ financial expectations), and on the other, the non-existent coercive legislation which upholds human rights. Corporations rely on a wide range of international norms that act in their defence – from free trade agreements to investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms – but none that regulates their actions in the light of their impacts. Apparently, for years now we have been hoping that, by themselves, guiding principles or corporate social responsibility (voluntary, unilateral, and non-enforceable) become enough to prevent corporate human rights abuses by the corporations, but obviously, this has not happened and will not happen.04

The national laws of countries such as ours are very weak, not to mention the very limited capacity to enforce them and supervise them. That is one of the reasons why Shell remains unpunished despite the criminal spills it is responsible for in Nigeria, or why hundreds of people are being driven from their land to make way for palm plantations in Indonesia. This is why fighting for the enforcement of existing national legislation is an important step, but it can not be the only one if we really want to stop the impunity of these powerful corporations. It is necessary to think beyond. In today’s globalized world, corporations operate in different national jurisdictions, and take advantage of this to evade accountability. For us, expanding the limits of international law and demanding legal instruments that provide a path from where victims of such violations may demand justice seems to be as urgent or even more.

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The Intergovernmental Working Group mandated to draft a binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights, set up by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014, will meet for the third time in October of this year, then, the concrete terms of the text to be included in the Treaty will be discussed. This initiative, which started with the governments of Ecuador and South Africa, has been gaining strength and supporters. Numerous countries, mostly in the Global South, have already expressed their support for the Treaty, as is the case of Uruguay, which sees in this instrument an opportunity to protect its public policies that are being threatened by the interests of transnational corporations. Mozambique, unfortunately, remains completely out of this discussion and didn’t even show up at the two sessions of the Working Group in the recent years.

An alliance was formed by civil society organizations from around the world to support the drafting of this law, and has actively participated in the sessions of the Working Group to ensure that it will truly represent the needs of those affected. One of the requirements of this alliance is that this treaty contains solid provisions that prohibit corporate interference in the process of formulating and implementing laws and policies. According to Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), also part of the Treaty Alliance, it must establish the criminal and civil liability of transnational corporations in order to fill existing legal gaps in international law, and should apply also to all subsidiary companies and those that form part of its supply chain. Learn more about FoEI’s contributions to the Treaty here.

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When existing legislation does not address all of society’s problems and needs, new legislation must be created. It was like that with the implementation of universal suffrage, with the abolition of slavery, and in so many other historical moments. We believe that we are about to reach an important milestone in the struggle for the sovereignty of peoples and against corporate impunity, and as the poet once said, there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

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Corporate Impunity: Strategies of struggle (Part I)

2016 was an important year in our continent’s struggle against corporate impunity: the first session of the Southern African Peoples Permanent Tribunal (PPT) took place in Swaziland. This Court, which was founded more than 30 years ago in Italy, is an independent body that examines situations of systemic human rights violations – especially in cases where existing legislation (both national and international) is not capable of safeguarding the rights of populations. Although it does not have the power to issue an obligatory sentence for the company (which, by the way, is very important and is one of the reasons we are working for – but let’s talk about it later on), the PPT is strategically very important: On the one hand, it allows victims to be heard and advised by a panel of experts from various areas and to establish partnerships; and on the other, it is a moment of complaint and visibility for the cases, and therefore, of exposure to infringing companies. And although in our country this criminal impunity is often seen as a synonym of cleverness and of the perpetrators degree of influence, on the international level things are not quite like that. Being labelled as a human rights violator is a matter of great concern to these corporations, and therefore it can lead to a change of attitude – not because their ethical principles and values are very important to them, but simply because a bad reputation affects the only thing that truly matters to corporations: their profits.

Ten cases from Swaziland, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique were presented in last year’s PPT, most of them related to the extractive industry. From our country, for the serious impacts that their activities have on the communities around them and for the noncompliance with the promises they made to those communities before settling in the region (to the point that one of them actually started its mining activities without resettling those living within the concession area – as we have denounced through various channels including this one), we took to the court VALE and JINDAL. A Panel of Jurors listened attentively to the communities’ grievances and to a contextualization made by invited experts, and then released its deliberations.

This year the process is repeated: in August, seven cases from the Southern Africa region will be presented by the affected communities themselves and by the civil society organizations who work with them. This time, the general theme of the cases is Land, Food and Agriculture. In addition to cases presented by Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mauritius – who will denounce large corporations such as Parmalat and Monsanto – this session of the PPT will also hear the denunciation of two Mozambican cases: the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam on the already strangled Zambezi River; and ProSavana, the Mozambican, Brazilian and Japanese governments’ triangular partnership program that aims to develop agribusiness in the Nacala Corridor. These two Mozambican cases have the same particularity: they are not yet implemented. However, and this is what made us chose these two cases for this year’s PPT (because, let’s face it, what we are not lacking in our country are examples of human rights violations by private initiatives), despite not being implemented yet, its impacts are not less significant.

In Mphanda Nkuwa, for example, local communities were visited for the first time in 2000 by representatives of the companies responsible for the construction of the dam. They ere warned that they could not build new houses in that region because they would not be compensated for them. Since then, these people live in total uncertainty and can no longer make any long-term plans, at the risk of losing their assets when they start construction. ProSavana, on the other hand, has been characterized by the secrecy, manipulation and misrepresentation of information with the aim of promoting a false idea that the project will promote agricultural development in the northern region of the country, while in fact it is an initiative that will serve to facilitate large scale encroachment of peasant lands. This program will also destroy the livelihoods of local populations and exacerbate their already grave poverty. There are already reports of manipulation and intimidation of leaders of local peasant organizations.

The mobilization of civil society (Mozambican, Japanese and Brazilian) in opposition to ProSavana was fundamental to halt to the initial plans of this program and postpone the conclusion of its Master Plan. The purpose of taking these two cases to the PPT is to bring together even more elements that may help stop these projects.

Spaces such as the PPT are also crucial for perceiving trends, identifying development models, and analyzing common practices of transnational corporations – as well as their strategies to escape responsibility. Thus, by moving these experiences to a more global scale, it is easy to see that these violations of fundamental human rights are not perpetrated by one or another transnational corporation in isolation. That is, these are not a couple of rotten apples in a sack full of beautiful apples. Rather, it is a generalized behavior that is enabled by an architecture of impunity, characteristic of our extractive capitalist development system. This architecture of impunity puts corporate rights above human rights, and makes way for an abundant number of examples of very lucrative corporate crimes.

The architecture of impunity consists of several elements and actors:

We have the economic power of corporations – on the basis of which these establish their relations with one another and with states – and of international financial institutions;

We have political power, which in turn is responsible for capturing policies and politicians that fail to regulate the collective interests of society to serve private interests;

Trade architecture, embodied by numerous trade and investment agreements, facilitates profit and allows corporations to file lawsuits against governments should they make decisions that affect their anticipated profits;

Legal power is represented by the financial capacity to hire and dispose of influential lawyers who defend corporations in endless processes, as well as by inadequate and insufficient legal instruments that regulate their actions; and finally

Social power, which is exercised in all spheres of our lives through the influence that corporations have in the media, academic spaces, civil society organizations, among others.

Discussing some of these elements and developing the cases that will be presented in the PPT next month, were the objectives that motivated the Workshop on the Architecture of Impunity, held in the context of the Southern Africa Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power. Since it is the affected communities themselves who present the cases to the Panel of Jurors in the PPT, this enabled them to get the support of several resource people, to appeal, discuss and deepen the specificities of their denunciations and also to identify common ground with the other cases.

But the struggle to end corporate impunity is not only fought in the field of opinion sentences, nor is the important opinion of a panel of judges our only weapon to demand a different behavior from transnational corporations. Another battle is being waged to develop a legal instrument that will ultimately have the power to condemn and punish corporations – since the absence of such an instrument is currently one of the biggest gaps in international law. We are talking about the UN Intergovernmental Working Group, created in 2014 with the mandate to develop a binding treaty for transnational corporations on human rights issues, which will meet in October this year for its third session. At this time, transnational corporations simply have to follow voluntary standards and guiding principles that “advise” best practices on human rights issues. There is no doubt that this blind faith in corporate goodwill has had grave and irreparable consequences, both on people and on the planet. In next month’s article, we will look into this issue more carefully, getting deeper into the debate about the urgency of a legal mechanism that is accessible to any community affected by the operations of a transnational corporation. For now, we continue to look closely at next month’s PPT, certain that this will be another important moment regarding the convergence of struggles for a fairer, healthier and more common-good oriented world.

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When African Renewable Energy Was Hijacked

A few years ago, during the United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris in December 2015, 55 African leaders launched the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI). It pledged to follow a people-centred approach to renewable energy development and energy access work across our continent. It talked about rights and equity, very important for our context and for justice. It talked about community ownership and distributed power for African people, in both senses of the word ‘power’. It demanded new and additional renewable energy for our people – no double counting of funds for other projects. It was an African-owned and African-led initiative.

JA! people participated in the AREI meetings in Paris in December 2015 and in Marrakesh in November 2016. Civil society was included into this process from the beginning. Could this become something we would be proud of as Africans? The AREI was a unique approach, in a continent marred by ever-increasing development of dirty energies like coal, oil, gas and big hydro, where it is commonplace to sacrifice our people, kill the local ecology, grab lands and destroy the climate at the same time. The AREI put in strong and important criteria in place to avoid these terrible impacts and said that projects would not support fossil fuels or nuclear.

The AREI really pledged to be different. And this pledge to go for a different, people-based approach is really important. It moves us away from a system fix approach to a system change approach, to change the base principles which drive how we think about energy for people.

In Paris, developed countries stepped forward with $10 billion in pledges to support this initiative. But would these countries really let this initiative survive? Or would money talk? The frightening answer came just over a year later, and by early March 2017, the AREI was already in danger.

The first attack came from the European Commission (EC), and the French government which had helped birth this initiative in the UN talks in their country. What did the attack look like? They came forward at the board meeting with a plan to fund 19 renewable energy projects with an investment of a whopping 4.8 billion. You can read the press release dated 4 March of the European Commission at this link – http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-442_en.htm. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. The claim for 4.8 billion is false, they are providing a mere €300 million themselves and hoping to leverage the rest. Not just that, remember the AREI’s commitment for new and additional projects with strong criteria to prevent environmental injustices? Well, these proposed projects were already partly pre-existing ones, with all kinds of double-counting and dodgy accounting taking place on the financing. Some of the projects, like a geothermal project in Ethiopia, are from 2014, the year before the AREI initiative was even finalized. Worst of all, these projects are being rammed through without caring about criteria and impacts. Our colleagues discovered that at least 1 of these projects involves fossil fuels interests. We heard that 14 of these projects were just rubber-stamped through, while 5 of them were not even reviewed due to lack of time. The base principles of AREI were the first to be under attack. Even the vague notion of system change is threatening to the system.

 

African civil society began to hit back at this affront. By early April, JA! had joined over 180 African organizations who signed up to a letter demanding this hijack of the AREI be reversed. Last week at the UN negotiations in Bonn, on 18 May 2017, 111 international organizations outside of Africa released a letter supporting the African demands for the EC and France to stop the hijack of African renewable energy. A lot of media pick-up has happened around these letters.

The EC knows it is being watched and is now on the back-foot. Our European colleagues were invited to a meeting with them in Bonn last week, where they found out that the EC is seriously trying to do damage control. They are shocked by the media pick-up and are calling it a scandal. But they are not yet saying how they will do things differently. This meeting took place on 16 May 2017. Some mainstream system-fix type civil society people already wanted to stop the international letter since they said the EC is talking to us. Others said, no way, the EC and France need to be exposed and they made sure the letter was released 2 days later, before the Bonn talks closed. You can read the press release here- http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1102862873361&ca=c6022777-a64f-4bd8-b159-69ebbf8df668.

Supports who?

Another mega agricultural project launched in Mozambique

We received the news about its launching ceremony with skepticism. For many of us, it was the first time we were hearing about the project. Another mega project loaded with ambitious and (some) noble goals, like so many others that preceded it and vanquished without achieving half of what they set out to do.

“This mega project of my Government, whose objective is to gradually take rural families out of poverty, is the embodiment of the investment in Mozambican families as the main mechanism to promote sustainable, integrated and inclusive development and reduce regional and local asymmetries”, said Filipe Nyusi.

It is premature to make major considerations or comments on the subject because still very little is known. We have not yet had access to any document on the project, and the little information that exists is circulating in the mainstream media. However, the simple fact that a project this big (judging by the amounts involved and by the 125 thousand families of alleged beneficiaries) is launched in this manner, leads us to ask: Where did this project come from?

Once again, this is a top to bottom approach. The project was designed, discussed and launched, without giving the alleged beneficiaries or other interested parties and/or affected people, the chance to participate in its construction!

Surely there are more than enough reasons to justify the urgency to launch this project. To justify why there was no time to perform appropriate public consultations; to involve the many actors who deal with agricultural issues such as research institutions, academics, civil society, grassroots organizations and peasants in discussions on priorities for the development of peasant agriculture; and to design the project on the basis of a truly open and transparent process.

To justify their hurry, the noblest of reasons will be invoked, such as the urgent need to support the development of the peasantry, given their evident poverty and vulnerability. Obviously, old and less noble arguments – which, truth be said, are nothing but mere distractions – will also come back, like accusing those who question the project of being against development and/or unpatriotic.

Interestingly enough, the World Bank and other similar agencies are far more influential in deciding what may or may not happen in Mozambique than the Mozambican people. And although, as we have said earlier, we know nothing about this project yet, we risk guessing that the role of the World Bank is not limited to financing it. They have certainly been involved in the project’s conception, ensuring that their altruistic support goes mainly to what interests them most: agro-business and forest plantations – monocultures of exotic species – they call reforestation.

“More than 5,000 jobs will be created by forest plantations, through the reforestation of more than 1600 hectares of degraded lands.”

According to information in the media, this project was conceived by MITADER and will be supported by the World Bank! The perfect wedding!

In other words, we owe a great debt to our government (and no, it is not that hidden and illegal debt we talking about)! We are deeply grateful to them for granting us another ready-made project to reduce poverty. Free from burdens such as having to think about development issues, about inclusive and participatory strategies, about how to ensure that the priorities of the peasantry are properly included, and even about how we want to manage our resources and how we want to see our country in the coming years.

For now, let’s wait for the enthusiasm to fade so we can then try to understand how this mega project is supposed to work and, above all, how will it – unlike the many others in the past just like it (loaded with the same promises and the same rivers of money to implement) – finally get Mozambicans out of poverty?

Who has left poverty behind thanks to the fantastic green revolution? Who has left poverty behind growing jatropha or other biofuels? Who will benefit from Prosavana? Someone always profits, but who? And at what cost? How many hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans’ well being will these ready made projects with incognito beneficiaries “cost”?

And while misunderstandings and failures in communication are, unfortunately, too often invoked to justify civil society’s opposition to so many mega-projects, – even though they are never the main reason – people insist on doing things behind closed curtains. Where is the official information about the project? It has already been inaugurated; it is already being advertised in the media; but it is not available on the websites of the entities involved and all we know about it is what is being reported by the media.

We would also like to believe and share their enthusiasm, but skepticism has taken over us long ago. Now we prefer a “seeing is believing” approach, and we have not seen anything yet …

 

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He steals, but he builds

A few days ago, the following headline caught our attention: “Roba, pero hace obras.” The article was from a Peruvian newspaper, and the statement was Susana Villarán’s, Alcaldesa (Mayor) of Lima, Peru’s capital, and candidate for re-election on the election that took place on the 5th of this month.

Campaigning, and by way of provocation to one of her political opponents, Villarán directed a shrewd critique to the Peruvian electorate, stating that the people were often too passive in the face of corruption. “This expression he steals but he builds is well known, (…) this kind of tolerance, that we get acquainted with in our homes, in schools, is everywhere and it is a terribly damaging culture.” – said the Peruvian politician.

Needless to say, a huge controversy broke out, and in the days that followed, many of the most important South American news media mentioned the case.

While political developments in Peru are of little or no interest to us Mozambicans, we could not help but find this news very interesting, the result of a very familiar social context and, as such, worthy of being shared. With our general elections at the door, and in a country where there is so much talk about corruption and so much corruption as there is in ours, we thought we could use it as a motto to share some ideas.

How many of us have heard, regarding elections in the country, the following barbarity: “Better leave him in power, at least he is already rich. If another comes, he will still have to get rich.” This is an example of the tolerance that Susana Villarán referred to, and it has to cease to exist in our society too so that we can move forward. Political corruption, regardless of shape or volume, is not acceptable in any way and should not be tolerated.

Another barbarity is the belief that the correct actions and decisions of someone in a position of power, serve as a counterweight to balance the ethical and morally wrong things they do. The good performance of a politician gives him/her credibility, not the right to take advantage of his/her position. After all, is it not the work of those in positions of power to honourably serve those who put them there? Do they not get a salary for it? Why are those who are caught stealing or conning their bosses arrested and fired and corrupt politicians in this country are not? These ideas may seem basic, but a lot of very well educated people often forget them.

But the problem of corruption in Mozambique is far deeper and extends far beyond our tolerance to the corruption of the political class. Far beyond… The biggest problem is that, among those who can afford to do it, corrupting someone is socially acceptable. It is OK to bribe the police. It is OK to “buy” a drivers license. It is OK to circumvent the Law of the Land to be able to get “that lot”. The result: after corrupting a lot of people on our way up, when we reach the top of the hierarchy, we Mozambicans think we have the right to be corrupted.

It is a cultural problem that we all have long been well aware of and that, as a people, we should all be engaged in solving. And we cannot afford the luxury of waiting for our leaders to take the initiative.

As a society, we have to be more demanding. For our democracy to grow, we must also grow and demand that our leaders grow with us. We have to guide them, we can not continue to allow them to decide our fates. We must show them the way we want to go. We must learn to impose our will, and they must learn to accept the responsibility to fulfil it.

Soon we will have elections and the possibility to choose who will represent us in the coming years. Let’s do it intelligently, and regardless of who wins, so that things truly change, we have to make it clear from the beginning that we, the people, own this country. That is what Democracy is all about.

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