Category Archives: Water and Development

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.

The Tragic Murder of Berta Caceres

In the early hours of the morning of 3rd March, Indigenous activist from Honduras and human rights defender, Berta Cáceres, was murdered in her home.
 
Berta Caceres 2015 Goldman Environmental Award Recipient

Berta Caceres in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras. Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

Berta organised her fellow indigenous Lenca people. She was the co-founder, in 1993, of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). She was addressing the constant threats posed to indigenous communities in Honduras by illegal logging, and was supporting their fight for their territories and secure their livelihoods. They were opposing the Agua Zarca dam on the sacred Gualcarque river, which was being pushed by Chinese and Honduran companies.
Berta Caceres 2015 Goldman Environmental Award Recipient

Berta Caceres at her beloved and sacred Gualcarque River where she, and the people of Rio Blanco have maintained a two year struggle to halt construction on the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric project. Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

 
Since the US-backed military coup in Honduras in 2009, activists and human rights defenders have been under severe threat. Gustavo Castro Soto, from Otros Mundos Chiapas (Friends of the Earth Mexico) was in Berta’s home and is a witness to Berta’s killing. As of this writing, we are demanding that Honduran authorities provide him with safe passage to return to Mexico unharmed.
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  Photo courtesy: Friends of the Earth International.

‘Israel has decided to be a racist apartheid state and not a democracy’

Once again the full murderous force of Israel’s military machine is unleashed against defenceless Palestinians in Gaza, while world leaders just watch the genocide of a nation in real time and do nothing.  When I started writing this article the death toll was well above 100 Palestinians (over half women and children) and zero Israeli civilian casualties or even major injuries, despite extensive coverage by western media of the deadly rocket attacks from Gaza. Sadly by the time I had finished writing the article the Palestinian death toll had gone over 1000 and by the time you read this it would have probably more than doubled. As Israeli Professor, Ilan Pappé says, “Israel, in 2014, made a decision that it prefers to be a racist apartheid state and not a democracy.”

Israel’s aggression violates the UN Charter and fundamental international laws and principles, but this is not new and past commissions have found numerous war atrocities and violations carried out by Israel during past attacks that have not resulted in any concrete actions by the UN or our world leaders. The international reaction to this latest crisis confirms that neither law nor justice dominate the diplomacy of leading western states and the UN, but geopolitical alignments.

One just needs a quick look at the history of the conflict to confirm this bias and lack of action in the face of undeniable facts. The UN has defined Israel’s occupation as illegal and numerous UN resolutions have demanded the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the occupied territories. UN resolution 3379 from 1975 even went on to declare Israeli Zionism ideology as a form of racism, stating “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being.” Desmond Tutu, Ronnie Kasrils, and other ANC members that fought against apartheid, clearly see the parallels and define the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a form of apartheid. Yet the world denounced and ended apartheid in one place, but is allowing the other to continue. Even when Nelson Mandela stated that “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.

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Photo: Grabbing of Palestinian land by Israel

Numerous leaders and public figures have spoken out in support of Palestine, from Nobel Peace Prize winners such as Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, to civil society groups around the world representing millions of people, such as Friends of the Earth, La Via Campesina, and many more. This criticism is not new, during the early days of the creation of Israel numerous influential individuals, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein, raised concerns and criticism. Today even celebrities that are not known to be political have voiced their support of the Palestinian cause, such as footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. For anyone that doesn’t have the time to look into the details or considers the history too complicated, there is an easier way to decide on which side you should belong, simply look at the people you admire, your moral leaders.

Here in Mozambique, Samora Machel was a strong supporter of the Palestinian peoples’ struggles, and Yasser Arafat was a close ally and even attended Samora’s funeral. In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda was an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian struggle. Many more moral leaders have already done the homework for you. If we claim to be people that are guided by justice and morals it’s now time for us to show solidarity towards the Palestinian people and their struggle.

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Photo: Friends of the Earth International solidarity mission to Palestine, October 2013

I was part of Friends of the Earth International’s latest solidarity mission to Palestine at the end of last year. Even though we were invited by Palestinians, they do not have the authority to invite us into their own country. Instead we had to get an Israeli visa. On arrival the first question asked by Israeli authorities is whether you plan on visiting the West Bank. If you answer yes you most likely will not be allowed entry at all. So we had to enter Palestine ‘unofficially’.

Heavy army presence is evident everywhere, there are road blocks and check points at the entrances to all cities in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers check everyone who passes, always and independent of the prevailing political tensions. This control has prevented over 11 million Palestinian refugees from returning home, even though they are entitled under the Geneva Convention on Refugees to return, which Israel continues to deny. Based on current borders only 17.7% of Palestine (all in the cities) is under Palestinian control, while the rest is controlled by the Israeli army. However, even in the areas under Palestinian control have numerous restrictions imposed by the Israeli army.

The Israeli occupation doesn´t stop with the control of land and movement, but an attack on all the fundamentals of human rights such as water, heath, education, childhood, labour, culture, etc. It is a total structured suppression of a nation to the point where it is a process of colonisation and ethnic cleansing.

During our visit, we realised that given the desert type of environment, water is a very valuable and vital resource for existence. All Palestinian water resources are under the complete control of the Israeli army, which regularly destroy Palestinian bore-holes and block construction of new ones. They impose inhumane water restrictions on Palestinians, while allowing excessive and unstainable use by Israeli settlers. The double standards and water grab by Israelis are impossible to hide. At present Isreali settlers consume daily almost 400 litres per person (more than double of London’s average use) and have swimming pools, exotic gardens and extensive agricultural lands with water-intensive crops that should never be planted in the desert. Meanwhile Palestinians don’t even come close to receiving the World Health Organisation’s daily recommended 100 litres per person and many survive on a little as 10 litres per day.

Water is just one of the fundamental pillars of life that is consistently being used by Israel to break the Palestinian nation and spirit, but it’s the same story for all sectors.

In health, Israel sends its waste to get dumped in Palestine and all high-polluting industries that were in Israel in the 1970s and were ordered by Courts to close due to risks to human health, were instead moved right next to Palestinian cities, like the Geshuri factories near Tulkarem. Israel is very aware of the health risks because, even today, if the wind starts blowing towards Israel, these factories have to halt production. But Palestinians have to just endure the toxins and cancer rates have increased significantly in the area.

The more time we spent in Palestine the more facts and details are continually exposed about the inhumane, unjust, illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel. We heard numerous accounts that the Israeli military arrests Palestinian children as young as 5 years old, a high number of whom are subjected to physical and verbal abuse and are threatened with sexual assault and death to themselves or their families. This abuse is confirmed by UN reports which also add that, in the last decade, over 7000 children are have been arrested and tortured.

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Palestinian children in a village where water & electricity access has been harmed by Israel (Daniel Ribeiro)

Everywhere we went, we saw the Israeli military abuse. In Zbeidat the military blocked the construction of a water and sewage system. Jobet Adeeb near Bethlehem has no electricity or water sewage system, and is barred from installing solar panels, electrical wiring, borehole or almost any structure that would improve the standard of living but the nearby Israeli settlement has all the modern luxuries and services. We visited a village that has been completely demolished, even though Israeli courts have recognised the rights to the land. Many more Palestinians that we met talked about the constant demolition notices they receive, that sometime are carried out immediately while others stay hanging over the family’s head for over a year, never knowing when the military would come to demolish their home. But just like in Gaza today, they know it will happen that one day they arrive home to a pile of rubble.

These experiences are all too common and regular that anyone that want to know the truth has to just spend some time in Palestine. I could carryon for pages and pages of the injustices and abuse by Israel. The evidence is clear. I often hear today’s younger generation asking our elders how did they let it happen – slavery, apartheid in South Africa, 2 World Wars, genocides and many other atrocities. I am sure that our children and grandchildren will ask us the same question. How and why did you allow the Palestinian genocide to happen? And in truth we have no excuses. As the saying goes: all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.

There are easy ways that all of us can help, such as supporting the Boycott, Disinvest and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The campaign is non-violent and is inspired by the civil rights movement against segregation in the US and by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. It is based on three basic pillars or principles:

  • Ending occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Apartheid Wall;
  • Recognising the fundamental rights and full equality of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel;
  • Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

All these demands have a basis in UN resolutions on Palestine and they are simply requesting implementation of international law. They are basic rights and first steps in the struggle for justice. I call on all of us to join.

 

WATER FINANCIALIZATION EXPOSED IN NEW REPORT ON EVE OF WTO MEETING; INCLUDES CRITIQUE OF PROPOSED MPHANDA NKUWA DAM IN MOZAMBIQUE

Tomorrow, December 3, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks are to begin in Bali. More information about the WTO talks in Bali can be found here. Today, on the eve of these talks, Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) launched a new report exposing how trade and investment strategies, including WTO negotiations, act as economic drivers of water financialization. The report is available online here.

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Justiça Ambiental (JA, FoE Mozambique) provided a case study, and was joined by cases from Argentina, Australia, Colombia, El Salvador, England, Mexico, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, United States, and Uruguay.

The cases show the crimes of many corporations, financial institutions, trade agreements and cooperation strategies which are paving the way for water privatisation and financialisation.

A shocking case study in this report exposes the major water injustices faced by Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip). Highly unequal distribution of water and structural barriers to water was also witnessed by Daniel of JA who joined a solidarity trip to the West bank last month. Most water resources are concentrated in the hands of Israel and this is leading to structural environmental racism.

JA’s case study called “Do not damage our life” exposes how the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam will further devastate the Zambezi valley. The beautiful Zambezi River, one of Africa’s most important rivers, has been dammed in 2 places already: the Kariba dam in Zimbabwe/ Zambia and the colonial day Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique. Now the Mozambican government wants to build a new dam just 70kms downstream from Cahora Bassa. This dam will further devastate the Zambezi delta ecology and will displace communities from their homes, villages and livelihoods. JA has been opposing this dam for over 12 years now.

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Senhor Morais and his family, which will be affected by the proposed dam. Photo credit: Anabela Lemos

But yet this destructive dam continues to be planned. Recently it was revealed that there are significant conflicts of interest and involvement at the highest levels: with the Presidents of South Africa (Zuma) and Mozambique (Guebuza). A recent article by Oxford scholar and JA member, James Morrissey in the Mail and Guardian exposes how personal self-interest and corporate interest are outweighing lives and livelihoods in the Zambezi valley.

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Traditional boat-making in the Zambezi valley. Photo credit: Daniel Ribeiro

Supporting democracy and fighting dams: JA in South Korea

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A few weeks ago, Justiça Ambiental (JA!)  was invited to make a presentation at the Human Rights Cities Forum in Gwangju, South Korea, by the Korean Federation of Environmental Movements (KFEM)/ Friends of the Earth Korea.

Gwangju city has historically been a symbol of democracy and Korean opposition to authoritarianism. In 1980, there was a huge uprising and peoples’ movement against the coup and dictatorship of General Chun Doo-Hwan. Gwangju citizens, especially students, rose up to oppose the fascist government. What followed was unmitigated violence from the army and the police, leading to the massacre of pro-democracy activists. Official sources of the dictatorship in 1980 put the total casualties at 144 civilians but the actual number may be between 1000 and 2000 deaths.

But the May 1980 protests in Gwangju slowly spread to other places and started to turn the tide against dictatorship. For the rest of the 1980s, Koreans continued to struggle for democracy and eventually ended authoritarian rule. To commemorate the strength of this powerful city, its citizens and its past, every year Gwangju city hosts this Human Rights Forum. The mayor of the city, Kan Un-tae, himself was present at the Forum.

The conference was held at the Kim Dae-Jung Convention Centre, named after Kim Dae-Jung, a politician from the Gwangju region who was one of the people arrested in the mobilisations. It is interesting to note that this region of South Korea is rich in natural resources, hence became a target for extraction and suppression of people.

JA was invited to speak on ‘environment and human rights’ and to share stories of the brutality of natural resource extraction in Mozambique. Prakash Sharma from Friends of the Earth Nepal also attended and spoke about climate change threats to the Himalayas and the Nepali people.

We also attended a prize ceremony where young people from across the world were awarded prizes for writing essays on human rights situations in their own cities and countries. Among the prize-winners was our neighbour, a young South African student called Zama Lehlogonolo.

After the end of the Forum, all the participants were taken to the main street where the Gwangju massacre had taken place in 1980. Gwangju citizens commemorated the occasion with a parade, celebrating Korean culture, dances, etc. The atmosphere was so positive. People remember the massacre but they use the memory to celebrate their lives instead.

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The next day, we attended the May 18 ceremony at the cemetery where many of the massacred citizens were buried. There were speeches and Korean songs of protest. People lifted their fists the whole time the songs were being sung. It was very powerful.

Later that afternoon, our KFEM hosts took us back to Seoul city by train. The next day we spent a bit of time walking around and getting to know Seoul and its history. We saw Changdeok-gung Palace, quite a modest palace from the Joseon dynasty of Korea, from the time before the Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula. We also saw a magnificent

Buddhist temple called Jogye-sa. Interestingly, about 22% of Koreans are Buddhist and 18% Christian but the biggest chunk, almost 50% are atheist.

On May 20, we meet the local staff of KFEM office. Then we went to the Congress building of Seoul city, to support a hearing of farmers and community members who were impacted by the 4 Rivers project. This is a project involving about 16 dams on 4 rivers, and has already caused destruction of livelihoods and ecology, so similar to the situation in Mozambique. There was also a photo exhibition showing the destruction caused by the project. Local farmers, activists, professors and Congressmen gave testimonials, following which the Congressmen from the progressive Democracy Party, and pledged to investigate the inconsistencies with the project. JA was also interviewed by Ohmynews, Korea’s largest online newspaper, about the reality of dams in Korea and Mozambique.

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Later that evening, KFEM organised an open event with local citizens and students, called the ‘Glocal Talk Concert’, with an aim to raise Korean people’s international awareness. JA showed 2 short films, one on the situation of Vale-displaced communities in Cateme and the other with testimonials from Mphanda Nkuwa dam affected people.

All in all, JA’s experience in South Korea was phenomenal. It was wonderful to make international links on issues of extraction, environment and livelihoods. We were able to increase the visibility of Mozambique’s situation.

JA! celebrates the International Day of Rivers

March 14th Meeting

March 14th Meeting

On Thursday, 14 March, Justiça Ambiental (JA!) marked the occasion of the ‘International Day of Rivers’ by holding simultaneous events in Tete and in the capital Maputo.

In Tete, over 50 community people came together on the banks of the Zambezi River. These included communities that will be displaced

Removing a fallen tree on the way to Mphanda

Removing a fallen tree on the way to Mphanda

from their lands and homes if the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam is built across the Zambezi River. We were also joined by communities affected by Vale, Rio Tinto and Jindal, all carving out the earth to extract coal from their villages.

The meeting was organised by JA!, along with our partners Liga dos Direitos Humanos (Human Rights League), AAAJC (Association for Support and Legal Assistance for Communities), UNAC (National Farmers Union, Tete provincial chapter).

The all-day meeting was held at the Tete Provincial Centre of Agricultural Formation. JA supported the community members to come in the night before, since their homes are far and the transportation systems in Mozambique are very poor. The communities affected by Vale, for instance, used to live in Moatize, 19kms from Tete. Now they have been moved to

Sr. Morais lived his entire life near the river, if the dam is built he will have to move far from the river. What about his rights!

Sr. Morais lived his entire life near the river, if the dam is built he will have to move far from the river. What about his rights!

Cateme, 56kms away from Tete, and transport could easily cost 150 Meticais (US$ 5) each way! The Mphanda Nkuwa communities live over 70kms from Tete. The area is very remote and roads are almost non-existent.

 

The meeting on 14 March brought together these community people and organisations to talk about communities that live and thrive on rivers and other natural resources. When such communities are displaced from their resources, they usually lose their subsistence base and with that, their self-reliance. There were presentations on:

  • Human rights,
  • Dams and the context of Mphanda Nkuwa
  • Challenges with the Land Law relative to the Mines Law
  • Mega-projects and false promises
  • Fight against dams: a case from India’s Narmada Valley
  • Climate Risks for the Zambezi River

But in the most important part of the meeting, the community people were talking to each other and sharing their own experiences. The people that will be displaced by Mphanda Nkuwa heard directly from communities still struggling to

View from the proposed dam site

View from the proposed dam site

get their rights after being displaced by Brazilian mining giant, Vale. The ruthless Indian company, Jindal, has also started mining coal in the village of Mualadzi. However, they haven’t removed anyone yet, so people continue to live among the coal dust while the mining continues.

The stories shared by people were heart-breaking. They reveal the cruelty of the extractive model where self-reliant communities are robbed of their natural resources which are increasingly being commodified by the corporate-driven development model.

After the meeting the JA team took the communities back to their villages by the river. We went to visit Sr. Morais, an outspoken elder of the fisherfolk community, who was lived by the river his whole life. The secretary of the bairro (village) prevented him from joining our meeting, even though JA specifically asked for him to participate. If he is forced to move inland, far from the river, his livelihood and, with it, his culture and traditions will

Zambezi

Zambezi

be threatened. We believe this is a crime and a violation of his rights, as well as of all the fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the river.

Along with the meeting in Tete, JA also held an event in Maputo, where we challenged another actor who is actively pushing this damaging extractive model: the World Bank. In Maputo, we invited friends and colleagues to take to the streets. We congregated near the World Bank headquarters in Mozambique, on Kenneth Kaunda Avenue, where we distributed flyers and spoke with passers-by, even Bank workers, students from the neighbouring Faculty of Law of Eduardo Mondlane University and other interested citizens. The Bank was targeted to raise awareness about their role in pushing destructive large dams. The Bank’s stated goal is to reduce poverty but for most of its existence it has actively pushed projects that have

increased poverty especially of the most vulnerable communities.

Action on World Bank in Maputo

Action on World Bank in Maputo

 

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The Green Deserts of our Future

Monoculture forest plantations are fast increasing in developing countries and although this growth is fuelled by low production aDSC_0212nd labour costs, carbon sequestration for the developed, and government incentives, these plantations have serious social and environmental impacts.  Mozambique is no exception, here plantations are springing up rapidly and the government is keen to attract investment into these plantations for paper production.

On the 6th of August 2012 JA! participated in a seminar on ‘Forest Plantations and Industry in Niassa’.  The seminar took place at the VIP Hotel, Maputo and included the presence of a large number of individuals of the Forestry and Agriculture sectors.  The seminar was organised by the Niassa Forest Association together with the State Department of Land and Forestry and presided over by the Minister of Agriculture.  Mozambique is being transformed into a major global producer and the successful examples of South Africa, Uruguay, and Chile were mentioned.

The first presentation of the seminar was the “Evaluation of the Forest Plantations in Niassa Province 2005-2012” wherein it was mentioned that prior to 2005 there was no investment in tree plantations and after 2005 investment into these plantations surged leading to the current occupation of 165.772.80 hectares of land by plantations of which 32.409.00 hectares constitutes Pine and Eucalyptus plantations.  Some social and environmental problems experienced due to this type of investment were recognised as being caused by the enormous demand for land, waves of investment, poorly conducted community consults, and land grabbing cases.  All these problems were treated as if they had either been resolved or were in the process of being resolved, however with every passing day more and more serious incidents of land grabbing continue to be reported here. 

In other meetings the government’s desperate and blind desire to attract more and more investment into monoculture tree plantations has been clear.  This is evidenced by the speed with which the Regulation of Forest Plantations was proposed and approved while other legal instruments await years and years for approval such as the Law of Popular Action and the Law of Conservation Areas to name only those related to the environment.  The land for these DSC_0213plantations which is often described as ‘degraded’ is not degraded in the eyes of local populations who leave tracts of land fallow for revitalisation and future use nor is it degraded in the eyes of conservationists who see great importance in conserving the natural bush for biodiversity.  However others, interested in the implantation of these fake forests, are quick to regard this land as degraded.

The seminar left us with more questions than answers.  Who do the processes of community consult actually serve?  The community does not have the right to veto any project, they could be against it, they could protest, but the state has the final word and the state has decided.  What is the purpose of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study when the mitigation measures set out to address the impacts of a project are only in some cases possible or realistic?  This kind of situation leaves countries like Mozambique in a very difficult position as they have no way of rectifying a situation made difficult by the plantations and the effect their implantation has on rural farming communities and their environment.  The state gives the go ahead to projects that do not even have completed EIAs required by law. 

At the end of the day, the issue is that there is no clear admittance of the distinction between a natural forest and a monoculture tree plantation or ‘forest plantation’.  This is a serious problem because many would point to the idea that a tree plantation contributes to conservation but the impacts of monoculture tree plantations on the biodiversity of an ecosystem are large.  Consider for a moment what a tree plantation looks like; it is densely planted with only one (or a couple) tree variety.  This impacts the pollinators and other animals dependant on the natural vegetation for their survival (to read more about this research on Nature.com) and the sustainability of the natural forest.  The diversity of tree species in natural forests aids this survival whereas monoculture tree plantations leave no room for it.  It is also important to note that many of the tree monocultures like Pine and Eucalyptus are not indigenous to Mozambique and their impact on local species and water must be taken into consideration.  In Mpumalanga, South Africa, Philip Owen founder of Geasphere describes how the Pine and Eucalyptus plantations have dried up the groundwater, streams and rivers there. 

DSC_0218Tree plantations are a form of agriculture, they are not forests in any way as they have been shamefully described by companies in an attempt to take advantage of the growing concern of deforestation which is a current and ever-increasing issue.  These tree plantations are food deserts, they yield nothing in terms of sustenance, and whatever species are able to survive in these plantations are eradicated as pests. 

These plantations are green deserts.  They offer no sustenance, they offer no reprieve from deforestation or the loss of natural forests and the species therein.  They have been described as being void of life – that not one animal or bird can be heard within these fake forests.  They emit the silence of lifelessness.  They are quite simply wood farms of invasive tree species which dry up water sources and are implanted on community lands labelled as degraded.  This cannot be regarded as a sustainable practise for our future.

 

For more information on plantations vs. natural forests please follow these links:

 

‘Green desert’ monoculture forests spreading in Africa and South America

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/sep/26/monoculture-forests-africa-south-america

 

Geasphere Mozambique – Information about the Mozambican experience

http://www.geasphere.co.za/mozambique.htm

 

“Monoculture tree plantations are “green deserts” not forests, say activists.”  http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0919-plantations_hance.html?menu=Select+a+News+Topic

 

Plantation vs. natural forest: Matrix quality determines pollinator abundance in crop fields (Scientific Report from Nature.com) http://www.nature.com/srep/2011/111028/srep00132/full/srep00132.html

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