[Belize (formerly British Honduras) is a quite small country between Guatemala and Honduras]
November 21, 2000
Canadian aid agency pays world's third largest engineering firm to justify dam construction in Belize
The Canadian International Development Agency is paying a Toronto-based engineering firm to justify construction of the Chalillo hydro dam in Belize, according to documents obtained by Probe International using Canada's Access to Information Act.
On June 12, 2000, CIDA agreed to pay Agra Inc. almost $250,000 to produce a "project justification report" and additional reports, aimed at identifying ways to mitigate threats to wildlife and other environmental damages caused by the proposed dam in central Belize.
Belize conservation groups are opposed to the $30-million dam because it would flood a remote river valley in the central Mayan mountains which provides habitat for rare and endangered species, including the Central American river otter, Morelet's crocodile, the Central American spider monkey, the tapir, jaguar, and Scarlet Macaw.
The Chalillo scheme has been on hold since late last year after Belize's environmental department rejected the proponents' environmental impact assessment and feasibility study as inadequate - reports that were conducted by Agra subsidiary, Agra CI Power, for Belize Electricity Limited, which is majority-owned by Fortis Inc., a multi-billion-dollar corporation based in Newfoundland.
According to the CIDA-Agra contract, the final report is expected to summarize Agra's feasibility study for "comprehension" by financiers such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. It is also expected to come up with recommendations for mitigating the dam's negative impacts on wildlife.
But, a major new study by the World Commission on Dams - an independent body financed by CIDA to review the global experience regarding large dams - concludes that "it is not possible to mitigate many of the impacts of reservoir creation on terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity." Large dams, it says, have led to "significant and irreversible loss of species and ecosystems."
"No matter how hard CIDA and Agra try to justify this dam there is no disguising the fact that it's a rotten deal for the people and economy of Belize," says Gráinne Ryder of Probe International. "Belize has far better, cheaper generating options than a $30-million dam that won't work half the year and will destroy wildlife habitat forever."
The Macal River and its tributaries are the only known nesting sites for the largest kind of Scarlet Macaw, and also boasts part of Central America's best remaining jaguar habitat. Many of the species threatened by Chalillo are already extinct in other parts of Central America where logging and other development has decimated tropical river ecosystems.
Critics also point out that Belize Electricity Limited could buy cheaper gas-fired power from neighbouring countries, or encourage private investment in high-efficiency cogeneration plants.
AGRA CI Power provides engineering and management services to dam operators mainly in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Agra Inc. merged with Britain's Amec earlier this year to become the world's third largest engineering, construction, and environmental services company.
Probe International is a Toronto-based citizens' group investigating the economic and environmental impact of Canadian aid and companies overseas.