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[OPIRG-EVENTS] Canadian proposed Chahilo dam in Belize & its negative effects on the Macal River Valley

15 May, 2001 - Invitation to meet Sharon Matola,  Founding Director, Belize 
Zoo and Tropical Education Centre, and Chairperson, IUCN Tapir Specialist 

When:               Thursday, 17 May, 7- 9 pm
What:           Slide Show Presentation & Discussion:

The Canadian-proposed Chalillo Dam in Belize and its Impacts on the Macal 
River Valley

Where:          Reading room  237 C, Centre Block, Parliament Hill
Hosted By:    Sierra Club, Ottawa

Sharon Matola, a Scarlet Macaw and tapir expert, and Ambrose Tillet, a 
former senior engineer with the Belize Electricity Limited, are visiting 
Canada this week to raise awareness about Canada's role in the plans to dam 
Belize's Macal river valley which, if completed, would submerge critical 
Central American habitat for rare and endangered wildlife.

Sharon has been conducting wildlife surveys in the upper Macal river for 
the last decade and is leading the growing international campaign to stop a 
proposed hydro scheme in the area which is backed by the Belize electric 
utility owned by the Newfoundland-based Fortis Inc..

Probe International, Toronto, has been working with Sharon and other 
conservation groups in Belize, as well as the Washington-based Natural 
Resources Defense Council to (1) ensure that all CIDA-funded environmental 
reports are disclosed to citizens in Canada and Belize; (2) to raise 
awareness among Canadians about the threats this dam poses to wildlife; and 
(3) to urge Fortis to reconsider its plans.

All interested are urged to attend this event, to lend advice and support 
to the campaign.

Last October, IUCN - The World Conservation Union passed a resolution at 
its World Conservation Congress in Jordan affirming the exceptional 
biological importance of the Macal River Valley, particularly for Belize's 
national animal, the Central American Tapir, and for the endangered Scarlet 
Macaw. The IUCN called on the proponents to hold "fully transparent and 
participatory environmental impact assessment of the proposed hydroelectric 
facility and, unless such EIA shows that the project would not cause 
significant degradation or destruction of wildlife habitat and the natural 
environment, agree to terminate the project".

CIDA, a member of IUCN, appears to be in conflict between protecting its 
clients' interests and its duty to protect the public interest and ensure 
that Canadian aid isn't used for environmentally destructive and 
economically dubious projects. There are sensible electricity alternatives 
to this dam.


Belize, a country with a population numbering fewer than 300,000 people, 
has almost 40 percent of its territory in some form of official protected 
area status, including land that would be inundated if the dam is 
built.  At this time, the government of Belize favours building the 
Chalillo dam, but it is awaiting results of a Canadian environmental 
assessment.  The assessment is being financed by CIDA and conducted by AGRA 
Inc of Montreal.

CIDA says it has no legal obligation to release the environmental 
assessment for the Belize dam (due to a part of Canada's environmental 
assessment Act which allows CIDA to keep EIAs secret as long as it isn't 
financing the project directly). CIDA has advised Probe International to 
request documents using the Access to Information Act. Under this Act, AGRA 
can refuse to give CIDA permission to release documents, citing commercial 

In April, Sharon and 17 other tropical wildlife experts in the United 
States and Central America wrote to Fortis in Newfoundland complaining that 
the EIA process to date had been neither open nor participatory, and that 
proceeding with the Chalillo dam would be "reckless".  They also urged 
support for a "fully transparent and participatory EIA" for the project.

If built, the Chalillo dam would flood about 1000 hectares of the upper 
Macal river, the only known breeding grounds for a sub-species of Scarlet 
Macaw, estimated now to number fewer than 200 in Belize. The Central 
Amercian tapir flourishes there and this region, the upper Macal and 
Raspaculo rivers, have been noted in the IUCN Tapir Action Plan as one of 
the last strongholds in Central America for this endangered species. The 
area slated for the dam, a mere ten kilometres from the Maya Divide, 
provides a feeding ground for the jaguars that travel back and forth from 
the Cockscomb basin Jaguar Preserve. These large cats require huge areas to 
roam in order to sustain their numbers.

The Macal river valley also provides vital wintering grounds for at least 
35 migratory Canadian bird species, including 14 species of warblers, the 
Baltimore/Northern oriole, and the Acadian Flycatcher (which is on the 
Canadian Endangered Species List).

For more information,
CONTACT: Grainne Ryder, Probe International, Toronto (416) 964-9223 ext. 
228. Visit our Belize page at http://www.probeinternational.org .

Hope to see you in Ottawa!  If you can't make it on Thursday but would like 
to be kept informed about this campaign, or follow up, e-mail 
<GrainneRyder@nextcity.com> or phone (416) 964-9223 ext.228
OR CONTACT: Julia Fleming OR Leslie Dickout, Sierra Club, Ottawa, (613)

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