After years of pressuring the builders of the 340MW Urrá I Dam in Colombia to properly address the project's impacts, the Embera-Katío indigenous people reached an agreement with the Urrá S.A. Company and the government on April 19.
"We are pleased that we came to an agreement, but this is just the beginning of the negotiations, since we did not get all we wanted," said Kimi Pernia, an Embera spokesperson. "We are glad we are back on our lands, people were very distressed over this situation."...
The Embera have proposed that the company pay them for the contribution their watershed lands make to the project. They feel they are strategic partners of Urrá, since an estimated 40 percent of the waters that supply the reservoir come from Embera land. This element of the agreement remains unresolved at this time....
The Embera also demanded that they be involved in the planning of decommissioning the dam in the future. Although this point is vague in the agreement, it is perhaps the first time in history dam-affected peoples have gotten language about future decommissioning into an agreement with project authorities, even as the reservoir is still being filled up.
The agreement states that the company restore fisheries in the reservoir and watershed; and that the Embera oversee plans for resettlement, for basin restoration and management, and to improve their livelihoods. Harm to the river's fisheries has been extensive.
International pressure to support the Embera has been building recently. While the agreement was being signed, Embera representative Neburuby Panesso and Juan José López Negrete from the Association of Fishing and Peasant Communities of the Greater Lorica Wetlands (ASPROCIG) went to meet with officials from the Swedish Parliament, the Swedish company that built the Urrá dam, project funders, and others. The purpose of the trip, sponsored by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, was to seek support for affected peoples' decommissioning campaign.
Skanska, the Swedish firm that built Urrá was unrepentant about the problems caused by the project. "Urrá is history for us," said Skanska's general manager. He added that the project's consequences could not be forecast in 1992 when the company signed the contract. Representatives of the Swedish Export Credit Agency, which provided loan guarantees for the dam, said at the meeting that Urrá would have found no support from them today, due to its now well-documented impacts.
Juan José López Negrete from ASPROCIG, which represents affected people downstream of the dam, said he did not wish to embarrass the dam-builders, but instead came to talk about the eventual removal of the dam. "We didn't come here to pose moral questions to your company because you built Urrá," he said. "We came here to let you know that the construction of Urrá signifies the slow death of our culture. What we are asking is that you learn from the experience of Urrá and reform your environmental policies so you don't make the same mistakes in other parts of the world. Even though you think Urrá is history, we are counting on your support for the decommissioning of the dam, given your technical knowledge," he added....
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