Members of the Natural Resources Defense
Council (NRDC) arrived in Belize last week at the request of the Belize Alliance
of Conservation Non-Government Organizations Limited (BACONGO) to meet with
organizations and individuals regarding the proposed Chalillo Dam. The NRDC
comprises over 500,000 members whose goal is to protect the planet's wildlife
and wild places, therefore ensuring a safe and healthy environment for all
living things. During a three-day "retreat" held at Chaa Creek in the Cayo
District and Victoria House on Ambergris Caye, much discussion involved the
threats to the wild areas of Belize, including ways the barrier reef could be
affected by this project.
International Program Director explained that NRDC is an advocacy group
headquartered in Washington, D.C. which utilizes scientists, lawyers and policy
experts to achieve their conservation goals. Nearly two-thirds of their income
comes from membership and contributions and a whopping 81% is directed to
environmental programs. Their programs target air and energy, health, land,
nuclear, urban, water and coastal, and international issues. The Macal River
Valley is considered a "BioGem" project in their international program. BioGems
can be found on their web site www.nrdc.org which explains the
facts regarding each site. Included on the Macal River Valley site is a brief
overview of the area and the wildlife inhabitants whose future is at stake: the
scarlet macaw and the jaguar. It states the $30 million dam is being funded by
Canadian Fortis, Inc. and their partners, the Government of Belize. It continues
to describe the potential adverse affects of hydroelectricity stating,
"independent analysis has shown the proposed project to be economically unsound
as well as ecologically devastating."
Another item that
can be accessed on the NRDC web site is an interview with Sharon Matola of the
Belize Zoo. Ms. Matola, a key person involved in opposing this project, gives a
detailed explanation of the threats to the wildlife habitat in the Macal Valley.
As well, a letter of protest to the CEO of Fortis is written and can be signed
by the visitor to the site by a simple click of the button reading "STOP THE
DAM". The last paragraph reads "Send a message to Fortis that a North American
corporation has no business destroying Belize's natural heritage for private
profit. Tell Fortis, Inc. not to build the dam." Mr. Scherr stated that the CEO
of Fortis has received over 60,000 responses so far. In the web site's report it
mentions that "Duke Energy, another company that had been expecting to invest in
the new dam, has heard the message. After receiving more than 20,000 letters and
e-mails from NRDC members and other activists, Duke recently decided to sell off
its own dam in Belize and leave the country altogether."
Trustees of the NRDC consist of a wide range of professionals: CEOs, presidents,
executives, foundation "chairs" as well as celebrities including actor Robert
Redford, artist Maya Lin and singer/songwriter James Taylor. For the past thirty
years, this dedicated organization has accomplished or helped with such issues
as the 1971 Clean Water Act, 1987 International treaty on the ozone layer,
deleting damaging chemicals from aerosol cans, preventing oil drilling in the
Arctic Wildlife Refuge in 1991, defeating the James Bay hydroelectric project in
1994, and getting Mitsubishi to abandon plans for a major salt factory next to
the last unspoiled breeding ground of the gray whale in 2000.
In Belize, BACONGO does its part to act as a group to
lobby for action on several key environmental issues. Their main objective is to
protect and conserve the natural resources of Belize. Its non-governmental
organization members represent all corners of the country and consist of:
Program for Belize, The Belize Zoo, Siwa-Ban Foundation, Friends of Gra-Gra
Lagoon, Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Shipstern Nature Reserve, Belize
Environmenta Law Policy Organization (BELPO), Friends of Fresh Water Creek,
Sibun Water Shed, Toledo Institute of Development and Environment (TIDE), and
Green Reef. BACONGO is also a member of many other committees in Belize
including the Protected Areas Conservation Trust Advisory Board and Council,
Small Grants Committee, National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, and the
National Environmental Appraisal Committee.
NRDC members also discussed the Chalillo issue with Ambrose Tillett, a former
primary energy planner and consultant hired by BACONGO, and with a
representative from BELPO. As a result of this visit, NRDC will conduct
additional research and investigation into the environmental threats to Belize.
They will identify ways to cooperate and establish a plan of action for BACONGO
to educate the Belizean people and advocate on behalf of their causes.
Mr. Scherr exclaimed that having visited Belize several
times, it is plain to see from the beautiful Macal Valley and the pristine
barrier reef "every reason why these people would want to fight to protect their
extremely precious natural resources."