Nicaragua's ambitious canal project causes environmental concerns

Yet the greatest environmental concern has arisen as a result of the proposed dredging of Lake Nicaragua, home to hundreds of species of wildlife, flora and fauna.

What has happened to Nicaragua’s planned $50 billion trans-oceanic canal project, set to span 175-miles across the country?

Construction, supposed to begin last year, has now been postponed until March next year, as increasing numbers of studies and lack of financial input, continue to plague the ambitious project.

Environmental concerns

A 14-page study released by British consultancy firm ERM outlines concerns over seismic activity along the proposed canal route, and worryingly, if there will even be enough water to fill the locks along the canal, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“We and (Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega) have made the decision that all studies recommended by the environmental groups have to be undertaken,”  said Paul Oquist, executive director of the Nicaragua Grand Canal Commission.

Yet the greatest environmental concern has arisen as a result of the proposed dredging of Lake Nicaragua, home to hundreds of species of wildlife, flora and fauna.

The lake, the largest drinking water reservoir in the region, will be cut in half by the canal, much to the dismay of indigenous communities and farmers, who face losing their homes as a result. Some 15,000 protestors took to the streets in June, protesting the canal project, financed by Chinese businessman Wang Jing, according to Indian Country Today.

Indigenous populations placed under threat

A total of 13 of Nicaragua’s municipalities will be affected by the proposed canal route, that’s 10 percent of the national territory.

According to the Nicaraguan Development Institute, some 373,225 people or 6 percent of the Nicaraguan population live in the affected areas.

A total of 119,298 people living in these 13 municipalities will be forcibly displaced, the Havana Times reports. This total consists of 24,100 families living in 282 populated areas of different sizes and represents 32 percent of the municipalities’ inhabitants.

To make matters worse, the population hailing from these rural areas are predominantly agricultural sector workers, or owners of small land-holdings, living in extreme poverty. With access to education scarce, displaced families will find it increasingly difficult to obtain jobs or access to state social security if forced to move to larger towns across the country.

Furthermore, for many indigenous communities these lands have formed part of their territories for hundreds of years. A move will not only affect their livelihood but also cultural and social traditions.

Money to burn

Yet the canal project has also been bad news for Wang Jing.

The businessman has lost an estimated 84 percent of his fortune, invested into the Nicaragua Grand Canal project.

Once one of the world’s 200 richest with an estimated $10,200 billion in June, Jing’s fortune has now dropped to around $1,100 billion according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index, Crítica reports.

Yet as environmental and indigenous concerns continue to rise, it looks like the Nicaragua canal has been more of a loss than a profit for Jing, even before construction works have commenced.

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