Faced with intense national and international pressure, Panamanian authorities suspended the flooding of the Barro Blanco reservoir two weeks after it began. International lenders are being pressured by international NGOs as they have a key role in settling the situation.
On May 22nd, Panama’s National Authority for Public Services (ASEP) announced a “test flooding” of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric power plant without having informed or consulted the local affected stakeholders. Two days after the announcement national authorities proceeded with the “temporary” filling of the dam reservoir, set to flood sacred Ngäbes territories and homes within a month.
Water rose quickly and reached the limits of the Ngäbe territory on May 30th, already having negative impacts on affected communities. The national Human Rights network of Panama carried out a fact finding mission on the ground, on June 13. After interviewing the local communities, they concluded in a report that Barro Blanco violates up to 10 human rights.
— Pierre-Jean Brasier (@pjhugo) 3 juin 2016
In a state of shock, national organisations, such as the national coordination of indigenous people from Panama and the current Ngäbe authorities expressed their indignation and condemned the ongoing flooding. Likewise, 10 international organisations, including Carbon Market Watch, wrote to the Panamanian President, urging him to immediately suspend the test flooding. Protests from Ngäbe, calling for the cancellation of the dam, started on the day of ASEP’s announcement and are still ongoing at the time of writing.
Faced with a criminal suit filed against ASEP, the government on June 9th suspended the flooding. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, waters will be maintained at 87,5 meters above sea level, while the government is analysing viable legal alternatives. Meanwhile, waters are forming a stagnant lake that is destroying the local ecosystems ̶ the only mean of subsistence for the affected Ngäbe.
Silence of international lenders
Barro Blanco is registered under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and financed by German and Dutch national development banks, DEG and FMO. Despite the grave concerns over human rights violations, the two banks that have a public mandate, have not taken position against the test flooding.
Face with the German bank silence, German NGOs and Carbon Market Watch, organised a protest in front of their headquarters in Cologne, to show solidarity with the Ngäbe and to ask the bank to reaffirm its role as a responsible investor.
— urgewald (@urgewald) 20 juin 2016
Likewise, on July 5th, ahead of a meeting of the Panamanian government, 8 NGOs wrote a letter to the European banks asking them to send an independent mission to monitor the situation on the ground, to ensure that the dam gates are opened and that remediation of any damaging consequences of the “test flooding”takes place. NGOs are also asking the banks to push for an inclusive process which guarantees that the directly affected communities are properly consulted before any new decisions are made on the future of the Barro Blanco dam.
By Pierre-Jean Brasier