Sunday, September 28, 2014

Doom for the Darien?

Luxurian vegetation in the Darien Gap. (Photo: Naked Man in the Tree)
The Darien Gap (Photo: Wikipedia)
The Darien Gap is one of those archetypal wild places.

A corridor of jungle between Panama and Colombia roamed by guerrillas and narcotraffickers and home to great natural biodiversity, the Darien is the one untamed segment left between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego. Bicyclists making the epic tour from one end of the Americas to the other have to get off for this one stretch and take a ferry between the Panamanian and Colombian coasts.

But that may soon change, because of a thirst for money and electricity. Colombia and Panama are planning to build a power line to carry electricity from Colombia, which abounds with hydroelectric power, to Panama and eventually as far north as Mexico.

The economic incentives are clear and immediate, but the environmental and social impacts will come only later.

A native Embera girl in
Panama's Darien Province.
(Photo; Wikipedia)
Chopping a 100-kilometer long corridor thru this legendary jungle will inevitably destroy it. The electrical corridor will not only become a barrier to animal migration, but also an invasion route for illegal farmers, miners and hunters. Deforestation and fires, already taking place, will accelerate and spread out from the power line, driving many native species to extinction. The invasion of construction workers, miners and loggers will bring alcohol, prostitution and fatal diseases to the native Embera-Wounaan and Kuna peoples, who will be decimated.

Plans for the $450 million project are supposed to be finalized next year, and it's projected to start operating in 2018, generating some $250 million in annual income for Colombia.

Deforestation is already going on in the
Darien region.
(Photo: VillalonSantaMaria)
I haven't found specific plans for the cable's route. But, while an undersea route would be much more environmentally sound, an overland route would be much cheaper.

Guess which path the Colombian and Panamanian governments are likely to choose?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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