Friday, May 13, 2011

Amerindians provide land for Amaila Falls, but get no electricity in return

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 13 May 2011)

I attended the community meeting hosted by Sithe Global on the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project at the Tower Hotel on Wednesday night and was disappointed to find it was not the “town hall” structure I had expected, but more of an expo of project. It felt more like a launching than a place to “have your say,” as billed by their ad for the meeting.

I attended the meeting to get a better understanding of the project and I left with just that. Although the atmosphere was not what I expected, I did indeed have most of my questions answered, not all to my satisfaction, but an answer was attempted.

However, as I left I felt very disturbed about a piece of information I discovered during my visit. It seems that although there are several Amerindian villages throughout the nation that will be impacted by this project, none of them will reap the advantages of the electricity once it is finished. Not one village.

I did not know this information before. I did not know a lot before I attended the meeting, which is why I went in the first place – to educate myself on the project. Still, I am troubled by the omission of the Amerindian villages in their rightful share of the coming electricity from the hydropower project. 

It is their rightful share, firstly because they are also citizens of Guyana and should get to enjoy the same electricity that everyone else will enjoy, but secondly because they will sacrifice more than any other citizen group to make sure this project becomes a reality.

It seems the government considered it cost prohibitive to build substations that would be needed to bring electricity to each of the villages, even though these villages are sacrificing their own land and resources so the rest of the nation can have electricity from the project. In fact, in some cases their way of life will be changed dramatically.

Yet with all of this sacrifice for Guyana to have clean and economical electricity, the Amerindian communities are being given solar panels instead of hydropower electricity. I asked if it was possible to build smaller sub-stations (as opposed to the two larger ones being built for larger communities) that would suit the needs of the villages and was told that a smaller sub-station would cost nearly as much as the larger ones.

I still cannot help but feel that the nation’s first inhabitants are once again getting the short end of the stick. It seems the Amerindians will make all of the sacrifices and the rest of the nation benefits, but they get nothing.

Okay, they get some solar panels. The government has said it will give them solar panels instead – which equates to a patronising pat on the back.

Although some solar panels are still working satisfactorily 40 years after installation, the conventional view is that most will dip below 80 percent of their rated capacity within about 20 years. This will vary slightly between manufacturers and between different types of silicon.

Let us assume the government has found some supersonic solar panels that will still be working at 75 percent of their rated capacity for the next 40 years (because we know they will provide the best that money can buy, right?), what happens at the end of those 40 years?

Are the Amerindians then in the dark once again while the rest of the nation continues to enjoy the benefits of the Amaila Hydropower Project built on Amerindian sacred land?

Will the government continue to provide solar panels to the Amerindian villages for the duration that an operational Amaila Falls Hydropower Plant exists? That seems only right. Actually, what seems right is that the Amerindian villages also enjoy the same hydropower electricity benefits as the rest of the nation.

I cannot help but feel this action – to deny Amerindian villages hydropower electricity while they provide the land so the rest of the nation can have it – will be viewed by history as yet another way the indigenous people of the nation were exploited for the progress of the rest.

And will anyone care? Will anyone stand up and fight so that the Amerindians benefit from the same hydropower electricity as the rest of the nation? Or will history repeat itself once again and find that as long as progress continues, the exploitation of one group of people is ignored?

It is funny how humans can justify the abuse, manipulation and exploitation of an entire population when it suits the needs of the majority. On second thought, it is not funny. Not funny at all.

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