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The Grand Canal of Nicaragua. A scar across the face of Central America

Indigenous people will be displaced, endangered species threatened, the largest freshwater source in Central America contaminated and rainforests uprooted by the Grand Canal of Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is the third poorest country in Latin America and has been desperately searching for a solution to its economic problems. Many hope the construction of the Grand Canal joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, expected to start in early 2016, will provide the nation with the answers it needs, namely employment, trade and an injection of capital. Though it is unlikely the canal will achieve these goals, there is no doubt that the 278 kilometre long construction, over three times the length of the Panama Canal, will force over 100,000 people to relocate, including numerous indigenous communities.

 

no al grand canal nicaragua
Graffiti saying “No canal” in Moyogalpa, a small town on Ometepe Island, Lake Nicaragua, the lake the Grand Canal will cut through © E.N.K./Flickr

 

Species that are currently endangered, such as the freshwater Bull shark and the Jaguarondi and Ocelot felines, may face extinction and many acres of rainforest will be eradicated. Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater reserve in Central America, will have to withstand the dumping of 100 billion tonnes of sedimentation from the dredging needed to make parts of it deeper, which in turn will destroy innumerable aquatic ecosystems. The Lake however is more than just an important source of wildlife, it provides water for thousands of square miles of farmland, hundreds of fisheries and is the basis of a thriving tourist industry many rely on for their livelihood.

 

no a la dictatura grand canal nicaragua
The graffiti continues with “No to dictatorship” © E.N.K./Flickr

 

The list of environmental threats continues, but perhaps even more worrying is the context of uncertainty surrounding the alleged economic benefits the Grand Canal will bring the Nicaraguan people. The rights to the project will remain in the hands of Chinese contractors, the Hong Kong Nicaragua Development Group, for 50 years after its completion in 2020 and the cost of construction is expected to rise from 50 to 70 billion dollars.

 

ometepe island lake nicaragua
The island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua

 

The Grand Canal of Nicaragua will likely be a social and environmental catastrophe with uncertain economic benefits for the country’s people. The manner in which the project was fast-tracked through Congress and the way in which private environmental and economic assessments have been systematically ignored does little to alleviate this suspicion. A scheme that many had hoped would help heal the Nicaraguan economy risks becoming nothing more than an open wound stretching across the entire breadth of the nation.

 

Featured image: Lake Nicaragua © E.N.K./Flickr
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