HKND Committed to Build the Canal in Compliance with International Best Practices
- Nine Public Consultation Meetings Convened for Nicaragua Grand Canal's ESIA Report
From September 24 to October 1, 2015, the Government of Nicaragua held in Managua a total of nine public consultation meetings for the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report of the Nicaragua Interoceanic Canal Project. Senior officials of HKND Group elaborated to the public key findings in the ESIA, conducted by the British environmental consultancy ERM, and addressed public concerns together with delegates from Nicaraguan government.
A series of nine consultation meetings (which in total lasted for 28 hours) were held for the Interoceanic Canal Project, attracting around 3,000 participants including representatives from various communities along the Canal route, private entrepreneurs, media, university students, labour unions, scientists, youth groups, the Catholic Church and other religious groups, environmental organizations and NGOs.
Also present in the consultation sessions were members from Nicaragua Canal and Development Project Commission, foreign embassies and consulates in Nicaragua, as well as representatives of the United Nations agencies, European Union, International Monetary Fund and Pan American Health Organization in Nicaragua together with a number of private entrepreneurs from other Central American countries such as Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador.
In the course of the accumulated 28 hours of public consultation, Pang Kwok Wai, Executive Vice President of HKND Group and Bill Wild, Chief Project Advisor of HKND Group, gave a thorough presentation of the ESIA results and the “Net Positive Impact” demonstrated by ERM that will eventually be realized in the environment and society of Nicaragua after the environmental mitigations are completed. They also answered questions regarding the Canal Project raised by the public as well as by local and international media.
In terms of environmental impact, Bill stated that based on research results, Nicaragua is experiencing a deteriorating biological environment and an ever increasing rate of deforestation in recent years. As a result, most of the forests in Nicaragua will disappear within 10 to 15 years. ERM points out in ESIA report that without proper measures, the current ecological tendency in Nicaragua “is not positive by any measure”. HKND Group agrees on this and considered canal construction as the only viable means for environmental protection and forest restoration.
In consideration of Nicaragua’s environment status quo and engineering requirement of Canal Project, HKND Group has opted for Route 4 that will have relatively less environmental and social impact among the 6 alternatives, and have made several alignment adjustments. The West Lock will move 13 km inland from coastline, protecting the lock from tsunami and other natural disasters while effectively preserving marine biodiversity along Pacific coast, and eliminating the possibility of salinization of Lake Nicaragua. Similarly, the East Lock will also move 20 km inland to ensure maximum protection of the Indio Maíz and Punta Gorda Natural Reserves as well as an absolute safe distance from Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and Booby Cay marine reserve. ERM has confirmed in the ESIA report that if international standards can be met in the course of construction, Route 4 is “the only route with the potential to adequately mitigate or offset its impacts … and achieve a Net Positive Impact”.
In addition, a number of amendments have been made to the canal route for the purpose of protecting the mangrove, wetlands, natural palm forest and marine reserves, which in turn raised the construction cost.
In the ESIA report, ERM affirms that the Canal Project manages to meet the standards of international best practices in many aspects. As stated by the international consultancy, construction and operation of the Project in a manner consistent with international standards in future “could offer the best future for Nicaragua” and “could provide environmental, social, and economic benefits to the people of Nicaragua”. Preliminary analysis by ERM reveal that the potential impact on Lake Nicaragua has been minimized and the canal design provided by HKND is safe and reliable.
“Any mega infrastructure project will unavoidably have some impacts to the surrounding environment. We believe that the Canal Project will eventually produce a net positive impact, if we take appropriate mitigation and offset measures including massive reforestation programs”, said Pang.
As all civilizations originated alongside waterfront, Lake Nicaragua is sacred for the Nicaraguans. Resonating with local people on the significance of Lake Nicaragua, HKND Group believes that the Canal can not only minimize the risks imposed to the Lake, but can also improve on the existing problems of sedimentation and lowering of water level caused by industrial and social activities along the shoreline.
Jeffrey McCrary, a scientist from the U.S., published an article in Nature in September, 2015, stating that Lake Nicaragua is already damaged by human activities, particularly by agriculture along the shore, already making several fish species endangered from extinction. Contrary to the depiction by some people, Lake Nicaragua is anything but a “pristine wilderness”. He stated that when discussing the impact of the project, the huge losses to the environmental integrity and biodiversity even before the canal project began need to be factored into the discussion of the scientists. Jeffrey McCrary believes that the Nicaraguan government and the concessionaire have acted in a “transparent and professional” way in the course of the environmental impact assessment conducted by ERM.
According to HKND’s design, surplus water coming from the east side will go into Lake Nicaragua for the purpose of maintaining its normal water level, which is crucial to the ecosystems along the lake shores. Besides, study results indicates that canal construction will not increase the amount of sedimentation in Lake Nicaragua. Moreover, excavation work in the lake will be carried out by environmental-friendly cutter suction dredgers in order not to disturb the sediment from construction impact as far as possible. On the contrary, the Canal Project will help to reduce the sediment pollution in Lake Nicaragua in view of the fact that 700 million cubic meters of sediment will be cleared away during dredging operation and maintenance dredging will be performed periodically in the waterway after its opening.
In respect of salinity intrusion in Lake Nicaragua, the issue in the public limelight, Pang explained that drawing on the world’s leading lock design experience, with the implementation of three-step ship lock structure and chamber flushing technologies as well as other modern preventive measures, the possibility of water salinization within Lake Nicaragua will be very remote.
In respect of social impact, HKND Group believes that the Project will bring huge social benefits. The company will take all appropriate measures to protect the cultural relics and heritages discovered along the canal route. The economic development brought by the Project will create an abundance of employment and growth opportunities, which will enhance the overall living standards of Nicaraguan people.
Resettlement is a repeatedly raised issue during public consultation. HKND Group has committed to create better living conditions for the people being affected. According to the census conducted by the Changjiang Institute of Survey, Planning, Design and Research, no more than 6,800 households will be affected by the Canal Project, among which about 27,000 residents need to be relocated. Based on the information provided by HKND Group, Government of Nicaragua has designed 3 types of resettlement housing in order to accommodate the needs of different families. As stated by Pang, apart from the house-for-house program, the affected people can also opt for monetary compensation, with which they can buy new houses. Details of resettlement action plan will be disclosed in due course after agreement reached with the Government of Nicaragua.
Established as an effective platform for direct communication between the Canal concessionaire and Nicaraguan people, these nine public consultation meetings received positive feedbacks and registered a high participation rate. Representatives from HKND and Government of Nicaragua provided detailed answers to the questions raised by representatives from different sectors, on education and training, labor qualification, employment opportunity, land acquisition, resettlement housing design, environmental impact, among others.
Many people that participated in the consultations expressed their support and expectations to the Grand Canal Project. After the public consultation, the local environmental expert Kamilo Lara said that the ESIA is declaring the environmental feasibility of the construction of the Canal.
In an interview with local media, Leonardo Torres, the president of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Micro, Small and Medium Tourist Enterprise (Cantur), said that after listening to the presentations of ESIA report and public consultation, he believes that the Canal Project is making serious progress, and has widely taken advices from all sectors of the Nicaraguan society. “The majority of the Nicaraguans support the Project. We should pray to God that this Project will be realized smoothly and Nicaragua will gain vast benefits", Leonardo Torres stated.
According to the regulations of International Finance Corporation (IFC), ESIA report of major infrastructure project shall go through at least seven public consultation meetings before approved by the government. Thanks to the nine public consultation meetings convened by Government of Nicaragua in compliance with international best practices, people of Nicaragua, diplomatic missions to Nicaragua, officials from United Nations and international organizations were able to learn about this world-class ESIA report; the public were also given the chance to raise their concerns and offer suggestions, as well as to communicate directly with the representatives of the Project and the government. Also as required by Nicaraguan laws, public consultation is one of the essential elements for the governmental approval of ESIA report of major projects. All the opinions collected in the consultation meetings will serve as a basis for the government’s approval of ESIA report.
The nine public consultation meetings created opportunities for the people of Nicaragua and neighboring countries to gain a better understanding of the Project. It also fulfilled the solemn commitment of HKND to “carry out the Project with integrity, openness and respect so that it creates the greatest possible economic and social benefit for all”.