China is backing a project which plans to make the world’s mightiest river – the Amazon – a hub for permanent, faster and more modern transportation.
The multi-million project backed by Peru’s government has also raised environmental concerns and engineering questions, as CGTN’s Dan Collyns reports from Iquitos.
CGTN’s Dan Collyns reports.
Peru is the country where the Amazon river begins and more than half of its territory is rainforest.
The Amazon Waterway project proposes to dredge 13 points on the four most important rivers in that region and use satellite navigation and GPS to make transport more secure.
The project – declared of national interest – aims to open up 2,687 km of waterways in this vast region where the roads are rivers.
The plan was put forward five years ago as part of a massive regional interconnectivity project.
The capital of Peru’s largest Amazon region, Iquitos, is the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road.
Iquitos became one of the most important ports on the Amazon river at the beginning of the last century at the height of the rubber boom.
Now, a century later and the Peruvian government is backing a plan to open up the Amazon and other major rivers here to the navigation of larger vessels and a Chinese engineering firm is at the center of the so-called Amazon Waterway project.
The Chinese state-owned firm Sinohydro – the world’s largest hydropower construction company – is one half of the Cohidro consortium contracted for the 95-million-dollar project.
If it gets the green light in a decision expected at the end of this year, a 20-year concession term would likely begin in 2022 when the waterway would become operational.
China is increasingly investing in building infrastructure abroad says Rosa Santa Gadea, director of the Center for China and Asia Pacific Studies at Lima’s Pacific University.
“Why is it interesting for China? First it’s exporting their capacities and their possibilities to do investment in other regions but also I think it could be beneficial for increasing connectivity between China and Peru in terms of international trade,” she said.
In April, Peru formally endorsed China’s major overseas connectivity project the Belt and Road Initiative.
The waterway project still depends on the approval of an Environmental Impact Assessment. But hydraulic engineers point to problems with the impact study.
“From an engineering perspective what we have studied, the physical portion, I would say that this assessment of environmental impacts is very, very poor in terms of science and engineering,” Jorge Abad, Executive Director of Water Research at Lima’s Engineering and Technology University, said.
“So this is not done to the standards which we need for the Amazon basin because it is not any other land (sic), this is the Amazon basin where you have the largest biodiversity in the world,” he added.
Even some Chinese observers have said the environmental cost might be too high.
Zhang Jing Jing of the Transnational Environmental Accountability Project, said: “Any project in the Amazon will cause a negative impact on the local ecosystem (..) and will affect the biodiversity in the region.
Local indigenous federations fear an impact on fish migration and stocks and have asked that the impact assessment be more thorough.
“The fish will flee and there won’t be food for the children,” said Zoila Merino of the Amazon Indigenous Organisation ORPIO in Iquitos.
“For us, the water is health, life and food, it’s everything. This connection won’t benefit us,” she added. Neither Peru’s Transport and Communications ministry nor the Cohidro consortium responded to CGTN’s request for comment.
Beyond environmental concerns, the local shipping union rejects a levy that it says would increase the cost of river passage by a third. For now it seems this project’s path to approval may not be plain sailing.