Inter-American Development Bank should withdraw Guatemala dam funding: rights groups

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Two dams being built in Guatemala have damaged the environment and local communities, according to a formal complaint by rights groups and indigenous leaders who urged the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to withdraw financing.

The complaint filed on Monday alleges that construction of the Pojom II and San Andres hydroelectric dams, financed in part by $13 million from IDB, has polluted water sources for hundreds of indigenous Mayans in northern Huehuetenango province.

“These communities depend on water for their livelihoods,” said Liliana Avila, a lawyer with the United States-based Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), one of the groups that submitted the complaint.

“The construction of the dams has contaminated rivers, harmed the ability of communities to fish and grow crops and maintain their traditions,” she said by phone.

The complaint was submitted to the Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (MICI), an independent accountability body of the IDB, the Washington, D.C.-based multilateral lender.

“We do not comment on any complaints filed or ongoing investigations,” said a spokesperson from IDB, which funds development projects throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Along with AIDA, the complaint was submitted by the International Platform Against Impunity, a group of rights organizations from the Netherlands, Switzerland and Central America, and indigenous leaders.

The groups said polluted water from the dams has caused health problems among children, including skin rashes and diarrhea.

The complaint, seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, says that communities living in the Ixquisis region in Huehuetenango were not properly consulted about the projects and their risks.

Avila said the projects violate IDB’s own rules, “particularly its policies on environment and sustainability, indigenous people, gender, and information disclosure.”

People in Ixquisis have protested the dams since 2014, and there have been almost 100 attacks and threats against them documented since then, said the complaint.

The Pojom II dam is operated by Generadora San Mateo S.A, while San Andres is run by Generadora San Andres S.A., both of which are subsidiaries of the privately owned Promocion y Desarrollos Hidricos S.A., according to the complaint.

The environmental impact assessments for the adjacent dam projects have been approved by Guatemala’s environment ministry.

Avila said she was hopeful the IDB’s accountability mechanism would decide within a month to accept the complaint and start an investigation.