Hydropower and Power: An indigenous rights perspective

CEC member Adriana Suárez Delucchi shares her paper 'Hydropower and Power: An indigenous rights perspective', written while at Macquarie University's master's programme in environmental management. The focus is on decision-making processes in multi-cultural settings. 

Raising cattle in southern Chile, this man on horseback rides land that could be flooded if a proposed hydro-electric project is approved, explains CEC member Adriana Suárez Delucchi. Photo: Adriana Suárez Delucchi

Hydroelectric projects undertaken in developing countries allow us to reflect on decision making processes in multicultural scenarios, on the concept of ‘effective public participation´ and on ideas like ´national interest’. This document also analyses the need for an ethical work from professionals and institutions that work on impact assessment studies.

By Adriana Suárez Delucchi

I believe this paper could contribute to create awareness especially in developing countries, about the importance of having participative processes when making an environmental or political decision that will mainly affect minorities and indigenous peoples with little or no power of negotiation.

This paper advocates for more just, participative and empowering Impact Assessment processes. Usually, great development projects (also known as mega-projects) are assessed after a decision has already been made by the authorities. Moreover, the formal or standard way in which assessments are conducted, does not provide an opportunity for traditional/indigenous, or non specialist knowledge to be incorporated to the assessment or to the definition of impacts. Thus, these processes are not participative since they are shaped by the values and interests of a particular country’s dominant culture.

This paper is based on examples of projects related to hydroelectricity in developing countries. Mainly, I describe and analyse the case of Ralco, a Hydropower project that was built in 1997 on Mapuche Pehuenche’s lands without considering their opinion. One of the social impacts of this project was the relocation of Pehuenche families from their ancestral lands and the flooding of their sacred sites and cemeteries.

This paper also reflects on the value of an ethical work behind the job of the professionals and institutions that assess the impacts of this kind of projects. It also reflects on the conflicts of interests that underlie when the proponent of the project directly pays the assessors to write a report on their behalf. (This is the way it works in Chile).

The topic chosen is extremely relevant to the reality of my country and to the reality of other developing countries that are struggling to achieve development, sometimes without considering its costs. In this sense, it is important to ask ourselves, who are the beneficiaries of this development? And who have been treated as objects of mitigation (O`Faircheallaigh, 1999) instead of as designers of their own agenda?

This is much related with Convention 169 from the OIT, which has been recently ratified by Chile. This Convention recognises the term ‘peoples’ and their right to self determination and it represents an important step forward for the recognition of indigenous rights.

The topics exposed in this document are also relevant because we are now facing a strong national debate about the construction of a ‘mega-hydropower project’ in Chilean Patagonia which includes 5 dams and an electric system that will transfer electricity from Patagonia to central and northern Chile. This transmission system is designed to pass through Mapuche’s lands.
There are some that think that this project will be built to sustain the mining industry in the north of Chile, while the proponents of the project suggest that the country is experiencing an urgent ‘need for energy to achieve development’ (idea that has been supported by the government)

This story relates to CEC and IUCN visions and values, especially because it aims at achieving a society that is both environmentally and socially responsible and sustainable. In particular, it relates to the CEC’s vision of ‘sharing power’, since it advocates for the values on which education for sustainability is built upon: envisioning, participation in decision making, critical thinking, capacity building and the importance of partnerships and networks. In this sense, it closely relates to ESD Specialty Group and to CEPA.

This document hopes to contribute to societies where there is sharing of power and of the benefits of development projects to all its members, and where traditional peoples and their culture and knowledge are looked after and embraced in this path towards a ‘sustainable development’.

More specifically, this paper could be of interest to the Specialty group on Organisational development and change management that has a focus on intervention and conflict resolution through mediation. It also relates to the aims of the group for Environmental Information, since it embraces participation and sharing of knowledge to better adapt to changes.

For more information, contact :Adriana Suárez Delucchi. E-mail: adrianasuarezd@gmail.com

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