09 June 2008

Peru's Halts Jungle Highway Construction After Investigation Shows Design Wasn't Done

June 9, 2008 (Southern Affairs) -- Peru's Transportation and Communications Minister Verónica Zavala announced May 27th that Unasur's highest profile project, an inter-oceanic highway connecting the Brazilian Atlantic with the Peruvian Pacific, was being investigated after discovering that it did not have a budget or engineering plans.

The minister told a Congressional Committee that while construction on the highway had already begun, it was unclear how much it would actually cost because engineers had plans for only five of the total 1000 kilometers. The 2004 contract estimated that the highway would cost US$810 million but the contractor has since revised its estimates upwards claiming that it will take an additional US$569 million to complete the project. It is unclear what the figures are based on though, given that engineers have yet to finish designing the project. The revelation raises serious questions about how South America plans to integrate the continents infrastructure. The current plan, called IIRSA (a Spanish acronym for South American Regional Infrastructure Integration), was approved in 2002 and calls for the construction of four strategic continental corridors: Peru-Bolivia-Brazil, Venezuela-Guyana-Surinam-Brazil, Porto Alegre-Asuncion-Jujuy-Antofogasta, and an Amazon River transportation

In October Brazil's Environmental Ministry Executive Secretary Joao Paulo Capobianco said, "It's necessary to examine how [development in the Amazon Rainforest] will be done, on what scale and in what areas. In theory, there are methodologies and technologies that allow this activity without environmental damage." However, Zavala's announcement seems to confirm fears that regional governments are moving forward without considering the environmental impacts associated with their projects.

As the second largest Amazonian country, decisions made in Peru also have an effect on the rest of the world. As more and more of the rainforest is lost, less carbon is removed from the atmosphere, further increasing damage from global warming. The highway is expected to cut across sections of virgin forest and bring further development from colonists, ranchers and loggers who will use the road to reach previously inaccessible land for exploitation.

Peru's Congress has initiated an investigation into Proinversion, the government agency that approved the project.

By Nathan Gill -- www.southernaffairs.org