Pineapple Industry Leaves Costa Rican Communities High and Dry

An employee of Costa Rica’s water and sanitation utility, AyA, fills the containers of local residents in Milano de Siquirres, who depend on water from tanker trucks because the local tap water has been polluted since August 2007. Credit: Courtesy Semanario Universidad

An employee of Costa Rica’s water and sanitation utility, AyA, fills the containers of local residents in Milano de Siquirres, who depend on water from tanker trucks because the local tap water has been polluted since August 2007. Credit: Courtesy Semanario Universidad

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 25 2015 (IPS)

Twelve years after finding the first traces of pesticides used by the pineapple industry, in the rural water supply, around 7,000 people from four communities in Costa Rica’s Caribbean region are still unable to consume their tap water.

The communities of Milano, El Cairo, La Francia and Luisiana are located in the municipality of Siquirres, 100 km northeast of the capital, San José, in an agricultural region where transnational corporations grow pineapples on a large scale.

For years the four towns have depended on tanker trucks that bring in clean drinking water.

“It’s hard,” the head of the Milano community water board, Xinia Briceño, told IPS. “And while the truck used to come every day, now it comes every other day. And when it breaks down, or there’s an emergency in some other place, or it’s a holiday, people go without drinking water for up to four days.”

Briceño, the president of the community association that runs the rural water system in Milano which serves some 1,000 families, is frustrated with the delay in resolving the situation. “As of next August we will have been dependent on the tanker truck for eight years.”

Since Aug. 22, 2007, these rural communities have only had access to water that is trucked in. They can’t use the water from the El Cairo aquifer because it was contaminated with the pesticide bromacil, used on pineapple plantations in Siquirres, a rural municipality of 60,000 people in the Caribbean coastal province of Limón.

“Chemicals continue to show up in the water,” Briceño said. “During dry periods the degree of contamination goes down. But when it rains again the chemicals are reactivated.”

The failure of the public institutions to guarantee a clean water supply to the residents of these four communities reflects the complications faced by Costa Rica’s state apparatus to enforce citizen rights in areas where transnational companies have been operating for decades.

The technical evidence points to pineapple plantations near the El Cairo aquifer as responsible for the pollution, especially the La Babilonia plantation owned by the Corporación de Desarrollo Agrícola del Monte SA, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Fresh Del Monte.

But it is public institutions that have had to cover the cost of access to clean water by the local communities.

As a temporary solution, the public water and sewage utility AyA decided in 2007 to provide the communities with water from tanker trucks. Today, the local residents bring containers three times a week to stock up on clean water.

In nearly eight years, AyA has spent over three million dollars distributing water to the four communities, according to official figures. Briceño said a system to bring in water from another nearby aquifer could have been built with those funds.

“The idea is to build a water system to bring in water from a new source, in San Bosco de Guácimo. But that means piping it in from 11.7 km away,” Briceño explained.

The first evidence of the pollution was discovered in 2003, when the National University’s Regional Institute for Studies on Toxic Substances found traces of pesticides in the local water supply. Studies carried out in 2007 and subsequent years found that the water was unfit for human consumption.

The Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber ruled that the Health Ministry, AyA and several other public institutions should resolve the problem.

But the state has not managed to obtain compensation from pineapple producers for the environmental damage, as it has failed to carry out an assessment of the harm caused, and lawsuits filed in the environmental administrative court since 2010 are still underway.

“That is one of the delays we have had, because part of the process of bringing a complaint before the environmental administrative court is an economic appraisal of the environmental damages,” Lidia Umaña, the vice president of the court, told IPS. “Not all of the different authorities have the capability to conduct appraisals.”

The judge said that without an appraisal it is impossible to determine whether the companies must pay damages or not, and that “in this case like in any other a group of experts must be appointed to appraise the damages.”

After years of waiting for a solution, the case has gone beyond the borders of this Central American country, reaching the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). On Mar. 20 Briceño and other representatives of the affected communities, and delegates of the Environmental Law and Natural Resources Centre (CEDARENA), asked the IACHR to intervene.

“The IACHR is currently preparing a report on the human right to water and they told us they would include this case,” said Soledad Castro, with CEDARENA’s integrated water management programme, which is supporting the communities in their complaint before the Washington-based regional human rights body.

In remarks to IPS, Castro complained about the state’s inertia in solving the problem. In her view, “only AyA has made an effort, bringing in water trucks at an extremely high cost. Although it hasn’t been sufficient, at least AyA did something. The rest have been conspicuously absent.”

The case has also drawn the attention of other international bodies and organisations, like the Water Integrity Network (WIN), which criticised the state’s failure to protect the rights of local residents and the slow, non-transparent reaction by the authorities to the pollution of the water.

“(The state) has lacked accountability and transparency in its laboratory tests, the information given to the community, and compliance with rules and regulations,” says the 2014 WIN report “Integrity and the Human Right to Water in Central America”.

According to the Chamber of Pineapple Producers and Exporters (CANAPEP), which represents the industry in Costa Rica, pineapples were grown on 42,000 hectares of land in Costa Rica in 2012 and exports of the fruit brought in 780 million dollars. The United States imported 48 percent of the total, and the rest went to the European market.

Worried about the growth of pineapple production and the possible impact on local communities, the municipalities of Guácimo and Pococí declared a moratorium on an expansion of the industry. But a 2013 court ruling overthrew the ban, after it was challenged by CANAPEP.

In 2014, the annual state of the nation report stated that pineapple production stood out because of the large number of conflicts, and noted that it had mentioned the same problem in earlier reports.

IPS received no response to its request for comment from Corporación Del Monte corporate relations director Luis Enrique Gómez with regard to the water problem.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Q&A: Papua New Guinea Reckons With Unmet Development Goals

An estimated 36 percent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people are currently living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

An estimated 36 percent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people are currently living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, May 25 2015 (IPS)

As Papua New Guinea celebrates 40 years of independence, 2015 marks a defining year for the largest Pacific Island nation, set to record 15 percent GDP growth this year.

However, unless the government tightens up its policies, the country will likely fail to achieve any of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) despite making significant progress in the past few years.

“We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve [the] results that the international community has laid down for everybody.” — Peter O’Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
“Even with 14 years of successive double digit growth, the challenge for PNG is to translate high levels of resource revenue into well-being for all citizens. The latest estimate of the population is now over eight million and approximately 36 percent of the people are living on less than 1.25 dollars a day,” United Nations Resident Coordinator in Papua New Guinea Roy Trivedy told IPS.

Mineral resources, including copper, gold, oil, nickel, cobalt and liquid natural gas, constitute 70 percent of all PNG exports; and mine and oil production revenues since independence have amounted to 60 billion dollars, according to the Human Development Report 2013.

Still, PNG currently ranks 156th out of 187 countries in the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI).

U.N. agencies have worked across different sectors to support PNG in the development of education and health, poverty reduction, and assistance with disaster risk reduction and social protection. Many of the reforms implemented by the current government over the past three years are beginning to take root.

For example, the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) education policy, benefitting students at the elementary and secondary level, is gaining acceptance throughout the country, with two million children currently enrolled in schools.

The government is also investing in higher education and vocational and tertiary education. But the country faces the challenges of tackling high student-to-teacher ratios, building and refurbishing educational infrastructure, improving quality of primary education services and scaling up the provision of secondary and tertiary education.

The government has also committed to free primary health care for all citizens, but U.N. agencies working in PNG say more needs to be done to reduce the infant mortality rate from the current 75 deaths per 1,000 live births; reduce the number of under-five children dying of preventable diseases; and reduce the maternal mortality rate, which has remained at 733 deaths per 100,000 live births over the past decade.

In addition, early childhood health is a major issue, with 48 percent of children aged five or younger suffering from malnutrition.

Infrastructure development will also be crucial to realising the benefits of the country’s mineral, energy, agricultural and tourism assets. The government is spending considerable resources to modernise and better equip the police, judiciary and corrective services critical for tackling inequality and discrimination, especially against women.

PNG will have an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to uplifting the lives of its people as the international community moves into a new phase of its development agenda: the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Papua New Guinea is the co-facilitator with Denmark of the Global Summit on SDGs scheduled to take place later this year.

Following a decade-and-a-half of development guided by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the new global blueprint for poverty eradication is expected to be centred on sustainability, including combating climate change, protecting the environment, preserving biodiversity and conserving oceans, seas and marine resources: issues that are highly relevant for Pacific Island countries threatened by rising sea levels.

While the 22 Pacific island countries and territories contribute just 0.03 percent to global emissions, their collective population of 10 million people will likely suffer some of the worst impacts of climate change.

In addition to loss of human life as a result of natural disasters, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that climate change could cost the region over 12 percent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the turn of the century.

Against this backdrop, IPS correspondent Neena Bhandari sat down with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, to discuss the U.N.’s role in PNG’s development agenda. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Has the United Nations contributed to Papua New Guinea’s economic development?

A: We have many United Nations organisations in Papua New Guinea and I would like to thank them for their contribution to the country’s development agenda. We are very happy with the work that they are doing, especially UNDP [the United Nations Development Programme], which is engaged with our department of planning [Department of National Planning and Monitoring] in setting up various programmes all around the country, including Bougainville.

Q: It seems PNG is not ‘on track’ to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals, scoring either ‘off track’ or ‘mixed’ in the latest results surveys. What is being done to fix the problem?

A: In fact, we have made significant progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Two or three years ago, we would have completely missed the MDG targets. But right now on issues related to infant mortality and literacy, the progress is much better because of the education and health programmes that we are rolling out. These programmes are contributing significantly to meeting the MDG targets.

Q: What are your aspirations for the Sustainable Development Goals? What strategies would you adopt to achieve the SDGs?

A: We think that our policies today are starting to yield the positive outcomes that we want: to make sure our literacy rates are beyond 80 to 90 percent; our infant mortality rates drop down to levels that are comparable to our neighbouring countries; and our life expectancy increases. We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve those results that the international community has laid down for everybody.

Q: The island nation has been the focus of Chinese investment and Australian aid. The Australia-PNG bilateral aid programme is worth approximately 577 million dollars in the current financial year. Which has been more beneficial for the country’s development?

A: Both are beneficial. The Chinese investment is not dissimilar to many of the other investments they make around the region. They make similar investments in Australia, similar investments in Indonesia and all throughout the world. But I think in terms of support in social programmes, the more beneficial investment is through the aid programme that the Australian Government continues to provide.

Now they are aligning their programmes to our priorities, which has never happened before. The aid programme is now looking towards the education problems that we have, the health, good governance and the law and order problems that we have. Those are the programmes that our government is regularly focusing on and the aid programme is partnering in achieving the outcomes that we want.

Q: In Papua New Guinea, there have been positive steps toward integrating West Papuan refugees and also lifting reservations to the 1951 Refugee Convention. What measures are being taken to rehabilitate ‘climate refugees’, for example, people residing on Carteret Islands, who are in danger of being submerged due to the rise in sea levels?

A: Climate change is global and it is not something that is unique to PNG, but we are trying to resettle many of those refugees on the mainland. Most of them have families and we are trying to get them integrated into communities that they are comfortable with. As in the case of West Papuan refugees down at Western Province, many of them are already in PNG for many, many years and we are taking steps so they can become citizens and have access to all the services that the government provides for its citizens.

Q: Will climate change be a major problem for PNG and other countries in the Pacific?

A: Yes, we are facing similar problems like some of the smaller Pacific Island countries. We have thousands of low-lying islands and as the sea level rises, these people will have to continue to move. The first step for developed countries like Australia and the United States should be to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol and then go with the rest of the international community. Climate change is a global issue where we all need to work together in reducing emissions and lowering the global warming challenge that we face.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida