Canadian International Development Agency

PRESS RELEASE: Dam pristine river valley, says Canada’s foreign aid agency

September 20, 2001

A new report from CIDA recommends that construction of the proposed Chalillo dam in Belize begin early next year, even though scientists warn against the scheme because of its devastating effects on Central American wildlife.


CIDA report dismisses scientists’ warnings of species extinction

A new report from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) recommends that construction of the proposed Chalillo dam in Belize’s Macal River Valley begin early next year, even though scientists have warned against the scheme because of its devastating effects on Central American wildlife.


Submitted to the Belize authorities last month, CIDA’s pro- dam report was prepared by Toronto-based engineering firm AMEC, a company that builds and operates hydro dams for utilities across Latin America.

Buried in an appendix of this five-volume report is a study by the Natural History Museum of London – a leading scientific research institution – that recommends that the proposed Chalillo dam not be built in order to “avoid profound impacts on key aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.”

The Natural History Museum assessment, which was commissioned by AMEC, states that the dam will cause a “significant and irreversible reduction of biodiversity” in the Macal River Valley, and will fragment Central America’s best remaining habitat for the jaguar and Baird’s tapir, Belize’s national animal.

The dam would also cause a “rapid reduction in the already endangered population of the Scarlet Macaw,” a large, brightly-coloured parrot, fewer than 200 of which remain in Belize.

By drowning 80 percent of the watershed’s seasonally flooded riparian shrubland, scientists predict that Belize’s endangered wildlife – including the neotropical otter, Morelet’s crocodile, and the howler monkey – will either drown, starve or die out as they try to relocate to other areas.

Alistair Rogers, a contributing editor to the museum’s assessment, concludes: “It is absolutely clear that constructing a dam at Chalillo would cause major, irreversible, negative environmental impacts of national and international significance – and that no effective mitigation measures would be possible.”

Despite this dire warning, a Newfoundland-based real estate and power company, Fortis, Inc., which is the majority owner of Belize’s national utility, is prepared to start construction of the dam in January, 2002.

Probe International – a Toronto-based environmental group and leading critic of the project – claims that Fortis president, Stanley Marshall, is reneging on his vow to abandon the project if the CIDA report showed the dam would cause untoward damage to the environment.


The Natural History Museum report “Wildlife Impact Assessment for the proposed Macal River Upper Storage Facility” is available at Probe International’s web site:

Probe International is a Toronto-based citizens’ group investigating the economic and environmental effects of Canadian aid and companies overseas.

CONTACT: GRÁINNE RYDER, Policy Director, Probe International
Tel.: (416) 964-9223 ext. 228 or


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