Groups Appeal to UN to Stop Forced Evictions of Indigenous People for Mega-Dam Construction
Environmental and human rights organizations submitted an urgent appeal to United Nations Special Rapporteurs on behalf of members of the indigenous Ngöbe community—the community faces imminent forced eviction from their land for the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam project in western Panama. The eviction would force Ngöbe communities from their land, which provides their primary sources of food and water, means of subsistence and culture.
The urgent appeal, submitted by the Ngöbe organization Movimiento 10 de Abril para la Defensa del Rio Tabasará (M10) and three international NGOs—the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), the Center for International Environmental Law and Earthjustice, asks the Special Rapporteurs to call upon the State of Panama to suspend the eviction process and dam construction until it complies with its obligations under international law. Given that the project is financed by the German and Dutch development banks and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), the groups also urge the Special Rapporteurs to call on Germany, the Netherlands and the member States of CABEI to suspend financing until each country has taken measures to remedy and prevent further violations of the Ngöbe's human rights.
The forced evictions of the Ngöbe are the most recent threat arising from the Barro Blanco project. These evictions raise imminent violations of their human rights to adequate housing; property, including free, prior and informed consent; food, water and means of subsistence; culture; and education.
"Our lands and natural resources are the most important aspects of our culture," said Weni Bagama of the M10. “Every day, we fear we will be forced from our home."
The appeal highlights the fact that the Ngöbe were never consulted, nor gave consent to leave their land. “Panama must respect the rights of the Ngöbe indigenous peoples and refrain from evicting them," said María José Veramendi Villa of AIDA. “Executing these forced evictions will constitute a violation of international human rights law."
Also central to the appeal is the role of governments whose banks are funding the dam. "Under international law, States must ensure that their development banks do not finance projects that violate human rights, including extraterritorially," said Abby Rubinson of Earthjustice. “Forced eviction of the Ngöbe without their consent is reason enough to suspend financing of this project."
Barro Blanco's registration under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is another point of concern. "Panama's failure to protect the Ngöbe from being forcibly displaced from their land without their consent casts serious doubt on the CDM's ability to ensure respect for human rights under international law," said Alyssa Johl of CIEL. "CDM projects must be designed and implemented in a manner that respects human rights obligations."
Panama isn't the only place threatened by the construction of mega-dams. As reported on EcoWatch, the Puelo-Manso watershed in Chile is facing two hydroelectric projects which 45 women recently came together for a five-day cabalgata to call attention to the project.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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