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Road will Ruin Rainforest

Cross-country road divides St Vincent Parrot habitat - and St Vincentpeopleā€¦

The globally threatened St Vincent Parrot, national bird of St Vincent and the Grenadines, is under threat from a cross-country road funded by the Taiwanese Government. The road would irreversibly damage the remnants of primary rainforest on which the parrot depends, and open it up to further encroachment by illegal loggers and marijuana growers.

No Environmental Impact Assessment has been carried out, as is required under recognised international standards. An Environmental Investigation and Cataloguing study, prepared earlier this year, has not been made public, although a local environmental group opposed to the road has obtained a copy. It warns that the road threatens the parrot and other endemic biodiversity, puts the island`s growing ecotourism industry in jeopardy, and will interfere with an important watershed.

The St Vincent Parrot Amazona guildingii has recovered slightly after the population declined to critically low levels. The Environmental Investigation and Cataloguing study, by Ivor Jackson and Associates, warned that the illegal trade in parrot eggs and chicks is still a threat to its survival, and that marijuana farming already severely threatens its habitat. Our estimate is that the study area contains over 70 percent of the Parrot`s population and is therefore critical to its sustainability, the study says. The exemplary record of the St Vincent government over the last 20 years, in saving their national bird, will be undone to devastating effect by this ill-sited cross country road, said David Wege, BirdLife International`s Caribbean Programme Manager. The globally threatened St Vincent Amazon is the most spectacular of all the Amazon Parrots, and this road threatens its very survival.

The Environmental Investigation also warned of increased risk of landslides, since the road would pass through areas of unconsolidated rock on precipitous ridges and sites of volcanic activity, exacerbated by fragile soils and high rainfall. In the last week of this November, torrential rain caused landslides and mudslides which blocked roads on the island, and trapped people in their homes. The development is funded by the Taiwanese Overseas Engineering Construction Company (OECC), which was set up in Panama by the Taiwanese Overseas Investment and Development Organization, with the stated aim of providing infrastructure projects for diplomatic partners who support Taiwan`s campaign for recognition by the United Nations and other international institutions. The Taiwanese Ambassador to St Vincent and the Grenadines recently presented Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves with a cheque for US$2.74 million to fund the first phase of the Cross Country Road.

St Vincent`s opposition, the New Democratic Party, has come out strongly against the road, claiming that it is an election gimmick by the ruling Unity Labour Party, and accusing the government of putting unnecessary levels of pressure on the Taiwanese to fund this and other projects. A pressure group, Friends of the Environment /St Vincent and the Grenadines (FOTE/SVG), was set up in September this year following the signing of an agreement between the Government and OECC to begin work on phase I of the road. It is normal and expected procedure for any government, development agency or funding agency to require an Environmental Impact Assessment, said FOTE/SVG coordinator Marlon Mills Browne. A project of this magnitude also calls for a feasibility study to identify environment benefits, if any.

He added: FOTE/SVG will challenge the construction of the Cross Country Road on the grounds that it will result in irreparable damage to the Forest reserve and vital natural resources, and will impact negatively on the quality of life for the Vincentian people, now and in the future.

For more information on the St Vincent Parrot see:http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/search/species_search.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=1689&m=0

4th July 2014