Santo Domingo, November 27, 2009
The United Nations multi-sectorial team charged with evaluating the decision to install a cement plant in a buffer zone of the Dominican Republic's Los Haitises National Park has concluded that the project is neither viable nor pertinent. Los Haitises is known as one of the world's largest karst reserves, and is an important source of reserve water for the country. In addition, the region is the last stronghold of Ridgway's Hawk, reputed to be the world's rarest and most endangered raptor, with only about 100 breeding pairs remaining. Further, the area has significant cultural heritage, as reflected in Taino cave drawings.
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) representative in the DR, Valerie Julliand, described the Los Haitises case as "a historic moment of growth for the national society." She stressed that it showed how civil society, the private sector and the general public could work together to resolve an environmental conflict. "A country will develop when all its actors come together and contribute," she said. "This is a historic moment for the country, for society and for the strengthening of Dominican institutions."
The announcement, which was made at the UN Office in Santo Domingo on November 26, was received with hugs, loud applause and cheers, with the feeling being that it represented a victory for civic action. The Presidency called in the UN to deliver an opinion after widespread public rejection of the proposal, as reflected in a Gallup Poll showing that 85% of Dominicans were opposed to construction on the site. Ministry of Environment specialists originally rejected the project, but President Leonel Fernandez overruled their decision.
Speaking on behalf of the UNDP commission, environmental impact consultant Eduardo Vadillo Sanchez said that their analysis concluded that there was not sufficient information from the environmental impact study to allow construction of the cement plant to proceed. During the press conference, Julliand said that the announcement clarified that the project would not be viable in any other areas near the karst region of Los Haitises. The group concluded that the benefits and opportunities for the area did not justify the risks and high costs to society, and decided on these grounds that the project is not pertinent. Vadillo said their conclusions were backed by scientific facts. Domingo Abreu, an environmentalist who championed the group of young people who led the campaigns against the project, said that the decision is an endorsement of Dominican environmental specialists who early on had reached the same conclusion. He urged the government to listen to Dominican experts in the future.
The decision is a welcome one for bird conservationists. Ongoing studies of the ecology and breeding status of Ridgway's Hawk, whose tenuous populations were at risk from the proposed plant, are being conducted by the Sociedad Ornitologica de la Hispaniola and the Peregrine Fund. Conservation efforts by these two groups include releases of wild-hatched nestlings into two other areas of the country, in hopes that self-sustaining populations will become established.