|Asunto:||[LEA-Venezuela] Interview with Jacqueline Faria, Minister for the Environment|
|Fecha:||Martes, 26 de Julio, 2005 06:59:25 (-0400)|
|Autor:||Jorge Hinestroza M. <vitae @......com>
Interview with Jacqueline Faria, Minister for the Environment
The Many Tasks of Environmental Protection in Venezuela
Monday, Jul 25, 2005 Print format
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By: Jeroen Kuiper & Gregory Wilpert - Venezuelanalysis.com
Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Jacqueline Faria.
Credit: Ronald deHommel
It’s amazing: behind the desk of Jacqueline Faria, Venezuelan
Environment Minister, stands a white box with the MARN (Ministry of
Environment and Natural Resources) logo on it. On top of that, there are two
words: solo papel, only paper. It must be one of the very few paper
recycling boxes in Venezuela, a country rich in nature and biodiversity, but
with a lot of pressure on her environment as well. How can one of the
world`s biggest oil producers combine the extraction of natural resources
with a sustainable development? Is the Bolivarian process even sustainable
by its own nature? Venezuelanalysis talked to the person responsible,
Minister Jacqueline Faria. The powerful woman has been in office since
January this year. Before, she was Director of Caracas’ municipal water
company, Hidrocapital. No wonder that water is one of the priority issues
for Ms. Faria.
Venezuelanalysis.com: Minister Faria, how many inhabitants of
Venezuela receive treated tap water on a daily basis?
Minister Jacqueline Faria: First of all, I want to say that clean
drinking water is the most essential source of life to all of us. In
Venezuela, we are treating 100,000 litres of water each second, in order to
provide the 26 million inhabitants of this country with drinking water. In
the cities, by now 94 percent of all inhabitants receive treated tap water.
In the countryside, this percentage is 78. With this data, we already
reached the Millenium goals set by the United Nations for 2015. Under the
Bolivarian government, Venezuela increased the number of people receiving
treated drinking water by 3.5 million. We managed to do so mainly through
the mesas tecnicas [community committees that negotiate with the water
company], in which the inhabitants of this country themselves participated.
They know where water is most needed. In the past five years, we built 150
water treatment plants.
The treatment of used water has been a neglected area for a long time,
although treated water is very important from a health perspective. We have
increased the percentage of treated sewage water from 12 to 21 percent. Our
goal is to get to 40 percent within the next five years. On the island of
Margarita, a very important region for tourism, we are currently
constructing a water treatment plant at El Tirano. Once that one is
finished, on Isla Margarita we will even have 100 percent treated water. In
the region of Barcelona, such a treatment plant is still missing. We will
start constructing it in the next year. In order to make clean drinking
water available for all citizens, we set up an investment plan for a period
of six years. This year we will invest about US$ 500 million in water
treatment plants. In the coming five years, this sum will increase to US$
600 million annually.
Does Venezuela have a water shortage?
We had three very dry years, which meant that we had to ration the use
of water in some areas of the country during the past few years. That is why
we, as a Ministry, want to make our citizens more aware about the need to
save water. For this, we use the mesas tecnicas. Here, together with water
companies, we as a Ministry made it clear to our citizens that water does
not simply come from the tap once you open it. We made it clear to our
citizens that water comes a long way before it arrives to their homes. That
is also a reason why we should think about the adaptation of the water
prices. Currently, water costs 700 Bolivares per 1,000 liters, which is very
cheap. We want to adapt this, because something that is valuable for us,
should get its right price.
It is not a secret that much illegal mining is taking place within
Venezuela. What is the government doing against it?
Indeed, the Council of Ministers [Cabinet] regards illegal mining as
one of the most serious problems in this country as well. We already held
five discussions within our Council on this topic, both on gold and diamond
mining. We have set up a work plan. We want to revise all mining in the
state of Bolivar, and we want to forbid all mining in the state of Amazonas.
In the state of Bolivar, President Chávez already ordered the Theater of
Operations Nr. 5, [a specialized army team, ed.], to act against all illegal
mining along the Caroni river, with great success. More than hundred mines
have already been closed there. This is necessary, because much of the
illegal mining causes pollution of the rivers. At many illegal mines, pools
with highly toxic mercury and cyanide-contaminated water exist.
In the state of Bolivar, we want the state company Minerven to produce
according to the environmental laws that we have. Mining should happen in a
In which way exactly do you want to combat the illegal mining
First of all, at the mines that already have been closed by the
Theater of Operations Nr. 5, we need to clean the contaminated water pools
and we need to replant the deforested areas. Secondly, we should take more
care of the status the miners live in. They often live in very bad
circumstances; mining is a very unhealthy job. Many miners live under a
piece of plastic; they do not even have a proper home. There are no shops or
health services in the areas where they live, so everything is very
expensive. There are more than 10,000 people living in such circumstances.
We want to bring our misiones, our social programs, to them. And we have to
offer them alternative sources of income, for instance in tourism.
Another region where mining is taking place is in the Sierra de
Perijá, in the state of Zulia. There has been much controversy over the coal
mining there, with indigenous people coming to Caracas to demonstrate
against the mining. Will you prohibit mining in that area?
The Ministry of Environment is not the one deciding about that, the
Ministry of Mining is issuing the mining concessions. What we do is asses
the environmental damage the mines are causing. At the moment, in Guasare
there are two mines operating. According to us, it would be the best if
those two mines keep producing, in order to efficiently use their production
capacity. Other mines which are planned further upwards, will not be opened.
Some media reports say that a new port, Puerto America, is planned on
the western side of Lake Maracaibo, in order to export the coal from the
region. Is that true?
We have heard this story as well, but nobody applied for the
construction of such a port with us. We are however constructing a port
outside the lake Maracaibo, because the current harbor inside the lake,
which is used by oil tankers, causes enormous pollution.
One of the biggest environmental threats worldwide is climate change.
Your Ministry of Environment recently published the First National
Communication on Climate Change in Venezuela. Which measures are you
planning to combat climate change in Venezuela?
Venezuela is one of the world’s leading oil producing countries.
Although we are only emitting 0.48% of the world’s greenhouse gases, we also
want to make our contribution to the reduction of these gasses. That is why
we are currently constructing a number of sugar cane factories, where we
will produce ethanol which can be used as an additive for gasoline. We also
want to phase out leaded gasoline.
Another contribution that we want to make is the reforestation of
large parts of deforested land. Trees can capture CO2; forests can be used
as so-called sinks for CO2. All new forests that we want to grow should
become production forests. That means that we want to breed cacao and coffee
plants under the trees. They will be grown with the help of organic
Wouldn’t it be a wise idea to increase the price of gasoline in
Venezuela in order to make people save gasoline? At the moment, water is
more expensive than gasoline, and gasoline is even sponsored by the
government, although a liter of gasoline costs only about US$ 0.04.
At the moment, our transport system is still very dependent on
gasoline. We still have almost no transport that runs on electricity. We
have started to construct a railway system throughout the country, as an
alternative to cars. But still, our public transport is in a very bad state.
The only thing that works well is the metro. Also in the field of taxis, we
have been active. Through the financial support of Fontur, a lot of old cabs
have been substituted by new white ones. Now we can at least say that taxis
in Venezuela in general are white. But there is still a lot to do. We should
take some of the old cars off the streets. We also started with the
construction of ethanol factories; one is under construction in Cojedes now.
And we want to phase out leaded gasoline, although I do not know when
exactly that will happen. You should ask the Minister of Oil. But as long as
we do not have a well-functioning public transport as an alternative, we
cannot increase gasoline prices much.
On one hand you say you want to combat deforestation, on the other
hand President Chávez issued decree 3110 in September 2004, which makes it
possible to log huge parts of the Imataca Forest in the eastern part of the
country. Years before, President Chávez had even stated that he was against
logging in Venezuela, which leads to deforestation and other environmental
problems while the money earned is mainly flowing to foreign companies. Can
you explain these contradictions?
In the Imataca Forest, concessions have been granted to logging
companies for only 12 percent of the total territory. Furthermore, they are
only allowed to log three trees per square meter. This means that this
logging is something different than deforestation. However, we do know that
some people do not stick to the rules, and we will have to act against them.
The Federation of Indigenous People (FIB) in the state of Bolivar is
strictly against logging in the Imataca Forest, because it affects their
homelands. Furthermore, they have been waiting for the demarcation of their
land for years already, something which was promised to them in the new
Constitution. When will the demarcation take place?
On August the 9th we will issue the first six land titles, covering
110,000 hectares of demarcated land to various groups of indigenous people,
in the states of Anzoategui, Monagas, and Sucre. The state of Bolivar is not
yet included. It will be the first time ever that indigenous people in the
Americas will receive communal property. The demarcation issue falls under
the responsibility of the Mision Guaicapuro, the mission dedicated to the
rights of the indigenous people in Venezuela.
Although the indigenous have the right to their ancestral lands, they
do not own the resources growing on or under it. If that would be so, then
an inhabitant of Maracaibo could also say that he owns all the oil under the
lake. If they want to start mining activities, then they can only do this
after reaching an agreement with the Ministry. But they are free to practice
agriculture and fishery.
Another environmental issue that came to the surface annually over the
last years is the problem of the growth of lemna (duckweed) on the Lake
Maracaibo. This duckweed caused problems for fishermen, and dead duckweed
causes a very bad smell. What are you going to do against that?
Lemna is a water plant, that grows on the surface of Lake Maracaibo.
The lake receives many nutrients from its contributory rivers on the
southern shore, which is why the lemna grows so fast. Last year in June, 15
percent of the lake was covered with lemna. This year, the area covered by
lemna was reduced to only 4,3 percent. At the moment, it is less than one
percent. The amount was reduced by natural processes and by actions from our
side. Part of the lemna is situated in the middle of the lake, where it
doesn’t do much harm. Further, it would be very costly to take out that
lemna because of logistical reasons. So we focus on the lemna that reaches
the shores. We have been taking this lemna out of the water by workforce and
with machinery. We invested 1,600 million Bolivares [US$744,000] in the
clean-up work. We expect that we can completely free the shores of lemna
The Environment Ministry has been active in revitalizing the country’s
other great lake, the lake Valencia. What works are you undertaking there?
Currently, together with the inhabitants of the region we have set up
eleven public works to improve the quality of the water of the lake.
Unfortunately, the lake has been strongly polluted by the industry in the
region. That is why we have set up the phone number 0800-AMBIENTE
[Enivironment], which can be reached 24 hours a day. Anybody who sees an act
of someone polluting the lake, can call us and inform us. We have started a
big campaign against the polluting of the lake. This includes the cleaning
of some of the tributary rivers. Everybody living close to the lake should
realize that we all need the water. Unfortunately, I have to warn companies
that do not obey to the environmental laws of Venezuela, that we have the
right to close these companies.
On one hand, Venezuela belongs to the ten countries with the highest
biodiversity in the world. On the other hand, this biodiversity should be
protected through national parks, which are often not much more than parques
de papel, parks on paper, because there are almost no guardsmen. How do you
want to protect the Venezuelan biodiversity?
One issue that we have to deal with is the export of special plants
and animals. We have recently cut down on such illegal trading. We detected
illegal trading in the internet, among others. For the rest, I do not think
that just increasing the number of parks guards would be sufficient. We have
to raise the awareness of our citizens about the value of the biodiversity
that we own. This includes improved education in schools.
Last year, President Chávez issued a decree against the use of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Venezuela. Still, nothing seems to
have been done concretely to stop the import of genetically modified seeds.
I do not have this information. We are controlling our imports via our
experts in this field who cooperate with the Customs office and with the
Ministry of Agriculture.
Thank you for your time and information.
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