Risky link

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Panama and Colombia will link their power grids through the untouched rainforests of Darien Gap, where Central and South America meet. Following a recent meeting, the two nations agreed to an energy integration project to help reduce dependency on oil imports.

Environmentalists warn the project would require cutting a path -- at least 40 metres wide -- through the rainforest, allowing ingress of people and diseases into one of the world's pristine wildernesses. The Darien Gap has more than 900 different mammal and bird species, including endangered ones and over 2,000 plant species. But Isaac Castillo, general manager of Panama's electrical transmission company, etesa, defended the project, saying, "All human activity impacts the environment. We will take steps to mitigate them in some cases and avoid them in others."

Darien Gap acts as a biogeographic barrier for diseases such as foot-and-mouth, which are absent north of Colombia. Disturbing the ecosystem might cause diseases to spread northward, warn environmentalists. The power lines would also cross the homeland of the indigenous Kuna Indians.

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