2017-06-08 Accountability Counsel
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Sign the petition to tell airport operators and investors to act.
On 5 June 2017, the independent accountability office of the Inter-American Development Bank confirmed that the Bank did not do enough to protect neighboring communities from serious harm when it funded the expansion of El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá, Colombia. The noise pollution suffered by those communities is grave and relentless, from the takeoff and landing of military as well as commercial aircraft at one of Latin America’s busiest airports. Noise is a long-standing problem that has been made worse by the airport’s expansion.
The report reads like a laundry list of failures to recognize the human cost of the expanded airport.
- The Bank and its client, the company OPAIN, failed to recognize the scale and complexity of the noise risks. Fontibón, a locality adjacent to the airport, has a population of more than 300,000 people and many of its residents live directly on the margins of the airport. Houses and buildings, which pre-date the expansion, press up against the airport, with only a road and, for some, a dirt barrier separating residents from the runway and aircraft. The Bank and OPAIN failed to evaluate the impact that increased noise generated by the expanded airport would have on the residents there.
- The Bank and OPAIN failed to meaningfully consult communities before the project was approved and as it was implemented. They failed to ask them about insomnia, anxiety, hearing damage and stress that community members suffer daily.
- The Bank and OPAIN failed to ensure that appropriate systems were in place to protect communities from the noise. They failed to ensure that there was adequate, complete and effective noise insulation in their homes: insulation that Aerocivil – the government project partner – is required by the airport’s environmental license to provide.
- Noise levels in the Fontibón neighborhood have frequently exceeded national legal noise limits. The airport’s environmental license has been violated, in some cases leading to sanctions imposed on Aerocivil. Yet the Bank had no system in place to monitor or respond to Aerocivil’s violations, and therefore had no way to ensure that the project it was financing complied with national law.
- These failures are linked to the health and stress impacts that communities are suffering. Studies have found that at least a third of Fontibón residents suffer from chronic insomnia and that reports of hearing damage are higher in areas with greater exposure to the noise. Children are particularly vulnerable, with studies finding a relationship between long-term exposure to aircraft noise and developmental delays.
“During its visit to the Project area, the Compliance Review Panel … was able to experience firsthand not only the impact of the noise on the daily life of residents (such as the need to interrupt a conversation or classroom activities when airplanes take off and land because it was impossible for the other person or the teacher to be heard, or the vibrations caused by some aircraft), but also the discomfort produced in some homes by the soundproofing, which in the Panel’s experience is in poor condition, does not really reduce noise, and prevents, among other things, ventilation in the homes.” (MICI Report, paragraph 2.99)
Comunidades Unidas, a community organization representing Fontibón residents, has been fighting for years for recognition of these mistakes. They feel vindicated by the report’s conclusions.
However, despite the strength of these findings, the Bank does not plan to take any meaningful steps towards fixing the problems in Bogotá. The loan taken by OPAIN was repaid early and there is no longer a contractual relationship between the Bank and the company. The Bank failed to adopt MICI’s recommendation that the Bank work with relevant Colombian authorities to analyze ways to improve the sustainability of the airport, claiming that such action is out of its hands. However, an institution with as much wealth and influence as the Inter-American Development Bank knows no such barrier. The only barrier is continued indifference to community suffering.
So, the work of Comunidades Unidas – with support from partners, including Accountability Counsel and BankTrack – continues:
- We call on OPAIN and Aerocivil to return to the table, to talk with communities about potential solutions. The report clarifies numerous issues – acknowledging as fact the lack of community consultation and establishing a link between the project and the health problems – and therefore creates new space for constructive discussion with Comunidades Unidas and other community representatives.
- We call on the airport’s new investors to support this conversation and to demand proper noise impact evaluation and mitigation from OPAIN and Aerocivil.
- And we call on affected communities, residents of Bogotá and their supporters to sign this petition, to lend your voice to Comunidades Unidas’ demands.
Together, we will continue to push for a long-term noise management plan that protects community health and wellbeing. And we will continue to demand that community voices are an essential part of that conversation.
See here for the original post, including a Spanish translation.