Nicaragua Sugar Estates Limited (NSEL) is the owner of an agro-energy complex located northwest of Managua, in the department of Chinandega. This IFC-financed project seeks to expand NSEL’s production and processing of sugarcane. In March 2008, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) lodged a complaint with the Compliance Advisor / Ombudsman (CAO) on behalf of 673 residents of communities in the departments of León and Chinandega and former NSEL employees. The complaint raised the following concerns:
1. Health impacts on local communities including Chronic Kidney Damage (CKD) & respiratory problems as a result of sugarcane burning;
2. Labor and working conditions such as rights of association and restrictions to forming a union;
3. Inappropriate land acquisition in relation to indigenous communities;
4. Offsite environmental impacts including water contamination, air pollution and pesticide effluence;
5. IFC compliance with performance standards, policies and procedures.
Since February 2009, CAO has convened a dialogue table which is using a collaborative process to address the concerns of community members and NSEL. The parties have so far agreed on a framework to support an independent study to investigate the cause of CKD and explore options to improve care for those suffering of CKD in Chichigalpa. Alongside the dialogue table, CAO has assisted community members from Goyena and Abangasca to address concerns together with the company.
CKD scoping study: A critical concern for the parties was to understand the cause of CKD through a credible and independent investigation. Therefore, CAO facilitated an open, competitive selection process with the dialogue participants, who selected Boston University by consensus to conduct a scoping study. The study, which Boston University presented to the parties in December 2009, concluded that there was some association between some occupations (including agriculture and mining) and the prevalence of CKD in the Pacific zone of Nicaragua. It is not known whether this association is causal. Boston University has released a report summarizing the research activities.
Improved care for the community: The parties have continued to meet at the dialogue table to discuss how best to address the medical needs of community members suffering of CKD and to search for opportunities to improve the quality of local health care services. As a first step, NSEL provided ultrasound equipment and the services of a radiologist. The Ministry of Health (MINSA) approved an offer by NSEL and the German Investment Corporation (DEG) to donate $320.000 to improve facilities and services at the local Health Center in Chichigalpa.
Alternate means of livelihood and other donations for those affected by CKD: ASOCHIVIDA and NSEL have agreed to address the urgent need to support community members who are sick and unable to work or are survivors of workers who have passed away. Community support includes food aid, development of a microcredit program, improvement to housing and alternative income generation approaches for ASOCHIVIDA members.
On June 28 2012, ASOCHIVIDA and NSEL signed an Agreement that closes out CAO’s participation as a convener and mediator of the dialogue process on CKD. The CAO has entered a monitoring role to follow up on the implementation of the commitments made by the parties, and will assist them in case they face difficulties in their direct dialogue.