Residents of Bellevue community in Port Vila have recently organized to fight a  multi million dollar intensive chicken battery (100 000 chooks!) complete with abattoir, not only close to residential areas but situated squarely on Port Vila’s reserved catchment protection zone for the Tagabe river. Despite Vanuatu having quite modern Environmental Impact Assessment laws (EIA) too frequently business interests persuade local authorities to waive proper process to fast track developments. This time we are tackling them head–on with a residents action group, threats of litigation in the Supreme Court.

The land is situated in an area set aside as future water catchment for Port Vila that specifically excludes intensive agricultural developments. Developers obtained the initial go ahead after a rushed preliminary environmental assessment found that the development would ‘not have any significant environmental impacts’ (100 000 chooks in your water catchment!) and raced ahead into the construction of buildings whilst residents were left racing to catch up.

It was gratifying to be able to offer the campaign strategic advice and in this case environmental law advice needed to turn this issue around. Also good to see The Activists Handbook being applied to good effect in the Pacific.

As of March 5, 2012 it looks like the Vanuatu Department of Environment will go back to the drawing board and require full EIA and the company has agreed to stop construction works in the interim. It’s not over yet though and I’ve advised the group to make every effort to ensure that an alternative siting of the factory is placed firmly into the terms of reference for the EIA process to ensure that the option of relocation gets a fair hearing in any process.  Community activism in Vanuatu is a whole different ball game to Australia and other developed nations, but many of the fundamentals still apply, especially where the developments are in the urban context (rural custom villages are another story).

Best of luck to the folks in Port Vila .

See recent media coverage in the Vanuatu daily post.

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