Maya Lands and Oil Dispute

In Belize, people who buy land only buy the surface (and the right to dig down to build surface-based projects, such as house foundations and planting fence posts).

This is because, in Belize, due to the predominant rock type being limestone, there are many branching cave networks carved out by underground rivers throughout the country. The blue hole, a popular diving site, was formed by one of these cave networks collapsing, and the sea water pouring in to fill the space left behind. On the main land, many of these caves were used by the Maya people before the European colonisation of Meso-America. The Maya believed that there were steps up to heaven and down to hell, and that the cave networks were linked into these steps. Thus, caves were very spiritually important to the Maya people. Many burial sites were made within the cave networks. They were also used for sacred rituals, including human sacrifices, on occasion.

When North American buyers came in to buy land, the government was concerned that, should they find a Maya cave, they would use it as a tourist attraction, disrespecting the original culture, possibly damaging it, and the money produced from this would be leaked out and not even help the local economy to thrive. To stop this happening, the Belizean government decided that land rights were only applicable to the surface of the land, and that should a greater depth be needed for something, the government had to be consulted.

The Maya in the South of the country, in Toledo district, claim right to the lands in their district, which was, largely, respected. However, the government decided to allow oil companies from outside to look for oil resources in the south of the country.

This has raised issues with Maya people, not just because of the lack of farmland. Maya generally practice a subsistence lifestyle, so that they only produce so much food as they need to survive, and they farm in the forest using slash-and-burn methods. Their practice has worked for hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the forests without any noticeable negative impacts to the overall environment. However, this is threatened by oil companies. Oil wells can often leave exposed, or more exposed, oil at the surface of the land. Oil, for obvious reasons, does not mix well with slash-and-burn farming. Oil wells mean large sections of Maya land cannot be used, threatening their livelihoods.

Other concerns are that the Maya will gain little financial benefit, as very few of them will actually be employed by the oil companies. The few who are employed are likely to only be so for the short term, and to have low wages while they are. Some say that no Belizean should be happy with the current format for exploiting oil, with the company taking 95% of the total profit, and nationals only gaining 5%. It could also impact organic cocoa farming, which is a substantial portion of the Belizean economy.

This is what lead to a campaign by the Toledo Alcade’s Association and the Maya Leader’s Alliance to declare the Mayan people’s stance on oil exploitation in 2012. One MLA spokesperson said that they could not begin to discuss oil exploration without a proper acknowledgement of the Maya land rights, as, in law, their “free, prior and informed consent” is needed, as they are the owners of the land that US oil companies intend to extract from.

Kenyan Tourism- Part II

Positives of tourism in Kenya

  • Conservation- tourists have influence the set up of various national parks
  • Employment opportunities
  • Improved infrastructure

Negatives of tourism in Kenya

  • Roads and plants are worn out or damaged by tourists
  • Much of the money earned is leaked out of the economy
  • The way of life for traditional people has been disturbed or outright destroyed, such as with the Endorois and Masai Mara for setting up the Serengeti National Park
  • Water issues as water is diverted for tourists, leaving locals short
  • Pollution

Serengeti National Park

This is the most popular national park in Africa, with lots of predators and animal migrations. Roads and tracks here have caused scarring. Water is channeled down scars and gullies from this which can increase erosion rates. Vehicles have had an impact on the landscape, and can impair animals’ survival chances. Vehicles produce noise pollution which disturbs wildlife.

Tourists need places to stay, eat and sleep so buildings have to be built, and should be built with very careful designs to cause minimal disturbance and be as environmentally friendly as possible. Rubbish disposal can be an issue in parks.

  • The profits are leaked out of the park
  • Foreign workers have been brought in
  • House prices rise when foreign investors buy property for hotels and holiday homes, so locals struggle to buy property
  • Local projects are sidelined for tourist developments


Kenyan tourism- Part I

Kenya has various issues:

  • Independence in 1963. Since then it has been fairly stable
  • Violence through country in 2007
  • Corruption and urban violence
  • East Africa is heavily affected by drought
  • 35% of the population is below the poverty line

Tourism is Kenya’s largest “export”; adventure tourists have come since the 1800’s.

Game reserves pushed out local people when they were established. In a single day 200 vehicles can bring 700 tourists to a reserve. Vehicle tracks were built and traffic increases to see rarer animals such as leopards (25 vehicles can arrive to see a single leopard). It is dangerous to go close to a leopard, which they do for shots. It is forbidden to go off the roads in the game reserves; doing so can spoil roadside vegetation. Authorities who find someone doing this can fine them on the spot, but the park drivers will do this anyway for visitors. A vehicle getting stuck in the mud roadside also increases erosion.

Some lodges, such as Leawa, have been built on game reserves for richer tourists; these are very luxurious and expensive; their money pays for the wildlife sanctuary. The game wardens are like an army, armed with firearms.

The horns of 1 rhino can sell for about US$7,000 on the black market. Rangers are allowed to shoot out poachers, and will shoot before they ask questions. Leawa visitors are funding a school for 500 pupils fed and educated for free with plentiful water

Conflicts with ex-locals

Masai Mara

The Masai previously lived on the land cleared for the Game Reserve. 400,000 Masai Mara were pushed out to make way for tourists by the government. The Masai trinket sales people are very aggressive. They were once a proud warrior tribe but drought and lost land has made them rely on food aid and selling trinkets. They have had to sell their culture for tourist money. A welcoming committee comes to ask tourists for money; they have a fake village and fake traditional dances for tourists.

They also sell illegal lion teeth and claws, which airport security doesn’t check for.

An hour away from the game parks is a real village. Someone entering the village should greet the women and touch the children’s heads when entering the homes as a sign of respect.They gain teeth and claws from predators in real battles, using spears to defend their town.

Deprived of their homelands, they were pushed onto barren land. The Masai think it is a blessing to have tourists come to help their issues. They have to make trinkets for tourists who are hours away for little money.

Their huts are made from cow dung which leads to swarms of flies nearby. They have no furniture. Fires are inside homes for heating and bedding is made of cow hide.

The Masai were promised that they would share profits from tourism by the government in exchange for their land, but they have not.


The Endorois were also pushed off of their land to the North of the Masai Mara. The land is used for tourism too. They were told they had 24 hours and if they didn’t leave, their stuff would be destroyed. They were lied to in a similar manner about payment for their lands. They were forced to live on semi-arid land and mostly live on food aid. The Endorois have been evicted from their homelands nigh systematically for many years.

Houses were built from sheet metal which means that the rooms inside were uncomfortably hot. Water was kms away from the homes. From December to May there is no water in the river. Some mothers were too poor to look after their children.

The African Union has said that the Kenyan government has to compensate them. A Canadian Lawyer has been helping them to reclaim their lands, and a large celebration occurred when she managed to regain them one of their lakes. The Endorois thanked her by claiming her as one of them.

(Image Sources:

Siberian Oil

Oil has been exploited in Siberia since the 1970s, with some serious impacts

Environmental impacts

The impacts of petrol development are well known; pollution, disruption of nature, and destruction of wildlife and resources. Soil pollution is largely caused by oil settling pits and broken pipelines.

Economic and social impacts

These impacts are less visible in Siberia, but include:

  • Population redistribution- the Khanty population have had to move off of their hunting grounds
  • Economic dependency- oil companies have supplied resources such as snowmobiles, which local people have become reliant upon
  • Deteriorating physical and mental health- depression and alcoholism have increased due to the loss of traditional life styles and a lack of formal employment available
  • Oil- Responsible for politicising local Khanty people. Traditional authority figures have been replaced by the rich.

Cultural impacts

  • Reassasment by local Khanty people of the importance of their homelands
  • Destruction of components of native religions including sacred places

Canadian Tar Sands

Tar sands are mixtures of clay, sand, water and bitumen. The bitumen can be refined to produce oil. Tar sands have to be mined, usually via strip mining, and then oil is extracted by heating.

Extraction is more complicated than with normal extraction. It has to be extracted, separated and then refined. It also needs to be upgraded first because it is so thick, and requires dilution with smaller hydrocarbons so it can travel through the pipelines.

There are an estimated 2 x 10^12 barrels of oil in tar sands globally, with the largest deposits in Canada and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Only Canada has a real industry in it, producing 40% of their oil production. Most of this is in Alberta, with 4,750 km^2 leased out to tar sands extraction.

Both mining and processing of tar sands produce many environmental impacts, such as global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, disturbance of mined land; impacts on wildlife and air and water quality. The development of a commercial tar sands industry can have significant social and economic impacts on local communities. Of special concern in relatively arid areas is the amount of water required for tar sands processing; currently, tar sands extraction and processing require far more water than the amount of oil that is produced, although some of this can be recycled.

Development pollutes the land, air, and water with dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in northern Alberta and along leak-prone pipeline routes that carry this highly corrosive cargo through communities and waterways across North America, causing numerous health risks. Not only does refining of tar sands increase hazardous air pollution, it also produces an especially dirty, carbon-intensive by-product known as petroleum coke, which is often burned like coal, increasing pollution greatly.  

It also obliterates forests, rivers and wetlands from an area the size of Florida, destroying an internationally recognized ecosystem and reducing the amount of habitat available for a number of sensitive and endangered wildlife species. Expansion puts major populations of caribou, songbirds, and fish at risk of extirpation.

Producing a barrel of synthetic crude oil from the oil sands by mining requires two to four barrels of fresh water after taking into account water recycling. Companies are currently licensed to withdraw over 590 x 10^6 cubic metres of water per year, which is roughly equivalent to what a city of 3 million people would require. Water for oil sands mining is pumped from the Athabasca River, a river that fluctuates seasonally as well as year to year, and withdrawing water during natural low flow periods (which occur primarily in the winter) has the potential to harm aquatic life in the river. This water cannot be returned to the river system because it becomes toxic in the extraction process and must be retained in “tailings” ponds.

There are currently over 720 x 10^9 litres of toxic water in tailing ponds actoss the Athabasca oil sands area. These ponds cover an area of more than 130 km^2. By 2040 these tailings are expected to occupy 310 km^2, an area nearly the size of Vancouver.

A study noted elevated rates of leukemia and other cancers in areas surrounding upgrading and petrochemical manufacturing facilities in Alberta.

The Alberta Energy Regulator is finally responding to years of reports by residents that emissions and odours from tar sands drilling and processing are making them sick. According to news reports, public hearings began in early 2014 following complaints that the tar sands operations have caused nausea, headaches, skin rashes, memory loss, joint pain, exhaustion, and respiratory problems, and have forced several families to leave the area.

A 2008 study by Environmental Defence Canada, found that as much as 2.9 x 10^6 gallons of water leaks from tar sands tailings ponds into the environment daily.

Companies from all over the world — from the United States and Abu Dabai to South Korea, Norway, the Netherlands, France, Germany, the UK and China – own huge chunks of Alberta’s tar sands. Many Canadian workers in the tar sands may be seeing large pay cheques, but there are enormous downsides. Long hours, poor accommodation, exploitation, remote job locations and a lack of job security are common complaints

Cheap labour practices allow tar sands oil companies to cut costs by hiring non-unionized workers and workers from other countries. There were 57,843 temporary foreign workers in Alberta in 2008 — a 55% jump from 2007. In a recent survey in Alberta, more than half of respondents said they were not benefiting from the oil; 56% felt that citizens are not receiving a fair share of the wealth being generated.

Between 1996 and 2006 more than 700,000 people poured into Alberta to work in the oil industry, creating severe housing shortages and a $7,000,000,000 infrastructure shortfall in roads, schools and healthcare facilities.

In 2006 homelessness in Edmonton increased by 19 per cent, while Calgary has seen a 458 per cent growth in the number of homeless people since 1996. Front line workers report that among the homeless, families and employed individuals are increasing in numbers. In one decade, the price of a single-family home in Fort McMurray rose from $174,000 to more than $800,000 – twice the average price of a home in Canada. Rents have skyrocketed: some workers pay $700 a month just for a cot in a walk-in closet; some tradespeople will wrap insulation around their vehicles and camp out in -40 degree weather. Wages for many low-income residents have not increased to meet the costs.

Many of Canada’ First Nations people are tied to the land and rely on the wildlife for their survival. Wildlife is being tainted by toxins, and fish and game are often covered in tumors. Moose meat is now high in arsenic, a carcinogen.

Fishermen, downstream from the mines, have discovered hundreds of deformed fish, and among the native peoples who eat local duck, moose or fish, there are unusually high rates of renal failure, lupus, hyperthyroidism and other rare diseases.

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