EU paper companies polluting South American rivers, say NGOs

European companies involved in the pulp and paper industry in South America came under fire this week for polluting and depleting water resources across Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina.

The attack from a coalition of NGOs led by Friends of the Earth preceded the Europe-Latin America Summit in Vienna on Friday. The EU, South America’s first foreign investor and second most important trade partner, hopes the summit will strengthen economic cooperation.

But environmentalists accuse European companies of polluting water resources with effluent from pulp plants, and causing rivers to dry up by damming water flows and clearing swathes of rainforest to make room for eucalyptus plantations.

One company put in the spotlight was Norwegian-Brazilian Aracruz Celulose, the world’s largest producer of eucalyptus pulp, which set up eucalyptus plantations in protected areas of Brazilian rainforest and caused several rivers and streams to dry up, the NGOs say.

Aracruz is planning to expand its activity in South America and relies on funding from European banks for this – as do Finland’s Metsa Botnia and Spanish ENCE, whose planned paper mill complex on the Uruguay River continues to raise protests in Argentina.

Argentineans say that the development would cause severe pollution in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Widespread protests have prompted one European bank to pull out of funding the project (see related story).

Other effects of European pulp and paper companies’ activities in South America include deforestation, the concentration of land in the hands of a few transnational corporations, and the displacement of communities.

“The establishment of forest monocultures for the production of cellulose in South American countries has had serious social and environmental impacts in Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay,” said Carlos Santos of Friends of the Earth Uruguay/Redes.

More information on the Europe-Latin America summit in Vienna can be found here.

More information on the alternative Friends of the Earth summit can be found here.

Goska Romanowicz

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