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Chalillo Dam, Belize

The first environmental case to be brought to the highest court of appeal of Belize: the 5 MW dam is a small project but brought about severe environmental damages in a "biogem" of Mesoamerica.


Chalillo hydroelectric project was first proposed in the early 1990s and later integrated into the Central American Electric Interconnection System (Sistema de Integración Eléctrica para América Central - SIEPAC); it is operating since end 2005, built by the Canadian company Fortis with Chinese participation. The project was the subject of a huge campaign in the late 1990s and early 2000s by environmentalist groups in Belize and elsewhere who were concerned about the project's impacts on the Macal River. Since the first feasibility study there have been warnings of the heavy environmental damage, also due to the peculiarity of the Maya Mountains. Only the head pond behind this dam will inundate 1,000 hectares of riverine habitat, which is, according to some scientists, the only habitat of its type in all of Central America. The dam would further threaten the endangered Scarlet Macaw and other rare species. The dam would fracture the Mesoamerican Wildlife Corridor, a rain forest tract stretching from Mexico to Panama, established to protect migration routes and breeding grounds for wild cats, migratory birds, and other animals. National Geographic News quote Sharon Matola, founder of the Belize Zoo and a principal of a lawsuit against the dam, the first environmental lawsuit of Belize, who said: "This is the cradle for biodiversity in Central America, and arguably the wildest place left in the region. Trading off millions of years of biological evolution for a hydro scheme which, at best, would last 50 years, is an environmental crime of the highest degree." [1] There are also many unexcavated Mesoamerican ruins in the surrounding jungle.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Chalillo Dam, Belize
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The dam itself is 30 meters high (about 150 feet at it's highest point) and will produce a maximum of 5 Megawatts fixed energy, both from Chalillo and by adding storage to the Mollejon Hydroelectric Plant where the water will be stored and converted to energy. It is considered a run-of-river scheme.

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Project area:1,000 flooded
Level of Investment for the conflictive project100,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:16,000
Start of the conflict:1990
Company names or state enterprises:Belize Electric Company Limited (BECOL) from Belize
Fortis from Canada - Fortis is the owner of BECOL
Sinochem Corporation from China
International and Finance InstitutionsCanadian International Development Agency (CIDA) from Canada
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO)
Alliance of Conbservation NGOs (BACONGO)
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
International Coalition to Save the Macal River
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
International Conservationists, lawyers
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Organizations gathered in an international campaign which used to have a website called
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsVisible: Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsDiseases caused by still waters in the reservoir
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Support from famous personalities, like Hollywood actors Harrison Ford y Cameron Diaz
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Canadian company is still making its profits and remains unpunished for the irregularities and corruption.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Analysis of the Final Feasibility Study and Environmental

Impact Assessment for the Proposed Chalillo Dam

Prepared for The Belize Alliance of Conservation Non-Government Organizations by Conservation Strategy Fund
[click to view]

Hershowitz, A. (2008). Solid Foundation: Belize's Chalillo Dam and Environmental Decisionmaking, A. Ecology LQ, 35, 73.
[click to view]

[1] National Geographic
[click to view]

[2] Belize Magazine - The Chalillo Dam
[click to view]

[3] Probe International
[click to view]

[4] The Independent, 2003 - Belizean macaws and tapirs threatened by dam project

By Elizabeth Mistry
[click to view]

[5] International Rivers on water contamination of the Macal River
[click to view]

World Rainforest Movement
[click to view]

Gustavo Soto describes the main anti-dam resistance meetings in the last 30 years
[click to view]

Kingstone Times, Fortis foes allege eco-misdeeds, by LYNN WOODS on Jun 6, 2013
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Daniela Del Bene, ICTA - UAB
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1778
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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