On 19 December, the Cohidro consortium of Sinohydro and CASA withdrew its Environmental Impact Assessment on the grounds that it was unable to respond in time to the environmental evaluation agency SENACE’s requests for scientific and technical studies listed in the project’s terms of reference.

In its letter, Cohidro blamed the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC) which had failed to commission the studies in good time. Although the 20-year concession was awarded to Cohidro in September 2017, MTC published the tenders for the studies late in November 2019, while the date for submission of the final EIA was 8 January 2020.

In 2019, the Technical Engineering University of Lima had warned of the complexity of the proposed operation and the need for extensive prior studies since the hydrology of the Amazon and its tributaries is so little understood.

At COP 25 in Madrid, the Peruvian indigenous organisation Aidesep mounted a protest against the project which has united some 400 indigenous communities along the four Amazon tributaries affected whose livelihoods are at risk.

Their slogan ‘hidrovia no va’ (‘won’t go’) was converted, perhaps over-optimistically to hidrovia cae ‘collapses’ in Servindi’s news report of 21 December. Celebrations, however, may be premature if Cohidro’s move is just a gambit to pressure the state to extend the deadline. Alternatively, it could be a tactical retreat followed by legal action to see how SENACE and MTC react.

What has become clear is that the scheme’s commissioners and contractors alike are both unprepared technically and scientifically for the task within one of the planet’s most vulnerable environments.

The Hidrovia is one of 52 priority infrastructure projects announced by President Martín Vizcarra in September 2019. It is financed by China at a cost of US$97 million and implemented by China’s state construction enterprise Sinohydro and CASA, the Peruvian affiliate of an Ecuadorian construction management company. Vizcarra insisted that all priority projects will be implemented, including the Hidrovia.