Once again this year we celebrate the International Day Against Large Dams. Large dams continue to cause destruction, environmental and human, from their construction and the flooding of large extensions of land, communities, historical heritage and ecosystems, to the destruction caused by their collapse and their waters sweeping everything away, to the death of activists who oppose these projects.
Today, only one third of the world’s rivers continue to flow unimpeded by dams, and between 40 and 80 million people have been displaced by them. In addition, river fragmentation has decimated freshwater habitats and fish stocks. This has also affected the food security of millions of people (many of them the most vulnerable) and accelerated the decline of countless other freshwater species that depended on these ecosystems.
Projects continue to emerge
In Mozambique, the Frelimo government has now revived a colonial-era plan to build a second dam, Mphanda Nkuwa, some sixty kilometers downstream from the existing Cahora Bassa dam. Its purpose will be to supply cheap energy to South Africa. Identical objective to the Inga III project in the DR Congo. In January 2020 we learned that ACS was leaving the project (although it continues in Cahabón and Yesa, among others).
Indigenous communities continue to be flooded
However, this year we saw how the Ilisu dam was completed and filled in Kurdistan. This reservoir submerged the legendary city of Hasankeyf, a drama for human history and for the Kurdish people. The reservoir is also causing damage to part of the legacy. In itself, we understand that it had that sense, to punish them, to despise their culture, while controlling by flooding the territory under PKK influence, as well as taking hostage of the water flow to the countries below the Tigris riverbed, Syria to a small extent, but especially Iraq and the Kurdish autonomous zone. The filling of this reservoir hurt us in itself, but above all because BBVA was its direct financier (25%) and it did not affect it at all in all its verbiage of ethics and good manners, and even less in its millionaire business.
The Federal Court of Altamira, Pará, recognized that the Belo Monte macro-dam, in which Iberdrola participates, caused a significant interference «in the cultural features, the way of life and the use of the land of the indigenous peoples, provoking an important instability in the intra and inter-ethnic relations».
Temples* continue to crumble, dragging death with them
Among the disasters we must cite two ruptures, both in the United Stat
es and both in May, that of Edenville in and that of Sanford.
But undoubtedly the most terrible case was that of the Tapovan power project (520 MW), at the beginning of the Ganges, in the Indian Himalayas. On February 7, 2021, a glacier collapsed, sweeping away the dam, which also caused a flood. A total of 150 people were killed. The main reason for this disaster is the melting of ice due to the climate emergency and, obviously, the fact that dams have been built in areas close to the melting zones.
In India, in August, the disputed Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada River suffered a flood that inundated surrounding areas and caused 2,500 people to be relocated.
The anniversaries of Mariana (5 years) and Brumadinho (2) in Brazil were also marked. Although not exactly water reservoirs, but mining waste dams, both have been managed and supported by the Brazilian Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB). In both, the pandemic has had a great effect, paralyzing their repair processes. In the case of Brumadinho, the 2nd anniversary was reached without tangible results for the victims (including the families of the 270 dead). A few d
ays later, the government of the state of Minas Gerais announced with great fanfare a compensation agreement for the victims with the company responsible, Vale, in which neither the victims nor their representatives (MAB) were included. MAB announced that it would appeal in court. As if that were not enough, a few days later, another dam, this time for domestic waste, collapsed in Florianópolis.
Anti-dam activists continue to fall
The advance of dams continues to cause death also among those who oppose them, activists, often the same people affected.
On January 23, activist Fidel Heras, who opposed the Paso de
la Reina and Río Verde dams in Oaxaca (Mexico), was murdered. Fidel participated for more than a decade in the Council of Peoples United for the Defense of the Río Verde (COPUDEVER), a regional organization of towns, municipalities, ejidos (communals), communities and organizations of the Sierra Sur and the Oaxacan Coast where Chatino, Mixtec and Afro-Mexican peoples affected by the pretension of governments, caciques and companies to impose these hydroelectric projects participate. (See the list of Fallen for the Planet /Caíd@s por el Planeta)
On September 30, 2020, the historian and activist against the Hidroituango hydroelectric project, Campo Elías Galindo, was assassinated in Colombia. His last writing was dedicated to this project that has caused terror not only because of the accidents and emergencies caused (5,000 people also at risk of an avalanche), but also, as in his case, because of the persecution and violence against its opponents, including the murders of several activists. Before its construction, 62 massacres committed by paramilitaries have occurred in the 12 municipalities affected by Hidroituango, and a balance of 2094 people disappeared in the area.
Meanwhile, March 2, 2021 marked the fifth anniversary of the siembra (sowing) of Berta Cáceres, Honduran activist against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project. Her comrades complained for another year about the lack of justice, since the intellectual culprits have never been tried.
Anti-dam activists continue to be imprisoned
We also remember the imprisoned anti-dam activists, such as Bernardo Caal, imprisoned since 2018 for leading the struggle against projects on the Cahabón River in Guatemala, and the Guapinol 8 against the hydroelectric project of the same name in Honduras.
We continue dismantling dams and resisting them.
Among the positive news
, on November 17 it was decided to remove 4 dams on the Klamath River in the states of California and Oregon, the largest dam removal project in the history of the USA. This hydroelectric plant belonged to PacifiCorp, and it will join more than 1,700 dams removed in the country, 90 of them last year. This is the result of a major campaign by the Yurok people and other tribes, and environmentalists to restore the life and flow of salmon in that river.
In January the Spanish Ministry of Ecological Transition annulled the dam project in Barrón (Araba) and in May the National Court did the same with the preliminary project and environmental impact statement of the Biscarrués dam and reservoir project on the Gállego river, a tributary of the Ebro, in Huesca. In October the government stopped the Yesa heightening project … only to rectify it three minutes later. We still demand this mad project to be stopped.
And now it is 30 years since the formation of the Movement of People Affected by Dams in Brazil (MAB) and, in addition to congratulating them for all these years of resistance and support to the people affected, on a day like this, March 14, International Day against Large Dams, we reaffirm ourselves in the fight against dams and for water and energy management alternatives.
¡A luta continua!! (The struggle continues!)
* India’s Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru’s way of referring to dams, the «Temples of modern India».