Save Rivers and Water: Global Effects of Dams and on Indigenous and Peasant Peoples

Save Rivers and Water: Global Effects of Dams and on Indigenous and Peasant Peoples

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By Gustavo Castro Soto

Research shows that hydroelectric plants are not only socially and environmentally destructive, but they also contribute significantly to global warming by decomposition that emits large volumes of carbon dioxide and methane, the two most important greenhouse gases.

For the indigenous

Embera-Katio from Colombia, "Damping the river is like clogging a person's veins. It affects the whole body, and then comes the disease. It is the same with the river. The water, the mountains, the land, the animals are the The life of the indigenous people. The life of the people is in the water. We are like otters. " For the World Commission on Dams (CMR), "Rivers, watersheds and aquatic ecosystems are the biological engines of the planet. They form the basis of life and livelihoods of local communities. Dams transform landscapes and create risks of irreversible impacts. Understand, Protecting and restoring ecosystems in the watershed is essential to promote equitable human development and the well-being of all species. "

WHAT IS A DAM? According to the CMR, "the dam is a work, generally made of reinforced concrete, to contain or regulate the course of the water, or to stop and store the water artificially." In other words, it is a concrete wall that stops the flow of a river for irrigation purposes, to control floods, or to generate electrical power. In the WRC report, it states that on the planet about 2.5% of the water is fresh, and that 33% of it flows; and that less than 1.7% of the water that flows does so through channels (rivers). "We have dammed half of the world's rivers at the unprecedented rate of one per hour, and also in unprecedented dimensions of more than 45 thousand dams" in more than 140 countries of the world, with a height of more than four stories, affirms the CMR born in 1997 and whose mission was to take stock of the impacts of dams in the world, which it presented in 2000. It also concluded that the regions with the highest number of dams are, in order of importance, in China, Asia, North and Central America, Western Europe, Africa, Eastern Europe, South America and finally Austral-Asia.

The first time that dams were used to generate hydroelectric power plants was in 1890. By 1900, several hundred large dams had already been built in the world, the vast majority for water supply and irrigation. The International Commission on Large Dams established in 1928, defines "large dams" as those that have a height of 15 meters or more from the base; or if it is between 5 and 15 meters high, but with a reservoir volume of more than 3 million cubic meters.

Total annual freshwater withdrawals from lakes, rivers and aquifers in the world are currently estimated at 3,800 cubic kilometers, twice as much as just 50 years ago. Between 30 and 40% of irrigated land worldwide is currently dependent on dams. Four countries, China, India, the United States and Pakistan, have more than 50% of the world's total irrigated area. On the other hand, hydroelectric dams provide 19% of the world's electricity and it is used in more than 150 countries; it represents more than 90% of the total national electricity supply in 24 countries and more than 50% in 63 countries. 33% of the world's countries depend on hydroelectricity for more than half of their electricity needs. Five countries, Canada, the United States, Brazil, China and Russia, generate more than half of the world's hydroelectricity. Between 1973 and 1996, the generation of hydroelectricity outside the select group of member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), went from 29% of world production to 50%, mainly in Latin America.

"From the 1930s to the 1970s, dam construction became, in the eyes of many, synonymous with economic development and progress." This trend, according to the CMR, peaked in the 1970s, when an average of two or three large dams were inaugurated every day in some part of the world, in the bloodiest period of military dictatorships. Total investment in large dams in the world is estimated at more than $ 2 trillion. This was one of the important contributions to the increase in the external debt of poor and developing countries that, after the electrical infrastructure created by the governments for the development of capital, the Structural Adjustment Policies of the world Bank (BM) and International Monetary Fund (IMF)

The three largest users of water are agriculture that consumes 67%, industry uses 19% (the equivalent of all hydroelectric production in the world), and municipal and domestic uses 9%. However, in 1995, 46% of the world's population lived in urban areas and may reach 60% within 30 years, mainly from poor or developing countries, where 25 to 50% of urban inhabitants they live in slums and slums. In this way, fresh water will be, as the World Bank stated years ago, the reason for many wars in the world to dispute its access and control. Brazil has 17% of the world's water, followed by Russia with 11%. 7% are in Canada and the same percentage in China. Indonesia, the United States and Bangladesh each have 6% and India 5%. 35% is in the rest of the countries of the world.

Curiously, in some of the countries with scarce water resources there are many of the transnational companies that are after the production of hydroelectric energy and the privatization of the sector. Among the 15 countries with the greatest "water stress" (water crisis) are, in order of importance: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Israel, Korea (Hyundai), Iraq, Madagascar, Spain (Unión Fenosa, Endesa, Iberdrola) , Iran, Morocco, Pakistan, Germany (Siemens), Italy, South Africa and Poland.

Of the five countries that account for nearly 80% of all large dams in the world, China alone has built around 22,000 large dams, or about half of the world's total. The United States follows with more than 6,390; India with more than 4 thousand; Spain and Japan between a thousand and 1,200 large dams each. About two-thirds of the large dams in the world are in developing countries. It is estimated that around 1,700 dams are currently being built in the world of which 40% are in India. If the world average construction period for a dam is between 5 to 10 years, between 160 to 320 new large dams are built annually.

The trend to restore rivers is occurring in many countries. In the United States, about 500 dams, old and small, have stopped operating for four years, which has allowed the restoration of fisheries and river ecological processes. Unfortunately this still does not happen in the countries of the South. Of the 6 billion people who live in the world, more than 1,000 million lack access to clean and safe water. It is estimated that by 2025, 70% of the world's population will not have access to sufficient water, according to the World Water Forum (The Hague, 2000). For this reason, water becomes a strategic resource to take care of. But the prey is back. Two companies, Bechtel and Monsanto, both from the United States, seek to privatize and control water in several countries, such as India, Bolivia and Mexico. In the last decade, governments have privatized access to water service, sewerage, cleaning, export and technology related to water. In 2000, the IMF ordered the privatization of water in 16 underdeveloped countries. Currently, 12% (of industrialized countries) of the world's population uses 85% of the world's water. For its part, the World Bank ordered Bolivia to privatize its water system, which was bought with corruption by the United States company, Bechtel, which was in charge of the water system in the city of Cochabamba. Immediately after Bechtel took control of the system, access to water decreased and prices rose 40%. But later, the town recovered the potable water system.

EFFECTS OF DAMS For the WRC dams affect relations within and outside nations; between rural and urban populations; between interests upstream and downstream of dams; between the agricultural, industrial and domestic sectors; and between human needs and the requirements of a healthy environment. But how to do it if there are 261 slopes that cross the political borders of two or more countries? These basins cover 45% of the world's land surface, contain 80% of the global river flow and affect 40% of the world's population. Large dams have fragmented and transformed the world's rivers since around 46% are modified by a large dam of the 106 basic slopes of the planet. The United States and the European Union regulate the flow of 60 to 65% of the rivers in their territories.

However, there is little awareness that the world's watersheds are the habitat of 40% of the world's fish species, and they provide many functions in the ecosystem ranging from the recycling of nutrients and the purification of water to the replenishment of soils and flood control. At least 20% of the more than 9,000 species of freshwater fish in the world have disappeared in recent years, or are threatened with extinction. Fish are an important source of animal protein for more than one billion people in the world. Although rivers globally provide 60% of the fish protein consumed by humans, they often constitute 100% of the supply for many riparian, peasant and indigenous inland communities.

Many of the floods in the world have been caused by climatic changes caused by deforestation and immoderate logging of forests that do not retain water. According to the WRC, floods affected the lives of 65 million people between 1972 and 1996, more than any other kind of disaster, including wars, droughts and famines. However, only 13% of all large dams in the world, in more than 75 countries, have the role of flood control. As if that were not enough, with dams, in addition to the fragmentation of ecosystems, entire societies have lost access to natural resources and cultural heritage that were submerged under the water of the reservoir. Cemeteries, forests and animals, archaeological sites, among others, were buried by water forever. The dams have generated between 40 and 80 million people displaced from their lands and houses, the equivalent of the entire population covered by the Puebla-Panama Plan. But the figure could exceed 100 million. Between 1986 and 1993, around 4 million people were displaced each year due to the 300 large dams that began to be built annually. But this figure could be conservative. Those affected downstream of the dam have not been taken into account. The world's two most populous countries, China and India, have built about 57% of the world's large dams, and have the highest number of displaced people. In the late 1980s China officially recognized that they had some 10.2 million restocking due to reservoirs. However, at least 10 million people have been displaced in the Yangtze River basin alone. In India, an estimated 16 to 38 million people are displaced by dams.

In China, large dams are estimated to have displaced 27% of all people displaced by development projects including bridges, roads, urban sprawl, etc. In India the figure is 77%. Among the projects that the World Bank financed and that involved population displacement from their places of origin, dams were responsible for 65% of this displaced population, says the CMR. This figure does not include people displaced by other aspects of the projects such as canals, power plants, project infrastructure, and associated compensatory measures, such as bio-reservoirs. On the other hand, 25% of the large dams for irrigation have salinity problems that affect crops and make the land unproductive. This percentage varies. Among the 15% of irrigated land in China that is affected by salinity from dams, we find Turkmenistan with 80% of the land affected. Among these percentages we can find, from more to less: Uzbekistan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, the United States and India.

Those who defend hydroelectric dams argue that it is a clean source of energy and that it replaces fossil fuel. But nothing more than a lie. Research shows that hydroelectric plants are not only socially and environmentally destructive, but they also contribute significantly to global warming by decomposition that emits large volumes of carbon dioxide and methane, the two most important greenhouse gases.

For him World Rainforest Movement "Dams are one of the main direct and indirect causes of forest loss and most have been the cause of human rights violations. This lack of awareness can be explained by the fact that for years dams have been portrayed as synonymous with development. Another reason may be that the majority of hydropower users live far from impacted areas and that the sites chosen for the construction of dams are frequently areas inhabited by indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and poor communities, with little ability to be heard by the broader national community. "

The more than 45 thousand dams in the world cover more than 400 thousand square kilometers of land, which is equivalent to the entire territory of the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria. They are also equivalent to 77% of the Central American territory; or it would be equivalent to the flooding of all the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Belize and Panama together. For the MMBT, the dams and their reservoirs "have flooded millions of hectares of forest - especially in the tropical zone - in many of which the trees were not even previously cut down, leaving them subject to slow decomposition. The reservoirs also caused deforestation. in other places, as farmers displaced by dams have had to cut down forests in other areas in order to grow crops and build their homes. Furthermore, dams involve building roads, thereby allowing access to areas previously remote by loggers and "development agents", which has generated further deforestation processes ". And he adds: "In Brazil alone, large dams have had a direct impact on approximately one million people, who have seen their lands and way of life destroyed. Hundreds of indigenous communities from Chile to Mexico have been forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands. People who are about to lose everything because of these projects should have the fundamental right to say "NO" to dam developers, the power to veto inappropriate projects, and the power to insist on development alternatives that do not increase human suffering. "

For the International River Network (IRN) , "Large dams became monuments imposed by military despots who seized power in Latin America during the '50s,' 70s and '80s. Notorious dams such as Itaipu, Guri, Tucurui and Yacyreta became the centerpieces of ambitious plans to exploit mines and industries. They also turned on the dim light of the bulbs in the increasingly populated slums surrounding Asunción and Sao Paulo, where the victims of rural wars sought refuge. "

IRN confirms that "The military regimes were happy as long as dollars continued to freely fill their coffers. Meanwhile, Latin American debt with foreign banks continued to rise to a chilling rate. While the World Bank looked the other way, dishonest merchants smuggled millions of dollars in phantom steel and cement and promoted senators and presidents to borrow even more money to buy turbines and transformers for the next round of waste. " Thus, engineering consultants and equipment suppliers in Tokyo and Oslo sold their services by passing unmarked envelopes to public officials as "recognition" of their cooperation. The Yacyretá dam had a debt of $ 10 billion, and Itaipu of $ 20 billion. More than 40% of Brazil's external debt was the product of investments in the electricity sector. "The dictators must have known that they were not going to be present when the accounts came in."

IRN describes the scenes of the filling of the reservoirs in the dams: "monkeys screaming in the overflowing waters, millions of hectares of rainforest and other ecosystems plunging into the black and stagnant waters, indigenous families transported away from their historic communities and forced to living in pitiful places, fish floating belly up, clouds of mosquitoes, and gunmen hired to keep out opponents who took to the streets to protest. The opposition was brutally crushed in numerous covert incidents. In Guatemala the opponents of the Chixoy dam were murdered. In Paraguay the police beat up intruders who built makeshift huts on the shores of the Yaciretá reserve. In Colombia the repression against opponents of the dams continues, indigenous leaders were brutally murdered earlier this year. "

"Now the pharaonic dams and their vast electricity transmission network are up for sale. Private companies around the world are interested in buying state power companies but only if national governments help finance the new owners. 38% of the cost of the privatization of the Brazilian electricity sector has been financed by loans from the National Development Bank. " Now many dams from the 1980s are being completed over budget, and the dam builders confirm that they were not fully planned. However, they continue to plan more dams. The leaders in hydroelectric potential in Latin America are Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina. According to IRN "Latin America is still fertile soil for dam builders who come from abroad, since they cannot sell their water technology in their own countries, where most of the rivers have already been damaged, and where the Environmental awareness has obstructed the construction of dams. Nations like Bolivia, desperate for foreign exchange, are beginning to offer themselves as sources of hydroelectric power among neighboring countries, just as Paraguay presented itself as the Kuwait of South America in the 1980s. "

SUMMARIZING: More than 45 thousand dams in the world have flooded more than 400 thousand square kilometers of land. Between 40 and 80 million people have been displaced from their lands, in conservative terms, of which the majority are indigenous and peasant. Many of the displaced were not recognized (or registered as such) and therefore were not resettled or compensated. When compensation was provided, it was insufficient, and among the recognized displaced, many were not included in resettlement programs. The relocated population rarely had their livelihoods restored to them, as resettlement programs have focused on physical relocation rather than the economic and social development of those affected.

For Mexican laws "The legal personality of the ejidal and communal population nuclei is recognized and their ownership of the land is protected, both for human settlement and for productive activities. The law will protect the integrity of the lands of indigenous groups. The law, Considering the respect and strengthening of the community life of the ejidos and communities, it will protect the land for human settlement and will regulate the use of lands, forests and waters of common use and the provision of promotion actions necessary to raise the standard of living of its inhabitants (…) The following are declared null and void: a) All alienations of lands, waters and mountains belonging to the towns, ranches, congregations or communities, made by political leaders, state governors or any other local authority in contravention of what provided in the law of June 25, 1856 and other laws and relative provisions; b) All concessions, compositions or sales of land, waters and mountains, made by the Secretaries of Development, Finance or any other federal authority, from the first day of December 1876 until the date with which the ejidos, common lands or any other class have been illegally invaded and occupied, belonging to towns, ranches, congregations or communities, and population centers ". (Art. 27 of the Political Constitution of Mexico).

"Only Mexicans by birth or naturalization and Mexican companies have the right to acquire ownership of the lands, waters and their accessions or to obtain mining or water exploitation concessions. The State may grant the same right to foreigners, provided that it agrees before the Secretary of Relations to consider themselves as nationals with respect to said assets and not to invoke the protection of their governments with respect to them; under the penalty, in case of breach of the agreement, of losing in For the benefit of the Nation, the goods that they have acquired by virtue of the same. In a strip of one hundred kilometers along the borders and fifty on the beaches, for no reason may foreigners acquire direct ownership over lands and waters " . 27 of the Political Constitution of Mexico).

The effects are the loss of peoples and cultures, historical heritage; as well as loss of ecosystems, extinction of animals, salinity of land and loss of crops; irreversible impacts to the environment and greater poverty, indebtedness and enrichment on the part of the dam builders. Affected populations living near reservoirs, displaced people and downstream communities have often had to deal with health problems, and negative consequences on their livelihoods due to environmental and social changes. On the other hand, "Among the affected communities, the differences between the sexes have increased and women have often borne disproportionately the social costs and have often been discriminated against when it comes to participating in the benefits," he confirms. IRN. In addition, electricity costs have not decreased and many of the towns affected by the dams have not immediately benefited. Many, decades later, they were equipped with electricity.

For the CMR, the dams have caused the loss of forests and natural habitats, populations of species, and the degradation of upstream watersheds due to the flooding of the reservoir area; the loss of aquatic biodiversity, upstream and downstream fisheries, and services provided by downstream floodplains, wetlands, and adjacent riverside ecosystems and estuaries; Cumulative impacts on water quality, natural flooding, and species composition, when multiple dams are built on the same river. IRN concludes that "it is not possible to mitigate many of the impacts caused on ecosystems and biodiversity by the creation of reservoirs, and the efforts made to" rescue "the fauna and flora have had little success in the long term. Channels for fish, in order to mitigate the blockage of migratory fish, has also had little success, since the technology has often not been tailored to specific places and species. "

However, in the context of the Puebla-Panama Plan they want to build more dams. And despite all of the above, the Vicente Fox government plans to build another gigantic one in the state of Nayarit that will threaten indigenous peoples and the environment. Can someone let you know?

* By Gustavo Castro Soto
E-mail: [email protected]: //

Video: Gather u0026 Indigenous Food Sovereignty: A Restorative Revolution (June 2022).


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  2. Akijora

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  3. Fielding

    I agree with all of the above. Let's discuss this issue. Here or at PM.

  4. Grotilar

    Good article. Thanks!

  5. Blakemore

    You are rights.

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