Dam Nation: A Bloody History of Struggle Against Dams

According to the International Commission on Large Dams, a large dam is one with a height of 15 meters or more from the foundations, or one with a height of 5-15 meters from the base but holding more than 3 million cubic meters of water.

The 1980s and 1990s saw the frenzied implementation of large-dam projects in countries like Brazil, Chile, China, Guatemala, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.

These projects, however, were met with intense mass protests. These protest actions inspired the formation of anti-dam groups like the International Rivers Network (IRN).

The snowballing of anti-dam protests led the World Bank and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to form the World Commission on Dams in May 1998. The WCD’s tasks were to study the effects of large dams as development projects and analyze alternative means of developing energy resources; and to set standards and guidelines for planning, designing, assessing, constructing, operating, monitoring, and decommissioning dams.

The WCD studied a number of major dam projects in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.

The WCD found, among other things, that large dams had destructive effects on the environment that are difficult to reverse; and that for the most part, these did not succeed in delivering their promised benefits such as providing for energy needs.

The government has always argued that large dams have to be constructed to provide for the country’s energy needs.

In so arguing, the government disregards the environmental and social costs of building and maintaining large dams. It also ignores other sources of energy, and there are several.

There are biomass-powered systems, which use organic materials like animal manure and coconut husks. There are also the micro-hydropower systems, or small systems using energy from moving water, which are characterized by the use of turbines or waterwheels to convert the energy of moving water into mechanical energy, and are especially appropriate for areas with numerous and large rivers. Solar-powered systems, which use photovoltaic cells, and wind-powered systems are also possible sources of energy.

The government has ignored these options and instead chose to build and maintain large dams, claiming that these would bring “development”.

But the country’s experience with large dams is best summed up in these passages from the People’s Declarations Against Large Dams, issued in March 25, 2001 by the various organizations that participated in the National Workshop on Dams held in Baguio City:

“During the second half of the past century, we have seen the government development plan on energy projects arbitrarily use our river systems. Dams were built across the nation to facilitate development but defined only from the perspective of the foreign investors, dam builders, international funding agencies, and the government. Up to now, the Philippine government has been subservient to dictates of foreign monopoly capitalists of liberalization, deregulation and privatization.

“For this, the Filipino masses especially the peasants and the indigenous peoples were damned to pay a dear price.

“Thousands of Filipino families have been physically and economically displaced. Homes and properties have been destroyed and uncompensated. Communities have lost their heritage and their cultural identity. Harassment, militarization and human rights violation have become a common experience for communities directly affected by government development projects. Ecosystems have been destroyed.

“From the laying of the dam cornerstones to the turning of the dam turbines, profits flowed into the pockets of foreign energy corporations and their local partners, international funding agencies and the multi-lateral bureaucracy. Meanwhile, the flow of silt into the productive fields and the destruction of ecosystems, painful experiences of relocation and resettlement, testimonies of broken government promises on compensation, the non-delivery of social services to communities made survival more difficult for the already marginalized sectors of society. The needs of the people were drowned by the greed for profit.” (Bulatlat.com)

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