As International Rivers' Policy Director and before, the coordinator of a Swiss NGO, I have advocated for human rights and the environment for more than 20 years. When I'm not at work, I spend time with my family, hike, and visit the opera. My favorite river is the Albula in the Swiss Alps.
“If you are interested in environmental public policy on a global scale, Peter Bosshard’s blog is the way to go,” the Policy Police recommends. Happy reading! You can also follow me on Twitter @PeterBosshard.
Governments and donors have announced their plans to move forward with the Grand Inga Dam on the Congo River, the world's largest hydropower project. Mega-dams have often been presented as silver bullets for the region's power crisis, but have left Africa's poor high and dry.
The Chinese government has issued environmental guidelines for Chinese overseas investors. They are not binding, but they express expectations for which NGOs that are faced with Chinese overseas projects can hold companies to account.
The international hydropower industry is meeting in Ethiopia for their big Africa 2013 conference this week. When Rudo Sanyanga, the director of International Rivers’ Africa program and a noted freshwater biologist, signed up for the event, she was rejected because of her critical views. This illustrates an approach to dam building that increasingly silences dissenting voices.
China Development Bank has prepared the blueprint and business plan for China's rapid economic transformation. As the bank becomes the lender to the world, it needs to address the dark sides of its development model.
The World Bank proposes to increase funding for mega-dams as part of the upcoming negotiations about the IDA fund for the poorest countries. Such an approach would undermine the Bank's purported goals of inclusive growth, gender equality, and climate resilience.
California counts some of the nation's most beautiful rivers and dreadful reservoirs within her borders. Can you imagine a river trip from the Yosemite Valley to the Central Valley dams through the eyes of a tiny water molecule? Will Yanopah, our little river traveler, ever reach the San Francisco Bay?
China has made great efforts to support poverty reduction in Africa, and likes to present itself as a friend of the African people. A new report warns that its loans for the Gibe III Dam and irrigation projects on the Omo River now threaten to pull China into an explosive regional conflict between well-armed groups in Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
A new report by the International Energy Agency reads like a propaganda piece by the dam industry. It calls for a massive expansion of hydropower dams, while consistently downplaying the impacts and risks of these projects.
Renewable energy solutions are not only good for the environment. If done well, they can pay for themselves and reduce poverty around the world. This is the message of the 2012 Ashden Awards, which just recognized inspiring renewable energy programs from Afghanistan, Cambodia, East Africa, India and Indonesia.
Some projects are so destructive that no reputable actors want to get involved with them. Think of the oil wells in Sudan’s conflict zones, China’s Three Gorges Dam, and the gas pipelines in Burma. If the price is right, however, some will still be tempted to do business on such projects through the back door. The World Bank is currently taking such an approach with a big credit for Ethiopia’s power sector.
Kikwit is a town of almost one million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Its inhabitants have no access to electricity. Because the water pumps are no longer working, they have no access to clean water either. In the 1990s, the town made news through an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, which was helped by the poor sanitary conditions.
Two inspiring river activists from China and Kenya, came together for a public event in San Francisco. With the Three Gorges and the Gibe III dams, Dai Qing and Ikal Angelei have taken on some of the most destructive development projects of the past 20 years. Through our global grassroots network, they have engaged in what may be called the great dam builders’ Whac-a-Mole.
Ikal Angelei, the founder of Friends of Lake Turkana in Kenya, received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2012. The award honored an activist who is defending the interests of 500,000 poor indigenous people against a destructive hydropower dam, and has successfully taken on many of the world’s biggest dam builders and financiers.
Jim Yong Kim rapping at Dartmough CollegeYoutubeJim Yong Kim – a public health expert, president of Dartmouth College and astute rapper – is the US government’s candidate for the presidency of the World Bank. As Dani Rodrik, a development expert at Harvard University, summed it up this morning, “it’s nice to see that Obama can still surprise us.” Will the new candidate, who was not on anybody’s shortlist for the position, be able to reinvent the World Bank?
The national parks of the Lower Omo Valley in Southwest Ethiopia are among “the last unspoiled biodiversity hotspots in Africa” and constitute “resources of all people in the world.” These are not the words of tree-hugging foreign environmentalists, but of Ethiopian government officials who recently prepared a report about the region. The Gibe III Dam and the sugar plantations associated with it are now putting these unique biodiversity hotspots at risk.
Tree of Lifehttp://firstpcalbuquerque.wordpress.com/All life on Earth began in the sea some 3.5 billion years ago. Yet there is a twist to this story. New research shows that almost all fish species that inhabit the oceans today moved there from rivers and lakes. This sheds new light on the importance of freshwater ecosystems for life on Earth. And it suggests that by damming and polluting rivers, we may destroy the seed banks of future generations.
Milestone birthdays are opportunities to take stock of our family, health and financial situation. So how is Planet Earth doing 20 years after the Earth Summit, the historic UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro? The planet’s economic output has more than doubled since 1992. Some members of the global family are doing extremely well, but the number of hungry people is increasing. And the planet’s health is steadily deteriorating, with vital ecosystems nearing the point of collapse.
Villagers affected by the Inga DamMost of the world’s poorest people lack access to basic services such as clean water and electricity. The World Bank and the Group of 20 are now proposing a new strategy to scale up infrastructure investment in developing countries. They pay lip service to the needs of the poor, and promote subsidies for large private projects such as the proposed Inga Dam on the Congo River. A new report from Christian Aid demonstrates that a more promising approach to reducing poverty and protecting the climate is possible.
Nexus HugDuring the last few days I attended an international conference on the nexus of water, energy and food security in Bonn. The event offered a lot of diplomatic hot air, some promising ideas and engaging discussions. We were even taught a new way of hugging our fellow participants - the "nexus hug" - and practiced working in the embrace of dam builders, UN bureaucrats and government officials.
Exclusive club: the G20 heads of stateDemocracy is a messy affair. It forces government officials and politicians to face parliamentary scrutiny, pesky journalists and grassroots pressure. While they uphold democracy and good governance in their rhetoric, governments and the World Bank have begun to shift important decisions about global development to the Group of 20, a body that is largely shielded from public debate and democratic control. It’s time to shed some light on an institution that has become a key power broker for the interests of the global 1%, including through the promotion of large dams.
Bottom-up approaches conserve water and strengthen climate resilience in agricultureCIIFAD CornellWhen the World Commission on Dams reviewed the development effectiveness of dams, multipurpose projects with large dams, power plants and irrigation schemes had the worst social, environmental and economic track record. As the world is grappling for appropriate answers to climate change, influential actors such as the World Bank want to give these complex schemes a second chance. They are wrong. While we need to integrate the concerns of climate change, water, energy and food security, we don’t need to go back to old-fashioned multipurpose schemes like the Narmada dams. And while we need to store water to adapt to a changing climate, we can do so in other ways than the big, centralized reservoirs of the past.
Displaced by a landgrab in Western EthiopiaOakland InstituteAs food prices rise, the lands of rural communities are being snatched up for plantations at an alarming rate around the world. According to the World Bank, large agricultural land deals made up an area the size of Sweden in 2009 alone. A new report documents how the controversial Gibe III Dam is fueling landgrabs in Southwestern Ethiopia right now. These grabs will compound the dam’s impacts on poor communities and their unique ecosystems.
Lake Turkana World Heritage SiteAlison M. Jones for www.nowater-nolife.orgPlaces like the Grand Canyon, Taj Mahal and Great Wall of China are of such outstanding cultural or natural value that the world’s governments have committed to protect and preserve them for future generations. The UN’s World Heritage Committee recently called on the Ethiopian government and Chinese financiers to suspend the Gibe III hydropower project to fulfill their obligation for the protection of such a site. Read more about this exciting development.
Police intimidation in EthiopiaBBCAt the end of June, Reeyot Alemu, an Ethiopian journalist, was thrown into jail after she dared to raise questions about the proposed Grand Millennium Dam. This is only the latest example of the severe repression that the Ethiopian government metes out against anybody who takes a critical position on its massive hydropower projects. In spite of such repression, the International Hydropower Association recently recognized Ethiopia’s power utility as a “Sustainability Partner.” This is a telling example of the dam industry’s current propaganda effort – an effort that is at best naive and at worst cynical.
Kader Asmal and Nelson Mandela at the launch of the WCD reportThe World Commission on Dams was one of the most unusual experiments in global governance. Mandated to develop a new model for water and energy projects, it brought together, among others, a firebrand activist from India, a corporate CEO from Sweden, an indigenous rights advocate from the Philippines, and a dam engineer from the US. Thanks to the genius and determination of its chair Kader Asmal, this unlikely group of experts from opposite walks of life worked together to produce a breakthrough for human rights and the environment. Unlike many other such documents, their report, Dams and Development, has never gathered dust. Earlier today, Kader Asmal – an independent spirit and tireless advocate for human rights – died in his native South Africa.
The Marmorera DamMargherita SpiluttiniWhen I was in fifth grade, we spent a week at the Marmorera Dam in the Swiss Alps, where we learned about the wonders of hydropower, the “white gold” of Switzerland. I loved the cute village which had been rebuilt on the reservoir, and admired how the 91 meter high earthen dam had been planted with grass and pine trees. Years later I learned how the affected families had been cheated when they were resettled, and how their community has remained scarred ever since. When I see the dam’s green cover now, it reminds me of how dam builders often try to brush over the problems of their projects.Today, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) has launched a new global effort to greenwash hydropower.
Pascua River, ChileAccording to a new report which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published today, the sky is the limit for the expansion of renewable energy. With an investment of slightly less than 1% of global GDP, renewable energy could contribute up to 43% of the world’s energy supply by 2030, and 77% by 2050. Such an increase could stabilize the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere at 450 ppm and may be just enough to avoid catastrophic climate change. It would also boost energy access for the 1.4 billion people who currently live without access to electricity.
Lightning StormWikimedia CommonsOnly 140 kilometers from our Berkeley office, the Folsom Dam towers 100 meter high over the American River. When it was built in the 1950s, the project was supposed to withstand the most severe flood in 250 years. Yet after it was completed, strong floods suddenly became more frequent and overtopped the dam at several instances. Until a safety upgrade goes forward, 440,000 people in the downstream area are exposed to the highest level of flood risk in the US. Scientists have now found evidence that the project’s problem may be partly of its own making, and that dams can in fact kick up a storm.
The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze RiverIn an unexpected statement, China’s government has just acknowledged the serious problems of the Three Gorges Dam. “The project is now greatly benefiting the society in the aspects of flood prevention, power generation, river transportation and water resource utilization,” the government maintained, but it has also “caused some urgent problems in terms of environmental protection, the prevention of geological hazards and the welfare of the relocated communities.” On the same day, it announced concrete measures to improve the living conditions of the displaced people, protect the Yangtze’s ecosystem and prevent geological disasters. What is new about this acknowledgment? And what does it mean for China’s future dam building plans?
Protecting rivers and defending the rights of the communities that depend on them.
International Rivers, 2150 Allston Way, Suite 300, Berkeley, CA 94704-1378, USA Tel: +1 510 848 1155 | Fax: +1 510 848 1008 | Email Please direct all inquiries, comments, and error reports to our contact form. International Rivers is licensed under Creative Commons