I've worked on Africa's rivers for more than a dozen years, and have been privileged to collaborate with incredibly inspiring activists. A healthy river is such a remarkable thing, it gives so much to so many people; we're working across the continent to keep Africa's rivers free. If I wasn't working on rivers, I'd be doing what I can to save the world's oceans and coral reefs. My colleagues think I spend too much time underwater and talking about my cats. They're wrong.
It goes without saying that most of the people I work with love rivers. Every dam activist is first and foremost a river lover. Graceful, nimble, full of life, exciting – rivers stir some of our strongest connections to our landscape.
The destruction of the Aral Sea in Central Asia has been called the world's worst environmental disaster. It's not something we should be repeating, especially in a time of growing uncertainty about water resources on our warming planet.
San Francisco Bay Area residents can view "The New Environmentalists," a film about this year's Goldman Prize winners, twice in coming days: October 12 at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and October 15 on local public television channel KQED at 7:30 pm. River activist Ikal Angelei, who has led the fight to protect Lake Turkana from dams being built upstream in Ethiopia, is featured.
A guest blog from the communications officer at the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) in Uganda. Some foreign investment firms have called it the next ‘golden’ commodity. Many analysts, global human right groups and civil society organizations have called it neocolonialism. If I may be sentimental, I want to call it the new slavery.
It was a bright year for renewable energy in many parts of the world, despite the recession. Global investment in clean energy generation capacity reached a record high of $260 billion in 2011, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Investment in solar technology grew by a third over the previous year.
Bujagali Falls Like most rich nations, the Netherlands has seen its “carbon footprint” rise in recent decades. In an effort to shrink that footprint, the Dutch government has been purchasing “carbon credits” through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The Netherlands now proposes to purchase “offsets” from the Bujagali Dam on the Nile River in Uganda. The CDM board will decide whether to register Bujagali for credits on Dec. 29.
Carla filming in TemacaAbout a year ago, filmmaker Carla Pataky and I were lugging her heavy camera gear around the rough cobbled streets of Temaca, Mexico, trying to convince busy activists to talk to us for a few minutes as they rushed between sessions at the Rivers for Life 3 meeting. The town was full of beautiful backdrops for the interviews, and dozens of activists hailing from 54 countries spoke to us about the work they do, the dams they are fighting, and the visions they had for their rivers and communities. From day one, we could tell we were going to have a very hard time making a short film, given the remarkable people and the richness of the stories Carla was capturing on film.
(A guest blog by our former Africa program director) Cahora Bassa Dam bypasses villages under its power linesThe Conference of Energy Ministers in Africa – a two-year old institution recognized by the African Union and donors as the official voice of Africa's energy future – recently met for the second time and released a new declaration that can fairly be called double-speak. The first half of the declaration is so great, it could have been written by a Nelson Mandela of energy. It outlines the brutal reality of Africa's energy poverty and the goals for universal access to sustainable energy across Africa by 2030.
A new report by an Ethiopian with experience in energy planning reveals that the new Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, now planned for the Nile, could be an overpriced, under-performing boondoggle. The report notes that the US$4.7 billion dam will be very inefficient in terms of producing electricity, and therefore a poor investment for a country with high poverty, low access to electricity and recurring hydropower-killing droughts.
A three-part series by Al Jazeera explores the human history surrounding the Nile – the world's longest river – and the growing conflict around its use. That conflict is being fanned by a growing population, political unrest, climate change, and a dam-boom in the region (especially in Ethiopia ). It’s a very powerful and comprehensive look at this remarkable, important resource.
Nu River, ChinaThe list of World Heritage Sites is the ultimate “bucket list,” comprised of more than 900 of the world’s most amazing natural and man-made wonders on earth. From the Great Wall of China to Stonehenge, the Great Barrier Reef to the Grand Canyon, these are places of “outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity,” according to UNESCO, the keeper of the list. They are, in a word, irreplaceable.
The gigantic Grand Inga hydropower dam, proposed for the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is making the rounds of international meetings as a solution to Africa's poverty. The costly US$80 billion Grand Inga would buy a lot of clean cook stoves, micro-hydro turbines, small solar panels, drip-irrigation systems, LED lanterns, malaria nets and the like. These are the kinds of investments that would help ordinary Africans.
Please, ma’am, just put down the aluminum foil and no one gets hurt.ScroogeIt’s a little known fact that this simple kitchen product has a Dickensian dark side. So as you serve your guests canned beverages, “tent” your turkey, cover the yams, or wrap leftovers at the end of the party, keep in mind that the aluminum products you’re using have their roots in a dirty industry – one that frankly deserves a lump of coal in its stocking for how it’s mistreating the planet.The aluminum industry is the world’s largest industrial consumer of electricity, and about half of what it uses comes from hydropower dams. Aluminum companies troll the world looking for big dam projects that can power new smelters, often targeting rivers in ecologically sensitive areas in developing countries, and frequently in places where basic needs for the population’s energy are not yet being met.
It’s an unreal feeling to be walking around the venerable town of Temaca, knowing its colorful homes and peaceful town plaza, its centuries-old cathedral could end up hundreds of feet under water. Would the old iron church bells still ring? Would the spirit it has nourished in people for generations flow out when the waters flowed in?
Our bus arrives after dark in Temaca. We know we’ve arrived because of messages of struggle scrawled on the old adobe walls. “Temaca Viva! La lucha sigue!” and “Los ojos del mundo están puestos en Temaca.” As forty tired community activists shuffle off the bus, the cool mountain air jolts us awake. A local couple greets us with “De donde es?” Where are you from? The responses stretch the globe: Thailand, Iran, Australia, Uganda, India… The jet lag is almost palpable.
This week I join hundreds of activists traveling to rural Mexico to attend Rivers for Life 3, a global gathering of people whose livelihoods and communities have been harmed or are threatened by destructive dams. Hailing from river-based communities from the Amazon to the Zambezi, the participants are the first-defenders of healthy rivers, and the first to feel the effects of poor river management.
As BP's Gulf oil spill is so tragically demonstrating, once the cows are out of the barn and the oil is out of the well, it's too late to come up with a disaster response plan. We can't afford more BP disasters; it's time to start turning down projects with the greatest potential to create massive environmental catastrophes, and to decommission those that are ticking time bombs.
Kihansi Spray ToadWhat will the world be like for your grandchildren – and their grandchildren – if tigers disappear from the planet? Or sharks? What will their planet be like if Nectophrynoides asperginis goes the way of the dodo?That last was a trick question; N. asperginis - the Kihansi Spray Toad - is already extinct in the wild. Your kids can visit it in the Bronx Zoo. The Kihansi Spray Toad was a victim of a large dam in East Africa. It joined a sadly long list of species that couldn't survive the huge hydrological changes to their riverine habitat brought by big dams. The list of the dammed includes the famed river dolphins of the Yangtze, a victim of Three Gorges Dam - the first human-caused extinction of a dolphin species. Most dam-threatened species are less charismatic than the Baiji dolphin, but no less important in the planetary picture.
In a reversal of the animated movie Madagascar, all of the world's Kihansi spray toads suddenly found themselves living in the Bronx Zoo, far from their home at the base of a waterfall in Tanzania. The tiny toads were no match for a dam that destroyed not only their life in the wild, but a beautiful waterfall too. "Maybe the story will have a happy ending," The New York Times wistfully mused.
The UN has declared 2010 the Year of Biodiversity as a wake up call on the state of the planet's endangered plants and animals. "The latest data from scientists indicates to us that the loss of species is occurring at anywhere between 100-1000 times faster than has traditionally been the case," says Achim Steiner, head of UNEP.
A short documentary by the Dutch group BothEnds offers a clear, concise "you are there" view of problems being caused by the Bujagali Dam, now being built on the Nile River in Uganda. This well-done piece of activist filmmaking shows the viewer firsthand what is at stake in this controversial project. You'll see what the dam will flood, visit a village forced to move for the project, hear from Ugandans who hope their businesses can afford the project's costly electricity, and see the beautiful Bujagali Falls themselves – soon to be submerged by the dam. People on both sides of the debate give thoughtful commentary on key issues – all against the backdrop of the mighty Nile.
China has pulled the 2D version of the blockbuster hit, Avatar, from the big screen
in what is being billed as cinematic protectionism -- reportedly, to
keep its theaters focused on showing a new state-sponsored biopic about
Confucius. But many believe there is another side to the story.
It’s been a bad week for dams – and a very good one for the world’s rivers. In Queensland, Australia, river protectors thrilled to the news today that their long fight to Save the Mary River from the ravages of a large dam is, finally, over. The nation’s Environment Minister announced the rejection of the proposed Traveston Dam due to its ''unacceptable impacts on matters of national environment significance.''
Cahora Bassa power lines bypass Zambezi villagersLori PottingerThe world is greening its electricity supply at a fast (if not fast enough) pace. Germany is slapping solar on every building it can, Spain is becoming a world leader in big concentrating solar plants, and the US stimulus package includes a plateload of subsidies for renewables. At the same time, the price of solar technologies have fallen 35% since last year, and new breakthroughs in storing energy from the sun and wind appear to be on the cusp.
More evidence that dams really are a dirty business Muddy waters of the Tekeze River, EthiopiaThe world could see an epidemic of “Hurricane Katrina” destruction from storms if dam builders persist in bottling up more rivers. Most of the world’s major river deltas are sinking, thanks in large part to dams withholding land-building sediments, a new scientific study reveals. The authors estimate that the subsidence is increasing flood risk for half a billion people. Hundreds of scientists from dozens of federal labs and universities around the US were involved in the study, which looked at 33 major deltas (24 of which were found to be sinking).
Kenyans have more freedom to protest Gibe 3 Dam than Ethiopians. (Photo courtesy Friends of Lake Turkana)We recently received the good news that the African Development Bank’s independent investigative unit (known as the CRMU) registered our request to investigate problems on the Gibe 3 Dam in Ethiopia. Investigations by the CRMU and the similar World Bank Inspection Panel are just about the only way that project-affected people can get recourse for problems caused by Bank-supported big dams and other infrastructure projects. Although we at International Rivers are not directly affected, our request was meant to supplement a claim on the project made by people who will be affected in downstream Kenya by the huge dam. Ethiopian villagers were, we knew, in no position to make a claim against the government-led project.
With all the controversy over Ethiopia’s Gibe 3 Dam – which has stirred up negative coverage from the BBC to the East African Standard – it’s easy to forget that a greener energy future for Ethiopia is possible, and that some positive steps are being taken to get there.Ethiopia is rich in clean renewable resources – some of the best on the continent. Developing its abundance of geothermal, wind and solar reserves could make it a green-energy leader among African nations, rather than the dam-nation it is fast becoming.
Desertification of African soilAfrica is the least electrified place in the world, with just a fraction of its citizens benefiting from the miracle of electricity. Solving this huge problem is made more difficult by widespread poverty, poor governance, and because a large majority of Africa's people live far from the grid, which greatly adds to the cost of bringing electricity to them.
Protecting rivers and defending the rights of the communities that depend on them.
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