This week I will be leaving International Rivers after 16 years with the organization. I’m moving back to my native Australia and taking on the position of Pacific Coordinator for a new international anti-coal network. While I’m excited for the fresh challenges that lie ahead, it’s a bittersweet time for me.
In 2004, production began on a medium-sized dam on Brazil's Rio Doce, on the border between the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo. The project was built by CEMIG, the state energy company, and Vale do Rio Doce, a Brazilian multinational mining corporation. As often happens in such cases, the consortium devoted considerable resources to the public relations campaign that secured its construction, promising minimal negative impact and considerable benefits to the surrounding communities.As the dam approached completion in the latter part of 2005, Anna Kongs and Eliot Gray Fisher, two film students, began conducting interviews and gathering video footage to document the true social and environmental consequences of the project. As the weeks went on, Anna and Eliot Gray came to see that despite the well-intentioned efforts of individuals working for the consortium, almost all of whom were brought in from the outside, there was no denying the irrevocable damage they were wreaking on the livelihood and psyche of the local population (and soon on the ecosystem of the region as well). Watch the film to get a feel for how even a small dam can affect local people and the river.
This is a guest blog by Amazon Program Intern Lilian Alves and Amazon Program Director Brent Millikan. Dam burst on Mundaú River, Rio Largo town, in the state of AlagoasLeo Caldas/Revista VejaThe Northeast of Brazil is well-known for its periodic episodes of severe drought that cause particular hardship for those already suffering from extreme poverty, especially in the region's backlands (sertão). Last month, however, the Northeast was hit by devastating floods, where over fifty people were killed and an estimated 150,000 were left homeless. The center of the tragedy has been the Mundaú and Paraíba river basins in the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco, where sudden massive flooding, likened by local observers to a tsunami, devastated towns, farms, bridges and even factories. In the town of Branquinha (Alagoas), an estimated 80% of residential housing was destroyed.
Sigourney Weaver protests against Belo Monte DamAmazon WatchBelo Monte Dam is by no means an inevitability, despite what the Brazilian government and the companies promoting the dam would like you to believe. Legal actions, protests and occupations by indigenous groups, and a growing international campaign could derail the project. Let's recap the events of the last couple of weeks.
Take action to stop the Belo Monte Dam It’s been a fabulous couple of weeks for the campaign to stop the massive Belo Monte Dam on the Amazon’s Xingu River. Momentum is building - in public opinion, in the courts and in the legislature - so much so that a Federal Court yesterday suspended the project’s development! Unfortunately this was later overturned unilaterally by the President of the Federal Regional Tribunal in a politically motiviated decision, but the pressure is definitely mounting! It all started last week when construction giants Odebrecht and Camarga Correa - no strangers to controversial dam projects - announced that they were not interested in building the project because it was not economically viable at the price set by the Brazilian government. This has left the government scrambling to find other potential bidders for the project, resulting in delays in the date for finalizing expressions of interest in the project.
Continued from Xingu River Journey
Cleaning fish by the Xingu RiverAviva Imhof, International RiversAfter a few days in Altamira strategizing and planning, we headed off down the Big Bend of the Xingu, to talk to riverine dwellers and indigenous people about the Belo Monte Dam and to see a bit of this mighty river threatened with destruction. Nothing could prepare me for the sight of the Xingu's Big Bend. A massive torrent of water, as great as anything I've ever seen before, flowed as far as the eye could see. Dotted with rainforest islands, inlets and gullies, the river looked more like a fjord than a river.
Xingu River Sunset (Aviva Imhof) The Amazon has always intrigued me. Ever since I was little, stories about the magnificent rainforest, the rivers teeming with life, fierce indigenous warriors defending their land, and the seemingly unbreakable speed at which it is all being destroyed, captivated my imagination. A few years ago when I became Campaigns Director at International Rivers, my responsibilities broadened to include managing our Latin America Program, and I began to learn more and more about the river and the threats from a series of massive dams.
Communities March Against La Parota DamCECOPFor thousands of people living along the Papagayo River in Guerrero State in Mexico, the news that the destructive and unjust La Parota Dam has been delayed until at least 2018 comes as a huge relief. After a 6-year battle, the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission announced yesterday it is postponing the project, along with nine other electricity projects across the country. The Commission cites the economic downturn as one reason for the postponement, but the real reason is the intense opposition by thousands of small farmers and indigenous people who would lose land, fisheries and other natural resources as a result of the dam.
Toxic water being released from the Chalillo Dam in BelizeBELPOSee that horrible, dirty water flowing out the Chalillo Dam on the
Macal River in Belize? Environmentalists in Belize took these photographs last
week after seeing the color of the water in the Macal River. Scary stuff,
considering that the Macal River directly or indirectly supplies water for one
third of the country.
Read Part 1 of the blog.
Victor Caal from Las Margaritas CoponAviva ImhofOur next stop was Las Margaritas Copón: a village of some 45 families that's an hour's walk away from the river. To get there we took a boat upstream along the Chixoy River: a gorgeous turquoise tropical river surrounded by forests and plots of maize. Parts of Las Margaritas would be flooded by the reservoir, and much of their land would be lost: land where they currently grow cardamom, corn and beans. Here we participated in an assembly of ACODET, the community organization that has been formed to fight the dam (ACODET stands for Association of Communities for Development, Defense of the land and natural resources).
Location of Xalala DamINDEA couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting communities that would be affected by the proposed Xalalá Dam in Guatemala. It was an inspiring and harrowing experience. Inspiring to witness the organization and strength of communities threatened by the dam: indigenous people proud of their heritage and determined to fight to retain it. Harrowing to hear stories of the legacy of the war and genocide that killed so many people in the area and forever changed the lives of the survivors. To these people, who have been through war, displacement, violence and dispossession, and who have benefited so little from government services since the Peace Accords were signed in 1996, the dam is a new kind of war.
Dead fish in the Madeira RiverAGÊNCIA AMAZÔNIAIn 2007, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva famously announced that "environmentalists are trying to dump some catfish on my lap" by opposing dams on the Amazon's Madeira River. The quip came after scientists released studies documenting the serious impacts that the dams would have on catfish and other migratory species on the Madeira River. Well, over the past few weeks, dead catfish are just one of the many problems that have been plaguing the Santo Antonio and Jirau Dams.
by Aviva Imhof, Campaigns Director
The Pascua River
In January 2008, I was privileged to take part in one of the first ever expeditions to the headwaters of the majestic Pascua River. The journey, which involved two days on a bus down the dusty Carretera Austral, an 18-hour boat journey, and two days back, took us to some of the most remote and wild parts of Patagonia, passing by magnificent lakes, spectacular glaciers, the two Patagonian ice caps, and a series of wild and untamed rivers.
HidroAysén, a Chilean-Spanish corporation, wants to construct three dams on the Pascua and two on the nearby Baker River and send the power 1500 miles north to Santiago. Environmentalists in Chile have teamed up with International Rivers and other international organizations to put a stop to their plans. International Rivers organized this expedition to give journalists, activists and local people a first-hand glimpse of what’s at stake. Here’s the story of our journey.
Protecting rivers and defending the rights of the communities that depend on them.
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