Sarawak Energy, state developer of the controversial Murum and Baram dams in Sarawak, barred a representative of dam-affected people from participating in a workshop organized by the IFC, World Bank, ADB, and IADB at the start of the International Hydropower Association's bi-annual dam congress.
Thirty-four girls and women – including a 16-year-old teenager – were trafficked from southeastern Brazil to a construction camp outside of the town of Altamira in the Amazon. There, they were forced to prostitute themselves for cash, to become sex slaves to the men building Belo Monte, Brazil's "greenest" dam.
As the Bank returns to investing in hydropower both directly and through public-private partnerships, there is a pressing need to strengthen the Bank's safeguards policies to make sure that investments in “clean energy” don't end up accelerating the disappearance of the Earth's freshwater species and riverine communities.
The World Bank has begun a process of streamlining and consolidating its investment and safeguards policies to meet borrower demands. This may make business sense, as any good company responds to its customers. But from the lens of social and environmental standards and accountability, it may make things worse.
Two years ago, we developed a cutting-edge online database called “Dams in Amazônia” together with Fundación Proteger of Argentina and ECOA, Brazil, to track dams planned for the rivers of the Amazon. Today, we've released an exciting new version.
Tuesday's G-20 Leaders' Declaration and a progress report on green growth continue to support eleven large infrastructure projects –among them the Grand Inga Complex – without so much as completed feasibility studies.
As the G20 Summit begins, let's recall some of the commitments leaders made last year to invest in large infrastructure. The commitments largely bet public funds on humongous infrastructure schemes to grow private sector returns.
More freshwater is available from green sources such as this organic agriculture field than from blue sources such as large dam reservoirs.Yesterday afternoon in Marseille, I was invited to go toe-to-toe in a debate of the World Water Forum with seven public figures from the World Bank, Odebrecht Energy, UNESCO-ICIWaRM, Harvard University, WWF, and the governments of Uganda and India regarding the role of water storage in increasing climate resilience. The debate was moderated by Peggy Hollinger of the Financial Times, and was heavily weighted towards proponents of large dams. But here's why large dams are not the right option for climate resilience.
The World Water Forum is promoting large dams in the "Green Economy"As the 6th World Water Forum opened today in Marseille, France, International Rivers and our partners were there to shed light on their greenwashing of large dams. Displaying t-shirts that read "Large Dams Are Not Green," we attempted to enter the Forum's opening ceremony to send a message that civil society rejects the Forum's support for large dams, and its market-based approach to water. However, security stopped us from entering the ceremony, despite the fact that we were accredited to do so.We decried the Forum's embrace of the industry-led Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP), a toothless scorecard that has no binding power to prevent environmental and human rights violations during the construction and implementation of dams. The Forum is promoting a return to large dams in the "Green Economy," though it is a business-as-usual path that will do little to sustain freshwater biodiversity, protect the world's river systems, or mitigate climate change.
The World Bank's social and environmental standards face an uncertain future as Bob Zoellick leaves this year.The World Bank's Board of Directors has approved a new lending instrument called Program-For-Results (P4R). The instrument is supposed to fund programs, not provide project finance, and is meant to work within a borrower's existing regulatory framework – what the Bank calls a country systems approach. However, not all country systems are made equal. Some of today's largest dam financiers operate within a highly unaccountable national policy framework, where human rights, transparency, and civil society participation may take a back seat to the "national interest."
Fish are dying at an alarming rate because of the Santo Antônio Dam.Instituto Rio Madeira VivoThis blog in Brazil caught our eye recently: catfish are now disappearing at an alarming rate from the Madeira River, thanks to the reservoir of the Santo Antônio Dam. When the environmental license for the Santo Antônio Dam was approved against the findings of fish experts, Lula controversially claimed that the dams would not be stopped because of "some catfish." Now, the catfish are disappearing. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Early this morning on the Xingu River outside of Altamira, an estimated 600 indigenous people from 21 tribes, as well as fishermen, occupied the construction site of the Belo Monte Dam, demanding a definitive end to the project. Events are very fluid on the ground, and internet has been out in the region, so information is coming in bit by bit. We know that early on, the mobilization declared their intent to not leave the site until the Belo Monte Dam was cancelled for good.
On Monday, federal judge Selene Maria de Almeida voted in a landmark opinion in Brazilian courts that the Belo Monte Dam licenses are illegal and must be cancelled due to what is now widely-accepted evidence that the Brazilian government did not hold proper consultations with indigenous tribes that would be affected by the project. De Almeida argued that while the dam reservoirs do not flood indigenous territories, the project's diversion of the Xingu River will directly impact the tribes' abilities to reproduce physically, culturally, and economically, as 80% of the Xingu River would be channeled away from their lands to the reservoirs.
In 2005, after years of fighting, the Macuxi indigenous people finally won title from the Lula administration to their own indigenous territory, called Raposa Serra do Sol. Then followed a heated legal battle to remove non-indigenous people from the lands, including ranchers and rice growers who had illegally invaded the area in the 1970s. The Brazilian Supreme Court decided to enforce the removal of the non-indigenous people from the territory in 2009. Now over 50,000 indigenous people in the area are fighting a new threat: a Dilma administration proposal to build hydroelectric dams inside of their territory.
Great Bend of the Jinsha (upper Yangtze) River, ChinaThe International Hydropower Association launched its non-binding sustainability guidelines scorecard in Beijing today, hoping to attract Chinese dam builders to what is turning out to be the world's latest industry-led greenwash.Yet the scorecard, called the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP), may do little to fill the accountability gap that exists between country regulatory systems. The HSAP makes no requirement of developers to comply with national and international legislation.
In June of this year in Foz do Iguaçú, Brazil, at the International Hydropower Association's bi-yearly Congress, Eletrobras Director Valter Cardeal declared: "All of the indigenous people, even the Kayapó who live upstream from the area of impacts, are in favor of Belo Monte." Cardeal made the declaration with a straight face, speaking to the audience of dam industry CEOs, financial officers, and government representatives who were probably ecstatic to hear such a development. Too bad it wasn't true. Sitting in the front row were indigenous leaders Sheyla Yakarepi Juruna and Patxon Metuktire. In fact, they said, indigenous people were not properly consulted. And that's against the law.
In early July, a rather courageous 60 Minutes Australia reporter confronted IBAMA President Curt Trennepohl in Brazil about the agency's polemic approval of an installation license for the Belo Monte Dam. Mr. Trennepohl's off-camera comments made him sound like an apologist for genocide – rather damaging to the credibility of an environmental agency.
Itaipú damThe International Hydropower Association (IHA) just launched the “Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol” (HSAP) at its bi-yearly Congress in the town of Foz do Iguaçú, Brazil, last week. The Protocol is in reality only a scorecard that rewards hydropower companies and financiers with a greenwashed stamp of approval; it does not represent a true step towards the actual practice of sustainability in the sector.
Kayapó leader on the Xingu RiverChristian Poirier/Amazon WatchBrazil's environmental agency IBAMA stepped further into controversy last week when it granted Belo Monte Dam consortium Norte Energia a full installation license to begin construction. By doing so, the agency drew the Belo Monte project further into what will be a long, drawn-out quagmire of doubt, legal and technical problems, growing social unrest, and – more likely than not – large cost overruns. The fight over the Belo Monte Dam is not over. It's just getting good.
Recent evidence illustrates that Norte Energia, the consortium under contract to build the Belo Monte Dam, has not completed the 66 social and environmental pre-requisites issued by IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, as part of the preliminary environmental license granted in 2010.
Recently, Belo Monte consortium Norte Energia (NESA) hired a PR firm to run video spots in 17 Brazilian airports in an effort to shape the public opinion of Brazil's growing middle and wealthy classes. One video spot features complacent, naked indigenous people, standing and smiling passively with their hands behind their backs as the Xingu River runs calmly through their digital landscape. Of course, the Belo Monte Dam and reservoirs – which we modeled in Google Earth – are nowhere to be seen.
Vale's Amazon blemish. An aerial view of the Carajás mines.infoescola.comThe world's second-largest mining corporation, Vale, has stepped into one of the world's most controversial dams: Belo Monte. With its new share in the dam, Vale – and the Brazilian government – are banking on the hope that the electricity from so-called "clean" dams can power Brazil's continued export of commodities to China. In the case of the Amazon, Belo Monte may help power a record expansion of dirty mining. In so many ways, a nightmare "Avatar" scenario is ever closer to reality.
Takeze Dam in EthiopiaThe World Bank's new draft Energy Strategy makes some positive advancements in creating our energy future. For example, the Bank has tentatively made a commitment to cut lending for coal projects in all countries that do not receive funding from the International Development Agency (IDA). Yet what the Bank promises as a trade-off for coal spells trouble for the future of rivers in Africa.
Norte Energia Begins Initial Installation of Belo Monte without Full LicenseOn February 25th, a judge suspended the partial installation license for Belo Monte Dam. On Thursday March 3rd, a regional judge overturned the suspension in a politically questionable ruling. And today, Norte Energia is celebrating Carnaval on the Xingu by beginning project installation, ignoring social and environmental prerequisites. According to the government, it's a matter of national security; and according to a letter from Brazilian bank BNDES, loan conditions have been violated. Happy Carnaval.
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