Join Probe in asking governments to stop the flow of aid to big dams which brings only tragedy to Third World citizens.
November 21, 2006
Reparations are needed for those who have become “dam refugees” thanks to aid-funded hydro projects.
Dear Probe International supporter,
Fifty years ago, 60,000 people – the entire tribe of Tonga people – were evicted from their land along the Zambezi River to make way for the Kariba dam. Financed by the World Bank, the dam was built to generate power for Africa’s copper mining industry in what is now Zambia and Zimbabwe. For the Tonga people, the dam brought nothing but misery. Those who tried to resist being moved were killed. When the authorities told people not to plant their crops and then delayed their move by several years, the people starved. When finally they were moved, they discovered their new land was too barren to farm. The once self-sufficient communities were reduced to relying on food aid to survive. The Tonga dubbed the worst year, 1957, as the “year of eating bones.”
Fifty years on, the descendants of these Kariba dam refugees have formed their own advocacy group to fight for compensation to restore their communities. Known as the Basilwizi Trust, they write: “We are not able to farm and produce three crops a year as we used to on rich alluvial soils that have since been submerged under water. . . efforts to grow small grains that are drought resistant have even failed. . . . every year, very few families are able to harvest enough crops to last them until the next harvest.” The Basilwizi Trust wants compensation from their government and the World Bank. They also want the dam to be decommissioned and their ecosystem restored.
The Tonga people are not alone in demanding reparations after being forcibly resettled by aid-financed hydro dams. From virtually every Third World country, the displaced number in the tens of millions and their battle for justice can take decades. Take Jose de Oliveira Paes of Brazil’s Movement for Dam Affected People, whose coalition represents those uprooted by past dams. “We know in our own skin what a dam means,” he says, as he is forced to take on a new fight to stop the next generation of hydro dams backed by the same institutions!
For awhile it seemed that dam building might stop. The World Bank briefly cut back its dam building after public anger over the results grew intense. But today it is back promoting new hydro schemes along every major river system in the world, from the Amazon in South America to Africa’s Congo, to the Indus and Mekong in Asia.
Knowing the record of failed resettlement, how can it be that huge-scale hydro dams are back on the drawing boards of the world’s engineering firms and international aid agencies?
The reasons, in a nutshell, are corruption and moral hazard.
Foreign aid funded megaprojects are plagued by moral hazard: as the Chinese say, when those who pay are not the beneficiaries and those who benefit do not pay, the wrong projects will go ahead for the wrong reasons, and certain communities and society at large will suffer.
Big dams are also magnets for corruption. According to corruption watchdog Transparency International, “Corrupt government officials steer social and economic development towards large capital-intensive infrastructure projects that provide fertile ground for corruption.” Huge construction projects, Transparency International explains, have gone ahead only because bribes were paid and environmental standards were ignored. And of all the large construction projects, mega-dams are the most favoured. Savvy Chinese observers describe this tragic perversity perfectly in their slogan “silver roads, golden bridges and diamond dams.”
Please join us in telling our federal government that it must stop the flow of aid to big dams, which will only repeat the tragedy for the next generation of Third World citizens. Also, please tell our government it has a duty to compensate all victims of past dams built in the Third World with Canadian tax dollars. And, if you are able, please make a donation to our work so we can end this latest threat to the world’s poor and the rivers upon which they depend.
Categories: Campaign Letters