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Political Ecology of Large Dams

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  1. Political Ecology of Large Dams Class #3 December 12, 2012 Bill Derman

  2. What does PE illuminate? • The materiality or biophysicality of water. The characteristics and features of water itself, not a generalized nature. Its features changed by both human and nonhumans. Characteristics of rivers versus lakes • Conceptual analyses of activism toward the continued construction of large dams or opposition to them. How are institutions mobilized to construct dams, move people, building power plants, etc. • Assess the role of the state particulary in regard to regulation and redistribution. Where will benefits flow, who will bear the costs? • The vestedinterestsofengineeringcompanies and bureaucracieswhoare dependent upon dam building • The differentvisionsofdevelopment and theappropriaterelationsamong water users and theenvironment

  3. Political Ecology of Large Dams • Importance of Large Dams • A large dam defined as those rising above 15 meters from their foundation or • Capacity of over 3 million m3. • There were approximately 5700 dams in 1950. Today there are over 50,000 • 80% of the dams are in 5 countries – U.S. China, India, Spain and Japan

  4. Modernist Visions of Controlling Nature • In this view large dams are part of comprehensive river basin development. Of course there is a long and deep history of controlling water in the Nile or the Yellow rivers. However, these tended to be single or dual purpose, and not part of an explicit development strategy. • Control water, control nature: nature to serve human needs based upon the hydrological cycle • Contrast to hydrosocial view

  5. Hydrosocial Cycles • Water no longer flows the way it used. 80% of waters in the northern hemisphere (N America, Asia and Europe) river discharge is regulated or controlled by dams. The very nature of the circulation of water on earth, in other words, has to be described in social as well as hydrological terms. It is a hydrosocial cycle. • Importance of control the basis of much development.

  6. Issues in Large Dams • Rationale for the construction of large dams: narratives, sciences, power. Hard to break the narrative of progress, control, cheap power. • Foundation for Economic development • No arid country has become developed without exclusive investment in water retaining dams • No Mountainous country has become rich without tapping some or most of its hydroelectric potential.

  7. Benefits • Hydropower • Irrigation • Urban Water Supply • Navigation • Flood Management • Recreation • Tourism

  8. Whose benefits count, whose losses count? Dam planning and construction a political as well as an economic and engineering process Dams destroy rivers and create Lakes: • Species in riverine environments evolve in relationship to these environments. Human cultures have also adapted to riverine environments, and dependent for resource upon them. Scales are impressive – in Cambodia 60% of populations’ protein comes from the Tonle Sap, a flood zone in the Mekong which would be reduced or ended by upstream dams. In the lower Mekong, 60-70 million people depend upon fish for protein.

  9. Downstream of Dams • Loss of food security. • Species diversity, biological productivity, including grasses for grazing. Water and nutrients flood plain production systems can disappear taking with them human livelihoods. • Which fish are valued and for whom? Flood plains are more productive than lakes behind dams. Loss of biodiversity, reservoirs don’t compensate for loss of riverine catches.

  10. Downstream Issues • Downstream fisheries – scale, composition, dependence and value of the resource over large landscapes making data collection difficult and expensive. Subsistence fisheries, often not of interest or concern plus difficulties in data collection. Knowledge of fish species.

  11. Upstream Issues Resettlement – populations who lose land, homes to the lake created behind dam Issues in resettlement: Loss of homes Loss of sacred sites Loss of Communities Compensation – World Bank Guidelines but rarely followed

  12. China and India • In 1949 China had less than 100 large dams • 2010 China had 22,000 dams plus a large bureaucracy, engineering companies, hydrologists, engineers • India now has over 4,000 large dams and the number is growing quickly • The United States in comparison has around 6,000 but dam building has stopped

  13. Thinking about the political ecology of Dams • 1. biophysical – how dams produce changes in the aquatic ecosystems including fisheries, vegetation, water quality, coastal wetlands, et al. these changes are connected to current social and power relationships, • 2. Socio-economic: Loss of environmental resources, homes, for many people, loss of community, burial sites, shrines. social and power relationships between actors • 3. Power – whose power is increased, whose decreased through dam building • 4. Geopolitical – relationship between countries and regions within countries

  14. Change in factors affecting large dams: • Rise in global price of oil • Relative economic advantage of nonfossil fuel produced electricity • Use of environmental arguments for hydropower. • Hydropower expansion won’t hurt fisheries since already declining – used in support of dam construction • Flows won’t be affected by damming • Chinese dam expertise, want to build dams, that’s what dam building companies do! • Shift from public construction to private, loss of influence of NGOs. Equator Principles • Government as regulator.

  15. World Commission on Dams • International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the World Bank, and 38 international specialists met in April 1997 to plan. • Meeting included International Rivers Network (U.S.), and anti-dam movements from India and Brfazil • Formed an independent WCD to study a sample of dams, and make recommendations for future decision-making

  16. WCD • Commissioned reports • Published findings, findings reviewed • Major conferences, meetings to distribute results • End of WCD • Carried on by UNEP • Division in response to report and its recommendations • China and India rejected as did the International Hydropower Association. Too little emphasis on the benefits of large dams

  17. WCD responses • UN Agencies and several European governments supported • World Bank didn’t accept • Third World Water Forum in Kyoto dominated by the Managing Director of the IMF and presidents of African, Asian, and Inter-American development banks ignored WCD in their recommendations

  18. 7 Strategic Priorities from WCD • Gaining Public Acceptance • Comprehensive Options Assessment • Addressing Existing Dams – solve their problems before building new ones • Sustaining rivers and livelihoods • Recognizing entitlements and sharing benefits • Ensuring Compliance (with all economic, social, environmental, requirements) • Sharing rivers for peace, development and security

  19. Gibe 3 Dam • Location 300 km (190 miles) southwest of Addis Ababa, on the Omo River • Cost €1.55 billion (at current exchange rate, about US$2.11 billion). Project costs have increased 11% since 2006. • Dam Design: Roller Compacted Concrete (RCC) gravity dam 243 meters (787 feet) tall – the tallest dam in Africa • Reservoir: Storage capacity: 11.75 billion m3 (415 billion ft3) • Surface: 211 km2 (84 miles2) Length: 151 km (94 miles) • Transmission Line A 65-km-long (40 mile) 400 KV transmission line; a new substation will be built. • Electricity 1,870 MW (6,500 GWh/yr), more than doubling the country’s current installed capacity. • Original Timeline 2006: Construction began 2011: First power 2012: Fully completed

  20. Map of Omo River and Gibe Dams

  21. Lake Turkana

  22. Gibe 3 Dam • The Omo is a lifeline for 100,000 tribal people in Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as many others who rely on Lake Turkana for their livelihood. None of them have been properly consulted about the dam, which will fundamentally alter the river’s flood pattern and jeopardize the tribes’ sophisticated flood retreat cultivation methods. • The dam, called Gibe 3, is being built across the Omo River which originates in Ethiopia and is the major source for Kenya’s famous Lake Turkana. • Kenyans have demonstrated against a hydroelectric mega-dam being built in neighbouring Ethiopia, over fears that it will devastate hundreds of thousands of lives in both countries. • Led by the organization Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT), the protesters marched this week to the Chinese embassy in Kenya, demanding Chinese banks and companies drop their support for the dam.

  23. Gibe 3 Dam • The European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank have both decided not to fund Gibe 3. Ethiopia is looking toward China to make up some of the funding shortfall; the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the Exim Bank of China are both involved in aspects of the project. They have loaned 500 million U.S. $ • FoLT, together with Survival, the Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank, International Rivers and the Counter Balance coalition, are gathering a petition to stop the dam.

  24. What’s being hidden in the project? • Allocation of the ‘tribal’ lands to the government and to multinational companies to grow sugar and cotton among other irrigated crops. • Requires expropriation of current farming and pastoral lands • No currrent budget for compensation • Changes flows into Lake Turkana

  25. Global politicalecologicalquestion Can we sustain human life as we engage in capital accumulation appropriating and diminishing the stock upon which human life depends? This is the global political ecological question. One way of putting it for Marxists is the following:

  26. capitalism versus nature? Capital’s insatiable appetite for ever-higher levels of profit and accumulation is reinforced by the domination of exchange value over use value, competition and the concentration and centralization of capital. The incessant accumulation amplifies the social metabolism of society, increasing the demands placed on nature. New technologies are used above all to expand production and to lower labor costs. Capital’s social metabolism is increasingly in contradiction with the natural metabolism, producing various metabolic rifts and forms of ecological degradation that have and continue to threaten the ecosystems upon which life depends.