Impact and Consequences of Dams

Impact and Consequences of Dams

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Dams are one of the main direct and indirect causes of loss of millions of hectares of forests, many of them abandoned underwater and decaying. Hence, all dams emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming due to the decomposition and putrefection of biomass.

The Right to Health, and Dam Diseases:

The stagnant waters of the dams generate diseases such as schistosomiasis, which through snails occur in stagnant or slow-moving waters, as happened in the Kariba, Aswan and Akosombo dams. Other diseases associated with the construction of the dams include: dysentery, diarrhea, malnutrition, unusual proliferation of mosquitoes, smallpox, skin rashes, vaginal infections, cancer, tuberculosis, syphilis, yellow fever, dengue and leishmaniasis. Although there are many opposing opinions, among the possible impacts generated by high voltage power transmission lines are physical malformations at birth; the increase in cancer and leukemia in children, brain tumors or problems in the nervous system.

In China, liver cancer has been associated with the presence of cyanobacterial toxins in drinking water. [1] In the 1990s, the University of Helsinki studied mercury in tropical reservoirs. The mercury concentration was seven times higher in people who ate fish. [2] Dams in tropical regions produce an excess of aquatic weeds and toxic cyanobacteria. Also the mining activity near the reservoirs raise the levels of mercury in the fish which is converted into methylmercury that affects the central nervous system. In addition, in general, human waste, sewage from neighboring towns goes to reservoirs that have little movement of their water.

As we have already seen, the construction of dams attracts external personnel to the community, which generates the importation of prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases, which is exacerbated by the presence of the police or the army that guards the project. Malaria spread around the Itaipu dam; and fevers and malaria spread more rapidly in the Sardr Sarovar and Upper Krishna dams in India, in Brazil and in other countries in Africa where Malaraia is the leading cause of death. At least 40,000 people living in the Amazon basin have suffered from itchy feet and other health impacts due to the discharge of sewage from the Tucuruí dam. With the Tocantis dam, many stomach problems were registered where many children died after drinking water.

The Right to Biodiversity, and the Extinction of Flora and Fauna :

Dams and diversions are the main reason why 33% of the world's freshwater fish species are extinct, endangered or vulnerable. The percentage increases in countries whose rivers have been highly dammed - almost 75% in Germany. A significant but unknown percentage of shellfish, amphibians, and plant and bird species that depend on freshwater habitat are also extinct or endangered. Cold water discharges from the dam kill some species of fish and all the biodiversity that depends on natural flooding. Displaces and kills ecosystem animals; it removes wetlands, underground sources of water, unique forests, and the fertility of the land from natural sediments that no longer reach. With the opening of roads for the passage of machinery and other infrastructures, it forces to cut down more forests and opens the door to wood traffickers. Neither is reforestation sought elsewhere in order to mitigate its impacts. In turn, the displaced destroy more forests for resettlement, eliminating more biodiversity.

Some dams caused many animals to be cornered on small islands and starve to death. Storage also generates exotic species of plants, fish, snails, insects and animals that compete with the natives. Reservoirs block fish, insects and land animals for miles upstream or downstream. Channels or ladders for fish like salmon that have been built alongside dams to allow fish to pass have not been successful.

“(…) Preventing the passage of migratory fish species was the most significant ecosystem impact, registering in more than 60% of the projects (…).” [3]

Dam construction is one of the leading causes of extinction of freshwater species in North America. In the United States, from so much dam on the Colorado River, its water no longer reaches the sea and jaguars and herons and a large number of indigenous peoples who fished and cultivated there have disappeared in its delta. In the Columbias River between 5 and 14% of adult salmon lose their lives in each of the eight dams built on it. In Thailand, the Pak Mun Dam removed 51 species of animals and 11,250 tonnes of fish were lost from the Senegal River system. The salt sea or Aral Lake in ancient Russia, 67,000 square km, the fourth largest lake in the world, has lost 50% of its surface and more than 75% of its volume as the two main rivers have been diverted. they flowed into it for crops in the desert. 20 of the 24 species of fish they had have disappeared. With the Tucurí dam, 285 thousand hectares of tropical forests and their wildlife were lost. Shrimp and turtles that could not migrate have disappeared in other regions.

Water pollution at the Belem dam in Brazil generated 300,000 tons of exposed carbon that produced toxic foam and killed fauna and flora. During a visit to Chile in 1998, James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, admitted that the Bank's support for the Pangue dam had been a mistake, and that the Bank had done “a bad job” during the environmental impact assessment of the project, since the Pehuenche population living in the area was not consulted. In addition to an impressive environmental impact from an unsustainable project. But the loss of biodiversity due to dams is also observed in Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico.

The Right to a Healthy Environment, and Climate Change:

Those who defend hydroelectric dams argue that it is a clean source of energy. This is a lie. Dams are one of the main direct and indirect causes of loss of millions of hectares of forests, many of them abandoned underwater and decaying. Hence, all dams emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming by the decomposition and putrefection of biomass that emits large volumes of carbon dioxide and methane, the two most important greenhouse gases. On the other hand, the river also carries more organic sediments to the reservoir, increasing the rotting biomass. However, shallow dams in warm tropical areas are more likely to be significant emitters of greenhouse gases than those deep in boreal areas. "Gross emissions from reservoirs can represent between 1% and 28% of the global warming potential of greenhouse gas emissions." [4] "Dams are unique among large infrastructure projects in the dimension and manner in which they affect the pattern of access to resources, and their distribution through space, time and groups in society." [5]

The Right to Economic Justice, and Indebtedness and Corruption :

The average cost overruns in large dams is 56% more than initially calculated. Those financed by the World Bank oscillate between 27 and 39% more; those of the IDB by 45% more and in Latin America the average is 53% more than originally budgeted. Thus the peoples were indebted and the corrupt were enriched. For example, with the Yacyretá dam in Argentina and Paraguay, the money stolen in corruption was more than 6 billion dollars.

25% of dams achieved lower-than-planned capital cost targets. 75% presented costs higher than budgeted. [6] “(…) The opportunities for corruption offered by dams with large-scale infrastructure projects further distorted decision-making, planning and implementation.” [7] "In early 2000, the Chinese government released information that corrupt officials had embezzled $ 60 million in resettlement funds for the Three Gorges Dam." [8]

"The WRC Knowledge Base offers many examples of the failure of project proponents, contractors and operators to meet commitments, both explicit (project-specific agreements and contracts) and implicit (applicable policies, laws, regulations and guidelines)." [9]

In India, a 1983 study concluded that 159 dams had cost overruns of 232%. The final cost of the Chixoy dam in Guatemala was exceeded and equivalent to 40% of the country's external debt in 1988. The Itaiupú dam in Brazil and Paraguay cost 16,600 million dollars in 1990 when Paraguay's external debt was 1,700 millions of dollars. The Itaparica dam in Brazil displaced 40 thousand people, and 10 years later only 35% of the dam had completed despite two loans from the World Bank for 232 million dollars. More than 40% of Brazil's external debt was the product of investments in the electricity sector. 46% of Chinese resettled by dams remain in extreme poverty. In India 75% have not been rehabilitated; 72% of the 32 thousand indigenous people displaced in Indonesia by the Kedung Ombo dam are in more poverty than before; the 800 indigenous families in Laos displaced by the Houay Ho dam are without water and in extreme poverty. [10]

The Grand Coulee dam flooded indigenous lands in addition to three cities, however non-indigenous people were compensated and indigenous people were paid less, little and late. Among those affected, those who do not have lands or legal title to them, those who are employed or housed in the lands of those who will be flooded, such as in the Itzantún dam project in Chiapas, have not been taken into account. Many of the compensations are excluded for this type of group, including indigenous people. In the case of those displaced from their lands by the Kao Maem dam, they belonged to the Karen ethnic group and were considered illegitimate, so they were not considered in the resettlement.

With the Kariba dam in Africa, the Tonga tribe did not receive what they promised: electricity, water, roads, schools and hospitals. 40 years later they were given electricity, in 1997. In order to build a dam, during negotiations with the future displaced people they are generally promised seven basic elements: electricity in the new resettlement village, sometimes free drinking water, food, projects. of 'development', paving streets, transportation and the construction of social infrastructure such as health clinics and schools. They are always unfulfilled promises and in twilight years it has been 5, 25 or even 50 years in which the useful life of a dam lasts and the benefits promised have never been received.

The Right to Peace , and the Militarization : Most of the large dams in Latin America and the Caribbean were built during the cruellest military dictatorships that took power between the 50's and 80's. Dictators who were trained at the School of the Americas used massacres and imposition to benefit builders with dam projects such as Itaipú, Guri, Yacyretá and Chixoy. The dictatorial governments received millions of dollars that escaped in corruption and for the benefit of mining and industrial exploitation, while today the peoples continue to drag the debt of supposed development. The dictators promoted the policies of the IMF and the World Bank, the privatizations and the great pharaonic constructions of the dams. "In the case of the Tucurui dams, the project was planned under a military dictatorship and there was not much concern during planning for economic profitability or cost recovery." [11]

The World Bank turned a blind eye while under dictatorships contracts, steel, cement, turbines, transformers and other ghost materials for construction were trafficked, and more loans were justified to fatten the corruption network. While many dams from the 1980s are being completed over the original budget, today more dams continue to be imposed throughout the continent at the cost of more repression, deception and militarization of the now supposed ‘democratic governments’. The same stories are repeated in Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, The School of the Americas in Gerogia, United States, is also known as "The School of the Assassins."

Many graduates established at least 10 military dictatorships on the Continent and thousands more participated in the most brutal murders and massacres in the 70s and 80s. From there, the military came from Costa Rica, Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. . From El Salvador, the graduates murdered Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, religious and priests, 900 people in Mozote, among them boys, girls and women, and participated in many other massacres of social leaders. The dictator Somoza graduated from Nicaragua; from Guatemala, Colonel Julio Roberto Alpírez; from Honduras, General Luis Alonso Discua; from Panama Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos; from Argentina Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola; from Peru Velasco Alvarado; from Colombia, Colonel Víctor Bernal Castano and another 10,000 military personnel. From Bolivia the dictator Hugo Bánzer; 455 soldiers graduated from Brazil and 2,805 soldiers from Chile. From Ecuador the dictator Guillermo Rodríguez. By 1994, it was estimated that more than 56,000 Latin American military personnel had graduated from the School of the Americas. In 2003 alone, the Pentagon reported that 22,855 Latin American soldiers had been trained in the United States, some of them at the School of the Americas, Panama, Belize, El Salvador, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, among many others.

The Right to Life, and the Massacres by Dams:

The human rights violations that we have analyzed and that the dams have caused, the most terrible thing is and has been the violation of the right to life. Mining production and the construction of dams have been one of the ‘development’ projects that have caused the most deaths and murders in the world, especially of indigenous peoples. In Indonesia, eight people drowned during the protest against the dam. In Paraguay, the police beat residents who built makeshift huts on the shores of the Yacyretá reserve. In Colombia, repression against opponents of the dams continues, and indigenous leaders have been brutally murdered or are missing. The resistance of the Tonga people to the construction of the Kariba dam had a balance of 30 injured and eight people killed by guns of the colonial government. "In Nigeria, in April 1980, the police fired at roadblockers in protest against the Bakolori dam (...) unofficial estimates put the death toll at more than 126." [12]

Among the most terrible cases is the Chixoy dam in Guatemala. One of the survivors told how they had killed his wife and children in front of his eyes when he asked the authorities "where do you want us to go?" The answer was the shots. The violence began in 1980, when the military police arrived in Río Negro and killed seven people. Then the bodies of two indigenous leaders were mutilated. The military rounded up all the women and children and led them to a hill behind their village, where they tortured and murdered 70 women and 107 children. In the end, more than 400 Maya Achi indigenous women, children and the elderly lost their lives under the military dictatorship in 1985. A 1991 WB confidential report indicates that 25% of the 1,500 people who had to move were killed before they were displaced. fill the reservoir. The WB and the IDB intervened in construction; the Italian government and its Gogefar company; the German consortium Lahmeyer International and Hochtief; Motor Columbus and Swissboring from Switzerland; and the International Engineering Company of the United States (now Morrison-Knudsen). No one accepted any responsibility and even denied the massacres!

For the construction of the Miguel Alemán dam in Mexico, the homes of 21,000 indigenous Mazatecos were burned. The Kariba dam in Zambia and Zimbabwe displaced 57 thousand Tonga people and the government sent troops to repress those who did not want to move. There was bloodshed. In 1978 the police killed four people when shooting at an anti-resettlement mobilization at the Candil dam in India. In 2000, indigenous Embera-Katio from Colombia requested political asylum from the Spanish embassy after the assassination of another of their leaders due to opposition to the Urrá dam. These stories are repeated throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. If we do not stop them, they will become more acute as the expansion plans of the Free Trade Area of ​​the Americas (FTAA), the Puebla-Panama Plan (PPP) and the Regional Integration Initiative for South America (IIRSA) continue.

Another world is possible! –

* Gustavo Castro Soto
CIEPAC, A.C. Center for Economic Research and Community Action Policies

[1] World Commission on Repreas -CRM-, p.121.
[2] Ibid p. 121.
[3] Ibid p. 84.
[4] Ibid p. 77.
[5] Ibid p. 125.
[6] Ibid p. 41.
[7] Ibid p. 174.
[8] Ibid p. 193.
[9] Ibid p. 195.
[10] Ibid p. 110.
[11] Ibid p. 57.
[12] Ibid pp. 19 and 35.

Video: Remove the Dams to Save the Salmon? Short Film Showcase (May 2022).