Damned forever

Participants at the first international conference of dam-affected people in Brazil vow to intensify their fight against large dams

Published: Tuesday 15 April 1997

an immediate international moratorium on the construction of large dams was unanimously demanded by participants at the first international meeting of dam-affected people held in Curitiba, Brazil from March 11-14. The 'Declaration of Curitiba' said that the moratorium should last until a number of demands, including compensation to millions of people whose livelihoods have been affected due to dams, have been met. The conference was attended by representatives of 20 countries, including Argentina, France, India, Sweden and Thailand.

Other conditions on lifting the moratorium included the restoration of environments damaged by large dams (15-metre-high and above) and the establishment of an 'international, independent commission' to review all large dams financed by international agencies. The declaration also said that no dam should be built without the approval of the affected people "after an informed and participative decision-making process".There are currently around 40,000 large dams in the world, which have displaced more than 30 million people and submerged more than 400,000 sq km.

Throughout the conference, participants stressed the need to bring "an end to the era of destructive dams". They said it was both necessary and possible to implement equitable, sustainable and effective ways of providing energy and managing freshwaters. It was pointed out that all over the world, dams force people from their homes, submerge fertile farmlands, forests and sacred places, destroy fisheries, supplies of clean water, cause social and cultural disintegration and economic impoverishment of local communities.

The participants also pledged to strengthen the international movement to oppose large dams. "We have stopped (construction of) dams in the past and we will stop more in the future ... From the villages of India, Brazil and Lesotho to the board rooms of Washington, Tokyo and London, we will force dam builders to accept our demands," the declaration said.

India was represented by Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, as well as B J Avinash and Jagdamba Prasad Raturi, representing people affected by Koyna valley project in Karnataka and Tehri dam in Uttar Pradesh respectively. "It was not surprising to find that in every country the government is facing the challenge of people affected by dams and critics of dam-dominated development policies. These criticisms also include policies of privatisation of dams and inadequate rehabilitation measures adopted by authorities," said Patkar.

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