Read my T-shirt: No more money for large dams!

T-shirts: "Large dams are not green" "No more money for large dams"

For a campaigner against the financing of large dams, Marseille was the place to be during the last World Water Forum. We found all our targets – dam builders, public financiers and private water companies – in the same place arguing the potential of big dams in providing cheap and green energy. 2 Problems here:

Dams are not green: greenhouse gas emission caused by large dams worldwide is 4% which is more than the aviation sector. Far from assisting in the battle against climate change, the construction of large dams accelerates it.

Dams are not cheap: The World Comission of dams estimates that a dam costs on average 56% more than estimated and that, in 55% of cases, they don’t meet the expected output of energy. Moreover, the energy produced benefit rarely to the local population

We came to Marseille to set these false arguments straight through public actions side by side with civil society organisations from North and South. And armed with a T-shirt to get our message across in case there would be any doubt: “Large dams are not green! No more money for large dams!”

 

Time for action

Our first move didn’t turn out to be a big success. We tried to enter the Forum’s opening ceremony to show our strong opposition to large dams and 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.

However, security stopped us from entering the ceremony, despite the fact that we were accredited to do so. Some of our colleagues were arrested and spend a few hours in jail. Not a warm welcome for a forum that claims to be open to all stakeholders

Never discouraged and determined to highlight these issues and to expose the greenwashing of dams, we organized a massive symbolic action in central Marseille as part of the International Day of Action for Rivers.

Alongside with activists from all over the world, we opened the Alternative World Water Forum – better known under its French acronym FAME (Forum Alterantif Mondial de l’eau) – by installing an inflatable dam on the steps of the train station. We created a living river flowing to the dam. Activists dressed like animals or workers were lying in front of the dam pretending to be dead.  Others were dancing to the lingering beat of a great samba band.

It turned out to be a perfect combination of good vibes and effectively getting our message across. A lot of passer-by took the time to stop for a moment to have a closer look at our action. We were happy to provide them with more information and handing out our leaflet. The numerous journalists that turned up helped us in communicating our message to a broader audience.

 

Time to discuss another approach

During FAME, Counter Balance members and partner (Friends of the Earth France, CRBM and International Rivers) coordinated panels on “Water and Dams” as part of the larger plenary about extractives.

There were two sessions to our panels, one on “Local Struggles against Dams” and one on “the return of the International Financial Institutions and new political economies of hydropower”. 9 panellists from civil society organisations across the world (Turkey, Chile, Colombia, Pakistan, Vietnam, France, Italy, USA) shared their point of view on the different issues.

The aim of this panel was to bring together activists who are working together with local communities to resist large hydropower plants and to share stories from grassroots organisations, capitalise on success and failures of the fight against large dams, and talk about real little scale alternative energy systems.

Besides we tried to provide a social, political and economical context to describe the broader picture and define the crucial challenges social movements and dam affected people are facing. After the seminar, we held an informal strategy meeting with the panellists and other people working on the issue in order to figure out concretely how to connect our struggles and how we will work together in the very next months.

This week in Marseille has been very successful. It allowed us to put a face to all those with whom we interact primarily through internet; a chance to meet new and passionate people whose energy only strengthens our determination to enforce a different the world!

By Ronack Monabay, Les Amis de la Terre

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