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Building a Movement: 20 Years of Voices for Rivers and Rights

20 Years of Voices for Rivers and Rights:
A Timeline of Quotes from IRN’s 20 Years

Building a Movement: 20 Years of Voices for Rivers and Rights



"The worldwide pace of large–dam construction is so rapid that unless effective action is taken within the next decade, almost all the world’s major rivers will be dammed."

International Dams Newsletter, Vol 1, #1

"Balbina [Dam] is a disaster and everyone knows it. It is one of the greatest errors committed in the Amazon."

Paulo Nogueira Neto, Environment Secretary, Brazil



"I don’t think I should have voted for the Glen Canyon Dam. Even though it’s created the biggest tourist attraction in my state, I preferred the free–running river. I remember the river."

Former U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater when asked to name his "greatest political regret" in Vanity Fair magazine



"What the World Bank needs is a good dose of ‘glasnost’ to lift the veil of secrecy on its big projects and let the people who will be affected become part of the decision–making process."

Brent Blackwelder, one of IRN’s founders and president of Friends of the Earth



"...Today it’s often cheaper to save electricity than to build a new hydro dam – and almost always cheaper to save electricity than to run a thousand power plants – even if building it costs nothing."

Armory Lovins, energy efficiency expert from the Rocky Mountain Institute, quoted in the July/August 1988 World Rivers Review



India's Sardar Sarovar Project "will draw money away from various other schemes which could provide water to these areas [in need] … The government has completely lost track of what must be regarded as its basic objective: finding the best possible way of providing water to the people."

Baba Amte, author of Cry, The Beloved Narmada



"I just couldn’t keep silent while they dammed the last river in Japan."

Amano Reiko, Japan’s first female "master fisherman," protesting a dam on the Nagara River, Japan’s last remaining undammed major river



"Our mother [Mun River] provided us food and life. With the dam construction, husbands and wives fight, and the fish are leaving the river. We are not against a dam. We are against the disintegration of our communities."

Thai village elder, at a meeting between Mun River villagers and Executive Directors of the World Bank, Bangkok

"We believe this river has a life of its own ... It is not for man to kill it."

A fisherman in the Okavango Delta, commenting on a plan to dredge, dam and divert the Boro River as it exits the Okavango, in the Washington Post



"What it all boils down to is undoing the wrongs caused by earlier generations doing what they thought was right ... Forty years ago, only a handful of heretics, howling at the wilderness, challenged the notion that the West needed hundreds of new dams. Today … there is more talk of deconstruction than of construction: of minor dams demolished, of big dams made ‘environmentally sound,’ of marginal acreage retired and water returned to its source, of flows bypassing turbines to flush salmon out to sea."

Mark Reisner, author of Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water



"The Alliance for Energy suggests that if the US$764 million earmarked for the Arun Dam was used instead on small–scale projects which encourage local capacity–building, more power could be generated – and in less time."

Janet Bell, Intermediate Technology Group

"If this dam is such a unique feat of engineering, such a fantastic idea, why in heaven’s name is the government unwilling to allow public debate about it?"

Dai Qing, Journalist and Goldman Environmental Prize recipient talking about the Three Gorges Dam in China



"The environmental and social costs of World Bank–funded large dams, in terms of people forced from their homes, destruction of forests and fisheries, and spread of waterborne diseases, have fallen disproportionately on women, indigenous communities, tribal peoples and the poorest and most marginalized sectors of the population. This is in direct contradiction to the World Bank’s often–stated ‘overarching objective of alleviating poverty.’"

From the Manibeli Declaration: Calling for a Moratorium on World Bank Funding of Large Dams



"I think it is a serious mistake for any region in the world to use what we did on [US] rivers as examples to be duplicated."

Daniel Beard, former Commissioner of the US Bureau of Reclamation and former IRN board member



"A dam tears at all the interconnected webs of river valley life ... Dams are the main reason why fully one–fifth of the world’s freshwater fish are now either endangered or extinct."

Patrick McCully, author of Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams



"People are very sad, to be leaving their land, their fields, their church, their school, each other. There are no fields like ours anywhere in Lesotho. The main thing is, people do not want to be separated from each other."

Spokesperson for a village to be submerged under Mohale Dam reservoir, Lesotho

"Our common struggles convince us that it is both necessary and possible to bring an end to the era of destructive dams. It is also both necessary and possible to implement alternative ways of providing energy and managing our freshwaters which are equitable, sustainable and effective."

From the Curitiba Declaration, approved at the "First International Meeting of People Affected by Dams," Brazil



"Epupa Falls was created by God. Now the government wants to build a dam and cover God's creation. Government should not try to go beyond God."

Himba Tribal Chief Hikuminue Kapika, Namibia



"The war for the Narmada valley is not just some remote rural war or even an exclusively Indian war. It's a war for the rivers and forests of the world."

Arundhati Roy, author of The Greater Common Good



"Future economic prosperity and sustainable water resource management in Uganda will not lie in huge dams. The way forward is the wise use of river–based environmental goods and services; not their extinction through the pursuit of hydropower lunacy."

From a letter by Ugandan NGOs to the World Bank

"It is time for the iron triangle of governments, the dam industry and funders to cease building dams until they have incorporated the WCD’s recommendations into their policies and practices."

Liane Greeff, of the South African NGO Environmental Monitoring Group, at the launch of the World Commission on Dams report



"Why sacrifice the Xingu River by building dams, when its basin represents one of the country’s most important sites of ecological capital in its natural state, capable of contributing as an instrument for sustainable economic development, in harmony with other investment options such as green tourism, fishing, and furnishing clean water?"

Letter from the NGO "SOS Xingu"



"The people seem to have decided to take control of their water. This would never have happened if thousands of brave men and women had not saved every raindrop that fell on their land."

Rajendra Singh, whose group Tarun Bharat Sangh helps rural villagers in India undertake rainwater harvesting



"This has become a broad movement of citizens – not just those directly affected like the farmers, ranchers and fishing communities. Those not directly affected feel that the river is not just a source of water, but also an important part of their territorial identity; it is health, it is life. The movement involves citizens who cannot conceive of their land without the river, or with a contaminated, depleted river. The right of a healthy river becomes a basic right of the larger communities."

Pedro Arrojo–Agudo, after winning the Goldman Prize for mobilizing people to (successfully) fight a plan to build 120 dams on the Ebro River in Spain

"Water is essential to alleviating poverty. But if you want to do anything about it, you have to start with small farmers and irrigation. Small–scale needs call for small–scale solutions, not mega–dams and industrial–scale development."

Paul Polak, inventor of the $1 drip kit and founder of International Development Enterprises

"We don’t believe in Santa Claus or superheroes or that anyone else will save us. If anyone is going to save us it is going to be ourselves and our organizing. Our revolution doesn’t need bullets, we need to change the way people think about these issues."

Helio Mecca, Brazilian Movement of Dam–Affected People (MAB), at dam–affected people’s meeting Rivers for Life, Thailand



"We hope no more destructive dams will be built on China’s rivers. We have to maintain the life and vitality of China’s rivers. I am pleased to see that more and more people in China are informed about dams. I know that the growing voice of the people will be a strong force for civil society in China."

Wang Yongchen, founder of the Chinese environmental group Green Volunteers

"Reparations allows us to get back our dignity – respect for our culture and our rights. Reparations is to be able to provide for our families and live well again, to develop projects to benefit the community ... for the people to feel that there is a sense of future."

Carlos Chen, an indigenous Maya–Achi from Guatemala. His family and 400 members of his community were massacred in 1982 because of their opposition to the construction of the Chixoy Dam on the Rio Negro



"Big dams are fundamentally undemocratic. They are part of an old and discredited stewardship of the Earth."

Robert Hass, former US Poet Laureate, current IRN board member

"What's at risk here [from the Klamath River dams] is the region’s cultural heritage as well as the economy. For the tribes, salmon represent an integral part of their cultures, including unique ceremonies based on the annual return of salmon. As the salmon runs dwindle, ceremonies are lost. In addition, commercial fishermen and the communities dependent on the fishing economy struggle to survive as well."

Leaf Hillman, vice–chairman of the Karuk Tribe, 2005 Day of Action, at an event that was just one of over 90 being held in 30 countries around the world