March 14th: International Day of the Rivers
To celebrate this date, JA! organized and held several events. The focus was the Zambezi River.
In Tete, we put up a banner on the Samora Machel Bridge in Tete which is the town closest to the proposed dam and also close to the coal mining-affected communities. The message on the banner was strong, and was directed at every single person who saw it: IN YOUR NAME, “PROGRESS” AND “DEVELOPMENT” ARE KILLING THE ZAMBEZI DAM BY DAM) We distributed leaflets about the consequences of the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam.
(Photo credit: Gus Greenstein)
In Maputo and in partnership with the National Institute of Audiovisual and Cinema we also organized the screening of two documentaries about water: Entre Rios, which depicts the impacts of urbanization and expansion of the city of São Paulo on the rivers of the region, and Damocracy, which addresses the social and environmental impacts of the construction of mega dams in rivers. The aim of these projections was to create an awareness of the importance of rivers and water resources, which are vital for the planet and all of us. After the screening there was a very interactive discussion regarding the impact of human activity on the environment, its resources and their sustainability. Issues were also raised regarding the energy model that historically has caused serious social, economic, cultural and environmental consequences, and about the need to replace the use of dirty energy and the construction of mega dams (such as that intended to Mphanda Nkuwa) for the development and use of clean and renewable energy.
The Zambezi and Mphanda Nkuwa
In accordance to the mother of all geopolitical rules, as the developed countries stop building and actually begin to demolish their dams, the pressure from companies and financiers of such infrastructures over the underdeveloped and developing countries increases.
Unsurprisingly, the Mozambican government does not seem to be “getting the picture.” With a series of dams planned for our rivers in the coming years, fronted by the infamous Mphanda Nkuwa, the government’s agenda clearly indicates its commitment to send us the opposite direction to the course of development that they so often talk about.
In 2014, in the United States alone, at least 72 dams were demolished in order to restore rivers and preserve its people and biodiversity. In the US, the movement for the demolition of dams and river restoration is clearly becoming stronger, and much thanks to education and information campaigns, this increasing awareness regarding the impacts of dams in the past present and future is lessening the manoeuvring space for those who promote them within the political circles, and consequently, making it more difficult for politicians to foist them.
But who decides that a dam should be demolished? And why? Well, actually, there seems to be no rule. Sometimes governmental entities, for environmental and/or social reasons, determine it; sometimes the owners of the dam, when it is no longer profitable (if it ever was), come to the conclusion that maintenance costs are higher than demolition costs, and so, for financial and safety reasons choose to demolish it. Either way, nature says thank you.
The great victory in the fight against dams in 2014 was the overturning of the HidroAysén project, a 5 dams construction plan in the Baker and Pascua rivers in Patagonia. The Environmental Impact Assessment was approved in 2011, but a group of citizens opposed strongly and in 2014 the Minister for the Environment announced that her Ministry had rejected the project. She justified it by saying that the dam was jeopardizing biodiversity, traditional cultures, communities and even tourism in the region.
Another big win was to finally be able to hold the World Bank accountable for their involvement in human rights violations through its funding of dams. An example: the Rio Negro massacres caused during the building of the Chixoy Dam in Guatemala.
But what about us? How long will we keep pushing one way while the world moves in the opposite direction? We are different and want to continue to be different, but different for the better. We have to impose our will so that wise decisions on these matters are taken. Decisions upon which depend the welfare and livelihoods of millions of people and the balance of our environment. We agree that we cannot believe everything is said and written, but we cannot allow lightly taken decisions made in our name to be so obscenely wrong that a simple online search on any search engine disqualifies them peremptorily.
We need the decision makers of this country to promote a broad and open dialogue with society on the country’s energy needs, and allow it to participate in decision making. They could start by giving us answers to questions such as:
We need more dams to produce energy what and/or whom for?
What kind of energy do we want, and what options do we have?
In terms of social justice, we are certain that these decisions, taken together with the society, will be fairer, more valid, and certainly will not cost so much sweat, blood and tears to Mozambicans. Environmentally speaking, we have faith that this will also allow us to preserve our rivers, our water.
In the specific case of the Zambezi, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns that in the coming years “the Zambezi basin will potentially face the worst effects of climate change (…) and suffer probably a substantial reduction precipitation of about 10-15%”. We cannot afford to ignore these warnings from leading scientist panels and lightly build more dams on the Zambezi. The consequences can be disastrous.
Proud of our partners victories in the US and Chile, we remain resolute in our struggle and hopeful to the end that victory will smile to us too. And you may even be thinking that this much desired victory will not be yours; worse, that in case of defeat, nothing will change for you; or even worse, that this investment will certainly serve the country, create jobs and bring progress… Think again. This investment could irreparably affect the lives of millions of Mozambicans living on the banks of the Zambezi. It can take the fish and the xima out of their tables, because the “health” of a river depends on an entire ecosystem, including the fields it irrigates. And how will the thousands of fishermen and farmers living by and of the river survive?
And the possible repercussions in the Zambezi delta and the shrimp industry?
What if we told you that Mphanda Nkuwa is not meant to help fix our country’s poor electrification rate? Would you be surprised? What if we told you that behind Mphanda Nkuwa there are other plans for energy-intensive dirty industries, that will in turn bring the country other social and environmental problems and the same development that the Cahora Bassa, Mozal, Vale and Jindal, among others, bring us today: insufficient when compared to what we sacrificed and disproportionately distributed.
There is only one Zambezi, and yet, there are many projects that the executive seems to have for him, as if it was inexhaustible and indestructible… Don’t you find it strange that none of them are directly aimed at benefiting its people?
Do you really believe that is progress?
For more information about the HidroAysén project and dam demolition: