[STATEMENT] International Day of Action for Rivers

March 14, 2024

Let our rivers flow! Water for all!

Today, on the International Day of Action for Rivers, APNED echoes the calls across Asia and the Pacific to protect our rivers and the rights of local communities to depend and access them. With the theme of “Water for All”1, we celebrate and continue 27 years of global solidarity for rivers and local communities since the first International Meeting of People Affected by Dams in Curitiba, Brazil, in 19972

Rivers birth and sustain civilization: nearly half of all fish species live in rivers, and hundreds of millions of people depend on food from rivers3. Rivers carry water, sediments, and nutrients which enrich and sustain the floodplains and deltas they course through, supporting innumerable ecosystems and populations and protecting them against extreme climate disasters. In many cultures around the world, rivers hold precious cultural and religious value, like the Ganges River which is sacred to Hinduism4. Where rivers flow, there is life.

Alarmingly, rivers around the world are being dried out and fragmented by large-scale hydropower projects, amplifying the impacts of other threats like climate change, pollution, and water privatization. Nowhere is this modern urge to dam and destroy river ecosystems more evident than the Mekong River. Second only to the Amazon in terms of biodiversity, the Mekong is a nearly 5,000 kilometer-long river that flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It provides for nearly 65 million people in the Lower Mekong Basin, with 80 percent of those people directly depending on the river for food and livelihood5

But the Mekong’s critical services to the region are threatened by the more than 160 dams operating throughout the Mekong Basin, with hundreds more in the pipeline.6 Mega-dams are increasingly being falsely advertised as green energy solutions7, and are more quickly being planned, funded, and built, despite the amount of greenhouse gases they contribute and the many disasters they have caused to communities and life support systems8. Through their imperial Belt and Road Initiative, China is a major hydropower developer in the region, with 81 percent of their Mekong dams being in Laos. The Lao government’s ambitions of becoming the “battery” of Southeast Asia and exporting hydropower to the region have opened its section of the Mekong to Chinese control and debt—at the expense of its local communities both in Laos and downstream9.

The power-hungry onslaught of dam construction has already changed the natural flow of the river and aggravated the impacts of climate change in the region10. Existing dams have already displaced thousands, inundated homelands11, and amplified recent droughts which have brought record lows in water levels to the lower Mekong Basin12. Fishing villages along the Thai/Laos border are becoming ghost towns due to declining fish stocks13. A Mekong River Commission study of existing hydropower development plans by 2040 shows that dams in the pipeline would seriously threaten the entire region’s ecology, economy, and food security.14

Being at the frontline of impacts of mega-dams, communities in the region have been active in opposing these projects. In doing so, they face huge risks of various forms of reprisal from increasingly authoritarian governments, such as surveillance, harassment, and violence.15  Yet they have persevered and even won victories, such as the moratorium Cambodia placed on dam construction until 203016

APNED stands in solidarity with all environmental defenders and their communities who courageously fight for their rights to their rivers and life. We vehemently challenge the narrative that mega-dams are green development or climate solutions, and join the call to stop their construction. We also seek due diligence and accountability from states and corporations who recklessly push for these massively destructive projects. Let us all protect both rivers and those that defend them. 

#InternationalDayOfActionForRivers #LetOurRiversFlow #ProtectOurRivers #NotoDams #DefendEnvironmentalDefenders #WaterForAll #RiversDay2024 #ReclaimOurRivers

References

[1] International Rivers (2024). Join us for the 27th Anniversary of the International Day of Action for Rivers! March 14, 2024. https://www.internationalrivers.org/take-action/international-day-of-action-for-rivers/ ↩

[2] Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination & Liberation. (2024, March 4). Reclaim Our Rivers, Reclaim Our Rights! https://www.ipmsdl.org/campaign/reclaim-our-rivers-reclaim-our-rights↩

[3] Opperman, J., Grill, G., & Hartmann, J. (2015). The Power of Rivers: Finding balance between energy and conservation in hydropower development [Report]. The Nature Conservancy: Washington, D.C. https://www.nature.org/media/freshwater/power-of-rivers-report.pdf ↩

[4] Geeks for Geeks. (2023, Nov 21). Himalayan Rivers. https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/himalayan-rivers/ ↩

[5] Mekong River Commission. (2024). Mekong Basin. https://www.mrcmekong.org/about/mekong-basin/  ↩

[6] Cowan, C. (2023, March 29). As hydropower dams quell the Mekong’s life force, what are the costs? Mongabay. https://news.mongabay.com/2023/03/as-hydropower-dams-quell-the-mekongs-life-force-what-are-the-costs/  ↩

[7] Read more on dams being false climate solutions at: https://blueheart.patagonia.com/truth/ ↩

[8] Read more on large dam failures and disasters at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/dams-worldwide-are-at-risk-of-catastrophic-failure/  ↩

[9] Guerreiro, P. (2021, December 3). What Chinese Dams in Laos Tell Us About the Belt and Road Initiative. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2021/12/what-chinese-dams-in-laos-tell-us-about-the-belt-and-road-initiative/ ↩

[10] See [6]. ↩

[11] Cowan, C. (2021, August 18). Cambodian dam a ‘disaster’ for local communities, rights group says. Mongabay. https://news.mongabay.com/2021/08/cambodian-dam-a-disaster-for-local-communities-rights-group-says/ ↩

[12] Strangio, S. (2023, March 24). Laos Takes Another Step Forward on Controversial Mekong Dam. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2023/03/laos-takes-another-step-forward-on-controversial-mekong-dam/  ↩

[13] Chonmahatrakool, A. (2024, March 5). Tide Turns and Lives Washed Away for Thai Villagers on Mekong. Earth Journalism Network. https://earthjournalism.net/stories/tide-turns-and-lives-washed-away-for-thai-villagers-on-mekong  ↩

[14] International Rivers. (2019, March). Tragic Trade-offs: The MRC Council Study and the Impacts of Hydropower Development on the Mekong [Factsheet]. https://www.internationalrivers.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/86/2020/05/factsheet_mrc_council_study_-_english-proof_5.pdf  ↩

[15] Thiện, H. (2023, December 18). ‘The police are watching’: In Mekong countries, eco defenders face rising risks. Mongabay. https://news.mongabay.com/2023/12/the-police-are-watching-in-mekong-countries-eco-defenders-face-rising-risks/  ↩

[16] Ratcliffe, R. (2020, March 20). Cambodia scraps plans for Mekong hydropower dams. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/20/cambodia-scraps-plans-for-mekong-hydropower-dams ↩