Dams are the answer; sorry, what was the question?

Ken Cline
If I hear the term “water- energy-food nexus” again I might scream. Yes they are related but the connections are not ecological ones; they are a mantra of convenience. More accurately, they are placed together as an excuse to maintain the status quo in terms of large dams. I listen to the head of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID) talk about how they are concerned about food security in Africa and how we need more dams to stave off shortages. Then the International Commission of Large Dams (ICOLD) jumps in and talks about the need for more infrastructure (i.e. dams.) Adapting the slogans of water/social activists, the speaker intones “Water is life but without infrastructure it is not enough.” And then there are the lamentations about climate change. “We will need more storage (i.e. dams) in the face of climate change. Adaptation requires storage to make us resilient and dams are renewable power. There is no other way.”
So Africa is hungry because it is under-dammed, South America cannot reach its full development because it is under-dammed, and we are on the way to climate Armageddon because we are under-dammed. If you listen to the conversations in the hallways and some of the sessions at the World Water Forum you would soon realize that dams are the answer, regardless of the question.
But are they? Most dams, especially large ones really only reallocate resources. The benefits of a free flowing river and flood regime are transformed into kilowatts and benefit people who work in factories far away. In some sense the energy is renewable, but the people’s lives, customs, and culture are not. Nor is the complex ecosystem that is destroyed. There is potential in hydropower and irrigation to help us transition to a more sustainable economy, but large dams are not the way to do it. Large dams make members of ICOLD and ICID rich and powerful, meet the needs of short-sighted or corrupt politicians, and move resources from minorities and rural people into the cities, however, they do not meet the needs of the people who live in the valleys or in the land that has been “grabbed” away by outside investors. They are not green.
For the next World Water Forum I want an ICAD – an International Commission Against Dams.

Relaxation at the World Water Forum

by Janoah Bailin

Not all of the sessions at the WWF are riveting. Such as one of the more tedious presentations on Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), an all-encompassing process for approaching water that stresses: planning from a watershed level as opposed to arbitrary political boundaries, a recognition of multiple values of and uses for water, and matching various water qualities to their most appropriate use (dare I say the Human Ecology of water management? Except somehow, in this case, exceedingly boring). I began to nod off. Deciding to save myself from the shame of snapping awake too suddenly, I snuck outside to repose on the steps and enjoy the last rays of warm Marseille SUNSHINE! before the next session. No sooner had I laid my head back on my bag when a guard walked over and told me to sit up: “on va se faire engueuler” he told me – you’re going to get told off. It was a nice enough way of giving me a completely ridiculous piece of information: “I’m sorry,” I asked, “I’m not allowed to rest?”

“You can rest. But you just can’t lay down,” he explained. “Only sit.” It was probably good at that point in the conversation that I had to leave because I fear I might have had much more to say on the matter. Although I assume that there are legitimate security reasons for not allowing participants to nap on the premises, the message I gleaned was slightly more cynical: this world of big business and governments and policy can’t stand to see someone who’s not doing something for a moment. Or were they scared that, tired of dry text and formalities, one person relaxing might suddenly prompt everyone else to follow suit?

This is an exclusive forum, accessible to those who can pay or have not proven their expertise (students were given a discounted rate only after NGOs and professionals lobbied for their inclusion). Not a space for those who care to lie in the sun, for those who are not completely convinced that the constant accumulation of responsibilities and knowledge is the only method of changing this world. Basking in the nature for which we fight (be it sunlight, water, or mountain) is essential to its salvation. Otherwise, conservation becomes just another job, another duty; the environment just another product.