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.