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Itzchak Kornfeld

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Itzchak Kornfeld

For eras, rivers began their free flows to the seas as trickles of streams in the uplands of their mountainous divides. As these rills and streams fervidly tumbled down unimpeded, they made their approach down the highlands and into the broad sweeping rivers, and then they continued to flow unto the flat lands. At no period in human history have the world’s rivers flowed freely and then hit a wall other than in the twentieth century. During that 100-year epoch, mankind as a manipulator was involved in a battle with the environment to subjugate and overcome it. This need to overpower and control nature, via dams and mega-dams, is the penultimate act of an “entire revolution” that has left no river free from human obstruction. This chapter provides the historical background to that saga.

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Itzchak Kornfeld

Until the beginning of the twentieth century the Colorado River ran freely from its source, located in the Rocky Mountains. During the depression era of the twentieth century, United States initiated what, in subsequent decades, would become a worldwide surge of building large dams across almost every river basin in the world. That first large dam, the Hoover Dam, was constructed on the Colorado River. The United States’ second dam was built on the Columbia River, in the country’s northwest. Although, 40 years hence, we have learned about the ecological destruction that these dams caused, the electricity that these dams generated was enormously helpful when the United States entered World War II. However, these dams wreaked havoc with the Colorado River’s delta and today there is no water for either agriculture or fish. On the Columbia, Native American tribes lived for thousands of years prior to the European invasion. Salmon were their mainstay and a cultural emblem. But the Europeans destroyed their ability to earn a living.

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Itzchak Kornfeld

The human rights field is a part of international law. Its aim, both as customary international law and via treaties, is to make certain that every human being is treated with respect and dignity. Human rights norms are instituted in order to safeguard every person’s most intrinsic and fundamental entitlements and freedoms. These rights are said to be “inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.” Indeed, human rights embrace the “right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education,” without discrimination. When mega-dams are planned and built, they are set where people, generally indigenous peoples, live and have lived for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. These people are ousted from their lands, losing their homes and their livelihoods. Promises made by governments to ousted people to resettle them are, more often than not, not kept.

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Itzchak Kornfeld

The World Bank, or the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, was established in order to fund the reconstruction of Europe following World War II. It and its sister multilateral banks were established to loan funds, in order to help developing countries build infrastructure, such as dams and roads. IBRDs, IADBs and other multilateral banks’ failures have received a good deal of scrutiny in the literature. Commentators have addressed a variety of subjects, including the Bank’s lack of accountability for human rights violations; issues related to public participation; population displacement and resettlement. The Banks’ loan processes are meant to maintain management’s control not only over the loan process, but over the borrower. That is, the IDRB, and the other Multi-Development Banks, created later, deal solely with sovereigns: this is an antiquated Westphalian mindset, where citizens have no privity in the process and are therefore precluded from seeking a place at the table. However, these institutions’ actions cause misery to the people who are relocated from their homes.

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Itzchak Kornfeld

The Yacyretà Dam is a joint venture between Argentina and Paraguay on the Paraná River. It was designed to generate 3,200 megawatts (MW), at a reservoir water level of 83 meters above sea level. But, it has never reached that amount. The Dam is managed by a bi-national entity, Entidad Binacional Yacyreta. Funded by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Inter-American Development Bank, Yacyretà reservoir displaced at least 40,000 indigenous people. The two Banks’ inspection panels investigated and found that the Banks failed to follow their lending protocols, which led to the breach of human rights. Moreover, stagnant pools adjacent to the reservoir caused concern regarding the outbreak of diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis, and a variety of skin diseases. Additionally, increased respiratory infections, diarrhea, skin rashes, skin and intestinal parasites, nutritional disorders, and stress-related conditions also prevailed.

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Itzchak Kornfeld

The Senegal River flows through four western African countries of Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal, and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The dams have been described as a “luxury car without a motor”; an “act of economic and environmental nonsense”; and a “Potemkin dam.” Furthermore, the dams and their reservoirs have caused “social disparities and malnutrition,” unknown in pre-dam times. They have also impacted communities with a host of waterborne diseases and destroyed productive farming practices by the indigenous people who have lived along the Senegal for hundreds of years. Indeed, the previously “rich Senegal valley has become the most impoverished in the region.” Likewise, the Senegal River valley’s peasants declared in 1992 that those families who have remained in the villages along the river are unable to earn a living because their crops wither and fish and livestock die due to lack of forage. Moreover their hope is depleted.

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Itzchak Kornfeld

Turkey has planned the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), a series of hydroelectric and other dams, since the 1960s. The dams are situated on both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in the east of the country. The plan is to build tens of dams at a cost of $32 billion. However, the Kurds, who live in Anatolia, have suggested that Turkey is building this complex in order to move them away from their ancestral homes. During the pre-construction studies for the Birecik and Illisu Dams, relics and ruins that are thousands of years old were discovered adjacent to the cities of Zeguma and Hasankeyf. The relics lie in the way of the pathway of the reservoirs’ swelling columns of water. This potentially ruinous situation has brought considerable domestic and international awareness to the two sites. The swift and harsh reactions of the international community to this threat has caused the Turkish government to back off slightly and take some action to protect Zaguma’s cultural treasures.

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Itzchak Kornfeld

India has been witness to many battles over large dams for decades. One is a long-running conflict over the construction of a dam on the Narmada River: Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat. A critical facet of this dispute is the focus on the dam’s size and construction, and the eviction of families who live on the Narmada’s shores and whose ancestors lived there for hundreds of years. These peoples are known as Adivsis or indigenous peoples. The Narmada Valley Development Project is the largest and most expensive such project in India’s history. However, politicians and scientists are locked in combat over damming rivers, particularly the impacts on the rivers’ health and upon the indigenous peoples. Following numerous attempts at resolution, an indigenous group, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, sued the government of India in an effort to prevent the construction of the Narmada Dam and the displacement of people living on the proposed project sites and the areas to be submerged.

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Itzchak Kornfeld

Zambia’s Kariba Dam, the largest manmade dam in the world, lies across the Zambezi River, in southeast Africa. The dam lies downstream of the Victoria Falls and is operated by a bi-national Zambezi River Authority. 57,000 Gwembe Tonga indigenous people were ousted from their ancestral homes and resettled for the Kariba’s construction. Additionally, numerous animals were ousted and then rescued in “Operation Noah,” which began as a consequence of concerns regarding the destiny of 4,000–6,000 animals that would have drowned when the dam’s reservoir filled. In return for leaving their ancestral lands, the Tonga were promised electricity in their new homes. However, 60 years hence that promise has yet to be honored. They have also not benefited from any of successive development since their relocation. The Tonga now live in dark and dust-filled thatched roof houses, but more critically their schools and clinic are similarly not electrified.