22nd March was designated as the World Water Day in 1993, where people across the cultures attempt to raise awareness about the significance of the freshwater and the sustainable management of world’s water resources. On the brink of its 20th anniversary, water transnationals, the World Bank and some other major player in the water markets gathered at the 6th World Water Forum (WWF) to explore and discuss about the “solutions” for the challenges the world now faces. The 6th WWF took place in Marseille, which happens to be the home of Suez Environment, one of the major water multinationals in the world; several recommendations have been made, rather in favor of the corporate interests than the common interests of the people.
In the meantime, civil society movements around the world also gathered in Marseille, renewing our vows to safeguard the scarce water resources in the world. Through the exchange of local struggles and water management experiences, activists and researchers reaffirmed the importance of water to our life and disclosed some of the ugly schemes between the governments and multinationals who have attempted to gain control over water (which literally give them the access and control over the population who depend on the water to survive), deliberately contaminated the fresh water or abused water in wish to grab other energy and recourses.
Issues ranging from the right to water, climate change and the financialisation of nature resources, resistance against neo-liberal reforms, access to water and sanitation, water and extractivism, and water and agriculture, are listed as the focused themes for the workshops of FAME 2012. Apart from the workshops, film screenings on water issues and social forums were arranged, while some associations and movements installed their stalls to share the stories in their combats in water and seek for further solidarity actions. Yet, the discussions and the experiences sharing among the participants were some of the most rewarding experiences in FAME 2012.
Security Dams- for security or potential conflicts?
In one of the workshops, issues related to water and mega dam projects were disclosed; what has interested me the most was the development of the “Security Dams”. According to a report announced in December, 2011, the Turkish government has created a new category of dams which is now called the “Security Dams”. As it is widely known, the Turkish government and the Kurdish militants in the Kurdish region of Turkey (namely the southeast region of Turkey, by the borders to Iraq) have been ongoing domestic conflicts. In the past few decades, the Turkish governments had attempted to damage and destroy Kurdish heritage and harm the Kurdish people to diminish the Kurdish activism, yet the Turkish governments’ approaches have proved to be useless and the conflicts remained.
The “new” method that the Turkish government had come up with was to build some dams on the valleys where they could decide wherever and whenever they can release the water reservoir and flood the valleys, if such actions are somehow needed. There are 7 dams that are under construction for such “purposes”, which is bound to be finished in just a few years. The Turkish government had tried to justify their actions by proclaiming the dams will protect the Turkish solider from being attack by the Kurdish activists, yet the reasons given are far from being legitimate enough to encourage the buildings of these “strategic” dams.
Though these dams are constructed for the provision of “security”, yet the definition of “security” is still left ambiguous and controversial. From the construction of these dams, villagers and peasants have been asked to relocate and stay away from their home lands. Once such dams are completed, it would only bring destruction to harm the civilians and their establishments, literally, casting people out of their houses with absolute free wills.
Dams vs. Border Conflicts
These are not the first great dams’ projects with controversial interests. In 2010, North Korea established a hydroelectric station on its border to South Korea[i]. It is believed that such infrastructure will allow the North Korean army to occupy the border region, Gangwon Province, if necessary, without any efforts. Likewise, the South Korean governments have also constructed a “strategic” dam in the nearby region in prevention of North Korea’s “water attack”[ii] and the possible flooding that might come along.
South Korea’s worries did not come out of imagination. In 2009, without any prior notices to South Korea, North Korea released the dam on Imjin River, which had created water waves that have swept 6 South Koreans away. According to the report[iii], unannounced water discharges from North Korean dams have caused flooding and damage in South Korea since 2000 when the North began building the structures.
A bit southern from the Korean Peninsula, China has encountered various issues with the neighboring countries for its great dam projects along the borders[iv]. Mekong River is the soul of the Indochina Peninsula, which provides water resources for China, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. With the Chinese investment for the 21 hydroelectric stations and the dams at the sources of the Mekong River, the river water is ultimately cut off and deprived from the countries and regions in the lower reaches of Mekong; this has led to several border conflicts between China and the countries on the Indochina Peninsula.
On the other hand, the Chinese government has also encountered some issues around its dam projects on its border to Burma[v]. The Burmese army, mostly influenced by the Chinese army, has been in the armed conflicts with the Kachin Independent Army, who are in resistance of the Chinese hydroelectric dam projects. The regions occupied by the Kachin people are close to the sites of the Chinese new infrastructure, where water will be grabbed to provide electricity for China and bring serious impacts on the life of the Kachin people.
More controversial dam- building cases could be found around the world, which has intrigued conflicts of the interests between the “general public” and neglect the right of certain “minorities” to the access to water and the possible damage and change to the environment. Though the struggles might be local, such cases have raised the attention of the international movements on monitoring how the dam projects in the emerging regions are carried out and endangered the well-being of the people.
A New “World Bank” Development Model?
Meantime, it is equivalently important to lobby how the developed countries are in support of the destructive dam projects in the developing regions, and the possible interests these projects could encompass. For instance, the European Investment Bank (EIB) has sponsored around 900 million euros of loans for the countries in the global South to build great dams projects that would devastate the environment and the livelihood of the locals[vi].
Imagine these dam construction projects that are sponsored by the developed economics in the less developed regions; they have been advertised as the proxy for “reconstruction” and “development boost”. We have heard that before; isn’t this the exact same speech that World Bank has used while bargaining the privatization of the resources and public services in the developing countries?
Dam projects are not the only options to solve the water shortage and quench the thirst for the world’s water demands. The alternatives, however, still lie in how the water resources should be managed in proper and sustainable methods to ensure the right to the access to water for all is truly treated in the adequate manners.