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International Day of Action for Rivers

March 2010

Cultures in different parts of our planet have long held rivers to be life-giving. Early human civilizations are even known by their connection to the river systems whose banks they arose from like the Indus-Ganga, the Nile and the Yangtze Kiang-Huang He. But today human actions and inaction have literally throttled our rivers through industrial pollution, mega dams, diversification, deforestation and the list goes on…. But people are fighting back — especially those most directly impacted. In my home country India, numerous popular movements have emerged like the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA-Save the Narmada Movement) and the Ganga Mukti Andolan (GMA-Free the Ganga Movement). They’ve faced many challenges and defeats but they’ve also won important victories; and, are still in the thick of struggle. The NBA’s mobilizing efforts led the World Bank to not provide a loan for mega dam construction in India’s Madhya Pradesh state, and similarly sustained organizing by the GMA led to the abolishment of the paanidaari (“riverlordism”, like landlordism) system in Bihar state in India.

Grassroots International joins its partners and allies around the world in commemorating the International Day of Action for Rivers, March 14th. Our partners like the Via Campesina and Polo Sindical, our grantees like the African Rivers Network and our allies like International Rivers and Redlar are marking this day with actions in their communities across the globe. March 14, 2010 is the 13th annual International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life. The different movements that are actively working around the world have come together twice already to network and build alliances and solidarity — in Curitiba, Brazil in 1997 and Rasi Salai, Thailand, in 2003. Later this year in October they will come together a third time, in Temacapulin, Mexico.

The Via Campesina recognizes March as a special month — with three special days of commemoration, International Women’s Day, the International Day of Action for Rivers and World Water Day. It called on people everywhere to simultaneously celebrate all three. As it says: “To celebrate these days, we call all popular movements, unions, churches, and NGOs which believe and support the struggle for life and against the commercialization of nature and for a new social model, to jointly protest against all injustices in all possible places.”

In Latin America, the members of the Via Campesina work closely with members of Redlar (Latin American Network against Dams and for Rivers, Communities and Water), which has members in more than 19 countries across the region. Grassroots partner Polo Sindical is part of the Brazilian network, MAB (Movement of Dam Affected Peoples) which in turn is a member of Redlar; as are Grassroots allies such as COPINH (Honduran Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations) and OFRANEH (Honduran Fraternal Black Organization) in Honduras and MAPDER (Mexican Movement of Peoples Affected by Dams and in Defense of Rivers) in Mexico.

Last year, Grassroots made a grant to support the organizing and mobilizing work of the African Rivers Network (Redlar’s sister network in Africa) which has members from 20 African countries representing all regions of the continent. Our African allies face immense challenges not only from mega dams proposed for their great rivers like the Congo and Zambezi but from other forms of water diversification for industrial agriculture a la the Green Revolution and export-oriented agrofuel production. Like in Latin America and Asia, growing energy demands — both national and international — are creating new and renewed threats in the shape of mega hydroelectric projects. Often greenwashed as clean these schemes not only cause massive displacement and lead to a denial of the right to water (and thus food and life), but are also inefficient, lead to potentially more greenhouse gas emissions and are questionable in terms of siesmic impacts

Grassroots joins with our ally International Rivers to:


Our collective international movement has made huge strides in protecting the world’s rivers and the rights of communities who depend on them. In June, our colleagues in Mexico succeeded in securing a significant delay on La Parota Dam. Strong Kenyan opposition to Ethiopia’s Gibe 3 Dam has deterred international funders from approving financing for the project….

Reclaim Our Rivers, Our Rights

Despite these successes, we still face serious challenges. The hydropower industry is planning to release a new protocol that could greenwash hydropower and undermine the rights of dam-affected communities to participate in development decisions. Southern financiers, like Brazil and China, are increasingly funding dams that threaten some of the world’s most amazing rivers, which have supported communities for generations.

We urge you to join thousands of dam-affected people and their allies around the world under a unifying message of “Our Rivers, Our Rights.” Together, our voices are stronger.

  • Together, we will demand reparations for people affected by existing dams.
  • Together, we will insist that dams do not proceed without the consent of affected communities.
  • Together, we will press for better solutions to meet our water and energy needs than big, destructive dams.
  • Together, we will raise our voices on March 14, 2010 to reclaim our rivers and our rights.

Image: Narmada Bachao Andolan satyagrahis (resisters) singing while braving submergence at Domkhedi, Madhya Pradesh, from the website of Friends of river Narmada/Narmada Bachao Andolan.

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