Chinese journalist Dai Qing, a Goldman Prize recipient from 1992, has been the staunchest critic of the giantThree Gorges Dam for 25 years. She speaks truth to power with courage and irreverent humor. Newly minted Goldman Prize recipient Ikal Angeleicoordinates the global campaign against the Gibe III Dam, which would devastate ecosystems and livelihoods in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Degrading whole river valleys and impoverishing large populations groups, the Three Gorges and Gibe III dams are symbols of a destructive development model. They are located on different continents, and separated by two decades. Yet the two projects are connected by invisible bonds: They are linked by the top-down globalization of the dam industry, and the bottom-up globalization of grassroots networks.
Once the project was completed the Chinese pupils turned around to sell their new expertise on the world market, and soon out-competed their Western masters. In 2010, Dongfang Electric won the contract to supply the equipment for the Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia. The contract was funded by ICBC, China’s biggest bank. Like this the Three Gorges Dam has spawned a generation of new projects in Ethiopia, Sudan, Burma and other countries.
The Three Gorges Dam has been built, and the Gibe III Dam is under construction. Yet through our international network, Dai Qing, Ikal Angelei and other activists have achieved progress beyond the shores of the Yangtze River and Lake Turkana. In a sort of dam builders’ Whac-a-Mole, we have managed to move one actor after the other out of the most destructive types of projects.
In the late 1990s, the public outcry over the Three Gorges Dam forced the Western export financiers to adopt social and environmental standards of their own. As a consequence these lenders stayed out of the Merowe Dam on the Nile in Sudan for human rights reasons. For several years, the project did not move forward. Yet in 2003, China’s Exim Bank decided to fill the gap, and the project was built with Chinese technology. Under public criticism, China Exim Bank strengthened itsenvironmental due diligence and suspended some projects in 2007. Yet in 2010, ICBC – China’s biggest commercial bank – picked up the slack in the Gibe III Project.
Over the past 20 years we have strengthened environmental standards around the world, and stopped scores of destructive projects in their tracks. On good days I am confident that we are making progress. On bad days, I am concerned that we are losing ground. Yet with partners like Dai Qing and Ikal Angelei, I always know that we are doing the right thing.
Peter Bosshard is the policy director of International Rivers. He blogs at www.internationalrivers.org/en/blog/peter-bosshard and tweets at www.twitter.com/PeterBosshard.