Arquivo da tag: Água

Texas Blackouts Point to Coast-to-Coast Crises Waiting to Happen (New York Times)

nytimes.com

Christopher Flavelle, Brad Plumer, Hiroko Tabuchi – Feb 20, 2021


Traffic at a standstill on Interstate 35 in Kileen, Texas, on Thursday.
Traffic at a standstill on Interstate 35 in Kileen, Texas, on Thursday. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Continent-spanning storms triggered blackouts in Oklahoma and Mississippi, halted one-third of U.S. oil production and disrupted vaccinations in 20 states.

Even as Texas struggled to restore electricity and water over the past week, signs of the risks posed by increasingly extreme weather to America’s aging infrastructure were cropping up across the country.

The week’s continent-spanning winter storms triggered blackouts in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and several other states. One-third of oil production in the nation was halted. Drinking-water systems in Ohio were knocked offline. Road networks nationwide were paralyzed and vaccination efforts in 20 states were disrupted.

The crisis carries a profound warning. As climate change brings more frequent and intense storms, floods, heat waves, wildfires and other extreme events, it is placing growing stress on the foundations of the country’s economy: Its network of roads and railways, drinking-water systems, power plants, electrical grids, industrial waste sites and even homes. Failures in just one sector can set off a domino effect of breakdowns in hard-to-predict ways.

Much of this infrastructure was built decades ago, under the expectation that the environment around it would remain stable, or at least fluctuate within predictable bounds. Now climate change is upending that assumption.

“We are colliding with a future of extremes,” said Alice Hill, who oversaw planning for climate risks on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “We base all our choices about risk management on what’s occurred in the past, and that is no longer a safe guide.”

While it’s not always possible to say precisely how global warming influenced any one particular storm, scientists said, an overall rise in extreme weather creates sweeping new risks.

Sewer systems are overflowing more often as powerful rainstorms exceed their design capacity. Coastal homes and highways are collapsing as intensified runoff erodes cliffs. Coal ash, the toxic residue produced by coal-burning plants, is spilling into rivers as floods overwhelm barriers meant to hold it back. Homes once beyond the reach of wildfires are burning in blazes they were never designed to withstand.

A broken water main in McComb., Miss. on Thursday.
Credit: Matt Williamson/The Enterprise-Journal, via Associated Press

Problems like these often reflect an inclination of governments to spend as little money as possible, said Shalini Vajjhala, a former Obama administration official who now advises cities on meeting climate threats. She said it’s hard to persuade taxpayers to spend extra money to guard against disasters that seem unlikely.

But climate change flips that logic, making inaction far costlier. “The argument I would make is, we can’t afford not to, because we’re absorbing the costs” later, Ms. Vajjhala said, after disasters strike. “We’re spending poorly.”

The Biden administration has talked extensively about climate change, particularly the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs in renewable energy. But it has spent less time discussing how to manage the growing effects of climate change, facing criticism from experts for not appointing more people who focus on climate resilience.

“I am extremely concerned by the lack of emergency-management expertise reflected in Biden’s climate team,” said Samantha Montano, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy who focuses on disaster policy. “There’s an urgency here that still is not being reflected.”

A White House spokesman, Vedant Patel, said in a statement, “Building resilient and sustainable infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and a changing climate will play an integral role in creating millions of good paying, union jobs” while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

And while President Biden has called for a major push to refurbish and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, getting a closely divided Congress to spend hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars, will be a major challenge.

Heightening the cost to society, disruptions can disproportionately affect lower-income households and other vulnerable groups, including older people or those with limited English.

“All these issues are converging,” said Robert D. Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University who studies wealth and racial disparities related to the environment. “And there’s simply no place in this country that’s not going to have to deal with climate change.”

Flooding around Edenville Township, Mich., last year swept away a bridge over the Tittabawassee River.
Credit: Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

In September, when a sudden storm dumped a record of more than two inches of water on Washington in less than 75 minutes, the result wasn’t just widespread flooding, but also raw sewage rushing into hundreds of homes.

Washington, like many other cities in the Northeast and Midwest, relies on what’s called a combined sewer overflow system: If a downpour overwhelms storm drains along the street, they are built to overflow into the pipes that carry raw sewage. But if there’s too much pressure, sewage can be pushed backward, into people’s homes — where the forces can send it erupting from toilets and shower drains.

This is what happened in Washington. The city’s system was built in the late 1800s. Now, climate change is straining an already outdated design.

DC Water, the local utility, is spending billions of dollars so that the system can hold more sewage. “We’re sort of in uncharted territory,” said Vincent Morris, a utility spokesman.

The challenge of managing and taming the nation’s water supplies — whether in streets and homes, or in vast rivers and watersheds — is growing increasingly complex as storms intensify. Last May, rain-swollen flooding breached two dams in Central Michigan, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes and threatening a chemical complex and toxic waste cleanup site. Experts warned it was unlikely to be the last such failure.

Many of the country’s 90,000 dams were built decades ago and were already in dire need of repairs. Now climate change poses an additional threat, bringing heavier downpours to parts of the country and raising the odds that some dams could be overwhelmed by more water than they were designed to handle. One recent study found that most of California’s biggest dams were at increased risk of failure as global warming advances.

In recent years, dam-safety officials have begun grappling with the dangers. Colorado, for instance, now requires dam builders to take into account the risk of increased atmospheric moisture driven by climate change as they plan for worst-case flooding scenarios.

But nationwide, there remains a backlog of thousands of older dams that still need to be rehabilitated or upgraded. The price tag could ultimately stretch to more than $70 billion.

“Whenever we study dam failures, we often find there was a lot of complacency beforehand,” said Bill McCormick, president of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. But given that failures can have catastrophic consequences, “we really can’t afford to be complacent.”

Crews repaired switches on utility poles damaged by the storms in Texas.
Credit: Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

If the Texas blackouts exposed one state’s poor planning, they also provide a warning for the nation: Climate change threatens virtually every aspect of electricity grids that aren’t always designed to handle increasingly severe weather. The vulnerabilities show up in power lines, natural-gas plants, nuclear reactors and myriad other systems.

Higher storm surges can knock out coastal power infrastructure. Deeper droughts can reduce water supplies for hydroelectric dams. Severe heat waves can reduce the efficiency of fossil-fuel generators, transmission lines and even solar panels at precisely the moment that demand soars because everyone cranks up their air-conditioners.

Climate hazards can also combine in new and unforeseen ways.

In California recently, Pacific Gas & Electric has had to shut off electricity to thousands of people during exceptionally dangerous fire seasons. The reason: Downed power lines can spark huge wildfires in dry vegetation. Then, during a record-hot August last year, several of the state’s natural gas plants malfunctioned in the heat, just as demand was spiking, contributing to blackouts.

“We have to get better at understanding these compound impacts,” said Michael Craig, an expert in energy systems at the University of Michigan who recently led a study looking at how rising summer temperatures in Texas could strain the grid in unexpected ways. “It’s an incredibly complex problem to plan for.”

Some utilities are taking notice. After Superstorm Sandy in 2012 knocked out power for 8.7 million customers, utilities in New York and New Jersey invested billions in flood walls, submersible equipment and other technology to reduce the risk of failures. Last month, New York’s Con Edison said it would incorporate climate projections into its planning.

As freezing temperatures struck Texas, a glitch at one of two reactors at a South Texas nuclear plant, which serves 2 million homes, triggered a shutdown. The cause: Sensing lines connected to the plant’s water pumps had frozen, said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Agency.

It’s also common for extreme heat to disrupt nuclear power. The issue is that the water used to cool reactors can become too warm to use, forcing shutdowns.

Flooding is another risk.

After a tsunami led to several meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 2011, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the 60 or so working nuclear plants in the United States, many decades old, to evaluate their flood risk to account for climate change. Ninety percent showed at least one type of flood risk that exceeded what the plant was designed to handle.

The greatest risk came from heavy rain and snowfall exceeding the design parameters at 53 plants.

Scott Burnell, an Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman, said in a statement, “The NRC continues to conclude, based on the staff’s review of detailed analyses, that all U.S. nuclear power plants can appropriately deal with potential flooding events, including the effects of climate change, and remain safe.”

A section of Highway 1 along the California coastline collapsed in January amid heavy rains.
Credit: Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The collapse of a portion of California’s Highway 1 into the Pacific Ocean after heavy rains last month was a reminder of the fragility of the nation’s roads.

Several climate-related risks appeared to have converged to heighten the danger. Rising seas and higher storm surges have intensified coastal erosion, while more extreme bouts of precipitation have increased the landslide risk.

Add to that the effects of devastating wildfires, which can damage the vegetation holding hillside soil in place, and “things that wouldn’t have slid without the wildfires, start sliding,” said Jennifer M. Jacobs, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of New Hampshire. “I think we’re going to see more of that.”

The United States depends on highways, railroads and bridges as economic arteries for commerce, travel and simply getting to work. But many of the country’s most important links face mounting climate threats. More than 60,000 miles of roads and bridges in coastal floodplains are already vulnerable to extreme storms and hurricanes, government estimates show. And inland flooding could also threaten at least 2,500 bridges across the country by 2050, a federal climate report warned in 2018.

Sometimes even small changes can trigger catastrophic failures. Engineers modeling the collapse of bridges over Escambia Bay in Florida during Hurricane Ivan in 2004 found that the extra three inches of sea-level rise since the bridge was built in 1968 very likely contributed to the collapse, because of the added height of the storm surge and force of the waves.

“A lot of our infrastructure systems have a tipping point. And when you hit the tipping point, that’s when a failure occurs,” Dr. Jacobs said. “And the tipping point could be an inch.”

Crucial rail networks are at risk, too. In 2017, Amtrak consultants found that along parts of the Northeast corridor, which runs from Boston to Washington and carries 12 million people a year, flooding and storm surge could erode the track bed, disable the signals and eventually put the tracks underwater.

And there is no easy fix. Elevating the tracks would require also raising bridges, electrical wires and lots of other infrastructure, and moving them would mean buying new land in a densely packed part of the country. So the report recommended flood barriers, costing $24 million per mile, that must be moved into place whenever floods threaten.

A worker checked efforts to prevent coal ash from escaping into the Waccamaw River in South Carolina after Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Credit: Randall Hill/Reuters

A series of explosions at a flood-damaged chemical plant outside Houston after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 highlighted a danger lurking in a world beset by increasingly extreme weather.

The blasts at the plant came after flooding knocked out the site’s electrical supply, shutting down refrigeration systems that kept volatile chemicals stable. Almost two dozen people, many of them emergency workers, were treated for exposure to the toxic fumes, and some 200 nearby residents were evacuated from their homes.

More than 2,500 facilities that handle toxic chemicals lie in federal flood-prone areas across the country, about 1,400 of them in areas at the highest risk of flooding, a New York Times analysis showed in 2018.

Leaks from toxic cleanup sites, left behind by past industry, pose another threat.

Almost two-thirds of some 1,500 superfund cleanup sites across the country are in areas with an elevated risk of flooding, storm surge, wildfires or sea level rise, a government audit warned in 2019. Coal ash, a toxic substance produced by coal power plants that is often stored as sludge in special ponds, have been particularly exposed. After Hurricane Florence in 2018, for example, a dam breach at the site of a power plant in Wilmington, N.C., released the hazardous ash into a nearby river.

“We should be evaluating whether these facilities or sites actually have to be moved or re-secured,” said Lisa Evans, senior counsel at Earthjustice, an environmental law organization. Places that “may have been OK in 1990,” she said, “may be a disaster waiting to happen in 2021.”

East Austin, Texas, during a blackout on Wednesday.  
Credit: Bronte Wittpenn/Austin American-Statesman, via Associated Press

Água (sim, água) começa a ser negociada no mercado futuro de commodities (Come Ananás)

comeananas.com

por Hugo Souza, 09.dez.2020


Com a loucura fingindo que isso é normal, a água começou a ser negociada na última segunda-feira, 7, na Nasdaq, no mercado futuro de commodities, como o petróleo e o ouro.

O nome do índice é Nasdaq Veles California Water, que, segundo a Nasdaq, “oferece maior transparência e soluções inovadoras de gestão de risco para os indivíduos e entidades que dependem dos mercados de água para alinhar a oferta e a procura”.

O ticker é NQH2O e, na segunda, 1.233 metros cúbicos de água valiam no mercado futuro US$ 486,53, fechando o dia com valorização de 1,06%. Por mais que vinculado à precificação das reservas de água da Califórnia, a tendência é que o NQH2O seja usado como referência para o resto do mundo.

“Em períodos de condições hidrológicas secas e oferta limitada de água, o índice responde à pressão de alta sobre o preço. A mesma relação é verdadeira em períodos de condições hidrológicas úmidas e excesso de oferta de água”, informa ainda a Nasdaq.

O “conceito original para indexação do preço da água” é um oferecimento da Nasdaq em parceria com a Veles Water, “empresa de produtos financeiros especializada em precificação da água, produtos financeiros da água, além de metodologias econômicas e financeiras da água”.

“Os futuros” do Nasdaq Veles California Water Index são negociados por meio do CME Group, vulgo Bolsa de Chicago. Em seu site, o CME Group participa que o NQH2O é “uma solução clara para a gestão de risco do preço da água. Agora disponível”.

Insípida, inodora, incolor e produto financeiro “agora disponível” para os fundos globais de investimento.

An ancient aquatic system older than the pyramids has been revealed by the Australian bushfires (CNN)

By Eric Cheung, CNN

Updated 0638 GMT (1438 HKT) January 21, 2020 The Budj Bim aquatic system, located in southeastern Australia, was built over 6,000 years ago - older than Egypt's pyramids.The Budj Bim aquatic system, located in southeastern Australia, was built over 6,000 years ago – older than Egypt’s pyramids.

(CNN)Extensive water channels built by indigenous Australians thousands of years ago to trap and harvest eels for food have been revealed after wildfires burned away thick vegetation in the state of Victoria.

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, consisting of channels, weirs and dams built from volcanic rocks, is one of the world’s most extensive and oldest aquaculture systems, according to UNESCO. Constructed by the Gunditjmara people more than 6,600 years ago, it is older than Egypt’s pyramids.

While the aquatic system was known to archaeologists — it was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List last July — additional sections were revealed by the fires that have ripped through the state in December.

Gunditjmara representative Denis Rose, project manager at non-profit group Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, told CNN that the system was significantly bigger than what was previously recorded.

“When we returned to the area, we found a channel hidden in the grass and other vegetation. It was about 25 meters (82 feet) in length, which was a fairly substantial size,” Rose said.

He said other new structures resembling channels and ponds were now visible in the burnt landscape. “It was a surprise continually finding new ones that the fires revealed,” he added.

According to the Aboriginal Corporation’s website, the aquaculture system — which is part of the Budj Bim National Park — it was built by the indigenous population using the abundant volcanic rocks from a now-dormant volcano in the area.

UNESCO said Gunditjmara people used the system to redirect and modify waterways to maximize aquaculture yield.”

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural traditions, knowledge, practices and ingenuity of the Gunditjmara,” it said.

The fire near the national park was caused by a lightning strike in late December, which eventually spread to some 790 hectares (3 square miles) in size, said Mark Mellington, district manager for Forest Fire Management Victoria.

In order to protect the world heritage, firefighters worked with local groups to identify culturally important sites, and used “low impact techniques” to replace heavy machinery when putting out the fires, he said.”

These actions prevented the fire spreading beyond containment lines even on an extreme fire day and protected the cultural sites from damage,” he added.

The Gunditjmara was one of several groups of indigenous people that used to reside in the southern parts of the present-day Victoria state before the European settlement, according to the Victorian government. Its population was believed to be in the thousands before the 1800s, but dwindled significantly after the Europeans arrived.

Rose said that he was relieved that the fires did not cause too much damage to the region compared to other parts of Australia, and hoped it would provide a good opportunity to further explore the ancient aquaculture system.”

Over the next few weeks, we are hoping to conduct a comprehensive cultural heritage survey to check areas that were not previously recorded,” he said. “It’s important because it provided a rich, sustainable life for the traditional people, and has continued to be an important part of our cultural life.”

Reservas legais preservam o poder da floresta de fazer chover (O Globo)

Ana Lucia Azevedo

02/05/2019 – 04:30

Projeto de lei que revoga unidades de conservação pode provocar impactos em setores como agricultura, geração de energia e turismo

Para especialistas, projeto de lei que revoga obrigatoriedade de reservas legais em propriedades rurais coloca em risco equilíbrio e a proteção da floresta Foto: CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/22-9-2017
Para especialistas, projeto de lei que revoga obrigatoriedade de reservas legais em propriedades rurais coloca em risco equilíbrio e a proteção da floresta Foto: CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/22-9-2017

RIO — Um dos ditados populares da Amazônia diz que “a floresta faz chover”. E faz, não só na Região Norte, mas muito distante, no Sul do Brasil e até em partes da Argentina e do Uruguai, com impacto sobre a agricultura, a geração de energia e o turismo.

A discussão sobre as consequências do projeto de lei 2.362/2019, dos senadores Flávio Bolsonaro (PSL-RJ) e Márcio Bittar (MDB-AC), que revoga a obrigatoriedade de se manter a chamada reserva legal nas propriedades rurais, acabou por destacar a relevância da Floresta Amazônica para o clima do Brasil. É na Amazônia que nascem os rios voadores que distribuem chuvas no país.

A expressão rios voadores foi criada há quase duas décadas pelo meteorologista José Marengo, coordenador geral de Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento do Centro Nacional de Monitoramento e Alertas de Desastres Naturais (Cemaden). Ela se refere aos jatos de ar carregados de umidade que se originam sobre a floresta e atravessam o Brasil, a cerca de 3 mil metros de altitude.

Um de seus efeitos bem estabelecidos é permitir a existência das florestas do oeste do Paraná, como as das cataratas do Parque Nacional do Iguaçu e as que protegem a Usina de Itaipu.

O climatologista Carlos Nobre, um dos mais respeitados especialistas do mundo em mudanças climáticas, explica que está comprovado que, quando uma seca castiga a Amazônia, chove menos em toda a vasta região que vai do oeste do Paraná, onde estão as florestas de Iguaçu, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, e chega até o centro-leste da Argentina, Uruguai e Paraguai.

Impacto na agricultura

Só existe floresta no Paraná porque chove no inverno por lá, e chove porque os rios voadores levam a umidade da Amazônia.

— Se não fosse a umidade da Amazônia, toda essa região seria uma savana — afirma Nobre.

Chove menos em Foz do Iguaçu, por exemplo, do que em Brasília. Enquanto nesta caem de 1.600 a 1700 milímetros de chuva por ano, em Foz a média é de 1.300 mm. Porém, Brasília tem uma estiagem de meio ano e vegetação de Cerrado. Já em Foz e em toda a área coberta pelos rios voadores, a chuva é distribuída ao longo do ano, graças a eles.

Os rios voadores são canais de umidade que transportam vapor d’água e fazem com que chova durante todo o ano, inclusive no inverno, normalmente seco no Centro-sul. Sem chuva ao longo de todo o ano, não há condições para existir uma floresta, observa Nobre.

As reservas legais protegem 80% das florestas de uma propriedade rural e são essenciais para deter o desmatamento e, assim, preservar a Amazônia e os rios voadores que ela gera. Mas, para Nobre, a maior importância das reservas legais está na proteção da própria Amazônia.

As florestas prestam serviços, como redução da temperatura — são até 3 graus Celsius menos quentes que plantações e pastagens —, produção de água, prevenção de erosão e polinização de culturas comerciais.

— O maior impacto do desmatamento das reservas legais será para a agricultura da região, que já enfrenta um clima hostil e um solo pobre — salienta.

Professor titular do Instituto de Física da USP e reconhecido como o maior especialista do mundo em química da atmosfera da Amazônia, Paulo Artaxo vê ameaça concreta de perdas para os investidores nos setores agrícola e de energia, que dependem da disponibilidade de água e da regularidade climática.

— O desmatamento afeta o fluxo de umidade na atmosfera e traz desequilíbrio. A destruição de reservas legais trará incerteza para o Brasil. Para quem investe, é um fator de risco.

Tony Andersson on Khagram, Dams and Development (H-Water)

Sanjeev Khagram. Dams and Development: Transnational Struggles for Water and Power. Ithaca Cornell University Press, 2004. 288 pp. $22.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8014-8907-5.

Reviewed by Tony Andersson (New York University)
Published on H-Water (May, 2011)
Commissioned by John Broich

Tony Andersson on Khagram, Dams and Development

The controversies over big dams, and the aggressive promotion of such development projects by multinational organizations like the World Bank, have produced an extensive literature written mostly by environmental and social justice activists reacting to the loss of wildlife, often violent human displacements, and the fiscal costs associated with big dams. A welcome addition to this field, Dams and Development is the first monograph published by Sanjeev Khagram, a political scientist at the University of Washington. Pulling back somewhat from the activist literature, Khagram assumes a more distant view in order to explain why, after the 1970s, big dams as a development model seemed to fall so precipitously out of favor among governments and development agencies. Khagram’s previous work on transnational social movements informs this study of anti-dam activism as he reconstructs the international networks of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), local activists, and institutions that during the latter twentieth century acted to contest and reform development models that uncritically relied on big dams. Taking India as a case study, and in particular the series of damming schemes in the Narmada Valley, Khagram argues that transnational alliances of anti-dam activists have “dramatically altered the dynamics surrounding big dams from the local to the international levels,” affecting not only the scale but also the actual policies that guide large development projects (p. 3). Further, Khagram identifies two principle variables on which the success of anti-dam campaigns hinge: the extent to which local activists in developing countries are able to internationalize their campaigns, linking up with donors and lobbyists in the United States or Europe; and the degree of democratization in the country concerned. According to Khagram, successful anti-dam movements depended on both a robust network of international activists as well as democratic domestic political systems.

Khagram begins the book by elaborating his theoretical framework and general argument. He reviews the rise of the “big dam regime” and its unexplained fall by the 1990s. After noting the inadequacy of technical or financial constraints in explaining the precipitous decline of dam construction worldwide after a century of enthusiastic growth, Khagram details how transnational alliances and democratic institutions facilitated a global shift in norms in relation to the environment, human rights, and indigenous peoples.

Chapters 2 through 4 constitute the heart of the book, exploring India’s infatuation and subsequent disillusionment with dams after the Second World War. In chapter 2, Khagram briefly recounts the rise of big dams as a development model and applies his theoretical arguments to the case of the Silent Valley–the world’s first successful transnational campaign to stop a major dam project, according to the author. He then proceeds to question why, despite an apparent lack of financial or technical constraints, dam building across India declined rapidly after the 1970s. Visiting a series of sites in the subcontinent, Khagram points to the alliances between local activists and international NGOs that, he says, were the motive force behind the decline in dam construction. He also enumerates a group of countervailing trends that worked against anti-dam campaigns, notably a revamped lobbying campaign by dam boosters, the emergence of neoliberal ideology among third world leaders, and a right-wing Hindu nationalist movement that quashed the voices of many anti-dam activists.

Chapter 3 ventures into the history of India’s monumental plans to dam the Narmada Valley. Khagram is keen to note that local resistance met virtually every proposed dam, but that it was ineffective without the support of international organizations that could pressure Western legislators and World Bank managers. He asserts the emergence of a global set of norms pertaining to environmental conservation, human rights, and the protection of indigenous peoples as an essential factor in the success of the anti-dam movements in reforming policies at the bank. Chapter 4 chronicles the major events that eventually led the World Bank to withdraw funding from the Narmada projects in 1993, highlighting the consolidation of the anti-dam coalition in the late 1980s after a momentary split. Here Khagram emphasizes the role that India’s democratic institutions–notably the judiciary–played in upholding settlements that favored the anti-dam coalitions within India’s borders.

The focus shifts in chapter 5 from India to a comparative analysis of dam building and resistance. The author reviews examples from Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and China. He evaluates the success of anti-dam movements in each of the five countries, arguing that the outcome can be understood as a product of the two factors–international social mobilization and domestic democratization–that he identifies in the first chapter. According to Khagram, Brazil’s relatively democratic political system and the close ties between local activists and international NGOs successfully stopped the damming of the Xingu River. In South Africa and Indonesia, authoritarian regimes limited the strength of transnational anti-dam movements, even in spite of Indonesia’s relatively well-organized campaigns of resistance. China, lacking both democratic institutions and meaningful social mobilization, has yet to witness any effective resistance to dam building.

The final chapter again alters course, placing the rise of anti-dam movements in global perspective. Khagram locates the origins of the turn away from dams in the 1990s among environmental activism in the United States and Europe from the 1960s. While acknowledging that local resistance to dams has always been present, if ineffective, in the third world, Khagram emphasizes the role played by international NGOs in changing the discourse and policies surrounding dams. Of particular importance were the campaigns to reform dam policy at the World Bank, which were notable for their public visibility and effective coordination between local activists and operatives in a position to influence managers at the bank and their political backers in the United States and Europe. Khagram holds up a series of major declarations, internal reviews by the bank, and the reformist tone of the World Commission on Dams as evidence for the success of these anti-dam coalitions in bringing an end to the big dam regime. Khagram concludes with a review of alternative explanations of the global decline of dam construction and reaffirms his argument, allowing that the anti-dam movement probably contributed little toward the adoption of new sustainable development models that substantially reduced poverty.

The most valuable contribution of this book is its placement of the anti-dam movement within a framework of global changes in development praxis and international norms governing the rights of indigenous peoples. Critics of big dams often discuss the global reach of large organizations like the World Bank, but rarely are the bank’s antagonists given such geographical breadth. Too often, commentators present indigenous communities as passive, tragic victims of an inexorable modernizing state. Leveraged through international networks of NGOs, Khagram demonstrates the agency of marginalized peoples as well as the institutional and political obstacles that they face.

Given the valuable contribution just mentioned, a number of concerns ought to be raised with this book. The first is the author’s too easy dismissal of alternative explanations for the turn away from dams during the 1980s, especially the turn to austerity over stimulus at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In Latin America, dams and their associated projects were a major contributor to the fiscal problems that boiled into the debt crises starting in the late 1970s. Governments and lenders (public and private) were reluctant to undertake big dams at a time of economic uncertainty and shrinking budgets, even if dams retained their appeal as monuments to progress.

One might also like to see more direct evidence connecting the anti-dam movement to specific and transformative changes in World Bank policy or international norms vis-à-vis indigenous peoples and human rights. The relative absence of such evidence in the face of a global resurgence of big dam construction in the first decade of the twenty-first century (again funded by the World Bank) somewhat undermines the argument that transnational anti-dam networks did, in fact, affect real change in attitudes toward modernization, development, or the rights of indigenous peoples. Likewise, the author’s treatment of Brazil–especially its democratic credentials–glosses over important contradictions in that nation’s political history and the limited access to power by poor Brazilians. Brazil’s newly minted president–formerly a leftist guerrilla and once a dedicated opponent of the Xingu River dam–is now its most prominent booster and has been accused of suppressing the legal petitions brought against the dam by the indigenous communities it will displace. This suggests that the allure of big ticket modernization projects like dams has overridden the democratic politics and international alliances that Khagram has proposed as its remedy. Reading this book in 2011, one is left with a sense that the author would have benefited from a more critical view of World Bank reports and the efficacy of UN declarations. On first glance, the argument is compelling and optimistic, but a skeptical look at the sources cited reveals some weak evidentiary foundations.

Citation: Tony Andersson. Review of Khagram, Sanjeev, _Dams and Development: Transnational Struggles for Water and Power_. H-Water, H-Net Reviews. May, 2011. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=33220

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.