Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dam safety: Learning from Japan

As the terrible events in Japan reveal, the forces of nature can overwhelm our human-built structures in the blink of an eye. While the world's focus is now on the nuclear power crisis, large dams can also become deadly weapons in severe quakes.  Below is an article by a group in India, urging that we don't tempt fate by building megadams in earthquake zones--something that is actually being proposed in a number of places around the world. (According to industry publications, the Japanese quake caused at least one major dam failure, in the Fukushima prefecture. According to media reports, the dam break resulted in a wall of water that washed away 1800 homes downstream.)

For background on dam safety concerns see:


Earthquake and Dams in India's North East
- by North East Peoples Alliance (NEPA) - 

March 16 2011



For the last few days our thoughts were with Japan as the government and the people are faced with compounding tsunami and a major nuclear disaster after a historic and massive earthquake. The earthquake comes as nature's rude reminder to all of us in the North East as we sit on the highest earth quake zone 5.

In the past we have raised this issue of safety of dams and have urged governments and dam builders to refrain from building large dams which can bring disasters. India's North East is seismically one of the six most active regions of the world, the other five being Mexico, Taiwan, California, Japan and Turkey. It is placed in zone 5, the highest zone, of the seismic zonation map of India.

It lies at the junction of Himalayan arc to the north and Burmese arc to the east. The region has experienced 18 large earthquakes during the last hundred years including the great earthquakes of Shillong (1897, M=8.7) and Assam-Tibet border (1950, M=8.7). Besides, several hundred small and micro earthquakes have also been recorded in the region.

The alarming number of large dams being planned in the region, particularly in Arunachal, is a concern. Not only that these dams are going to be built in an highly earthquake prone zone but also that these dams themselves can triggered seismicity which is also referred to as reservoir-induced seismicity due to the impoundment of large reservoirs. The most serious case may be the 7.9-magnitude Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, which killed an estimated 80,000 people and has been linked to the construction of the Zipingpu Dam.

The 8.9 Japan's earthquake has not left them with any choice, we do still have time to think clear before heading with the mega dam projects that is planned in the region. We call upon the Chief Ministers of North East in particular the CM of Arunachal to immediately halt all dams, including those already under operation, so as to review their safety. We call call upon the CMs for moratorium of all big dams in the region.

If an accident of this magnitude could happen in Japan, it can happen just as easily in North East. All that's needed is the right chain of fatal circumstances.

This is a warning to all decision makers. All those who do not heed this warning of Japan, must face the wrath of people if wrong decisions are made.


Bamang Tago
Arunachal Citizen's Rights

Ramananda Wangkheirakpam
Forum for Indigenous Perspectives & Action
North East Peoples Alliance
Jupiter Yambem Center
Paona International Market
Imphal West 795001, Manipur 


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