Friday, March 29, 2013

China's famous 'river pigs' close to extinction

China's famous 'river pigs' close to extinction: WWF
30 March, 2013
Agence France Presse in Beijing

China's wild finless porpoises are heading toward extinction, a
conservation group said Thursday, with the dolphin-like animals now
rarer than the giant panda.

With a stubby nose and grey body, the porpoises inhabit the Yangtze
River and are famed for their cuteness in China, where they are known as
"river pigs".

But their numbers in the Yangtze, which is the country's longest river,
have more than halved in six years, according to an extensive survey.

Scientists spent over a month last year scanning more than 3,400
kilometres of the river in a hunt for the porpoises, but only saw 380,
the conservation group WWF said in a statement.

Based on that observation, combined with sightings of the porpoises in
lakes connected to the river, the total number alive in the wild was
likely to be a little more than 1,000, the WWF said.

There are around 1,600 giant pandas living in the wild, according to the
WWF, which has said the porpoise could become extinct in 15 years if no
action is taken.

The species is "moving fast toward its extinction," the WWF quoted Wang
Ding, head of the research expedition, as saying.

The finless porpoise, which unlike the dolphin has a small dorsal ridge
rather than a fin, has been hurt by human intrusion and environmental

"Food shortage and human disturbance such as increased shipping traffic
are the major threats," the WWF said, adding that researchers also
discovered "traps that could affect finless porpoises".

Waterways in China have become heavily contaminated with toxic waste
from factories and farms -- pollution blamed on more than three decades
of rapid economic growth and lax enforcement of environmental protection

Environmental activists also say the huge Three Gorges Dam and other
hydropower projects on the Yangtze have upset the delicate ecological
balance and harmed aquatic life in the river.

The survey failed to find any trace of the Baiji Dolphin, a close
relative of the finless porpoise that was declared "functionally
extinct," after a survey in 2006.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Two articles on China-backed dams in Burma and Russia

[Below are two articles posted in chinadialogue on China's role in a set
of controversial dams in Burma and Russia. Click on the source links for
photos and supporting documents.]

China-backed dams escalating ethnic tension in Myanmar
By Grace Mang and Katy Yan

Companies pursuing dam projects on Myanmar's Salween River are failing
to learn from painful past experiences

One month after the Chinese government lifted its ban on dams on the
upper Salween River (known as the Nu in China), the Burmese government
confirmed that it too will allow the construction of Chinese-backed
hydropower projects along the lower Salween.

In late February, the deputy minister for electric power told parliament
that six dams would be built on the Salween to generate electricity,
referring to the Kunlong, Tasang, Hat Gyi, Nong Pa (Naungpha), Mantawng
and Ywathit dams. While the Myanmar government has yet to reveal the
companies involved in the projects, it is no secret that among them are
dam-building giants Sinohydro, China Three Gorges Project Corporation
and China Southern Power Grid.

In 2010, the Myanmar government signed memorandums of understanding for
these hydropower projects, paving the way for various
Chinese-Thai-Burmese joint ventures to develop them. According to those
agreements, most of the generated power will to go to Thailand or China.

As in the case of the Myitsone dam � a controversial Chinese-funded
project on the Irrawaddy River suddenly suspended in 2011 � the proposed
Salween schemes highlight the challenges facing Chinese dam developers
overseas and their international responsibilities.

In an interview with Chinese state-owned newspaper Global Times, a
spokesperson for China's embassy in Myanmar noted that, since the
Myitsone dam suspension, it had been "the toughest time for Chinese
investment in Myanmar", with some projects mired in controversy and no
new investments coming from China.

In response, China Power Investment, the company behind the Myitsone
project, has invested significant resources in trying to change Burmese
perceptions of the dam � by hosting Burmese media in China, increasing
media access to company executives to make their case and leafleting
local communities.

It seems that China Power Investment is not the only dam builder
learning from Myitsone. Earlier this year, Sinohydro hastily set up over
20 regional new bureaus around the world to focus on communicating the
company's brand and project activities more effectively. But
International Rivers has seen little evidence of real change in the way
Chinese dam builders go about their projects overseas.

Local people say "no" to Chinese dams

Tensions remain high around China's role in developing dams in Myanmar
largely due to questions about who will benefit. In a country where
energy shortages occur daily and about a third of people live below the
poverty line, many criticise the development of natural resources for
the sake of providing energy to neighbouring states.

A 2008 report by Earth Rights International identified at least 69
Chinese multinational corporations involved in 90 hydropower, oil and
natural gas, mining, jade and other natural resource projects in
Myanmar. Critics argue the Salween dam projects will do little more than
benefit the Burmese government's cronies, since the projects were
initiated by the former military junta, without bringing about the
economic prosperity that Myanmar's people need.

In addition, dam building in the region is exacerbating ongoing
conflicts in ethnic minority areas, according to a recent briefing by
grassroots group Salween Watch. Apart from being one of the richest
ecological hotspots in the region, the Salween River is home to at least
13 indigenous groups including the Nu, Lisu, Shan, Karen, Pa-o, Karenni
and Mon. Conflicts between the Burmese army and local Shan and Karen
people, as well as Kokang Chinese near the China-Myanmar border, have
been under way for over two decades.

Local communities and internally displaced persons are concerned that
the dam plans will lead to increased militarisation, human rights
abuses, environmental destruction and loss of local livelihoods.

During a gathering of 2,000 Karens on the Salween in celebration of the
International Day of Action for Rivers in mid March, Paul Sein Twa,
director of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN)
said: "Local people do not want any dams on the Salween River,
especially in Karen State, without the free, prior and informed consent
of impacted communities. The government and the Karen National Union
need to broaden the decision making process so that it is transparent,
inclusive and democratic."

While the government has struck deals with ethnic groups, the ceasefires
have not held and the local situation remains tense. It is clear that
any attempts to proceed with these dam projects without full
consultation and consent of local people, only threaten to plunge both
sides back into intense fighting and conflict.

Increased militarisation around dam sites

The incidence of conflict around large dam projects is not unique to
Myanmar. Conflicts over water and dams are probably as old as dam
building itself, including documented cases in the United States on the
Colorado River and between Syria and Iraq over the Eurphrates. While
large dams are not always the root of the conflict, they can exacerbate
existing tensions.

In the Salween river basin, dam projects have led to increased
militarisation of local areas to safeguard Chinese workers. In 2011, the
zone around the Ywathit dam was remilitarised to protect the Chinese and
Burmese dam survey team following the deaths of Chinese engineers in
2010 during an ambush by Karenni resistance troops. Today, special
security troops still prevent local environmental groups from gaining
access to the dam site to collect information from the area.

Troops have also been deployed to provide additional security for the
Chinese company developing the Hat Gyi dam, despite the conclusion of an
initial ceasefire agreement between the government and the Karen
National Army in January 2012. This has led many Karen leaders to
question whether the government is more serious about peace or natural
resource development. According to local witnesses, there are currently
no less than eight army battalions stationed around the Hat Gyi dam
site. "Right now, private investors are stifling the hopes of the Karens
for a lasting peace," said Paul Sein Twa.

While Chinese-built dams are not the cause of the ethnic conflicts along
the Salween River, they are a critical negotiating point. The ceasefire
agreement signed by the Karenni National Progressive Party specifically
called for greater transparency and disclosure around the proposed
Ywathit dam.

Whether Chinese, Thai and Burmese dam builders will respond to the
changing political situation and openly engage their key stakeholders or
continue to work shielded behind army lines remains to be seen. Unless
the dam builders want to risk escalating tensions in the Salween Basin,
they must respond to the situation by changing the way they do business.
This requires consultation with local people and obtaining their consent
for mega-development projects.

In fact, one of the Chinese dam builders, Sinohydro, has already set
itself the standard of obtaining the free prior and informed consent of
indigenous peoples in its policy framework � in line with international
standards. However, it has yet to implement this on the ground.

If dam builders fail to acquire consent, the consequences of proceeding
with projects regardless of local realities and without the will of the
local people may plunge the region back into the shadow of a decades-old


Chinese investors targeted in campaign against Siberian dams
By Jenny Johnson

Activists say hydro energy supplied to Chinese cities will come at
social and ecological cost for Russia, calling it "a perfect example of
environmental irresponsibility"

Russian companies want to help China quench its enormous thirst for
electricity through dramatic expansion of hydropower along Siberia's
many free-flowing rivers, calling it a way for China to diversify its
power supply and help solve its growing air pollution problem.

But Russian and Chinese environmental advocates are opposed to the
projects, and they are targeting Chinese investors, who are essential to
getting new projects off the ground. They say Siberian hydropower � far
from a renewable energy source that can generate carbon credits on the
international market � is an environmentally and socially destructive
form of energy that puts investors' reputations at risk.

At the forefront of the hydropower expansion are two major new dams in
Siberia that are in the early stages of the approval process:
Trans-Siberian on the Shilka River in the Amur River basin, and
Nizhne-Angarskaya on the Angara River flowing out of Lake Baikal.

The two dams represent one of the first steps in a larger plan by
EuroSibEnergo, part of the private Russian energy firm EN+ Group, to set
off a hydropower boom in Eastern Russia, where it estimates only 20% of
potential hydropower resources are utilised.

The group scored a major victory in the expansion of hydropower in
Siberia and energy supply to China late last year, by bringing the
Boguchanskaya dam online.

"We are at the beginning of a long road," Artem Volynets, EN+ Group
general director, told state television channel Rossiya-24 in a February
4 interview. Volynets is encouraging China to broaden its cooperation
with Russia and help finance hydropower projects that will help reduce
coal use.

"Every year, China needs to add 100 gigawatts of capacity, and the basic
method of producing electricity in China is coal . . . That means
enormous emissions to the atmosphere, and that atmosphere is common to
all of us, our whole planet, not just China," Volynets said. "The more
coal China burns, the more greenhouse gas emissions are emitted, and it
will be worse for our planet's atmosphere."

However, while EN+ makes claims about its environmental goals for
hydropower supply to China, it is also supplying China with coal. On
March 22, EN+, China Development Bank and Shenhua Group signed a US$2
billion agreement in Moscow in front of the countries' deputy prime
ministers to jointly develop coal reserves in Eastern Siberia.

Environmentalists target Chinese investors

Environmental activists are seeking to head off such cooperation
agreements on hydropower by raising the profile of the China
Export-Import Bank, China Yangtze Power and other Chinese companies in
potentially financing new projects.

"We in principle hold that the mass export of electricity from the
environmental, economic and social perspectives could bring Russia and
the transboundary ecosystems of Russia and China very large damage,"
said Eugene Simonov, international coordinator of Rivers Without Boundaries.

The coalition group Rivers Without Boundaries, which includes Russian,
Chinese, Mongolian and other environmental groups, is sending letters
and connecting with Chinese companies, saying they "should not support
haphazard proposals for quick hydropower development in Russia."

The group says EN+ hydro projects do not comply with Chinese law, which
requires environmental impact assessments. "EN+ Group has launched a
campaign and [is] promoting Siberian rivers as sustainable energy
resources, but this claim is groundless, as neither [the Trans-Siberian
nor Nizhne-Angarskaya project] follows any national or international
sustainable development principles," the group's March 14 letter to
China Export-Import Bank said.

For the activists, the negative environmental and social impacts of the
Boguchanskaya dam, which flooded an area of forest not cleared in
preparation for the reservoir, serves as a prime example of what awaits
if similar schemes are allowed to go ahead in Siberia. Local and
international groups said in a March 22 report on the construction of
the dam that EN+ failed to carry out the necessary environmental and
social protection measures.

"What is happening before our eyes in the development of natural
resources in the Angara River Basin is a clear demonstration that the
preferred strategy is for getting rich quick while cutting out all
ancillary costs not directly related to the extraction of profit,"
Aleksander Kolotov, Russian coordinator of the project Rivers Without
Boundaries, said in a statement about the report.

WWF called the Boguchanskaya dam "a perfect example of environmental

Danger for Lake Baikal

Activists say the environmental and social stakes are even higher in the
cases of the Trans-Siberian and Nizhne-Amurskaya dams. They say the
Trans-Siberian dam would destroy a unique floodplain ecosystem in the
Dauria region, along with cultural heritage sites. The Nizhne-Angarskaya
dam would disrupt the ecosystem of Lake Baikal, a globally important
source of fresh water, according to the environmental groups.

"At this point, no plan exists to sustainably limit and direct the
development of this industry in the context of Russian and Chinese
cooperation," Simonov said. "If the killing of river ecosystems that is
happening now in China is exported to Russia, no one will win."

Activists are asking for Russian and Chinese companies to develop a
sustainable development plan at the basin-wide level and measures to
protect ecosystems and indigenous communities. They are also demanding
the creation of reserves where hydropower plans will not be built.

This is International Rivers' mailing list on China's global footprint, and particularly Chinese investment in
international dam projects.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Two articles on Salween Dams in Burma

Fate of Salween Dams remains unclear
18 March 2013
By Rosie Gogan-Keogh
Mizzima News

Some 2,000 internally displaced people and villagers from the Wei Gyi
area gathered on March 14 by the Salween riverbank to protest continued
plans to construct six hydroelectric dams on the river.

The ceremony, which included prayer services by a Buddhist monk and a
Christian pastor, was also attended by community leaders from Dawei, who
themselves are resisting massive development projects in their area.

One day earlier, the environmental NGO Salween Watch released a report
outlining the current status of the Salween River in response to an
announcement made by Myanmar's deputy minister for electric power in
late February that six controversial dam projects on the river had been
granted approval.

"With a combined installed capacity of 15,000 MW, the projects will
include the Upper Salween or Kunlong Dam, the Mai Tong or Tasang Dam,
Nong Pha Dam, Mantawng Dam (on a tributary), Ywathit Dam, and Hatgyi
Dam. The investment will come from five Chinese corporations, Thailand�s
Electricity Generation Authority of Thailand (EGAT) International Co Ltd
and three Burmese corporations," said the Salween Watch report.

The river is one of the world's last free-running rivers and runs from
the Tibetan Himalayas through Myanmar and Thailand to the Andaman Sea.
Numerous companies have expressed interest in harnessing the river's
power; however, many of the 13 proposed dam projects have come under
criticism as severe human rights abuses have been reported in the
militarized dam sites, including land grabs, forced labor and rape.

Several of the dams are being planned in areas where continuing
conflicts are occurring between ethnic resistance groups and the Myanmar
army and their construction is said to undermine any potential ceasefire

The Salween Watch report states that this month alone more than 1,000
Myanmar troops were sent to Nong Pha Dam, fueling fears of a new
large-scale military offensive in the area.

In 2009, the Myanmar army launched an offensive when local people
resisted the construction of the Kunlong Dam forcing 30,000 people to
flee across the Chinese border.

According to Karen human rights groups, in mid-2009 the Myanmar army and
Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) attacked the Karen National Union
(KNU) based in Pa-an.

"As a result, about 3,500 villagers, mostly women and children, fled
across the Thai border into the Tha Song Yang district of Tak. This was
the largest influx of war refugees from Karen State into Thailand in a
decade," states the report.

A Karen environmental activist, Paul Sein Twa, commented: "The Burmese
[Myanmar] government should show their sincerity by halting all
large-scale development projects pending genuine peace talks and
political reform. Only this will ensure protection of community rights.
Right now, private investors are stifling the hopes of the Karens for a
lasting peace."

Speaking on Thursday at the ceremony on the riverbank, Naw Phyo Phyo of
the Karen Women�s Organization said that Naypyitaw and foreign investors
must desist from implementing any development project, including dams,
during this fragile ceasefire period, as genuine peace is not yet

"Current development projects will only benefit a few people� mainly
governments and investors�but local people like us will face huge
challenges, including permanent loss of our lands, displacement, hunger
and severe flooding. This will have many negative impacts on our
environment and our livelihoods," she said.

Another community leader, Pati Saw Ko, said, "We all want development,
but development must not bring suffering and difficulty for local

Read the full Salween Watch report here:


Push to build big dams undermines peace process in Karen State
14 March 2012
Mizzima News

(Mizzima) � The push by investors to proceed with large dams in Karen
State areas of Burma is threatening to undermine ongoing cease-fire
negotiations between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Burmese
government, says Karen Rivers Watch.

The increased presence of Burmese troops around dam sites and "blatant
disregard for concerns of impacted communities are heightening tensions,
and throwing into doubt the government�s sincerity in conducting
cease-fire talks," according to a statement issued on Wednesday. Karen
Rivers Watch is a coalition of community-based organizations working to
promote sustainable river development.

Two months after an initial cease-fire agreement between the KNU and the
government, military tensions have risen around the planned Hatgyi Dam
site on the Salween River in Karen State, located 48 kilometres from the
Thai border. Unusually large amounts of supplies sent in to Burmese army
camps securing the dam site, and the planned deployment of a new
battalion in the area, prompted the local KNU commander to reinforce
troops around the Burmese bases since last month, the statement said.

Since 2009, the KNU has called for a halt to the dam project until there
is a viable peace in Burma, but under pressure from China�s Sinohydro
Corporation and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, the
KNU agreed in December 2011 to allow further surveys for the dam.

However, they did not give approval for increased Burmese troops, the
statement said. Cease-fire talks have so far failed to establish
agreements regarding troop movements on both sides.

"At this fragile stage of the cease-fire process, pushing ahead with the
Hatgyi Dam will reignite conflict and derail the talks," said Saw Paul
of Karen Rivers Watch. "Investors are sabotaging the hopes of Karen
people for lasting peace."

Growing local resentment against dam-builders is putting increased
pressure on KNU to take protective action, irrespective of ongoing
cease-fire talks, the statement said.

In February 2012, KNU troops arrested and fined workers of the
Chinese-backed "Myanmar Nature Energy Wave," demanding they stop
building the Dah Thway Kyauk Dam, which will flood five Karen villages
near Dawei in southern Burma.

Similar resentment is building against the Italian Thai Development Plc
(ITD) for pushing ahead with the Taninthayi (Tenasserim) Dam, which will
export power to Thailand, and the Ka Loat Hta Dam, which will store
water for the Dawei Special Economic Zone.

Local KNU units sought to block ITD�s operations in 2011, but have since
been pressured to allow them to continue survey work.

"The Burmese government should show its sincerity by halting all
mega-development projects in ethnic areas until there is genuine peace
and political reform which guarantees the rights of impacted
communities," Saw Paul said.

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international dam projects.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Governments Urged to Reject New World Bank Focus on Large Infrastructure

U.S. Urged to Reject New World Bank Focus on Large Infrastructure
By Carey L. Biron
IPS, March 19, 2013

WASHINGTON, Mar 19 2013 (IPS) - A group of environmentalists, gender
activists and international finance watchdogs are calling on the U.S.
government to support calls for the World Bank to step back from a new
programmatic focus on large-scale infrastructure, which critics say does
little to help alleviate poverty.

The call comes just ahead of a major funding meeting, to be held Mar.
20-21 in Paris, of donors to the International Development Association
(IDA), the World Bank's fund for the world's poorest countries. In a
background briefing released earlier this month outlining priorities for
the IDA meeting, the bank includes a new thematic proposal to fund
large-scale infrastructural projects.

In discussing examples of what it calls regional transformational
initiatives, referring to large projects with cross-border scope, the
brief notes proposals for large, multi-billion-dollar dams in Africa and
South Asia, among others.

"Based on decades of experience, we believe that the complex regional
projects that IDA proposes risk undermining important goals of [the
current IDA negotiations], including Inclusive Growth, Gender Equality,
and Climate Resilience," states a letter, signed by six U.S.-based
advocacy organisations and policy experts and sent to the U.S. Treasury
on Monday, a copy of which was seen by IPS.

"We recommend that IDA members drop the special theme of Regional
Transformational Initiatives, and that IDA shift its focus on
infrastructure solutions that are more effective at addressing the
energy needs of the poor and at fostering inclusive growth, gender
equality and climate resilience."

The letter also calls on the U.S. government to "support such a shift in
the negotiations".

Although the World Bank was unable to offer comment by IPS's deadline,
in its briefing paper bank officials note that recent years have seen an
increased international push towards these large-scale regional
projects. This includes a major policy initiative unveiled at the Group
of 20 (G20) countries summit in Mexico last year, itself based on a
paper written in part by bank researchers.

"The focus on regional transformational projects arises from the
recognition that they have the potential to catalyze very large-scale
benefits to improve access to infrastructure services beyond borders and
promote joint action to tackle shared challenges," the bank states,
reporting that a World Bank programme has raised three billion dollars
for such projects in recent years.

"In particular, it reflects the recognition that the infrastructure
deficit in IDA countries is a basic impediment to development and that
regional solutions are needed given the large financing requirements

The World Bank estimates that electricity-related investment
requirements in sub-Saharan Africa alone will triple over the next two
decades, to nearly 14 billion dollars.

Back in fashion

For critics, much of the current concern revolves around past
experiences in which large, centralised projects were the focal points
of international development and poverty-alleviation efforts, including
by the World Bank.

"For us, this issue goes back to the 1950s through 1970s, an era when
governments hoped for a silver bullet that, in one fell swoop, would
allow them to modernise economies," Peter Bosshard, policy director for
International Rivers, an advocacy group and a signatory of the new
letter, told IPS.

"After a while, however, people realised that these projects were too
complex, and were forced to rely on outside technologies, management and
knowhow. In addition to often huge time and cost overruns, the benefits
remained below expectations - they didn't trickle down to the poor -
even while social and environmental impacts were greater than anticipated."

The letter points out, for instance, that while multilateral donors have
invested billions of dollars in two dams and electrification projects in
the Democratic Republic of Congo, today only six percent of the
population has access to electricity.

"Now, for reasons the World Bank doesn't quite address, these big
regional projects have come back into fashion," Bosshard says. "In other
documents, bank staff members have suggested that it's simply cheaper
and easier for the institution to push out, say, a single large loan for
a big dam rather than dozens of smaller loans for dozens of smaller

The letter to the U.S. Treasury notes that large-scale infrastructure
projects in the past have failed to create a "significant" number of
jobs for locals. (The Treasury declined to comment for this story.)

Yet even when jobs are created, some investigations have suggested that
the projects have an inordinately negative impact on women.

"Our studies found a very specific pattern surrounding these projects:
almost 100 percent of jobs went to men, not only in building the coal
plants and mines but even office jobs, while women lost jobs," Elaine
Zuckerman, president of Gender Action, a Washington advocacy group and a
signatory of the new letter, told IPS. She says her office has studied
the effects of four World Bank-financed oil-and-gas pipelines.

"Smallholder women, who make up 80 percent of farmers in developing
countries, lose their land to bank-financed associated infrastructure,"
she continues. "So men get the jobs and women lose access to their
income. A good number are even forced to turn to sex work to make a
living - we found elevated HIV levels in the aftermath of each of these

Strengthening climate resilience

Since the last spate of interest in large-scale infrastructural
interventions, two important changes have taken place. First are
concerns over climate change and a new focus on fostering "climate
resilience", particularly in developing countries; second, small-scale,
non-centralised alternative power sources have become significantly more

"Diversified solutions are increasingly more appropriate because they
mean diversifying the risks of a changing climate, while these big
centralised projects actually increase climate vulnerability,"
International Rivers' Bosshard says.

"IDA has all of these other important goals, including strengthening
climate resilience, but this large infrastructure proposal undermines
each of those."

Still, many of these new technologies face ongoing problems in accessing
both credit and trained technical personnel. Bosshard and others suggest
this would be a place where World Bank financing could be critical,
offering support to "public guarantee schemes, technical assistance
programs and a redesign of tax and other incentives that could remove
these bottlenecks."

The IDA negotiations are scheduled to continue to a second round in
June, after which each country will be expected to announce individual
funding pledges.

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Amazon Campaigner position open

Dear all,

International Rivers is seeking a full-time campaigner to work in our Brazil regional office, located in Brasília. The position will be a one-year contract with the possibility of extension. Please share the description below with anyone you think may be interested. To apply, please follow the instructions below instead of responding directly to this email. Thank you!

Katy Yan


Position Available
Amazon Campaigner
Brasilia Office

International Rivers protects rivers and defends the rights of communities that depend on them. We work to stop destructive dams and promote water and energy solutions for a just and sustainable world.  Our work involves collaboration with local communities and their allies, research to fill information gaps on key issues, policy advocacy and communications strategies to increase public awareness.  We are seeking a campaigner to work in our Brazil regional office, located in Brasília.  This is a full-time position  (40 hours/week) with an initial one-year contract with the possibility for renewal.  Job responsibilities include occasional domestic and international travel.  This position will report to the Amazon Program Director in Brasília.

Primary responsibilities
  1. Contribute to the strengthening of local grassroots movements and their alliances with other civil society organizations, including support for information-sharing, policy advocacy and communications strategies to increase public awareness.
  2. Support planning and implementation of collaborative strategies with other civil society organizations and independent researchers aimed at promoting sustainable energy solutions in Brazil, including coordinating the production of publications, organizing seminars and events, lobbying of Brazilian government officials and elected representatives and development and implementation of communications strategies.
  3. Coordinate research and advocacy work concerning the role of the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) in supporting dam projects in Brazil and neighboring countries, including working with partners in Brazil and regionally to pressure the bank to adopt effective safeguard policies and to support campaigns against funding for destructive dam projects.
  4. Contribute to communications strategies through responding to media inquiries, generating media opportunities with the Brazilian and international media, writing of articles, commentaries, blog posts and reports, and contributions to International Rivers’ newsletter, World Rivers Review, and its website.
Required qualifications:
  • At least four years experience working in an environmental and/or human rights organization in a campaigning role.
  • Demonstrated experience in developing and implementing communications strategies, including generating media opportunities, writing articles and blogs, and coordinating social media strategies
  • Strong understanding of initiatives and current debates regarding social and environmental responsibility of financial institutions, especially BNDES;
  • Excellent research, writing and verbal communication skills in Portuguese, Spanish and English.
  • Diligence, independence, ability to handle multiple tasks and deadlines.
  • Commitment to environmental integrity, social justice and the vision and mission of International Rivers.
  • Strong computer skills, including the ability to maintain web pages and manage social media networks
  • Bachelor's degree or equivalent professional experience required; graduate degree(s) a plus.
  • Sound knowledge of public policies and issues related to hydroelectric dams and the energy sector are desirable skills.
International Rivers offers a stimulating, casual and flexible work environment. Our competitive salary and benefits package includes health insurance and excellent vacation and sick leave.  Salary is commensurate with experience.

To apply, send a cover letter in English, resume, and one writing sample in English and one in Portuguese to:  Be sure to mention "Amazon Campaigner" in the address or subject line. Applications should be in English.

Deadline for applications: April 5, 2013

International Rivers is an Equal Opportunity Employer. We encourage applications from all qualified candidates regardless of age, class, disability status, ethnicity, gender, race and sexual orientation.
Katy Yan
International Rivers | 国际河流
Office: 510.848.1155 x317
Skype: katyyan85
Follow us: Twitter | Facebook | Weibo

Monday, March 18, 2013

IDA 17: How the World Bank Undermines Its Own Development Goals

How the World Bank Undermines Its Own Development Goals
By Peter Bosshard
International Rivers, March 18, 2013

[Note: Links to all background documents are available at A civil society letter on the
topic to the US government is available at]

The World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) is the most
important source of development finance for the world's poorest
countries. A new round of finance is supposed to support goals such as
inclusive growth, gender equity, and climate resilience. With an
ill-devised proposal to increase IDA support for large infrastructure
projects, including new mega-dams on the Congo and Zambezi rivers, the
World Bank risks undermining these noble goals.

Donor governments will meet this week to start negotiations for the 17th
replenishment of the IDA fund. In a background paper, the World Bank
proposes to make regional infrastructure projects (or, in Bank jargon,
Regional Transformational Initiatives) a special focus of future IDA
projects. The Bank claims that such projects could "catalyze very
large-scale benefits to improve access to infrastructure services." It
lists the Inga 3 Dam on the Congo River (with a total price tag of $10
billion), and two hydropower and transmission schemes on the Zambezi
River (with a total price tag of $8-9 billion) as illustrative projects
for this approach.

Mega-dams and other complex, centralized infrastructure projects have a
bad track record in terms of addressing the water and energy needs of
the poor and reducing poverty more generally. In a letter to donor
governments, development and environmental groups warn that the new
approach would undermine the official IDA goals of inclusive growth,
gender equity, and climate resilience.

Inclusive Growth: The infrastructure projects proposed by IDA are not
designed to meet the needs of the poor, but to export electricity for
mining companies and urban centers particularly in richer countries,
with the hope that some of the export revenues will trickle down to the
poor. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, development banks have over
the past 40 years invested billions of dollars in the Inga 1 and 2 dams
and associated transmission lines, yet only 6 percent of the population
has access to electricity. The situation is similar in Zambia and
Zimbabwe, where the World Bank has funded the large Kariba Dam on the
Zambezi River.

Large, complex projects such as the hydropower schemes on the Congo and
Zambezi rivers do not boost local economies. They rely on imported
technologies and know-how, and do not create a significant number of
domestic jobs. In contrast, decentralized renewable energy projects such
as solar, wind, micro hydropower and improved cooking stoves would be
more effective at reaching the majority of the people in Africa and
South Asia who are not connected to the electric grid. They would also
create jobs in manufacturing and maintenance, and in the decentralized
industries (in agro-processing and other sectors) that they serve.

Gender Equality: Centralized infrastructure projects often have massive
negative impacts on local livelihoods, and women bear the brunt of these
impacts. In the case of the Inga 1 and 2 and Kariba dams, displaced
communities are still struggling to regain their standards of living
after more than 40 years, and women are particularly affected by the
loss of land and access to communal resources. If the benefits of
regional mega-projects do trickle down, they typically reach workers in
the formal economy, but not women who are least integrated in the cash
economy. Women, in other words, are the first to suffer and the last to
benefit from large, complex infrastructure projects. Again,
decentralized renewable energy projects are more effective at reaching
the homes of poor rural families and easing the burden on women, who
typically spend many hours each day on gathering firewood and other
domestic chores.

Climate Resilience: Reducing climate vulnerability requires flexible,
decentralized and diversified energy and water infrastructure. In times
of unpredictable rain fall, putting all eggs into the basket of large,
centralized reservoirs increases the vulnerability to climate shocks.
Already, Sub-Saharan Africa is the world's most hydro-dependent region.
World Bank and IMF experts have recommended that this dependence be
reduced in the interest of climate resilience.

According to IPCC research, the Zambezi exhibits the "worst" potential
effects of climate change among major African river basins. In spite of
this, the Mphanda Nkuwa and Batoka Gorge dams, which IDA proposes to
fund, have not been evaluated for the risks associated with the reduced
annual flows and more extreme floods and droughts that are expected
under a changing climate. Such an approach increases the climate
vulnerability of poor countries that can least afford it. Again, a
mixture of decentralized and diversified renewable energy options would
be more effective at strengthening the climate resilience of poor societies.

The World Bank admits that "without careful attention, the benefits of
large scale, transformational investments can bypass local communities
and the most vulnerable populations." As always it claims that this time
will be different. It promises "paying close attention to environmental
and social safeguards" and incorporating "livelihood development for
riparian communities" into projects. Given the fate of similar promises
in the past, this sounds like an effort of putting lipstick on the
famous pig.

IDA governments should drop the proposed emphasis on Regional
Transformational Initiatives under the replenished fund, and shift
resources to decentralized infrastructure solutions that can directly
address the needs of the poor. The World Bank cannot afford to waste
public resources on approaches that have failed in the past, and
campaign groups will be closely watching the IDA negotiations that begin
in Paris this week.

This is International Rivers' mailing list on the role of international financial institutions in promoting large dams.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Impacts of Iceland's Karahnjukar Dam More Serious Than Expected

Iceland Review online
Highland Dam Impacts Life in East Iceland Lake

The impact the highland dam at Kárahnjúkar has on the lake Lagarfljót by
Egilsstaðir in East Iceland is considered to be more severe than earlier
anticipated. Local authorities, landowners, environmentalists and MPs
have expressed their concern over the situation.

"Life is almost over in Lagarfljót," Gunnar Jónsson, who chairs the
district council of Fljótsdalshérað, commented to Fréttablaðið.

When Hálslón, the reservoir of the Kárahnjúkar power plant, which
started operating in 2007, fills up, water from the lagoon overflows
into the channel of the glacial river Jökulsá á Dal.

With the dam's establishment, Jökulsá á Dal was made to flow into
Lagarfljót and glacial sediment increases the water's turbidity or

In the past months, Landsvirkjun, the national power company, has
presented reports on erosion of the banks of Lagarfljót and other
consequences of the glacial river's rechanneling.

The erosion is more extensive and the water level higher than what all
mathematical models indicated.

Gunnar revealed to Fréttablaðið on Monday his concerns about land erosion.

"The raising of the base water level by the bridge across Lagarfjót by
[the farms] Fellabær and Hóll in Hjaltastaðaþinghá increases erosion of
sensitive river banks," the district council wrote in a protocol, where
Landsvirkjun is urged to take counteracting measures.

"Landsvirkjun has never wanted to interfere in this matter but that
might be changing now," Gunnar commented.

Gunnar stated that farmlands and natural relics are at risk, islets and
banks to the north of the bridge. "You can already see the impacts on
the diversity of this very beautiful bird paradise. It pains me to
witness this," Gunnar, who owns the land Egilsstaðir I, to which the
islets belong, remarked.

Erosion is reported at a 50-kilometer stretch along the banks of
Lagarfljót. Gunnar describes it as a completely different lake.

"It lies higher in winter, the water flow has increased and the water
that comes from the dam is warmer. Therefore Lagarfljót hardly ever
freezes in winter as it used to. With northerly winds the waves crash
against the banks and tear them down," he explained.

Gunnar stated yesterday that the latest "shock" had come at a meeting
between representatives of Fljótsdalshérað and Landsvirkjun where a
report on the life in the lake was discussed.

It turned out that Lagarfljót has become much murkier than it used to
be, which hinders photosynthesis of algae. "Fish is therefore largely
disappearing from the lake," Gunnar explained.

Information officer at Landsvirkjun Magnús Þór Gylfason pointed out that
the report isn't finished. He also stated that the environmental impact
assessment (EIA) of the dam had warned before its construction that
conditions of the lake's biosphere would worsen with increased flow of

"I don't believe a license for constructing the dam would ever have been
issued if this had been known," Pétur Elísson, who chairs the
Association of Landowners by Lagarfljót, told Fréttablaðið.

Landowners discussed the matter yesterday evening. "It is very serious
if the biosphere in Lagarfljót is dying. It's a catastrophe," Pétur
exclaimed. He pointed out that this also affects the lake's side rivers
as fish migrate into them. "This is a death sentence."

However, Pétur stressed that the outcome of Landsvirkjun's research
isn't final yet.

In 2001, Minister for the Environment Siv Friðleifsdóttir revoked the
Icelandic National Planning Agency's decision that the Kárahnjúkar dam
shouldn't be constructed.

"Because of the character of Lagarfjót and its biosphere it is the
ministry's evaluation that the changes through glacial sediment will not
have a severe impact on the lake's biosphere," Siv concluded.

Pétur admitted that it was clear that the dam at Kárahnjúkar would lead
to worsening water transparency in Lagarfljót. "But no one thought the
situation would be this serious."

"I don't think we can brag about clean energy to attract tourists if we
kill the biosphere of several hundred square kilometers," he commented.

Pétur stated landowners whose properties have been damaged have not been
approached by Landsvirkjun. "We are being walked all over. They think
it's their personal affair but we should at least be informed about what
counteracting measures they're planning to take, both in regard to the
water level and biosphere."

"It's too early to panic," Jósef Valgarð Þorvaldsson, chair of the
Lagarfljót Fishing Association, told Fréttablaðið. He doesn't want to
draw any conclusions before the report on the lake's biosphere has been

Left-Green MP Álfheiður Ingadóttir requested a meeting with the
parliament's Environment and Communications Committee to discuss the
condition of Lagarfljót yesterday.

"I find it very important that we learn from the experience of the
Kárahnjúkar power plant and give nature the benefit of a doubt,"
Álfheiður commented.

Author and environmentalist Andri Snær Magnason, who actively protested
the Kárahnjúkar dam and power plant, blogged: "Now what many people
feared has come to light. Lagarfljót is dead. One cannot say it came as
a surprise. I wrote an entire book about it," he wrote in reference to
his much-acclaimed Dreamland.

Andri Snær warns that Lake Mývatn in Northeast Iceland may be next, in
the vicinity of which the controversial Bjarnarflag geothermal project
is planned.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Campaigns Director opening

Be a part of the thriving global movement for healthy rivers and human

Who we are: International Rivers is based in Berkeley, California.We
believe that healthy rivers are vital to a healthy planet, and that
people should have a voice in development decisions that affect them.

Who we need: We�re looking for a seasoned Campaigns Director to help
lead our work with activists, organizations and supporters around the
world to protect rivers and the rights of people who depend on them in
Africa, Asia and Latin America. The successful candidate will lead and
manage a diverse suite of programs and campaigns in support of our mission.

Who you are: You are well-versed in river and hydropower issues, and
have proven experience in planning and implementing environmental and/or
economic justice campaigns in an international context. You also have
demonstrated success in developing strategies, raising resources, and
managing budgets and personnel in support of programmatic and
organizational goals.

You are fluent in English and hopefully at least one other language, and
possess a deep knowledge of the cultures and environmental issues facing
the regions in which we work. Above all, you are passionate about human
rights and the environment, and probably have a personal river story or
two you like to tell.

Interested? Please check out the full posting at:

Inanna Hazel
Director of Finance and Operations
International Rivers
510-848-1155 ext. 310

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Dams may unleash torrent of ill will

Dams may unleash torrent of ill will

by Joel Brinkley

Published 3:01 pm, Friday, March 8, 2013

Here come those dastardly dams! In Asia, Africa and the Middle East,
nations are aggressively building hydroelectric dams, seemingly
heedless of the potentially disastrous effects on the countries

As examples, Laos broke ground on a Mekong River dam that's causing
concern bordering on fury in Cambodia and Vietnam. India is enraged
about a new Chinese dam going up on the Brahmaputra River. And
Ethiopia's new dam on the Nile is angering Sudan, while Egypt has
threatened war.

What's behind all this consternation - and worse? The concerns are
multifaceted. In a broad sense, though, the rivers have provided
sustenance for millions of people for millennia, and dams threaten that.

Because of this, in some places multinational commissions were set up
decades ago to arbitrate disputes like these. One is the Mekong River
Commission, which pledges to "place regional cooperation and basin-
wide planning at the heart of our operation."

Well, that's not working.

The larger problem is, as climate change advances and growing
populations demand more water and power, many upstream nations are
ignoring their responsibilities to their downstream neighbors - and
the guidelines of commissions they helped establish.

Perhaps the most egregious example is Laos, which broke ground on a
new hydroelectric dam on the Mekong late last year - ignoring the
howls of complaint from downstream. Just south in Cambodia, for
example, the Mekong provides the livelihood for much of the population
because of an unusual natural phenomenon.

Cambodia's Tonle Sap River is a Mekong tributary that flows southeast
from a lake of the same name. Each spring, the Mekong swells, and its
current grows so strong that it forces the Tonle Sap River to reverse
course, carrying tons of rich, fertile mud and millions of young fish
back up to the lake.

The lake floods, depositing new, rich soil on thousands of acres
around its perimeter. The fish provide meals for Cambodians through
the year. By potentially restricting the river's flow, the Laotian dam
threatens all of that.

But it gets even worse. Breaking ground, Laotian officials said they
hoped the new dam would help vault their nation from its status as one
of the world's poorest. Many Lao have never even seen a lightbulb. But
in fact, a short time later, the government signed a contract to sell
most, if not all, of the electricity to Thailand. And Laos'
unaccountable, corrupt leaders will almost certainly pocket the

Still, Laos is subject to a perverse form of dam justice. Now, all of
a sudden, those same leaders are quite angry about still another dam
China is building on the Mekong just north of the Laotian border.

Just recently, China made public its plans to build more than 60 new
hydroelectric dams in the next few years, potentially setting off
multiple disputes. One is already under construction on the Yarlung
Tsangpo River, which originates in Tibet and flows south to Bangladesh
and India, where it's called the Brahmaputra.

China's dam "will prove disastrous to the downstream regions of the
northeast," declared Rajnath Singh, a prominent Indian politician. But
China is unrepentant.

In the Middle East, Egypt has asserted full control over the Nile
River since 1929, when the British colonial government prepared a
"treaty" reserving 80 percent of the Nile's water for Egypt and Sudan.
Ever since, Egypt has insisted that the treaty's provisions are still
relevant and threatened to attack neighbors who dared breach it. After
all, for all of time Egyptians have lived off the river, catching fish
and using river silt as crop nutrients.

Right now, however, Egypt is locked in foment over the Muslim
Brotherhood's faltering attempts at governance, and its upstream
neighbors don't seem to fear it any longer. So Ethiopia is now
building what it calls the Grand Renaissance Dam, a $4.8 billion
hydroelectric behemoth.

Ethiopia plans to create a vast reservoir behind the dam to assure a
constant flow of water. But hydrologists say it could take five years
to fill, "drastically affecting agriculture, electricity and water
supply downstream," Haydar Yousif, a Sudanese hydrologist, told Middle
East Magazine last month. What's more, he added, 3 billion cubic
meters of water will evaporate from the dam's reservoir each year.

Late last year, WikiLeaks made public a memo in which the Egyptian
government threatened to deploy fighter-bombers to destroy Ethiopia's
dam. The government protested that the memo was written in 2010,
before the revolution, and was not relevant now.

But if the Nile begins drying up because of that dastardly dam, Egypt
may change its mind.

� 2013 Joel Brinkley

Joel Brinkley is the Hearst professional in residence at Stanford
University and a Pulitzer Prize-winning former correspondent for the
New York Times. Send us your comments through our online form at

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Energy poverty deprives 1 billion of adequate healthcare, says report

Energy poverty deprives 1 billion of adequate healthcare, says report

Neglect of energy undermines healthcare and education, leaving
patients, teachers and children in the dark

by Claire Provost, Thursday 7 March 2013

MDG : Energy poverty : students reading on parking lot lights at
G'bessi Airport in Conakry, Guinea
Young Guineans, without access to electricity, study under carpark
lights at G'bessi airport in Conakry, Guinea. Photograph: Rebecca

Energy poverty has left more than 1 billion people in developing
countries without access to adequate healthcare, with staff forced to
treat emergency patients in the dark, and health centres lacking the
power they need to store vaccines or sterilise medical supplies,
according to a report.

In India, nearly half of all health facilities � serving an estimated
580 million people � lack electricity, according to this year's Poor
People's Energy Outlook (pdf), published on Wednesday by the NGO
Practical Action. A further 255 million people are served by health
centres without electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, it says, where over
30% of facilities lack power.

"For critical and urgent health services such as emergency treatments
and childbirth, staff have no option but to cope as well as possible
in low lighting or in the dark, increasing the risk for all patients,
including mothers and babies," the report says.

Even where health centres have access to power, frequent power
shortages significantly hamper the ability to provide quality care, it

In Kenya, for example, only 25% of facilities have a reliable energy
supply, and blackouts happen at least six times a month, for an
average of 4.5 hours at a time. This "directly affects services such
as childbirth and emergency treatment, and limits night-time services.
It can also lead to wasted vaccines, blood and medicines that require
constant storage temperatures. Backup generators can be extremely
expensive," the report says.

Energy has shot up the international agenda, buoyed by the Sustainable
Energy for All initiative led by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon,
which aims to achieve universal access to energy by 2030 along with
efficiency gains and increased use of renewable energy. Wednesday's
report, however, warns that too little attention has been paid to the
needs of critical community services, putting progress on development
goals, particularly on health and education, at risk.

"Governments, donors and utilities focus mostly on domestic use and
access for enterprise," the report says. "Yet some of the most
important aspects of people's daily wellbeing are dependent on the
reliable delivery of modern energy not to their homes or places of
work, but to schools, clinics, institutions and community

In Bangladesh, the government has failed to prioritise or even measure
energy needed and used by critical community services, Maliha
Shahjahan, energy specialist for Practical Action, said. "Government
spending in energy sector is not considering the needs of the energy
poor people of Bangladesh � [and] the government is mostly concern
about the urban users, both domestic and private sectors," she said.

Practical Action's advocacy lead on energy issues, Helen Morton, said:
"The historic neglect of energy in community services undermines the
ability to deliver education, healthcare and ultimately development.
[This report] makes the case for the energy services that poor people
want, need and have a right to � providing communities with the power
to challenge their poverty."

In addition to surveying the energy needs of health facilities, the
report also estimates that half of primary school students in
developing countries � more than 291 million children � go to schools
without access to electricity.

For many, this could mean struggling with cold, damp and poorly
ventilated rooms, which can exacerbate health problems, it says. In
Bangladesh, Practical Action researchers found teachers forced to keep
classroom windows open during the cold season in order to let in
natural light. In Bolivia, they heard how students at one school had
to cut their lessons short to collect firewood needed to cook their
midday meals on inefficient wood stoves.

According to estimates, sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest rate of
primary school access to electricity, at 35%, compared with 48% in
south Asia and 93% in Latin America. In some sub-Saharan African
countries, such as Burundi, only 2% of primary schools have
electricity. As with health centres, schools in rural areas are
disproportionately affected by energy poverty, notes the report.

Drew Corbyn, energy consultant at Practical Action, said many
community facilities may be using solar energy, or other small-scale
energy technologies, although data on their use and impact is
extremely sparse. "Some of these intermediate technologies can play a
very big role, and really transform service delivery � rather than
waiting for the grids to extend," he said.

The report sets out a new, multi-tier framework for measuring people's
access to energy, developed by Practical Action with the UN and the
World Bank, as an alternative to current systems that it says ignore
the needs of poor people by focusing on large-scale, grid-based energy

"Critical to determining how we tackle energy poverty is the way in
which access to energy is defined," it says. "In the past, energy
access has been described as household connection to grid electricity
and the use of a modern fuel. This fails to recognise the use of
energy for productive ends or community services, neglects the role of
intermediate energy technologies and does not consider how people use
and ultimately benefit from energy."

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Clearing Forests May Transform Local—and Global—Climate
Clearing Forests May Transform Local�and Global�Climate
Researchers are finding that massive deforestation may have a
profound, and possibly catastrophic, impact on local weather

By Judith D. Schwartz

In the last 15 years 200,000 hectares of the Mau Forest in western
Kenya have been converted to agricultural land. Previously called a
�water tower� because it supplied water to the Rift Valley and Lake
Victoria, the forest region has dried up; in 2009 the rainy season�
from August to November�saw no rain, and since then precipitation has
been modest. Whereas hydropower used to provide the bulk of Kenya�s
power ongoing droughts have led investors to pull out of hydro
projects; power rationing and epic blackouts are common. In a
desperate move to halt environmental disaster by reducing population
pressure, the Kenyan government evicted tens of thousands of people
from the land.
Severe drought, temperature extremes, formerly productive land gone
barren: this is climate change. Yet, says botanist Jan Pokorny of
Charles University in Prague, these snippets from Kenya are not about
greenhouse gases, but rather the way that land-use changes�
specifically deforestation�affect climate; newly tree-free ground
�represents huge amounts of solar energy changed into sensible heat,
i.e. hot air.� Pokorny, who uses satellite technology to measure
changes in land-surface and temperatures, has done research in western
Kenya for 25 years, and watched the area grow hotter and drier. The
change from forest cover to bare ground leads to more heat and
drought, he says. More than half the country used to be forested; it's
now less than 2 percent.

Each year Earth loses 12 million to 15 million hectares of forest,
according to the World Wildlife Fund, the equivalent of 36 football
fields disappearing per minute. Although forests are ebbing throughout
the world, in Africa forest-climate dynamics are easily grasped:
according to the United Nations Environmental Programme, the continent
is losing forests at twice the global rate. Says Pokorny, the
conversion of forest to agricultural land, a change that took
centuries in Europe, �happened during one generation in western
Kenya.� Pokorny's work, coupled with a controversial new theory called
the �biotic pump,� suggests that transforming landscapes from forest
to field has at least as big an impact on regional climate as
greenhouse gas�induced global warming.

After all, de-treeing the landscape alters the way ecosystems function
and self-regulate. For Pokorny, the key is evapotranspiration, whereby
plants continuously absorb and emit water in the form of vapor.
Evaporation consumes heat and thus has a cooling effect. He calls this
"the perfect and only air-conditioning system on the planet." On a
moderately sunny day, a tree will transpire some 100 liters of water,
converting 70 kilowatt-hours of solar energy into the latent heat held
in water vapor. When soil is bare and dry�paved over or harvested�the
process comes to a halt. The sun hits and warms the ground directly.

This past November found Pokorny flying a small Cessna from Lake
Naivasha up the hills to the Mau Forest, where land surface
temperatures in woodlands measured 19 degrees C; agricultural land
that until recently had been forest hovered close to 50 degrees C. A
photo taken from the air shows the dark green of forests diminish
along the slope to the lowlands; the valley has clusters of deep
forest green among the broad, pale, geometric shapes of cultivated
land. His team measures surface temperature as opposed to the usual
air temperature metric, two meters above. The surface �is what you are
in contact with, and creates the dynamic movement of air,� he says�and
ground temperature �indicates the way solar radiation is transformed
at the Earth's surface.� His surveys from above combine three
measures: �a normal camera, Thermovision [thermal infrared sensors]
and our eyes. In putting the pictures together, we see the high
temperatures are where there is no vegetation,� which includes swaths
of land where forest has been cut.

The "biotic pump" theory argues that natural forests act as a �pump�
that draws moisture inland. According to this concept, first described
in a 2007 paper by Russian physicists Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia
Makarieva of the Saint Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute in the
peer-reviewed Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, condensation,
rather than temperature differential, is a primary driver of weather.

Here's a snapshot of the concept: The concentration of trees in wooded
areas means a high rate of transpiration. This moist air cools as it
ascends and the water vapor condenses, producing a partial vacuum.
This creates an air pressure gradient, whereby the forest canopy sucks
in moist air from the ocean. According to Gorshkov and Makarieva,
forests don't merely grow in wet areas, they create and perpetuate the
conditions in which they grow. Without forest cover�specifically
mature, natural forest to ensure sufficient biomass and resilience�
moisture is no longer pulled in, the physicists say. Rain becomes
erratic and ultimately stalls.

The Russian scientists associate the unprecedented heat and drought in
their country over the last few years with rapid deforestation in
western Russia. The theory is controversial; indeed, it challenges the
viability of the climate models currently in use. The theory �explains
why in forested regions precipitation does not decrease with distance
from the ocean, even thousands of kilometers, while the interiors of
deforested parts of continents become dry already a few hundred
kilometers away from the oceanic coast,� they wrote in an e-mail.
"Condensation of water vapor over forests creates pressure gradients
that have been shown to be sufficient to drive winds that bring
moisture from ocean to land."

Should the biotic pump be confirmed by further research, it brings new
urgency to the need to protect forests. �Most climate models recognize
the role of "precipitation cycling" in forests, but not moisture
transport by forests,� Makarieva and Gorshkov say. The difference is
significant: if deforestation means simply reduced evaporation, the
decline of precipitation would be significant but not catastrophic,
around 15 percent; rains depend on imported moisture, however. If the
vehicle for transport�an intact forest�is impaired, that's a different
story. The physicists say: �In our theory, imported moisture will
decline if the forest is destroyed, especially in the inland portion
of the continent. If there is no imported moisture there is nothing to
be evaporated, so the water cycle will undergo a dramatic�not minor�
reduction of intensity.� In the Amazon, they add, this could be up to
90 percent.

Such ideas are not new. In his 1864 book Man and Nature (original
title: Man the Disturber of Nature's Harmonies), George Perkins Marsh
catalogued numerous examples of changing climate conditions on losing
forests and wrote, �When the forest is gone, the great reservoir of
moisture stored up in its vegetable mold [humus] is evaporated, and
returns only in deluges of rain to wash away the parched dust into
which that mold has been converted. The well-wooded and humid hills
are turned to ridges of dry rock[.]�

Back in Kenya Sarah Higgins, a conservationist who runs the Little Owl
Sanctuary for injured birds near Lake Naivasha, says she's seen
weather patterns change with the forest's fortunes. When she started
farming 30 years ago �we were almost guaranteed sufficient rainfall
for our crops.� Then came the destruction of the Mau Forest, and the
area above and on either side of the farm was �denuded of trees and
overgrazed, down to bare Earth. Our regular rainfall started to fail
and we were seeing dry years, poor yields and more droughts.�

Then there is the need to better understand the specific function of
forests and even individual tree species. For example, can planted
trees have the same effect on hydrology as intact natural forest? �A
practical question is whether we're able to mimic effects of forests,�
Pokorny says. �For we can't just have forests�we need agricultural
land. Can other land types, like savanna and high biomass grassland,
serve some functions of trees? Are there pioneer tree species that
create microclimates that help other trees grow?�

Deforestation has numerous untoward environmental consequences,
including the release of carbon: about one sixth of global emissions
are due to cleared or degraded forests. Such deforestation also
destroys the habitat for vast variety of species, and threatens the
welfare of the more than a billion people who rely on forests for
their livelihoods. It may also have unforeseen impacts on the water
cycle�which can in turn alter climate patterns. "If we don't pay
attention to this now, we could lose our forests," Makarieva told me
by phone. "This would make disaster come faster by destroying the
water cycle."

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About 60,000 could lose homes for controversial Nu River dams

About 60,000 could lose homes for controversial Nu River dams
7 March, 2013
By Ben Blanchard, Reuters

China expects 60,000 people to lose their homes in the remote southwest
if a series of four dams along the country's last free-flowing river
gets the go-ahead, a local official said on Thursday in the first
government estimate for relocations.

Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, a geologist by trade and populist by
instinct, vetoed the dams in Yunnan province on the Unesco-protected Nu
River, known outside China as the Salween, in 2005, after an outcry from

But in late January, the government unexpectedly announced that dam
building would resume, with the Nu River high on the list for development.

Qin Guangrong, Yunnan's Communist Party chief, told reporters on the
sidelines of China's annual meeting of parliament that work had not yet

But Li Siming, head of the prefecture along the Myanmar border where the
dams would be built, said the prefecture had already begun looking at
how to relocate people.

"The initial estimate is that 60,000 people will have to be relocated,"
Li said. Most are from the ethnic Lisu minority.

"We've not yet got to the stage of working out where they will be
relocated to. There are no details yet on whether the projects will even
happen," he added. "There are limited amounts of land."

China relocated 1.3 million people during the 17 years it took to
complete the massive, US$59 billion Three Gorges Dam, built in a much
more heavily populated area in central China.

Li, an ethnic Lisu himself, said the environmental impact assessment had
not been completed and he did not know when construction might start.

"The whole process, from the central government to the provincial
government to the prefectural government, will be open to the public �
it's part of the policy of �letting the light shine on the government',"
he said.

Environmentalists have long complained about the lack of transparency
about the dam project.

"The problem is that for a matter that has provoked concern from the
international community, they have never held a hearing before," Wang
Yongchen, an environmentalist who has long campaigned for the Nu River,
told reporters recently.

Li said that most residents supported the dam project, but added that "a
minority" did not.

"If we see that development of hydropower resources on the Nu River will
not benefit the local people, then we will not do it," he said.

Li sounded uncertain, however, when asked if he personally supported the

"I grew up along the Nu River. How to protect it, how to develop it, how
to use it, I have my own opinions on that," he said. "I'm a local boy:
we've always relied on the land, and the water.

"As head of the prefecture, I'm always thinking about how to protect the
land but also how to use it. This is always on my mind... It's not about
whether I personally support it or not."

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Member of the National Committee of CPPCC Urges Hydro Development on the Nu River

[Below is a translation of a Yunnan Daily article regarding the four
dams on the Nu River in Yunnan Province, and the status of feasibility
studies, hydropower plans, and a Nu River strategic environmental

Member of the National Committee of CPPCC Urges Hydro Development on the
Nu River
4 March 2013
Yunnan Info Daily

Weixiang Feng, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese
People's Political Consultative Conference, submit a proposal to suggest
that governmental departments ratify as soon as possible the
"Hydropower Planning Report on the Middle and Lower Nu River," and
launch the Nu River hydropower development.

Weixiang Feng said, the revision work of the three documents:
"Comprehensive Planning Report of the Nu Region," "Hydropower Planning
Report on the Middle and Lower Nu River," and the "Assessment Report on
Environmental Impact of Hydropower Development on Middle and Lower Nu"
are basically completed. The survey and design process of the
pre-feasibility study stage of three hydropower stations, Liuku, Saige
and Yabiluo, have also reached an end. Maji hydropower station is
carrying survey and design work in the pre-feasibility study period, and
the government is further deepening the pre-feasibility studies of Nu
hydropower development. China has recently issued "12th Five-Year Plan
for energy development," "12th Five-Year Plan for renewable energy
development," and "12th Five-Year Plan for hydropower development,"
which confirm the launch of Nu River development during the 12th Five
Year Plan period. In the meantime, "Yi Ku Si Ji" project (build 4-levels
hydro station in one reservoir) will be a key project in the period.

The hydropower resource on the Nu River, with its large runoffs,
excellent geological conditions, fewer immigrants, smaller flooded area
and low cost, is the only and the most suitable resource in the region.
It is rich in water resources; meanwhile its cyclic utilization,
economic benefits and environmental benefits should all be taken into
account. In addition to power generation, flood control and other direct
benefits, it can also improve the conditions of transportation and other
infrastructure, promote tourism and other related industries, promote
rural labor transfer from primary industry to secondary and tertiary
industries, gradually eliminate the backward, inefficient farming
methods which destroy the ecological environment, and provide necessary
investment to ensure ecological and environmental protection and
restoration, therefore leading the Nu River Basin into a stage of
scientific development, harmonious development, and leap-forward

(Translated by Guo Xin)

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Critic of unbridled growth tipped as new China environment minister

Critic of unbridled growth tipped as new China environment minister
March 4, 2013
By David Stanway and Benjamin Kang Lim

Pan Yue, a high-profile official with a history of taking on big
state-owned interests, has emerged as the front-runner to become China's
new environment minister, sources said, amid growing public discontent
over worsening pollution in the country.

Pan, a former journalist, is tipped to take over from career bureaucrat
Zhou Shengxian when Premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang forms his new cabinet
during the annual session of parliament which begins on Tuesday, three
independent sources familiar with the matter said.

"A recommended list (of cabinet ministers) lists Pan Yue as the
environmental protection minister. But this is not final and could
change at the last minute," a source with ties to the leadership told

With China desperate to show it is determined to tackle its pollution
problems, the appointment of the popular Pan would help build confidence
in the country's environmental protection bodies and their ability to
rein in some of the country's most powerful industrial interests.

Public anger over air pollution that blanketed many northern cities in
January has spread to online appeals for Beijing to clean up water
supplies as well. Across the country, to the government's alarm, social
unrest spurred by environmental complaints has become increasingly common.

Pan has routinely criticized China's excessive focus on growth and the
weakness of its environmental watchdogs, saying the country's obsession
with economic expansion had created a massive "environmental overdraft".

But the 53-year-old has paid the price before for his outspoken comments.

Also, the environment ministry still faces formidable odds in the face
of China's complex bureaucracy and weak enforcement of laws. It lacks
the authority to take on big state-owned enterprises, including oil
firms, and local governments.

"If Pan Yue is appointed minister, it would give real credibility to
(incoming President) Xi (Jinping)'s message about wanting people who get
results and don't just talk," said Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow at
the Council on Foreign Relations who has studied China's environmental

Parliament spokeswoman Fu Ying said on Monday that the largely rubber
stamp legislature would tighten two environment laws during its annual
session by linking protection efforts with local government performance
evaluations and further reining in emissions.


Pan's possible promotion would also represent a significant upturn in
fortunes since his career stalled in 2008 amid political opposition and
personal difficulties.

In the middle of the last decade, when he served as the deputy director
of China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), Pan was
feted by the domestic and foreign media as a fearless campaigner against
giant government-backed polluters, but his stance created enemies.

"Many saw him as too liberal, but he has restrained himself in recent
years," a second source with leadership ties said.

His profile reached a climax in 2005, when he confronted dozens of
powerful state-owned enterprises. The crux of the row was SEPA's power
to enforce its rules, with the state giants arguing they were directly
subject to the State Council and therefore not obliged to comply with
SEPA rules involving environmental impact assessments.

The media heralded Pan the victor after the Three Gorges Project Corp,
the powerful state-owned developer of the world's biggest hydropower
project on the Yangtze River, was ordered by the State Council to comply
with SEPA following a week-long stand-off.

In 2006, he also took on the China Petrochemical Corp (Sinopec) and the
China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), the parent of PetroChina, the
country's two biggest oil firms, in a drive against water pollution.

And in 2007, Pan again turned his attention to China's big state-owned
power firms, including Datang Power, Huadian Power and Huaneng Power,
all accused of failing to comply with SEPA regulations.

Known in the Chinese media as "environmental protection storms", the
campaigns pitted China's relatively weak environmental agency against
some of the most powerful interest groups in the country -- including
Huaneng, formerly run by the son of Li Peng, China's influential former

In 2008, while still a vice-minister at the newly established Ministry
of Environmental Protection, Pan was stripped of most of his public
responsibilities, and restricted to handing out awards, launching
awareness campaigns and making speeches.

Pan's public criticism of powerful state interests might have been the
main reason his career stalled, but his divorce from a daughter of
prominent military official Liu Huaqing did not help, the sources said.

Liu, who died in 2011, was navy commander from 1982 to 1988 and credited
with its modernization. He was also a member of the Communist Party's
Politburo Standing Committee - the apex of power in China - from 1992 to

But after years of lying low, Pan's confrontational style could now make
him the right man for a very difficult job, and help head off growing
public anger about the state of the country's rivers and skylines.

"Certainly his appointment would give a real boost to the prominence of
the environment within the government bureaucracy," said Economy.
"Overall, it would be a big win for environmental activism."

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Bringing Renewable Energy to South Africa Settlements

The iShack: Bringing Renewable Energy to South Africa Settlements
By Jan Lee | February 6th, 2013
Connecting impoverished homes with electricity and access to safe
drinking water has always been a challenge in South Africa. As much as
25 percent of the population lives without electricity, and a many as
3.5 million people in the country do not have access to safe drinking
But those goals may be a bit more within reach thanks to some
enterprising post-graduate students who have figured out a way to
equip low-cost structures, such as the shacks that are used in some
South African settlements, with solar power and water catchment systems.

Mr. Andreas Keller, Ms. Lauren Tavener-Smith, Mr. Berry Wessels are
members of a transdisciplinary team working on the �iShack.� Its name
means �improved shack� � a low-cost housing structure that
incorporates solar power for basic electricity needs. The model is
designed with extra insulation and additional features to protect its
occupants from South Africa�s intense summer heat, and to retain heat
during the winter.

The prototype is the result of an 18-month research project that
focused on living conditions in the nearby settlement of Enkanini.
Professor Mark Swilling of Stellenbosch University�s TsamaHub directed
the project. Regional agencies such as the Sustainability Institute at
Lynedoch, the municipality of Stellenbosch, the Informal Settlement
Network and the Community Organisation Resource Centre also
contributed input to the project.

During their research, the students looked at various ways of
improving the living conditions in informal settlements where
immediate shelter is often a first consideration and finances for
improvements such as lights, plumbing, heating, air conditioning and
running water are often not available.

They discovered that by repositioning the shack on a north-south axis,
adding windows in specific locations, a solar panel on the roof and a
number of low-cost features such as fire-retardant paint, a sloping
roof with a gutter and modified building materials, they could upgrade
the conventional corrugated or iron shack to a structure that stayed
cooler, generated electricity and provided a means for harvesting

�We are working on a social enterprise model,� Keller said, who
explained that an added funding challenge was that in South Africa,
structures like the informal shack wouldn�t qualify for the housing
subsidies that are provided for conventional housing. However, a
$250,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will help
expand the number of iShacks available. They are also looking into
some energy and emergency housing subsidies that may help defray the
costs for the occupants.
In the Enkanini settlement maintenance of the solar panel would be
handled by an appointed resident of the settlement called an energy
hub operator. He or she would be trained on how to install and
maintain the small panel and DC grid. Keller said that they are hoping
to see about 250 iShacks installed in the Enkanini settlement.

�Included in user fees is a portion which pays this person and the
materials needed.�

At present, a brand-new iShack costs approximately $650. A modified
version, in which features are added to a conventional shack, runs
about $50.

The team is also looking at ways that the prototype could be modified
to be used in other parts of the world with different environmental
conditions and demands.

�The idea is to develop a generic institutional model that can be
adapted to other settings. The fundamental principles of the iShack
are very easily adaptable to other contexts,� Keller said. The pricing
for the model would depend upon location and availability of
materials. �We will be developing further prototypes that improve on
the current design to keep improving on the principles.�

Keller said the project has been a �reality check� for the team, who
basically lived on site during the 18-month project in Enkanini.

�(It�s) difficult to change a system,� he said, noting that he learned
from the project that it is �best to start small and let things grow
from there.�

But with the new iShack prototype completed, the team hopes the idea
will catch on in other communities in South Africa as well.

�Our idea is for the iShack to become accessible to other settlements
to improve the well-being of residents today,� Keller said.

Image of Madiba Galada, hub operator on roof by iShack team member.
Image of iShack research team by Anna Lusty.

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