Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Business Standard of New Delhi reported last week that an American NGO, International Rivers, has released a significant report condemning the construction of new dams in the Himalayas.

Titled “Mountains of Concrete,” the 44 page report (available as a PDF on the International Rivers website) declares that the proposed string of massive new hydropower dams are doomed to fail and cause further harm to the delicate ecology of the mountain system. The authors define the Himalayas as including the Karakorams and the other mountain ranges that divide the Indian subcontinent from Central Asia.

It indicates that the realities of global climate change will reduce the usefulness of the planned dams when glaciers recede and water runoff begins to decrease. India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan intend to build several hundred dams to generate 150,000 megawatts of additional electricity, most of which will be used in India.

The purpose of International Rivers is to protect waterways and help the communities that depend on them defend their rights. It opposes the construction of destructive, wasteful dam projects. “This dam building activity will fundamentally transform the landscape, ecology and economy of the region and will have far reaching impacts all the way down to the river deltas,” according to the author, Shripad Dharmadhikary. New dams will submerge homes, threaten agriculture, disrupt human and natural communities, and destroy the cultures and identities of people affected by them. Seismic activity is also a constant concern.

The most serious issue, according to the report, is the impact of climate change on the Himalayas. Glaciers are melting faster now, and the storage of water as ice and snow in the high mountains is threatened. Dam safety from potential flash flooding caused by the rapid release of glacial water is a serious concern.

The report describes the ecological disasters that will befall Sikkim, where the Lepchas and their activist group Affected Citizens of Teesta have been fighting for several years to thwart the dam building advocated by the state.

According to the report, “Many aspects of dam building, like the submergence of forests, large scale river diversions, disruption of aquatic ecosystems—both upstream and downstream—blasting, digging, excavation, debris dumping and other construction-related activities, are likely to wreak havoc on the ecology of the Himalayan region (p.27).”

The article in Business Standard connects all of this to the Lepcha people. It is not clear if the continuing hunger strikes by Lepcha activists will do any good, since the Sikkim state government is committed to building all but four of the dams that have been planned for decades. Despite the hopes last month by anti-dam activists that voters in Sikkim would oppose the dam construction, election results announced on Saturday showed that all 32 seats in the state assembly went to the incumbent Sikkim Democratic Front, which will keep Chief Minister Pawan Chamling in office.

The election results will help ensure the construction of the dams. The Dzongu Reserve, sacred to the Lepcha people, will probably be violated by them. However, “Mountains of Concrete” predicts that the dams will be extremely costly failures.