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On World Rivers Day 2020: Defend Our Rivers, Defend Our Rights

On World Rivers Day 2020: Defend Our Rivers, Defend Our Rights

Our rivers and rights are at risk. On World Rivers Day, the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) calls to act now in defense of our rivers and rights. Today, we also celebrate our growing solidarity and unity for the continuing flow of the world’s mighty rivers, and for ancestral land rights and the environment.

In 2005, the United Nations (UN) launched World Rivers Day to create awareness for the protection of our rivers and water resources. It recognized the need for greater protection of our rivers as a source of life and cradle of civilizations. Throughout history, Indigenous Peoples (IP) served as our great river’s frontline stewards and protectors.

But our rivers continuously face wide arrays of threats aggravated by the climate crisis. Mega dams, big hydropower projects, destructive energy, and oil extraction pipelines are aggressively built on major rivers and tributaries choking its natural flow. At the expense of massive forests, biodiversity, agricultural and ancestral lands, these “development” projects do irreversible damage to our rivers, environment and ways of life.

The drive for cheap and clean energy has its toll on rivers. According to a database maintained by Christiane Zarfl (and others) at the University of Tubingen, “more than 3,500 hydropower dams are being planned or built around the world. This could double by 2030.” The figure does not include dams primarily designed for water supply, flood prevention, navigation and recreation.

As governments anticipate water shortage and increasing electricity demands, the Papar Dam in Sabah, Teesta Dam in Sikkim, and the Kaliwa Dam and Tabuk Hydro-Project in the Philippines are railroaded amid looming displacement of thousands of IP and biodiversity loss. In Manipur and in China-funded dams along the Mekong River and its tributaries have resulted in unsustainable food production and unprecedented loss of livelihood. The collapse of a new dam in Laos in 2018 left around 7,000 homeless. More dam disasters as more dams shall be built in the Mekong Delta. These hydropower investments are brokered by states through debt-ridden and onerous deals with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), and international financial institutions (TNCs) as well as transnational corporations (TNCs), deliberately undermine IP right to self-determination and development.

In many of these, governments and corporations have implemented repressive policies and measures in the guise of national security laws, to silence resistance to these projects. Worse, the defense of IP rights, rivers, and lands has resulted in intensified militarization, harassment and attacks, criminalization, illegal arrests, and extra-judicial killings with systemic impunity.

With countries failing on its commitments to preserve nature and save Earth’s vital biodiversity, and defenders of rivers and IP rights under attack, we are now way beyond any compromise. It’s urgent to stop all mega dams and destructive projects that fuel rights violations and environmental destruction. And call to uphold Indigenous rights and harness their nature-based knowledge and sustainable alternatives in protecting and managing our rivers and resources. Today’s crucial time of health and economic crisis needs everyone to move towards a collective assertion of systemic change that is pro-people and rights-based.