Environmentalist 'Davids' Oppose Goliath Dam Projects 'Green' Groups Target Projects That Displace Thousands of People and Hurt the Ecology

Article excerpt

In a city of global bankers noted for "business as usual," environmental activist Peter Bosshard speaks for a new breed of Swiss committed to "green" values - concerted public action to preserve Earth's natural resources.

Mr. Bosshard shares leadership of a Zurich-based public-interest group, the Berne Declaration, which claims 16,000 members. The group shares information with similar nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide.

Since assuming his post in the Berne Declaration, Bosshard has rocked the Swiss boat on issues involving commercial ties with Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The Berne Declaration has been strikingly effective in briefing Swiss citizens on massive dam projects funded by Swiss banks and engineered by hydroelectric firms such as the Swedish-Swiss giant Asea Brown Boveri Ltd. ABB's Swedish chairman and CEO Percy Barnevik insists that ABB bears a responsibility to the third world to "{transfer} to them the experiences of our own industrialization as well as efficient and clean technology." But the Bosshard network, critical of the dam projects, sees things differently. It has focused its protest efforts on three huge dam projects: the Narmada Dam in India; the Bakun Dam in Sarawak, Malayasia; and the Three Gorges project in China. In each case, Bosshard says, well-reasoned NGO protests forced the World Bank to back off plans to fund the project. Crucial to the NGO's case: a likely catastrophic impact on either nature, humanity, or both. In India's Narmada Valley, the proposed dam would have displaced, seized land from, or cost the jobs of 320,000 people in Guijarat State. The World Bank pullout has prompted India to refocus on smaller, less volatile dam projects. Malaysia's Bakun Dam project would uproot 9,400 people. Bosshard rates Bakun's potential threat to the partially jungle environment as "among the top 10 trouble spots worldwide." Malaysia seeks to offset the loss of World Bank funds through private capital. China's gigantic Three Gorges project dwarfs all others. It would force the displacement of some 1.3 million people from a 600-km stretch along the Yangtze River valley. The project area alone is four times larger than the state of California. Environmental critics regard the project as a planned disaster masked by extreme nationalistic pride. Doubts sown by the NGOs about skewed impact studies by corrupt engineers and officials have found their mark. "Now nobody in government defends these projects anymore," Bosshard says. "But they'll still argue . …


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