Why damming rivers, like blocking veins, risks our health

An indigenous girl plays in the San Pedro Mezquital River. | Credit: Camilo Thompson / AIDA

Some of my most treasured childhood memories happened in or near a river. I can still feel the cold water on my feet, and the current that pulled me smoothly past rocks and branches. I remember vacations with my cousins, throwing ourselves into the river near my aunt and uncle’s country house, leaping from the tops of rocks or swinging from the branches of a tree. I remember summer road trips, driving down seemingly endless bridges over the great rivers of southern Mexico.

I’ve always thought of rivers as the veins of our planet. In their waters, the rivers and their tributaries carry nutrients to wetlands, lakes, and the sea. They carry oxygen and host thousands of species. They supply drinking water to millions of people in small towns and big cities. They give us food, entertainment, transportation, and life.

Recent natural disasters have reminded us that—despite our best attempts—there are no limits, dams, dikes or pipelines that can control the water. It’s true that, properly implemented, dams can have benefits; but in many cases, particularly those of large-scale development, the damages dams do far outweigh any benefits. There are currently more than 300 large dam projects planned or in construction throughout Latin America. Many of them are underway without adequate social and environmental impacts assessments. The results are displaced communities, destroyed forests, and rivers with no fish.

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Topic Tags: 
aida navarro, mezquital river, dams, san pedro river, environmental defense