The People Who Don’t Exist

We often hear of population displacement during wars, but another large player in this world-wide issue is the construction of water dams. It’s estimated that 40 to 80 million people have been displaced by them over the years, most in China and India. Often times the displaced populations are farmers and indigenous people whose main source of livelihood comes from the land that the construction threatens to flood. More info on dam construction here

Today the BBC reported on a group of men and women in Northern China who, in protest of their submerged homes and inadequate compensation, built a new village at the dam’s edge. The dam provides drinking water for Harbin, a neighboring town that is rapidly growing in population. The authorities refuse to grant any of the new villagers any official ID cards and resident papers, which means that technically, they don’t exist.

“They are trying to force us out but we have done nothing wrong,” farmer Liang Qiquan says. “The government cannot tell us that you have to give up your land and leave. We’re not going to do it.”

Positive and negative effects of dam construction below (source: Columbia Univ. City of New York)

POSTIVE                                                 NEGATIVE

  • reduced risk of floods

 

  • changes in channel morphology

 

  • more reliable water supply

 

  • displacement of people
  • hydro power generation
  • debris jams in tributaries

 

  • fishing

 

  • lower temperature of the downstream water

 

  • tourism

 

  • lower sediment load -> clearer water

 

  • increased sediment storage

 

  • reduced beaches

 

  • altered riparian vegetation,

 

  • changes in fish population (declining number)

 

  • mercury contamination of fish in the new reservoirs (James Bay)

 

  • large production of methane gas from the flooded forest areas (addition source of greenhouse gas)

 

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