Dam Watch International: the role of community-grounded transnational collaboration in countering “sustainable” dam development around the world

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Kingdon, Rebecca
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Around the world, community members and their allies are advocating against the development of dams that degrade ecosystems and inflict serious social, cultural, and ecological damages. Despite extensive research on these impacts, construction has continued under the marketing of dams as “clean”, “green”, and “sustainable” solutions to achieve water and energy security in the context of climate change. This thesis is in part a response to these claims and reflects the experiences and knowledges of impacted community members, activists, and researchers from over 25 watersheds around the world that have begun to collaborate in a transnational advocacy network (TAN) to heal from, challenge, and even halt dam development. Over a two-year period (2019-2021), participatory action research methods were utilized – including semi-structured qualitative interviews, surveys, actions, and meetings – to capture the emergence of this network known as Dam Watch International (DWI). To illustrate the need for DWI, this thesis first explores the experiences of community members living with and fighting the injustices of dam development. It then shares the opportunities and challenges of creating a community-centred network for collaboration. Through this work, this thesis contributes further understandings of the damaging extent of dams, demonstrating that systemic and systematic injustices enable the continuation of this construction in multiple regions of the world. It also highlights that community members and allies are committed to finding justice through culturally relevant means that are centred in Indigenous and local knowledge. The insights shared here emphasize that opportunities exist for collaboration among those that continue to fight for sovereignty and justice.
Hydroelectric dams, Dam development, Transnational advocacy networks, Indigenous environmental justice, Participatory action research