Large-scale infrastructural projects have detrimental effects on local people and the environment, while their benefits are felt elsewhere. Both ENDS is working to ensure that local people have a greater say in decision-making and is investigating the way these projects are funded.
Large-scale infrastructural projects, such as dams, canals, airports, harbours, dykes, etc. are planned and build worldwide. Governments see these projects as opportunities to develop their countries. They are often (co)funded by development banks like the World Bank or regional or bilateral banks like the European Investment Bank or the Dutch FMO. Export credit agencies, like the Dutch Atradius DSB, are also involved in these kinds of projects. Critical questions are increasingly being asked about large-scale infrastructural projects: do they genuinely solve the problems they are designed to address or are they primarily beneficial to investors?
Dams: severe damage to people and the environment
Often, these large-scale infrastructural projects do not bring development for everyone, but actually create more poverty and other problems for vulnerable groups of people living in the areas where they are constructed.
Building a dam, for example, often causes enormous damage to the natural environment and thereby the living environment of local inhabitants. They are forced to relocate and lose their homes, their land and the forests from which they live. Farmers downstream are faced with changes in the level of the water, on which they depend to irrigate their land, catch fish for food, wash and play in. Dams destroy a river's ecosystem and the areas around them all the way to the coast. Where large areas of forest end up under water, dams contribute to deforestation, and when trees decay under water, they release a lot of methane, a strong greenhouse gas. Electricity generated by large dams is therefore not as green as it may seem at first glance.
Infrastructure: development or land-grabbing?
Other projects, such as harbours, canals and airports, can also have both positive and negative effects. All of these kinds of projects need land, which is already being used by people or is valuable in environmental terms. In many countries in the South, however, people have been living in their communities on certain lands for centuries but have no official land rights. When large infrastructural projects start, these people lose access to their land, which has an immediate impact on their means of existence. Local fishermen are often adversely affected by harbour projects, which can make their access to the sea more difficult, while the building activities lead to a reduction in fish stocks. Violence is sometimes used to evict people from their homes and land.
Examples include Jakarta, where fishermen's livelihoods are being threatened by the NCICD (Great Sea Wall) project, the Suez Canal, where thousands of people have been driven off their land, Istanbul, where local people and forests are threatened by plans for a new airport, and the Nicaragua Canal, which has an enormous impact om the local people even before the actual digging work has started.
Moreover, harbours and other large-scale infrastructure projects frequently benefit the fossil sector, which means that they indirectly contribute to climate change.
Participation of local people in decisions affecting their living environment
Both ENDS is working to increase the participation of local communities in decisions on large-scale infrastructural projects. They have the right to have a say in what happens to land, forests and waters that they have used and protected for many centuries. Such participation should also guarantee the right of local people to choose other development models that have a less far-reaching impact on their living environments.
Local communities and organisations often do not know who is behind a megaproject and who has an interest in it: what development banks are funding it, what foreign companies will be carrying out the construction activities, whether these companies will be receiving export credit insurance from their own country, what international rules they have to observe and what options there are for obtaining justice.
Both ENDS helps expose these international capital flows and, together with local partners, raises the alarm if large-scale infrastructure projects threaten to have serious negative consequences for the natural and social environment.
We call for the voices of local communities to be heard and for them to be provided with sufficient information to participate in decisions affecting the development of their living environments. We also work to ensure that good social and environmental impact assessments are carried out, with specific attention being given to human rights, and that FPIC (free, prior and informed consent) is being applied. We also help local groups to work out scenarios designed to lead to a greener and more inclusive form of development. And if banks and businesses do not adhere to the rules, we help local communities obtain justice by, for example, attracting the attention of the international media, submitting complaints and demanding reasonable compensation.
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