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IRN Press Release                                 August 3, 1999

ACTIVISTS "DROWN" IN FRONT OF INDIAN EMBASSY IN U.S.

PLEASE REPLY TO PATRICK@IRN.ORG

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Washington, DC, 9:30 am. A one hundred square foot dam painted with the slogan "KILL THE DAM OR THE DAM WILL KILL" was erected today, blocking the street in front of the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC. Two men and two women, muddy, wet and surrounded in debris, laid lifeless on the street in front of the dam. Around 50 supporters waved flags and placards and chanted slogans in support of the people of India's Narmada Valley. Thousands of people are in imminent danger of drowning as the monsoon-swelled waters rise behind the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River in Gujarat State in Western India.

A letter calling upon the President of India, K.R. Narayanan, to protect the rights of the country's adivasis, or 'tribals', was presented to the Ambassador. For more than a decade, the people of the Narmada Valley have been fighting dams on the river. The Sardar Sarovar Dam has displaced tens of thousands already and would eventually uproot almost half a million people. After countless hunger strikes, marches, demonstrations and other protests, the Supreme Court suspended construction of the dam in 1994. This past February, however, the court allowed the height of the partly-built dam to be increased by a further five meters.

With no proper plans for their resettlement, the adivasis (or 'tribals') of the Narmada Valley have resolved to remain in their houses and face the rising water rather than let their lands, rivers, culture and lives be destroyed. Extensive studies including a report for the World Bank by former head of the UN Development Program, Bradford Morse, show that the benefits of this project have been greatly exaggerated and that less expensive, more sustainable alternatives exist.

"These people have symbolically 'drowned' here at the embassy today to show the government of India that there is international support for the struggle of the people of the Narmada Valley and great concern for their plight," says Patrick McCully of International Rivers Network. A 7-year-old adivasi girl, Lata Vasave, was drowned on July 7 after becoming trapped in thick mud deposits on the edge of the Sardar Sarovar reservoir.

The DC action was one of several taking place around the world to mark an international day of solidarity with the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement). In India, several hundred writers, journalists and activists, led by Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy, held a rally in the adivasi village of Jalsindhi, which is partly submerged by the waters behind Sardar Sarovar. The residents of Jalsindhi refuse to leave their homes despite the constant threat of drowning.

Protest vigils are being held today outside the Indian consulates in Toronto and San Francisco. In Tokyo, Friends of the Earth activists conveyed their support for dam opponents in meetings with the Indian Ambassador and executives from Sumitomo Corporation, which is building turbines for Sardar Sarovar. In Sydney, Australia, a letter protesting the Sardar Sarovar Dam and endorsed by a number of environmental and human rights groups will be presented to the Indian consulate.

For more information, contact International Rivers Network in Berkeley, CA at 510-848-1155 or Sanjay Sangvai with Narmada Bachao Andolan in India at +91 265 382232.

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International Rivers Network supports local communities working to protect their rivers and watersheds. We work to halt destructive river development projects, and to encourage equitable and sustainable methods of meeting needs for water, energy and flood management.