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Press Release from Solidaridos con Itotitz and Narmada UK                                
October 25, 1999

Anti-Dam Activists Climb The Millenium Wheel

Eight activists are currently occupying the Millenium Wheel today in central London in protest at the destruction caused by dam projects in the Basque Country and India. The activists remain defiantly perched on top of the Wheel, which they scaled before dawn after evading security. They have unfurled huge banners with the slogans "Stop The Dams!", "Free Narmada, Free Itoitz!" and "Let The Rivers Run Free!". The action is being taken by Basque environmentalists from the group Solidarios con Itoitz and activists from Narmada UK.

In a communique giving their reasons for this action, Solidarios con Itoitz give the following statement:

"For many years we have seen how the tendency of capital is to concentrate population in large conurbations to the detriment of rural areas, which have become more and more deserted. Rural areas are transformed into resource-zones for large-scale transport infrastructure, production centres for energy and industrial agriculture, or for the accumulation of raw materials to satisfy the needs of large cities.

One of these raw materials which has become more and more valuable is water, which is accumulated in gigantic reservoirs, flooding towns, valleys, traditional cultures and ways of life based on respect for mother earth (amalurra-pachamama), who gives us life. Through these dams the powers that be, control at their whim, as indispensable a resource as water, they speculate with it, squandering public money in order to promote corrupt private business interests, deceiving the public with hypothetical irrigation schemes and putting in grave danger the population living downstream.

Emblematic examples of this type of 'development'-driven infrastructures are the Itoitz reservoir (in the Basque Country) and Narmada (India). The Itoitz reservoir has been under construction since 1993. If it were filled, it would flood 9 towns and 5 nature reserves of great ecological value. The excuse of irrigation is used to mask the real reasons for this dam - ie. the economic interests of tourism and industry far removed from the flooded areas, to which the water would be channelled via supercanals. Despite being ruled completely illegal by the highest judicial authorities, work is continuing, and the dam itself has already been built. Official studies have highlighted the structural problems of the dam, with the grave danger that these pose to the population living downstream. The collective Solidarios con Itoitz practises non-violent public direct action against this dam. Of the more than 40 actions that have been carried out in the campaign against the dam, the most high profile was the cutting of the cables of the concrete transporting system, which stopped work on the dam for a whole year. As a result of an unfair trial, the 8 participants in the action have been sentenced to 5 years prison. Today's action, as part of the S.O.S European Tour, is a protest both against the prison sentences and the building of the dam.

"By taking action today we are showing our complete rejection of the construction of large reservoirs and dams internationally, which threaten the future of the earth and its peoples. By taking action on the Millenium Wheel we are rejecting an irrational and wasteful "development"-based system, which does not hesitate to spend millions of pounds on fatuous spectacles while denying dispossessed millions the chance to live on the eve of the Third Millenium."

INDIAN DAMS WILL LEAVE MORE THAN 1 MILLION PEOPLE HOMELESS

Meanwhile, according to activists from Narmada UK, also taking part in today's action:

"Over one million people are to be left homeless, landless & destitute in the Narmada Valley, central India. The Indian government heralds the highly controversial Narmada Valley Development Project (consisting of 3200 dams) as the largest river valley development project ever conceived in human history. Many (including the World Bank) view this as the biggest planned human/environmental disaster in history.

Through this reckless developmental plan, snatching the river from its people and gifting its waters to others (mainly commercial interests), the Indian government claims it will irrigate land and provide drinking water in distant places (up to 3000km away). This is all being done without even a review of other possible alternative decentralised initiatives. The first completed dam irrigates only 5% of the land which the authorities promised it would. It has long been established that this whole project is flawed. The World Bank (WB), the project's initial funder was forced by the NBA (Narmada Bachao Andolan : Save The Narmada Movement) to conduct an independent review of the plans. Following the review, the WB withdrew its support.

The NBA estimates that over 500,000 people will be displaced by the Sardar Sarovar (SSP) dam alone. This one mega-dam will alone submerge more than 27,000 hectares of ancient forest and rich agricultural lands. The vast majority of the peoples affected by SSP are indigenous Adivasi (tribal) people whose civilisation is older than Hinduism itself. Many of those whose lands are being illegally taken away are not even categorised as Project Affected People, therefore, are not entitled to any compensation, rehabilitation or resettlement. The R&R packages have dispersed village communities to over 40 different locations, to land that is infertile, effectively destroying all their social and cultural ties. The people who accepted resettlement in the late 70's have found their conditions so awful that many have returned to their land, even though much of it has been submerged. Others, have been physically prevented by the police from leaving their new colonies. The people of the Narmada Valley have resolved to drown, rather than move from their lands."

For more Information contact : NarmadaUK@yahoo.com.

For more general information visit www.agp.org.