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Large Useless Imposed Projects

By Daniela Del Bene and Nick Meynen.

The Third European Forum against Unnecessary Imposed Mega Projects will soon take place in Stuttgart, from 25th to 29th July. After the first two network meetings in Susa Valley (organized by the NO-TAV movement in Italy) and in Nantes (by the ACIPA committee in France), and the session during Firenze10+10, the worldwide network is growing and building alliances.

In Europe and elsewhere, large public projects are under increasing attacks from civil society. Three very visible projects in EU countries have provoked strong opposition. The Notre Dame des Landes airport near Nantes, the large tunnel for the TAV between Turin and Lyon (See ‘ecological economics from the ground up, chapter 4: High Speed Transport Infrastructure in Italy) and the new station in Stuttgart. These are clear examples of the stubborn run towards large scale infrastructure projects by large corporations, joint ventures and investment funds. The network exposes the patterns that lead to such projects.

EJOLT supports this new network that is best known by its French name: “Grand Projets Inutiles Imposé (GPII)”.

Conflicts surrounding large infrastructure projects are in fact one type of conflicts that we’re collecting for our world Atlas of environmental conflicts. Quite often, the planning and building of such large infrastructures are seen as signs of modernization and increased welfare but lead to development patterns that are economically,socially and ecologically unsustainable. Most often, corrupting collusion between politicians and public works firms is a contributing factor, as well as a persistent tendency to opt for the more damaging but more prestigious projects. Pride most often overrules not just justice, even economics.

Water infrastructure is one of the major examples of massive intervention and centralized investments. A former Nepali Minister for Water resources once told Nick Meynen – off the record – that the “water mafia always managed to convince politicians to select the most expensive and grand project of all options; simply because that means that the 10% they receive as extra ‘gift’ is much bigger”. So instead of solving the water shortage problem of Kathmandu for 7 million euro by getting thousand of people to work to build small ponds – what he calculated – every government has proceeded with the Melamchi Drinking Water Project (MDWP), in which a river is diverted through a 16km long tunnel to quench the thirst of Kathmandu, originally at a cost of more than 300 million euro with a Chinese company, China Railway 15 Bureau Group. The most recent news is that in June the Nepali government signed a contract agreement with Italy’s CMC Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna for developing the diversion tunnel, endorsed by ADB for about 220 million euros. Under this contract, CMC has to complete the construction within 36 months. Never mind that farmers in the Melamchi valley have not yet repaid their loans to the Asian Development Bank for the irrigation and fishery projects they were encouraged to take up. The same Asian Development Bank is now going to take 80% of their water away, which will bring their projects in the Melamchi Valley to a certain death. Much more dirty details on that and other large destructive ‘development’ projects in Nepal in this investigative report.

Neighboring China and India are doing the same, but on a much bigger scale. China is busy with the biggest waterworks ever undertaken, altering the hydrology of the country on an unprecedented scale. Whole rivers will be diverted North over thousands of kilometer, at an estimated cost of some 50 billion dollar. Which brought India on the idea to interlink it’s rivers as well, at an even higher cost. The sheer scale and madness of these projects has been described in great detail by International Rivers.

In Stuttgart, people opposing the Ilisu dam in Turkey-Kurdistan, the Belo Monte dam in Brazil as well as privatization of water services will gather and join efforts. But as Ejolt reporting from the recent events in Turkey and Mexico illustrate: resistance to large infrastructures is everywhere and not limited to waterworks. Nuclear power plants, airports, incinerators, large-scale mines etc are also examples of massive investments, poor control and no account of social costs.

Local residents and communities respond all over the world; opposition to the new station in Stuttgart resulted in the election of a Green government in Baden Wuerttenberg for example, attempts to privatize water services have been stopped in Italy, Paris, Berlin, while campaigns and petitions are spreading all over the world (also see our previous blog post).

In Stuttgart participants will also discussed and analyse the common trends of international investments and funds. Presidio Europa No Tav, No Tunnel Tav Firenze, Re:Common, Counter Balance, Urgewald are going to coordinate a session on the financing of EU-top priority large infrastructure through the “Europe 2020 project bond initiative” of the European Investment Bank, which should help Europe overcome its crisis according to the European Commission.

Social movements and communities know very well that their priorities are different and they know whose crisis this will help overcome. Their position is still very well expressed in the charter of Tunis, adopted at the WSF in Tunis on March 29, 2013:

“These projects represent ecological, socio-economic and human disasters, the destruction of wildlife areas and agricultural lands and of cultural and artistic heritage: they do harm and cause degradation, environmental pollution and have serious negative consequences for inhabitants”

The Stuttgart Forum’s logo, the white elephant, is a very appropriate logo. A white elephant is a supposedly valuable possession whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) exceeds its usefulness, and it is therefore a liability (More info here and a good example from Spain is here). It is not only the symbol of large useless projects in India nor only large and expensive to build, nor only poor design and with confused role. It has now got a powerful meaning world wide. Probably because they are ridden by the usual suspects but also because movements and civil society organizations work together, react and unveil such anti-people policies at world scale.

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