MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

International Rivers

Berkeley, California | 2013 Award Recipient

Protecting rivers and the rights of communities

Short-sighted hydropower development can destroy irreplaceable freshwater ecosystems, threaten food security, and displace thousands of people. Nevertheless, the economic and political forces that favor dam development are strong. Over the past six decades, the construction of large dams has forced tens of millions of people from their land and affected hundreds of millions more living downstream.

In Asia, Africa, and Latin America, International Rivers protects rivers and human rights threatened by some of the world’s most potentially destructive dam projects.  At the same time, the organization promotes sustainable alternatives to meet legitimate energy and water needs. International Rivers also works to address the underlying drivers of big dam projects. Applying science, rigorous policy analysis, and strategic advocacy, the organization assists partners across the globe in defending rivers and human rights and promotes better policies and investment standards with banks, governments, businesses, and international agencies.

In the biodiversity-rich Peruvian Amazon, International Rivers worked with the Ashaninka indigenous people who were threatened by the Pakitzapango Dam on the Ene River. The organization provided the Ashaninka with information about dams and how to organize against them and connected them to other Peruvian groups for support. As a result of legal work and pressure by the Ashaninka, International Rivers, and many Peruvian groups, the Pakitzapango Dam was put on hold in 2010.

In the ecologically important Mekong region of Southeast Asia, International Rivers mobilized civil society organizations and communities to oppose the first of 11 proposed dams on the Mekong mainstream and advocate for better regional energy solutions. As part of the Save the Mekong Coalition, International Rivers helped convince the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments to oppose the Xayaburi Dam and seek its postponement pending further study. International Rivers’ research, information sharing, and legal work is helping to challenge the Lao government's determination to build the first mainstream dam on the lower Mekong.

International Rivers will use its $750,000 MacArthur Award to build its reserves, enhance its communications and development, and strengthen regional offices in Asia, Africa, and South America.  

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