Sinlung /
29 September 2010

Dammed If You Do: The Choice Between Hydropower and Food Security

By Huascar Robles
altWithout it they’d be in the dark. With it, their food production system buckles. This is the dilemma the Toubul village has to endure at the foot of a dam in the northern Indian state of Manipur.

As in many cases of development gone wrong, the hydropower dam fuels the region with electricity.

Because of it, a few roads were also built. But instead of paving the way to responsible industrialization, the dam has severely endangered the livelihoods of Toubul’s families.

According to an article at Infochange, the major setback for this agricultural community is the floods caused on the village’s arable land. To keep the dam operational, the adjacent Loktak Lake is kept at levels that inundate a total of 80,000 hectares of land, according to the Loktak Lake Affected Areas Peoples’ Action Committee.

But it does not stop there.

The project has progressively disturbed the lake’s ecosystem, decimating the fish population and killing plant species, both used in food and rituals.

Naturally, the result is a collapse of the local economy. Rice farmers have lost their land. Some have resorted to leasing new plots, and now make a fraction of their original revenues. (A series of reports can be found here.)

Trying to keep their community from drowning, local activists won a compensation case at the Guwahati High Court. But as it's expected in these cases, the petitioners (a total of 6,000, according to the report) still await payment.

The question these dwellers are now asking themselves is 'what’s the point of having a hot stove if there’s nothing to put in it?' It must also be a head-scratcher to visit the market for rice that you once grew plentiful in your backyard.

It is living example of the paradox that plagues the developing world. Progress, while serving some benefits, leaves some of the world’s most abject behind. For the people of  Toubul, the dam brought electricity but took away their food security.

It’s a trade off that not all are willing to make.

Photo Credit: Gary Brown

**Huascar Robles is a journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Puerto Rico, and an op-ed columnist for El Nuevo Día.

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