Christopher Schulz participated in the Xth International Meeting of the Latin American Water Network (WATERLAT-GOBACIT), held at the University of Concepción, Chile in October 2019. He presented preliminary findings of the Cambridge Geography team* from their ongoing research on the legacies and impacts of the World Commission on Dams.

Read their blog and paper: Debating dams: The World Commission on Dams 20 years on

The conference reunited more than 250 researchers, practitioners, and stakeholders from the Latin American water sector. The conference theme was ‘Struggles over Water: Intersections of Class, Gender and Ethnicity’. It was an opportunity to exchange ideas with Latin America’s leading environmental and social scientists working on dams, water governance and beyond.

A noteworthy feature of the conference was the strong participation of non-academic partners; indigenous Mapuche were given the opportunity to recount their struggles for cultural autonomy, as well as land and water rights in a country where water resources have been fully privatised, and can be bought and sold just like land. Representatives from the state, utilities, and various other stakeholder groups were present, too, which made for lively debate.

Several special sessions on the planning, construction, and management of dams in Latin America were held. These highlighted the need for studying the impacts and management of smaller-scale dams, which have long been overlooked within the much older debate on large dams. In Brazil, for example, hydropower dams with a capacity of up to 30MW are subject to simplified regulatory procedures and financial incentives, which has led to a boom in the construction of small-scale hydropower dams.

Participation in a conference where several speakers had served time in prison for their environmental and social activism served as a powerful reminder of the serious nature of struggles around water infrastructure in the Global South. It suggests that excellent social and environmental research and public engagement is needed to help improve environmental planning and management, and to mitigate water-related conflict around the world.

* Christopher Schulz and Bill Adams

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