2015: The Year in Review

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Last year was a turbulent year for rivers around the world. 

After a decade of declines in dam building, the hydropower industry has roared back to life with an unprecedented number of dams proposed or under construction.

The magical Mekong River.

The magical Mekong River.
International Rivers

The industry is eyeing the world’s great rivers – including the Mekong, the Amazon and the Congo – and global financial institutions, including the World Bank, are behind them. Sound daunting? 


The industry is claiming dams are a source of clean energy for a world trying to wean itself off of fossil fuels. (They’re not; more on that later.) Furthermore, dams need predictable rainfall and streamflow, yet severe floods and droughts are arriving with increasing frequency. In some places, hydroelectric dams have had to drastically reduce electrical output because of extreme droughttowns and villages are contending with flood levels rarely seen

As the climate grows more chaotic, we need functioning rivers more than ever. 

What’s a functioning river? One that can filter and distribute water, nurture cropland, provide drinking water, support fish species, and sequester carbon, all just by, well, flowing. Rivers are the sometimes invisible arteries of our planet, and all species – including humans – need them to work. 

The good news is that some of the world’s most active dam-builders started to listen in 2015. And there are more signs of hopeHere are some exhilarating rapids (and a few reversals) we faced in 2015: 

Chixoy Dam survivors in Guatemala.

Chixoy Dam survivors in Guatemala.
James Rodriguez


  • We travel to Ecuador to identify partners and priority projects. With partners, we agree to prioritize the protection of Cordillera del Condor, a relatively untouched area of high biodiversity.


  • Villagers along Cambodia’s Areng River breathe a sigh of relief as the Cambodian government, thanks to pressure from our network, delays the planned Stung Cheay Areng Dam. And the 30+ endangered species that live there? They’re pretty glad, too.
  • After analyzing Landsat images, we conclude that the Ethiopian government is filling the reservoir of the Gibe III Dam on the Omo River in Ethiopia, a tragedy we’ve fought to prevent. We break the news to international media.
Rivers are in our hands.

Rivers are in our hands.
International Rivers


  • Success! China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection blocks the construction of the Xiaonanhai Dam on the Yangtze River. The win has big implications for China’s other threatened rivers; we provided technical support and publicity to this fight for years. 


  • Ethiopian villagers come to the center of power: We bring a delegation of two female, indigenous Hamer community leaders from Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley to discuss Gibe III with congressional and government officials in Washington DC.
  • The World Bank says it will return to building dams after a decade-long hiatus caused by our successful pressure, but we’re ready. We initiate regular strategy calls with other NGOs and launch a series of briefing papers called Lessons Not Learned that rebut Bank claims that dams are clean and green.
  • Indigenous groups unite! At an Amazon workshop we co-organize, four indigenous groups – the Munduruku, Kayabi, Apiaka and Ribatska – join forces in an unprecedented alliance to defend their rights against dams proposed for the Teles Pires River in Brazil.
A street scene in Bhutan.

A street scene in Bhutan.
On the Road to Dochula


  • The Brazilian Senate introduces a groundbreaking bill, based on advice from our Brazilian campaigner and partners, to ensure transparency and effective socio-environmental safeguards in all Brazilian National Development Bank operations.
  • We meet with Bhutan government officials, who assure us they will not consider any more hydropower projects that result in intra-basin or inter-basin water transfers.


  • Public launch of the China team’s Benchmarking Report, which ranks the policies and practices of China’s overseas dam builders. It was an unprecedented effort which brought companies, government and dam-affected people to the table. As a result of the report, HydroLancang invites our China and Southeast Asia directors to discuss the proposed Lower Sesan 2 Dam in Beijing, as well as visit the project site and make further recommendations.
Community elder, Baram River.

Community elder, Baram River.
International Rivers


  • Success! Sarawak’s Chief Minister Adenan places a moratorium on Baram Dam and agrees to listen to villagers’ concerns, thanks to a long campaign and the villagers’ two-year occupation of the dam site. Activists greet the move with cautious optimism.