By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
BAGUIO CITY– Rehabilitating the Ambuklao Dam in Bokod, Benguet will not mitigate the effects of climate change, contrary to what the SN Power Aboitiz is saying, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) here said in a statement.
SN Power Aboitiz in their launching of the recommissioned Ambuklao dam recently told the media and the community that the rehabilitation will greatly help in mitigating the effects of climate change as the energy it will generate is clean and renewable. But Santos Mero, deputy secretary-general of CPA, said in an interview that the building of dams and re-opening of decommissioned dams are “false mitigation programs” in response to said global crisis.
“Does the mitigation of climate change mean submerging communities and taking away the people’s source of livelihood?” he asked. He recalled the experiences of the Cordillera people with Binga and Ambuklao dams of Benguet, which forced his family and their fellow Ibalois to relocate on their own because their lands were submerged in building the dams. He said their families find it difficult to adapt to the ways of life in “foreign lands.”
“The two dams symbolize the government’s ancestral land grabbing that victimizes the Ibaloi’s,” he said.
Mero charged that this supposed response to climate change is profit-driven, as he noted that Norway, the partner of SNAP in rehabilitating Ambuklao, has invested millions of money to fund renewable energy plants as their payment for their failure to cut carbon emissions as required by the Kyoto Protocol.
These energy plants like dams, Mero said, are supposed to be built in Third World countries which, he stressed, are the most vulnerable to the effects of Climate Change. In return, Norway stands to gain big time from its dam investment. Instead of cutting their carbon emissions which Mero said is the best way to solve the crisis, the First world counties are taking advantage by “carbon trading” to earn more profit.
The question of sustainability
Mero also questioned the sustainability of hydro-electric power plant. The company (Aboitiz) has only only rehabilitated the powerhouse so the dam can be operational, but the dam itself has not been rehabilitated. “The siltation in the dam thus remains,” Mero said. He attributed it to the erosion of mountain soil and its serving as catch basin of mine tailings.
Given the growing number of mining applications in Benguet, the plant will eventually be given up because of heavy siltation, said Mero. It was in fact one of the reasons why it was decommissioned in 1999 in the first place. The National Power Corporation reported that it can hardly afford its maintenance.
Plus, given the frequent disasters occurring in the country, Mero pointed out that there is always danger of the dam collapsing, considering that it is already very old. Mero even called it as a “sleeping monster” that would cause more disasters when woken up. Anything bad that can happen in the future as a result of recommissioning the Ambuklao dam will only add to the history of despair of the people of Bokod, Mero said.
Because of all of these, Mero concluded that dams are no solution to climate change. “While it is true according to science that it is a clean and renewable source of energy, there are plenty of alternatives that are assuredly more sustainable, like wind mills, solar and others,” he said.
At the inauguration of Ambuklao dam in Bokod on October 27, Rep. Ronald Cosalan challenged SNAP about the sustainability of the dam. He emphasized that the said dam has a history of pride and despair of the people of Bokod. He said he hoped the people’s experience with the rehabilitated dam will be more pleasant.
He also told the people that the entry of the company is only for the power plant. “We are still the host community, we still own the river, and the spillway and SNAP is our guest,” he said.
Global opposition to dams
There are opposition to dams even in the international arena, Mero noted. He cited the International Rivers Network based in the United States and working to protect rivers and communities. The said network opposes the construction of new dams and it has been urging for the decommissioning of existing dams.
“Rivers are vital to sustaining life on earth. We seek a world where healthy rivers and the rights of local communities are valued and protected. We envision a world where water and energy needs are being met without degrading nature or increasing poverty, and where people have the right to participate in crafting decisions that would affect their lives,” said the the International Rivers’ vision in their website. The network also said that small-scale, decentralized and renewable energy projects are essential in meeting water and energy needs, alleviating poverty and protecting the planet.