Refugees displaced by the Hirakud Dam in India. Photo via the PACS Programme
The construction of dams in Turkey has forced some 300,000 people from their homes. In China, the massive Three Gorges project alone has displaced more than a million. Residents of Sindh Province in India, at the downstream end of the Indus River basin, are moving upstream in search of water they say has been diverted by provinces to the north. Even the deadly conflicts in the Sahel region of Africa, which have created hundreds of thousands of refugees, seem to have been partly sparked by devastating drought conditions.
"People have migrated throughout history," says Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, a research fellow at the Australian National University. "But it's happening to such an extent now, you have to look at the causes."
The common thread in all these cases is water -- whether the lack of it, or the attempts to control it -- and the links between water, conflict, and migration were discussed and debated for almost nine hours today by panelists at the 5th World Water Forum, a triennial international gathering being held this week in Istanbul.
The way migration affects women in particular drew special attention, with Lahiri-Dutt noting that women are often left behind to lead households when men migrate to find work, and her colleague in the Gender and Water Alliance, Wasim Wagha, who works with indigenous populations in Pakistan, adding that rural women are often reduced to begging when forced to move to urban areas where their traditional skills do not have economic value.
Trading In Knowledge
But it's not just people who are migrating because of water problems, information is too -- and forum sessions addressing that topic left a listener feeling a bit more optimistic. "Sri Lanka has been sending delegations to Turkey since the time of [the Byzantine] Emperor Julian," Kusum Athukorala from NetWwater told a group assembled to hear about the role of women in irrigated agriculture. Today the two heavily agricultural countries are not trading in silks or precious metals, but in knowledge, as they try to upgrade their ancient water storage and transportation systems and get their underrepresented women more involved in decision-making about water use.
Representatives of places as far-flung as Jakarta and New Orleans, or Israel and Albuquerque, also came together to discuss shared challenges related to climate change, grouping not by nationality, ethnicity, or religious creed, but into areas "under threat from rising water and floods" or "under threat from drought" to brainstorm ways to engage the public and policy-makers, finance technological solutions, and build a sense of urgency about the fate that awaits their homes if nothing is done.
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