The day after the Indonesian government began to fill the lake behind its new Jatigede dam, Apong sat by the graves of her mother, father and infant son, wondering what to do.
Her village of Pada Jaya and its cemetery will soon be at the bottom of the reservoir and she can’t afford to exhume the bodies and rebury them.
“I can’t just leave them here,” she said in the shade of a weeping fig tree, surrounded by eerie holes of exhumed corpses. “But I have a lot of family members to support, no land to move to and no money.”
In the nearby village of Jemah, one of the first that will be flooded, the power supply had been suddenly disconnected and locals were busy dismantling their houses and stacking the materials ready to transport to a new site.
In one home, Kesmawati said she hadn’t received any of the 29 million rupiah ($1,970) promised in compensation for her house and plot of land. The field alone, smaller than a tennis court, would cost about 20 million rupiah to replace.
“Of course it’s not enough, but what can we do?” she said, sitting with her 76 year-old mother, Juriah. “Money can’t replace my life here. People helped each other out. Now it’s just memories.”
Developing nations are in the middle of the biggest dam construction program in history to generate power, irrigate fields, store water and regulate flooding. Yet governments are finding it harder to move people, who have become less trusting of officials and more connected to information about the effects of the dams. Corruption and wrangles over payments have stalled projects from Indonesia to India for decades and frustrated governments are increasingly turning to the ultimate threat: Move, or we will flood you out.
Jatigede is the latest example, and it is unlikely to be the last. Indonesia plans to build 65 dams in the next 4 years, 16 of which are under construction. India aims to erect about 230. China, is in the middle of a program to add at least 130 on rivers in the mountainous southwest and Tibetan plateau, including barriers across major rivers like the Mekong and Brahmaputra that flow into other countries. It is reported to have relocated people before inundating land.
Like Jatigede, many are financed by Chinese banks and led by the nation’s biggest dam builder, Sinohydro Corp. China is involved in constructing some 330 dams in 74 different countries, according to environmental lobbying group International Rivers, based in Berkeley, California.
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