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Global: Infrastructure


by Katherine Fite

Dams are structures used for the impoundment of water and whose origins can be traced back to the Bronze age. Though dams can be formed by interventions of wildlife, most are though of as man made creations. Dams are used around the globe and serve a variety of different purposes. For one, dams can control flooding and drought patterns that affect a region. In addition, they are used for irrigation to agricultural land and can even generate power and electricity. Lastly, dams can be used to increase the domestic water supply and then store.

Although there are benefits to damming, there are some negative trade-offs. Damming can cause disruption in the surround ecological system and can be detrimental to biodiversity. Sedimentation can collect behind the damn and erosion can occur downstream, further contributing to environmental problems. But perhaps the greatest disadvantages arise from social issues; most notably the possibility of the displacement of populations and the threat of international conflict.

The displacement of indigenous people has long been a threat and concern during the construction of dams. In 1958, Egypt began construction on the Aswan Dam; a combination of both a high and low dam that would control flooding from the Nile that had long plagued the area’s environment and agriculture. The Nile, which provides water for more than 10 African countries; became a site of conflict. The dam caused flooding in Nubia, which lies in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Nearly 100,00 Sudanese and Nubian people were forced to displace and relocate. Today, the Egyptian government; despite the displacement of thousands of people, says that the Aswan Dam was a great success as it produces a large portion of Egypt’s electricity and benefits the country’s agricultural communities.

In most recent years, the Narmada Dam of India has become a hotspot of turmoil with the indigenous population. The Narmada Dam aimed to impound the Naramada River, in the hopes of providing the northern Indian districts with a greater water supply and electricity. However, the dam would flood more than 234 villages on the banks of the river. The Indian government offered the villagers two choices: move to unsustainable land more than 100 miles away or take a small amount of money as compensation. Both choices required the displacement of the people. In spite of protests, rallies, and hunger strikes; the Supreme Court of India issued a statement in 2000 stating that the benefits of the dam substantially outweighed the costs of environmental and social issues. Dam construction went forward as planned and it is set to be finished in 2014.

In addition to domestic disputes, it is common for international conflict to arise; especially when damming an international water source. The Ataturk Dam, completed in 1990, was plagued with such conflict. As part of the Southeastern Anatolia Development Project, Turkey sought to place 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers to alleviate the country’s electrical and agricultural needs. However, the Euphrates and Tigris also provide water to Syria and Iraq. The construction of the Ataturk Dam would mean that Syria and Iraq could stand to lose almost 80% of its original water supply from these two rivers. The dam’s completion has led Turkey to poor relations with Syria and Iraq and it remains a relevant issue today.

Though dams are beneficial to water supply, agriculture and economy; is it worth the internal and international conflicts that can arise.


1. Shiva, Vandana. Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution and Profit. Cambridge, MA: South End, 2002. Print. Pg. 74

2. Drowned Out. Dir. Franny Armstrong. Perf. Luharia Sonkaria. Spanner Films, 2002. DVD.

3. Shiva, Vandana. Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution and Profit. Cambridge, MA: South End, 2002. Print. Pg. 71

The Bridge to Nowhere

By Jason Zheng

When Americans imagine Congress passing a projected transportation budget of $398 million, we would assume that it is for appropriate measures. On the contrary, our tax money funded the Gravina Island Bridge located in Ketchikan, Alaska or controversially known as the “bridge to nowhere”.

House of Representative Don Young (R-AK), also the Chairman of the House of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, pushed his proposal of nearly $400 million to replace a 7-minute ferry ride from Ketchikan to Ketchikan Airport on Gravina Island.

To construct this “bridge to nowhere” it would cost a single Ketchikan Gateway Borough resident an average of $23, 649 for the bridge. The aim of this bridge is to connect Ketchikan, Alaska is a small town with 8,000 residents (about 13,000 if the entire county is included) with the Gravina Island—having the population of 50 people.

The construction of this infrastructure also impacts the marine life and the fishing economy in Ketchikan. Alaska is primarily known for its fishing industry, it generates 78,500 jobs in the Alaskan economy and nearly a $6 billion revenue on seafood.

It is baffling to support this cause, erecting a bridge as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge. This bridge may simulate economy in Ketchikan, Alaska, however it would also rob money from American taxpayers. The cost for a person traveling on Gravina Bridge would be $43, compared to ferry--$4.

In 2005, the “bridge to nowhere” project had been abandoned due to its controversial. This project has been labeled as an act of pork barreling, it relevancy shows in the previous 2008 presidential election. However, on March 2, 2011, House Resolution 662 (Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011) revamped the construction of the Gravina Bridge, but with a smaller price tag. The continuation of the construction follows section 3 of the resolution, citing that ferries and transportation projects are authorized in the Hawaii and Alaska.

Women, Water, and Infrastructure

By Jennifer Young

In the field of human development, women and water have grown to become inseparable yet highly contested issues. Scholars and scientists like Dr. Vandana Shiva, a scholar on environmental democracy and specialist on women’s rights and water democracy, claim that water is a universal human right and yet, not everyone has access to it. While men are the ones who control access to water, women are the ones who deal with water in their daily activities. She attributes privatization as the main cause of economic disparities between developing and developed countries. She blames organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for disabling women and other underrepresented groups from having equal access to water, a theory which has come to be know as water democracy (Shiva, 2002). Shiva hit the proverbial nail on the head in her article Empowering Women when she wrote, “We need to strengthen women’s role in agriculture both to remove hunger and empower women. We need to redefine development from women’s perspective to ensure that no one goes hungry or thirsty on this planet” (Shiva, 2004, pg. 3). Shiva has long posited that there exists plenty of information on the relationship between the role of women in water management and development.

Then there are those like the researchers Anne Cole and Tina Wallace of the perspective “there is a need to delve deeper into the gendered nature of water, and into the historical reality that gender has shaped water management over centuries, in order to understand what is required to successfully turn existing gender commitments into good practice and ensure that water systems meet the aspiration of ‘water for all’” (Coles and Wallace, 2005, p. 2). In their compilation of scholarly articles, Gender, Water, and Development, Wallace and Cole state in their introduction that “it remains relatively unclear what approaches help to promote positive change for women in different contexts; history and experience show, however, that achieving improvements in the status of women is a long-term process that will continue beyond the working lives of the present generation” (Coles and Wallace, 2005, p. 5).

Despite these differences in opinion, both camps recognize that to make the necessary progress required to improve women’s social status and reduce water scarcity means recognizing that water is a gendered issue and that women and water are inextricably tied. Development requires taking many different aspects of society into consideration. Gender, Water, and Development does just that by engaging representatives from different disciplines like sociology, history, engineering, geography, and anthropology; Cole and Wallace realize that development cannot be dealt with using only one approach. Their overall findings from the eleven other researchers whose studies they analyze show several themes, many of which align with those of Dr. Shiva. First, in many societies around the world there is social disparity between men and women, by which women have a lower status in society compared to men. Second, water policies have failed to take women into account for decades. Third, water scarcity most severely affects those in rural areas and those who have the least voice in society, in most cases, women. They claim that this is backwards because women are not just passive users of water but most often are the main providers and managers of water within their communities. Fourth, privatization is shown as a major factor in gender-water inequality. The final and most glaring conclusion is that community roles are accepted, making progress in gender development difficult. Women continue to be less powerful then men in most developing societies, disabling them from having access and management of water. As the researchers Caroline Thomas and Melvyn Reader state in their article Development and Inequality, “even supporters of the free-market model have ha to admit its failure to assist the world’s poor, and even its ability to erode development progress” (Reader and Thomas, 2005, p. 83). One of the main issues contributing to the plight of the world’s poor is the lack of women’s role in water management and serious progress could be made in many countries’ development status if more attention were given to this issue.

Works Cited

Coles, A. & Wallace T. (2005). Gender, water, and improvement. New York: Berg.

Reader, M. & Thomas, C. (2005). Development and Inequality. In Richard Little, Michael Smith & Brian White (Eds.), Issues in world politics (p. 78- 95). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Shiva, V. (2002). Empowering Women. Punjab: BBC World Publishing.

Shiva, V. (2004). Water wars: privatization, pollution, and profit. Cambridge, MA: South End.

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