Posted by: ecodestination | March 30, 2009

Grassroots uprising suspends Tokyo dam project

Fishing in the Kawabe River

Fishing in the Kawabe River

The Construction Ministry in Tokyo wants to build a dam on the Kawabe River in southern Japan, and everyone seems to be against it. At least for now, the dissenters are winning.

Environmentalists, farmers, and fishermen and women are objecting to the project on various grounds. Environmentalists are worried that a dam will damage the scenic gorges. Farmers assert they do not need irrigation water from the reservoir. Commercial fishermen and women are worried fish would swim elsewhere if the river torrents become blocked by the dam. Not to mention that half a dozen small villages had already been relocated for the future building of the damn dam. And what for? Purportedly, for irrigation (which farmers tell us they don’t need) and flood control (which dams have a bad reputation for preventing in Hitoyoshi).

And so these people got together and set up a petition opposing the $3.6 million project. They got 34,000 signatures, half of the residents in the city of Hitoyoshi.

Last September, this group gained the support of the governor of the Kumamoto prefecture, Ikuo Kabashima. Kabashima then requested that Tokyo suspend the dam’s construction (which, again, hadn’t yet begun). Tokyo consented. Thank goodness.

This is a big deal because usually local governors are essentially ignored by Japan’s central government, which gets to decide what happens all over the country despite what the locals might want. Kabashima stood up to the central government both because he empathizes with the plight of the locals, and because he thinks the central government exercises too much power in these situations.

This phenomenon spawned others (yay!). Other regional governments throughout Japan spoke up against plans to build dams in their prefectures. In November, four prefectural governments in the western Kensai region asked to have the dam project cancelled. Last month, the governor of the Niigata prefecture said he would not help finance a new bullet train line and the governor of Osaka refused to pay for a new bridge to an airport.

Now, some of these oppositions are due to the global economic crisis-budgets are limited. Regardless, this gradual deconstruction of the central government tyranny is something to be both noted and celebrated.

And there’s more: the Liberal Democratic Party is drawing up a bill to turn Japan’s 47 prefectures into 9-13 entities with enough power to balance out the central government’s. This may not happen anytime soon, though, as Prime Minister Taro Aso, who proposed the bill, is not very popular right now. But many are standing up to Japan’s central government, so something substantial is absolutely taking place, bill or no bill.

Read more.

Goes to show what grassroots power can do.

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