Lori Pottinger advocates for rural communities that are at risk of being displaced by dam construction. She says that residents are not always aware of the extent of cultural and lifestyle adjustments they will have to make — or the option of resisting development. “They’re giving their all, and then they’re getting nothing from these so-called development projects,” Pottinger says. “A lot of what we do is about the fairness, or lack thereof, in the way that these development projects take natural resources and share benefits.”
Pottinger, who joined International Rivers in 1995, is both a journalist and an activist. She edits International Rivers’ World Rivers Review, which is published quarterly and has more than 1,500 subscribers. But as the organization’s Africa campaigner, she also educates donors and governments about the hydrological impacts of dams, trying to influence perceptions of “what modern development means” — and how it affects communities, agriculture, and ecosystems. Pottinger says that the goal is for people to stand up to their leaders and say, “We are going to make sure that all of our losses are cataloged and that we are fully compensated for the things we are going to lose.”
Recently, she has shifted her focus toward the effects of climate change on rivers and dams. Damming can be dangerous when rivers dry up or when unpredictable flash flooding occurs. Pottinger says that, although International Rivers is based in California, the United States is not a model of proper dam development. Rather, the nation should be used as a bad example. “We need to leapfrog to better technologies and forge sustainable paths,” Pottinger says.
Lydia Belanger is an editorial intern for Circle of Blue. She studies journalism as an undergraduate at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.
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