Since the year 2000, massive river development projects are on the rise from previous decades. These contemporary projects are affecting millions of people, thousands of unique ecosystems; and in many cases, displacing whole communities and cultures in the quest for modern resources/energy. Though the story of dispacing rural and poor communities to make room for progress is not a new one, the scale of these river projects is much larger than what we have seen before.
Some of these communities will never be seen again as they are now. The cultural, traditional, and ecological knowledge will be gone forever. Some of these ecosystems, once underwater, will become locally or generally extinct. And in many places, neither the people nor the ecosystems have been recorded. Scientists are struggling to capture the change as it is happening.
Beginning in 2002, I began asking questions about accessibility to, and quality and quantity of, water resources in communities across country borders. The questions I ask center around water security, a term that refers to dependent economic, social, cultural, political, and environmental systems connected to rivers. Secure water resources allow for sustainable use, continuity of livelihoods, ecosystems, and traditional uses of water resources. This requires cooperation between water users.
Increasingly, competitive uses of water are eliminating water-use by some of the most marginalized and vulnerable global communities - biodiverse ecosystems, subsistence communities, traditional communities, indigenous communities. Often these communities lack political or economic voice. I have observed major change in the Nile River in Ethiopia, the Mekong River in Laos, PDR, and, most recently, the Mara River in Tanzania. These rivers cross international borders, creating further complexity to harmonizing water resources use. My scientific work in publications and presentations promotes discourse about water conflict and cooperation, the importance of understanding costs and benefits at different scales of time and space. Portraits from Rivers of Change project is designed to raise awareness through visual story-telling about the most vulnerable river communities before they are irreversibly lost.
I hope these pages can serve as a both a resource for those interested in water security in the Nile and Mekong river basins as well as a draw attention to river communities who are fast disappearing all over the world. These communities are casualties of development, global climate changes, economics, and politics.