Finance Ministry: Millions Again in 1997 for the Unnecessary Kawabe River Dam

The Kawabe River is the largest tributary of the Kuma River, one of the three Japanese rivers with the biggest rapids. These rivers are located in central Kyushu, the southernmost of the four main island of Japan. The Kuma had serious floods three years in a row, in 1963, 1964 and 1965. This was due to the clearing of trees in Japan during the postwar period of rapid economic growth. The Construction Ministry announced the Kawabe River Dam Project to control flooding in 1966. In 1968 they altered this plan to include irrigation channnels and hydroelectricity generation.

In December, 1996, the Japanese Finance Ministry appropriated almost 10 billon yen (about 90 million dollars), for construction of the 107.5m Kawabe River Dam for the 1997 fiscal year. This was even more than the amount requested by the Construction Ministry, the national agency resemsible for dam building and was granted despite strong protests by NGO groups and citizens. If the budget is passed in the Diet, the Construction Ministry will begin construction of the by-pass for the dam this May. This dam is expected to be completed between 2001 and 2007.

The Construction Ministry has already spent 113 billion yen (about 1 billion dollars) from 1969 to 1996 on ancillary costs, mainly the building of roads and bridges in the local area, clearing of land for new housing for displaced villagers, and compensation to residents for loss of their land. This amount already spent, which includes no costs for the construction of the dam itself, is equivalent to what the Construction Ministry estimated in 1987 as the cost of the dam project in its entirety. The Construction Ministry now says that the total cost of the dam project is "under consideration."

For 30 years, the residents of Itsuki village have been continuously fighting the Construction Ministry over the dam. The Construction Ministry has claimed residents' land which will be flooded as the reservoir fills and has forced residents to relocate.

Itsuki no Komoriuta --"The Lullaby of Itsuki Village"-- is famous all over Japan. This village will be flooded by the reservoir if the Kawabe River Dam is constructed. The story of the lullaby is about a girl who is too poor to live with her own family. She is employed as a nanny by a rich family and longs to go back to her own home and family. Soon, her "home" of Itsuki could disappear.

The land to be flooded has been given the designation of a "riverbed," meaning that all new construction and expansion of buildings is limited under River Law; even a gymnasium for Itsuki East Elementary School could not be built. Furthermore, the stabilization of the area's social foundation cannot be pursued now, as there has already been a great population exodus. Because of the declining population, even the village's very capacity for surviving into the future is put into danger. Thus, in 1990, the opposition to the dam was halted--at least on the surface--and people prepared to accept the dam and the extra money it would bring. At present, the village administration packed with officials with connections to the big engineering companies is cynically pushing for a "rennaissansong" (a combination of the words "renaissance," "sanson," meaning mountain village, and "song," referring to the famous lullaby) of the village through the construction of the dam. The gap between the village government making a "choice of last resort" and the will of the villagers is huge. There are in reality very few villagers who want the dam in the village.

Nowadays, the harmful effects of dams have become more widely known to people in Japan and, as a result, citizens' movements opposing dam construction have become stronger. Even people living in the areas downstream from the proposed Kawabe River dam site that would normally receive the most benefit from the dam, as well as people in other regions, have joined the chorus of voices to rethink the building of the dam. At present, there are 12 environmental NGOs and individual citizens raising their doubts about this dam.

The original purposes of the Kawabe River Dam Project are no longer valid. They were flood control, hydroelectricity and irrigation. However, these functions have been met by other solutions.

Flood control
Thanks to the completed flood control levees and the growth of new trees that had been planted, the possibility of flooding has decreased dramatically. In July, 1995, the kind of rain that the Construction Ministry said would flood the area if the dam were not built (440 millimeters of rain/2days) fell, but there was no flood. However, the completion of the Kawabe River Dam will raise the risk of a great flood due to the possibility of simultaneous discharge with the Ichifusa Dam, located on the upper part of the Kuma River.

There are four hydroelectric power generators in operation along the Kawabe River. With the completion of the Kawabe River Dam, each of these will be either covered under water or cease operations. The Kawabe River Dam generator that is to replace these generators will produce less electricity (16,500kw/sec.) than the four existing generators do at present (18,900kw/sec).

The Agriculture Ministry is promoting "The State-Run Comprehensive Kawabe River Reclamation Project," in which the water from the Kawabe River Dam reservoir will be used for irrigation. However, most farmers in this area have enough water for farming already, and do not need any additional irrigation facilities.

On June 23, 1996, 866 farmers who questioned the necessity of the "State-Run Comprehensive Kawabe River Reclamation Project" sued the Ministry of Agriculture.The Ministry of Agriculture had stated that the project was originally developed at the request of local farmers, and that in order to pursue the project, it had been necessary to gain the support of two-thirds of the farmers that would be affected by the project. However, during the process for gaining agreement from the farmers, various pressure tactics and deceptions were employed, resulting in the fact that in December, 1994, 1144 farmers filed an objection with the Minister of Agriculture. However, in March, 1996, the Ministry of Agriculture rejected this objection.

On top of the country's complicated agricultural subsidy policies, farmers suffer from the lack of profit resulting from the opening up of Japan's agricultural markets, from the aging of the farming population and from the lack of successors to carry on a family's farming activities. One can thus hear farmers who receive water saying "I have no confidence that I can make enough profit from the farming to cover the water fees" or "I don't want to continue farming if have to pay such high water fees."

In 1994, when there was a big dry spell, there was almost no harvest in the area where people were getting water from the Ichifusa Dam on the Kuma River. Despite this, there was a plentiful harvest in the area where farmers got their water from the Kawabe River which had no dam at all. Most of the farmers in this area are even at present receiving enough water to satisfy their needs.

The head of the Kyushu Agricultural Policy Bureau, Saburo Imori, said that "In our investigation, there were no problems in the way that agreement was secured from the farmers."

Dam/Estuary Deliberation Committee
The Kawabe River Dam Project Deliberation Committee was established in September 1995 by the Construction Ministry to "review the plan for the Kawabe River Dam." Of the 12 members of the committee, more than half were connected with the government and predisposed to support the project. The Construction Ministry took care to request the participation of the prefectural governor on the committee, as he was elected as a representative of the citizens. However, until the very end, the Ministry would not let ordinary citizens observe the proceedings, and did not respond to the more than 20 requests to do so that had been made by citizens. In addition, the voices of the many people downstream from the dam calling for a review of the project were not reflected at all in the composition of the committee. Further, in the debate concerning the necessity of dams for the purposes of flood control and irrigation, government statements were taken at face value, and it would be no exaggeration to say that the problems pointed out by ordinary citizens were silenced completely. The Deliberation Committee voted to continue the project on August 10, 1996.

Even though it was said that the Construction Ministry could not start construction of the Kawabe River Dam itself without receiving the agreement of the Kuma River Fishing Cooperative, the Construction Ministry is, in fact, starting construction without receiving this agreement.

Recently, the movements opposing dams are getting bigger and bigger all over Japan. There are many people who disagree with current dam projects throughout Japan. Yet there is much hope that the dam construction will be stopped, because the Japanese government is suffering from huge debt.

Citizens for Saving the Kawabe
Yoko Nishida@@E-mail