A Timeline of Protecting Rivers and Rights

International Rivers was founded in 1985 by people working for social and environmental justice. We work to address destructive dams and their legacies in over 60 countries. This timeline illustrates key moments in the movement to protect rivers from destructive dams.


First international anti-dam protests disrupt a meeting of the International Commission on Large Dams in Switzerland.

International Dams Newsletter – the first journal to document impacts of dams around the world – is created by diverse group of environmental and human rights groups. Results in formation of International Rivers Network (IRN).


US Congress passes an act requiring local cost-sharing and greater economic accountability for all federal dams, essentially halting all new major dams.


Swedish parliament outlaws dam building on most of the nation's last free-flowing rivers.

International Dams Newsletter becomes World Rivers Review.


IRN organizes international conference of dam activists from 26 countries in San Francisco. The group draws up the San Francisco Declaration, which sets guidelines to be followed in deciding on dam projects.


Massive public pressure forces Hungarian parliament to abandon Nagymaros Dam and suspend work on Gabcikovo Dam.

Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada) is formed.

A proposal for a series of six hydroelectric dams on the Xingu River within Kayapo territory threatens to devastate their way of life. A mass rally in Altamira draws the eyes of the world to the threat they face. The World Bank is pressured into denying the loan that would fund the dams.


Protesters take over Brazilian public power offices for nearly a month, demanding solutions to problems caused by Tucuruí Dam. The Movement of Dam-Affected People (MAB) is formed in Brazil. 

For the first time in its history, the World Bank Executive Directors meet with people who would be affected by one of its dams, Pak Mun in Thailand. The World Bank approves the project anyway. Villagers continue to protest against the dam and for compensation.

First home base: 1847 Berkeley Way.


Calling the project "outdated and overly expensive," US Bureau of Reclamation pulls out of Three Gorges Dam, for which it was contracted to offer technical support.

The World Bank withdraws from the Sardar Sarovar Project in India after independent review confirms serious problems first described by NGOs.


On the 50th anniversary of the World Bank, NGOs present Bank president, Lewis Preston, with the Manibeli Declaration, calling for a moratorium on World Bank funding for large dams around the world. It is signed by 326 groups from 44 nations.

Daniel Beard, head of US Bureau of Reclamation, proclaims: "The dam-building era in the United States is now over."


World Bank cancels Arun III Dam in Nepal after NGOs had filed a pre-emptive claim against the project with the Bank's Inspection Panel.

A proposed series of dams on the mainstream of the Mekong River is scrapped due to opposition from civil society, including IRN.

Research reveals that tropical reservoirs can contribute more greenhouse gases than fossil-fuel burning plants.


10,000 hectares of riverine forest on the Rhine, near the site of the canceled Hainburg Dam in Austria, becomes a national park. This protects the last large area of ecologically intact middle European riverine forest. European environmentalists also defeat plans to build a series of dams on the Elbe River.

“Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams” is published. It is eventually translated into Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, and Farsi.

International Rivers Network goes online at www.irn.org.


Slovakian activists defeat a proposed water-supply dam by lobbying for an alternative plan of small-scale water harvesting and conservation.

First International Meeting of People Affected by Dams is held in Curitiba, Brazil.

Latin American office established in Brazil.


The world gains 2,100 megawatts of new wind power, an all-time record. Wind power is now the world's fastest growing energy source.

The First International Day of Action against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life results in 50 actions in 24 countries.

With support from the World Bank and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the independent World Commission on Dams (WCD) is created in May 1998. 


Thai villagers occupy Pak Mun Dam site for 14 months to demand compensation for lost fisheries. 

"Rally for the Valley" brings thousands together to march in opposition to dams in India's Narmada Valley.

IRN establishes first Africa office in Botswana.


The Lesotho high court launches the most public exposé of corruption in the dam-building industry by launching cases against a number of multinational companies accused of bribery on the massive Lesotho Highlands Water Project

Hidrovia (industrial waterway) for the Parana River in Argentina is scrapped due to campaign efforts by the Rios Vivos coalition (with support from IRN). The Hidrovia threatens the world's largest wetland, the Pantanal. 

The WCD completes its two-year long survey of 1,000 dams in 79 countries. It concludes that while "dams have made an important and significant contribution to human development . . . . in too many cases, an unacceptable and often unnecessary price has been paid to secure those benefits."


European countries withdraw from the controversial Ilisu Dam, proposed for the Kurdish region of Turkey.


Rivers for Life: the 2nd International Meeting of Dam-Affected People and their Allies. Sponsored by IRN, 300+ people from 62 countries meet in Rasi Salai, Thailand.


After three years of high-visibility campaigning by NGOs, Spain shelves plans to build 120 dams on the Ebro River.

Premier Wen Jiabao announces suspension of 13 dams on the Nu River in China, following criticisms raised by Chinese scientists and activists.

The Guatemalan government agrees to reparations talks with those harmed by Chixoy Dam.

The EU Linking Directive, under the Kyoto Protocol, is adopted by the European Union. It states that Certified Emission Reductions from large hydro projects can only be used in the EU Trading Scheme if the projects meet World Commission on Dams standards.


While IRN was unsuccessful in stopping World Bank support for the Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project in Laos, our decade-long campaign was successful in increasing the number of villagers eligible for compensation by at least 35,000, and increasing the funds provided for a downstream compensation program by at least $15 million.


hydrological analysis commissioned by IRN pushes regional governments to recognize that excess releases from dams are a major reason for the rapid shrinking of Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest freshwater lake. 

In December, the President of China Exim Bank meets with International Rivers Network and agrees to share his bank's environmental policy with civil society.

First Dams, Rivers, People Report (“Spreading Water Wealth”).

IRN’s Bangkok regional office is established.


International Rivers Network "rebrands" and becomes International Rivers; a revamped website www.internationalrivers.org is launched.

International Rivers begins work exposing the fraudulent carbon trading system known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).


"Bad deal for planet" is published amidst growing concern about Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Our research helps push the UN to tighten carbon offset criteria for project developers and consultants.

The historic Xingu Encounter marks the largest gathering of indigenous people in the Amazon since 1989. 


Save the Mekong Coalition is formed to fight dams proposed for the Mekong mainstream river.

The Chinese version of World Rivers Review is launched.

International Rivers moves to the David Brower Center.


International Rivers Celebrates 25 years

Rivers for Life 3: the 3rd International Meeting of Dam-Affected People and their Allies is held in Temacapulin, Mexico.

The Pakitzapango Dam in Peru is stopped through a legal action presented by the Central Ashaninka del Rio Ene (CARE).

International Rivers' India regional office is established.



Burma's president suspends construction of the controversial and Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam.

Activists in Northeast India block the delivery of turbines to the Lower Subansiri Dam.

The European Parliament passes a resolution urging the World Bank to stay out of investing in large dams.

A River Runs Through UsInternational Rivers' documentary on the global movement of  river defenders, is launched in seven film festivals.

International Rivers' South Africa regional office is established.



After nearly 10 years of campaigning, La Parota Dam in Mexico is cancelled.

In Brazil, the Xingu+23 encounter, held right before Rio+20, occupies the Belo Monte site. A High Court suspends the Belo Monte Dam. 

SAVE Rivers coalition is formed in Malaysia.

Activists protest green-washing of dams at the World Water Forum in Marseille, France.

International Rivers launches an influential report on the hydrological risks to hydropower dams on the Zambezi River.

International Rivers redesigns its website.



In a major victory for the "Save Hasankeyf – Stop Ilisu!" campaign, the Turkish State Council rules that the controversial Ilisu Dam should be halted immediately. 

Cambodia, Vietnam, and donors challenge Laos over its construction of the Xayaburi Dam.