The war against poverty is threatened by friendly fire. A swarm of media-savvy Western activists has descended upon aid agencies, staging protests to block projects that allegedly exploit the developing world. The protests serve professional agitators by keeping their pet causes in the headlines. But they do not always serve the millions of people who live without clean water or electricity.
He takes the case of a dam that is being built in Uganda on Nile river:
The International Rivers Network, based in Berkeley, California, maintained that the Ugandan environmental movement was outraged at the likely damage to waterfalls at the site, and that the poor who lived there would be uprooted from their land for the sake of electricity they couldn’t afford. It was surely a clash that went to the heart of the globalization struggle. Was the NGO movement acting as a civilized check on industrialization, standing up for millions of poor people whose views the World Bank ignored? Or was it retarding the battle against poverty by withholding electricity that would fuel economic growth, ultimately benefiting poor citizens?
He interviews the poor who the NGO claims are getting exploited:
My next move was to visit Bujagali. I met up with a Ugandan sociologist who knew the region well and promised to translate for me. She stopped at a cluster of buildings on the edge of the dam site to check in with the local government representative who, far from threatening to call the cops, greeted us cheerfully. For the next three hours, we interviewed villager after villager and found the same story: The “dam people” had come and promised generous financial terms, and the villagers were happy to accept them and relocate. My sociologist companion said we might have sample bias because we were interviewing men, who might value cash more than the land that women tended. So we interviewed some women, who offered the same pro-project line. The only people who objected to the dam were those living just outside its perimeter. They were angry because the project would not affect them, meaning no generous payout.
The story sounds familiar! Publicity hungry people like Arundhati Roy might have damaged the cause of fighting poverty by obstructing projects like Narmada dam.