International Rivers (formerly the International Rivers Network or IRN) is a non-profit, non-governmental, environmental and human rights organization based in Berkeley, California. Founded in 1985 by a host of social and environmental activists, International Rivers works with a global network of policy and financial analysts, scientists, journalists, development specialists, local citizens and volunteers to address destructive dams and their legacies in over 60 countries.
In addition to the United States, International Rivers has staff in Cameroon, Thailand, Brazil and Germany. International Rivers staff has expertise in a broad range of issues and uses research, education and advocacy to achieve the organization’s mission.
International Rivers’ self-stated mission is to protect rivers and defend the rights of communities that depend on them, to actively oppose the unsustainable development model that dams perpetuate, and to promote viable solutions for meeting water, energy and flood-management needs. The organization is dedicated to empowering dam-affected people with the tools to participate in the process of development of local lands in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
By facilitating international grassroots organizing and informed participation, International Rivers seeks to change the terms of the debate over river development. The group works with its numerous partners to advocate for social reparations, ecological restoration and decommissioning of existing dams. Further, International Rivers states that they continuously work to remove the opacity from the top-down decision-making that traditionally surrounds large infrastructure projects. They also seek to block the hydropower industry from exploiting people’s concerns about climate change, and make clear that reservoirs often produce greenhouse gas emissions that further impact on the environment.
International Rivers has undertaken a two-pronged approach to analyzing and promoting viable water and energy solutions. Combining its efforts to change global policy with campaigning on specific key projects, International Rivers simultaneously addresses the root causes and localized consequences of destructive dam development. Their campaigns throughout Africa, China, Latin America, South Asia and Southeast Asia focus on the intersection of dams and climate change, reforming the policies and practices of international financial institutions, and promoting water and energy solutions that recognize human rights and environmental sustainability.
Among its accomplishments, International Rivers counts its integral involvement with the formation of the World Commission on Dams as one of its most important contributions. The commission was a global, multi-stakeholder body initiated in 1997 by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union, formed in response to growing opposition to dams. During its two-year lifetime, the WCD conducted the most exhaustive study of dams done to date, ultimately evaluating over 1,000 dams in 79 countries. In its published final report, the WCD concluded that although “dams have made an important and significant contribution to human development, and benefits derived from them have been considerable... in too many cases an unacceptable and often unnecessary price has been paid to secure those benefits, especially in social and environmental terms, by people displaced, by communities downstream, by taxpayers and by the natural environment.”
International Rivers is further proud of the role it has played in supporting dam-affected citizens around the world. Since the organization’s inception, worldwide construction of dams has decreased by half, and universal recognition of the consequences of hydropower continues to increase.
International Rivers publishes a quarterly journal, World Rivers Review, focused on addressing the state of various dams projects, ecosystems and people. They also publish an annual report on a variety of dam-related subjects. Both are typically available for free download from the organization's official website.