THE ENVIRONMENTALIST group Loire Vivante is creating waves in France. Following its five-year-long protest movement, the French government has decided to shelve a controversial dam project on the Loire, the country's longest river.
For more than a century, government planners have endeavoured to harness the Loire. The scheme for the project at Serra de la Fare in the Haute Loire prefecture was drawn up in 1980 by Jean Royer, mayor of Tours, after eight people died because of flooding. The L2 billion project was wholeheartedly supported by mayors from both the Right and the Left, who viewed it as a way of Four successive governments tried in vain to convince the conservationists that the dam was essential for controlling floods. But the environmentalists suspected that the real motive of the government was to provide a constant supply of water to the four nuclear power stations in the river basin, where the Loire often diminishes to a trickle in summer. Under the leadership of Loire Vivante, they mobilised conservation organisations all over Europe.
The activists camped on the site in a narrow gorge, doggedly waving their banner of rebellion. They were backed by the Duke of Edinburgh, the president of the World Wide Fund for Nature. His intervention has reportedly brought about the postponement, till 1998, of another smaller dam nearby. Two other dams of the same project will be abandoned. And while two small schemes have been given the go-ahead, opponents say their effect will not be significant.
Roberto Epple, the head of Loire Vivante, can barely suppress his excitement. "The government has accepted that assuring the safety of the people living alongside the river can be achieved by other means," he told a British newspaper. The activists, however, do not plan to rest until all the land compulsorily bought from 35 owners is returned.