Water is freedom: the Jato dam experience

Feb 27, 2015News


March for the building of the Jato dam. Ferdinando Scianna, 1962.

52 years ago, on the 27th February 1963, after tens of mobilisations by Danilo Dolci and his collaborators, the building works of a dam on the Jato River began.

After five years it was already largely completed and together with the Democratic Consortium who managed water it became one of the symbols of the fighting for the improvement of life conditions of the population in western Sicily and of the commitment against mafia impact on the territory.

Here it is how Franco Alasia, memorable collaborator of Danilo, described this path through an “ Annotation on Partinico Centre for Studies and Initiatives” dating back to 1973.

Annotation on Partinico’s Centre for Studies and Initiatives

   The Centre of Studies and Initiatives, established in 1958, came into being and started working focusing its attention on the real economic-social situation of Western Sicily, and the needs issued of it.

   In a first long period (from 1952 to 1956) Danilo Dolci and a small group of volunteer collaborators plunged into the most tragic reality of Sicily, sharing daily life with the most miserable slice of local population.

   In 1958, after having identified the key points for a pilot work in three homogeneous areas (Golfo di castellamare; an hilly area inwards; and a part of the South-western coast) four Centres for Studies and Initiatives were respectively implemented in Partinico, Corleone, Roccamena and Menfi, in which agricultural experts, social workers, educators and young volunteers worked and managed to work specifically in the field of organization, without replacing with local authorities responsibilities.

   The work was based on three wide valleys: Jato, Belice and Carboj. At that time, the possibility of using more than 180 millions of cubic meters on three rivers represented the fundamental solution for a safe launch of the social-economic development of the area. Continuing in that fashion, the initiative of Centre of Studies began, and through the years this is what it has been done:

  • The complete valorization of Carboj river waters, whose tank with a capacity of 36 million cubic meters water was already built in 1958 but nearly completely unused;
  • The construction of the dam on Jato river in Partinico, with a water reservoir capable of 72 million cubic meters water which in the summer of 1958, started off the irrigation of some of the 9.000 irrigable hectares;
  • Sounding, planning and building works of the dam on Belice, nearby Roccamena, in order to gather more than 70 millions of cubic meters water.


   In the field of working for the destruction of old mafia-nepotistic structures, conservative and parasitic, the ant mafia campaign of the Centre of Studies and Initiatives has to be seen: on one hand, if the thorough survey on mafia-politics relationships in western Sicily, played a fundamental education role as it promoted and pushed for consciousness raising and taking of responsibilities in the local population (bringing further to the opening of a trial in Rome against Danilo Dolci and Franco Alasia), on the other, it promoted public debate on how constituting political power in this area, laying bare dangerous and unhealthy situations, and it represented the political collapse of a ministry and of two undersecretaries colluded with delinquent local mafia.

Franco Alasia, 1973