BERKELEY -- A nonprofit here that works worldwide to protect rivers and human rights threatened by dam projects was awarded a $750,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

International Rivers, which works in Africa, Asia and Latin America, was awarded the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions last week along with 12 other institutions in the U.S., India, Mexico, Ecuador and Kenya that received between $500,000 and $1.5 million.

To qualify for the awards, organizations must show exceptional creativity and effectiveness in their work, leadership, and strong financial management, according to the MacArthur Foundation, which grants the unsolicited awards.

"Dams have displaced up to 80 million people worldwide upstream and have affected half a billion more downstream by changes in water flow, water quality, fisheries, and by the destruction of floodplains and erosion," said Aviva Imhof, campaigns director for International Rivers.

Imhof said the organization, which started 28 years ago, has had recent success in stopping the construction of three dams in the Peruvian Amazon region and helped support groups in Burma that were able to put a stop to a dam project there.

She said the nonprofit was originally started by California activists who realized "dam building capacity in California was coming to a close and western dam builders were setting their sights on new markets in the developing world."

In addition to last week's award, International Rivers received over $1 million from the MacArthur Foundation between 2010 and 2013 in grants it applied for, according to the foundation's website.

Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.