Project to Advocate More Consensus on Large Hydro Dams

An international conservation group has launched a project to promote changes to the installation of hydroelectric dams around the world.

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, ZA, 2001-11-26 [] Last November, the World Commission on Dams released a report that provides a framework for improved decision-making for energy and water development. Support for the study was due to the fact that WCD had discussed the issue from both sides of the debate, including governments, affected people, scientific networks and the private sector, to develop the recommendations. Dams provide energy and water for many people around the world, but they have caused environmental damage and displaced 40 to 80 million people, reports the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Last decade, US$40 billion a year was spent to construct dams, and there currently are 1,700 dams under construction, 500 of which are in Brazil and 700 in India. The ICUN has launched a Dams Development Project that will last two years, and will support widespread dissemination of the report and regional discussion on the issues. It will also strengthen interaction and networking among participants in the dams debate, and facilitate the flow of information concerning initiatives taken by individual or groups of stakeholders. IUCN was one of the founders of the WCD in 1997. “Financiers, builders and planners must work with the WCD report,” says ICUN’s Achim Steiner. “Especially the World Bank can do more on sustainable energy and infrastructure development.” The WCD emphasized that its report was not a final verdict on dams, but a new framework to improve decision making. Since it was released one year ago, discussions have been more constructive, say officials. “IUCN recognises that dams will remain an important option to meet growing development needs, especially where the benefits outweigh social and environmental costs,” says a IUCN position paper. “The report provides an excellent ‘roadmap’ from the present, often unsatisfactory, process to a more equitable and sustainable one. The report assists in the planning, construction and operations of water and energy infrastructures, including dams.” “Dams have made an important and significant contribution to human development, and the benefits derived from them have been considerable,” concludes the WCD report. “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.” “Lack of equity in the distribution of benefits has called into question the value of many dams in meeting water and energy development needs when compared with the alternatives,” it notes. “Negotiating outcomes will greatly improve the development effectiveness of water and energy projects by eliminating unfavourable projects at an early stage, and by offering as a choice only those options that key stakeholders agree represent the best ones to meet the needs in question.” During the last century, large dams emerged as one of the most significant and visible tools for the management of water resources. There are 45,000 large dams around the world. Thirty to 40 percent of irrigated land around the world relies on dams and dams generate 19 percent of world electricity. In the 1970s, two or three large dams were commissioned each day somewhere in the world, on average. Total investment in large dams is estimated at US$2 trillion. “Given the large capital investment in large dams, the Commission was disturbed to find that substantive evaluations of completed projects are few in number, narrow in scope, poorly integrated across impact categories and scales, and inadequately linked to decisions on operations,” notes the report. Large dams perform below targets for power generation, and demonstrate a number of notable under-performers. “Since the environmental and social costs of large dams have been poorly accounted for in economic terms, the true profitability of these schemes remains elusive,” it concludes.

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