Large dams are destroying rivers and the communities that depend on them. To provide easily accessible and free information about dams around the world, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is launching a new feature on its web site today, profiling 50 controversial dams. The website features “clickable” maps and descriptions of 50 projects that illustrate the scope, geographic distribution, and issues surrounding dam projects.
There are an estimated 800,000 small dams, 40,000 large dams, and more than 300 major dams worldwide. These dams have global impacts, including the widespread loss of wetlands, the decline of fish stocks, and the forced resettlement of tens of millions of people.
“US taxpayer dollars help support the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other public international financial institutions which finance destructive dams,” said Deborah Moore, an EDF senior scientist and a member of the newly formed World Commission on Dams. “More than $200 billion is tied up in the 50 dams featured on the EDF website, alone. The taxpayers’ share — as well as private shareholders’ investments — could be better spent on sustainable, community-based alternatives.”
In the last several months, there has been growing opposition to dams proposed in many areas of the world: thousands of villagers succeeded in halting construction on the Maheshwar Dam in India; poor communities in South Africa are filing a claim against the Lesotho Highlands Water Project; and questions continue to be raised about the world’s largest dam under construction, the Three Gorges Dam in China. At the same time more dams are being proposed, fueling the flames of controversy: 57 new or enlarged dams in California; 16 or more dams in Brazil’s Amazon River Basin; and numerous dams in the Mekong River Basin and several across Africa.
“The public hears of a few, high profile dams and thinks primarily of the local consequences, but there are almost 850,000 dams worldwide. Nearly every river on Earth is affected. The new EDF website puts information about the world dam controversy at the public’s fingertips,” said Moore.
As opposition to large dams grows worldwide, the World Commission on Dams — an independent body established by the World Bank and World Conservation Union in February 1998 — is beginning a two-year process of evaluating the pros and cons of large dams and will make recommendations on alternatives by 2000. The Commission, made up of hydro-engineers, environmental and social justice activists, civil servants, and academics, will evaluate the costs, benefits, and effectiveness of large dams worldwide, review alternatives, and make recommendations to the dam industry on policies and guidelines.