Just as India resumed construction on a hotly contested giant dam on the Narmada River, the World Commission on Dams has issued a report saying that, for the most part, the costs of the 45,000 large dams that now operate around the world have outweighed their benefits.
The commission, sponsored by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union, released its report last month in London after 2 years of work. Although dams are major suppliers of electricity and irrigation water, the benefits "in too many cases" have been gained at "an unacceptable and often unnecessary price," said the group, headed by South African education minister Kader Asmal.
Dams have degraded and fragmented 60% of the world's waterways, displaced 40 million to 80 million people, and led to "the irreversible loss of species, populations and ecosystems," according to the report. It adds that efforts to mitigate impacts on wildlife have almost invariably been half-hearted and ill-informed. The report also notes that hydropower is not necessarily cleaner than fossil fuels, citing recent evidence of carbon emissions from rotting vegetation in reservoirs. No dam should be built without the consent of the people affected, it concludes.
Dam critics, such as the International Rivers Network of Berkeley, California, called on funding agencies to put a moratorium on the support of dam-building until they have adopted the commission's recommendations. The German government has already announced that it will incorporate the report into future dam guidelines. World Bank president James Wolfensohn applauded the report--noting that the bank is currently funding less than 1% of dam projects worldwide, down from 3% in the 1970s--but won't make a formal decision on incorporating the recommendations until February.