November 14, 2000
A letter to supporters: After 20 years of exposing the truth, the era of large dam-building is drawing to a close.
Dear Probe International Supporter:
After 20 years of fighting the environmental and financial destruction caused by hundreds of large dams around the world, the tide has turned. The era of large dam-building is drawing to a close. To be sure, some of the world’s worst dams like China’s Three Gorges project are under construction and proposals for new dams may yet get funding from unaccountable agencies like the World Bank and Canada’s Export Development Corporation (EDC). The good news is that most new dams are not getting off the drawing boards and many existing dams are being dismantled to let rivers run free, allowing river populations to rebuild their ecosystems and river economies.
The dam-building industry has seen the writing on the wall and is reorganizing some of the world’s largest dam builders are getting out of the business altogether. This monumental shift is thanks to people like you, who have kept the pressure on to expose the truth about dams, and the river populations themselves, who have never given up their struggle for justice.
- Dams are crippled by drought and technical problems.
Chile’s Pangue dam, financed by the World Bank and Canada’s EDC, has been losing revenue for the last three years because of water shortages. Thailand’s Mun River reverses its flow in the rainy season, preventing turbines from generating power at the World Bank-financed Pak Mun dam. Cracks have appeared in Vietnam’s largest dam, Hoa Binh, and its foundation is eroding. India’s Chamera dam, built in a geologically unstable area by Canadian engineers and financed by Canadian taxpayers to the tune of C$648-million, has encountered serious structural problems. The list goes on.
- Dams are too expensive.
Hydro dams generate power at an average cost of 6¬¢ to 8¬¢ per kilowatt hour, compared to 3¬¢ to 5¬¢ from alternative energy sources and small-scale power generation, such as high- efficiency micro-gas turbines and combined heat and power plants. These power sources are cheaper for consumers and more profitable for producers, which is why ABB, one of the world’s leading dam-builders, has stopped building large dams altogether. Such energy sources also eliminate the need for massive transmission lines that are both costly and vulnerable to flooding and other natural disasters. Experts argue that they will also greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Dams are plagued by corruption.
Multi-million- dollar dams, built by unaccountable governments shrouded in secrecy, make perfect incubators for corruption. In the tiny, landlocked southern african country of Lesotho, an enormously important bribery scandal is unfolding. There, 12 of the world’s largest dam-building companies, including Canada’s Acres International, are facing allegations that they paid a total of nearly US$2-million in bribes in a large hydro scheme to divert Lesotho water into South Africa. In China, Three Gorges officials have been found guilty of embezzling US$60-million in resettlement funds. Once called a “monument to corruption” by former Argentinean president Carlos Menem, the Yacyret√° dam bordering Argentina and Paraguay, has cost overruns of almost US$9-billion and is 10 years behind schedule.
- Dams are being challenged as never before.
Thanks to the demise of dictators, emerging democracies, and the rise of citizens’ movements, new dams are being stopped in the courts of law and public opinion and the owners of old dams are under pressure to pay for damages. The Ralco dam on Chile’s famed Biobi√≥ river has been stopped by three injunctions filed by environmentalists and indigenous people who claim preeminent rights to the river. In Thailand, dam-affected communities are compiling claims for uncompensated damages caused by dams over the past 30 years. Meanwhile, a United Nations Truth Commission into the massacre of 440 Guatemalan men, women, and children who refused to make way for the World Bank-funded Chixoy dam in the early 1980s, is helping to facilitate survivors’ claims for
compensation and rehabilitation.
- Dams are being dismantled.
Today, no dam, whether constructed or under construction, escapes the scrutiny of eco-economists who can prove that free-flowing rivers provide greater benefits than dammed ones. The U.S. was the first to realize it. In 1994, Daniel Beard, head of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the world’s most renowned dam-building institution, declared the United States’ dam-building era was over. Since then,
dozens of dams many of which destroyed valuable fisheries and exacerbated floods have been “decommissioned,” sometimes dynamited. Dozens more are slated for decommissioning. In an effort to restore the million- dollar fishery it destroyed, Thailand’s Cabinet has agreed to open the floodgates of the Pak Mun dam. Talk has begun about dismantling the six-year-old dam entirely.
This sorry dam-building chapter in human history is nearing an end, but will not be closed until Western governments stop funding these costly monoliths with publicly subsidized export credits and foreign aid, and stop granting monopoly powers to dam-builders and -owners so they can make captive customers pay for this expensive form of power.
Canada is the world’s very worst dam offender. Not only have our provincial governments given hydro monopolies such as Hydro-Qu√©bec and B.C. Hydro licence to flood native lands and other areas without due regard for the environment, economy, or those affected, the federal government then subsidizes these hydro monopolies and dam-building corporations to perpetuate their mistakes in Third World countries. In fact, Canadian governments have been such stalwart supporters of large hydro- dams that Canada has become a refuge for the obsolete big- dam industry. Three of the industry’s four biggest suppliers are based in Quebec, where they can access subsidies from both Quebec and federal taxpayers and government agencies such as EDC and CIDA. As a former
General Electric Canada executive told parliamentarians, without “our good friends at EDC, we certainly would not survive.”
Our work is not over. We must convince our governments to stop giving life-support to this outdated and high-priced technology. History and the facts are on our side. With your help we will continue to get these facts out, and support the challenges that citizens around the world are laying down before dam-builders. Please make a generous donation at this time, for the revival of rivers and their peoples.
Patricia Adams Executive Director
Categories: Campaign Letters