Campaign Letters

November 2000 Campaign Letter, Part 2

November 14, 2000

A global list of dams that don’t work and can’t compete.

The Global Demise of Dams

Environmental opposition, economic pressures, and technical problems are forcing an end to the era of big dam building. Proposed dams are now being cancelled the world over in:  Australia, Austria, France, Hungary, Japan, Nepal, Norway, Malaysia, Sweden, Thailand, the United States, and here at home in Canada with the demise of James BayII.


  • Partly financed by the World Bank and CIDA, Ghana’s Akosombo dam flooded 8,500 km¬≤ of land, was crippled by drought in the 1980s and in 1994 low water levels behind the dam resulted in lengthy electricity black outs. The dam’s six turbines have long-failed despite several attempts by Canada’s GE Hydro and others to refit them. Twelve multinationals, including Canada’s Acres International, are facing allegations of “wrongfully, unlawfully and corruptly” making payments/transfers totalling almost $2-million to Masupha Sole, head of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project – a massive scheme to build five dams that would divert nearly half the Senqu River’s flow to South Africa. Acres International denies any wrongdoing. 
  • Canada and other donors are trying to revive Senegal’s failed Manantali irrigation dam as a 200-megawatt power project, with turbines supplied by Sulzer Canada and paid for by CIDA. One-third of Manantali’s output will go to Senelec, Senegal’s
    electric utility which is partly owned by Hydro-Québec.

South Asia

  • Due to technical problems, Pakistan’s Tarbela dam almost collapsed during the initial filling of its reservoir in the 1970s -repairs pushed the project’s estimated cost of $800-million to $1.5-billion. 
  • A World Commission on Dams study has revealed India’s poor track record for large dams, concluding that “costs are systematically underestimated and benefits exaggerated.” 
  • Built by SNC (now SNC-Lavalin), General Electric, and Acres International, the Chamera I has been under repair since it began operating in 1994. Among its problems: spillway gates that didn’t work, rockslides, cracks in the power-intake tunnel, and faulty turbines supplied by Alstom Canada.

Southeast Asia

  • Electricit√© de France, the world’s largest electric utility, and Transfield, Australia’s largest construction company, can’t find private-sector funding (despite World Bank guarantees) to pay for the $1.2-billion Nam Theun 2 dam in Lao PDR – nor can they find customers for the power it would produce.
  • In 1995, Acres International co-authored a study recommending 11 giant hydro dams be built on the lower Mekong River, displacing at least 60,000 people. Plans are indefinitely shelved due to environmental and financial concerns.
  • Hydro-Qu√©bec agrees to build Cambodia’s Kamchay dam but can’t find financing.
  • Ertan, China’s largest operating dam can’t sell almost two-thirds of its
    output or compete with local power-producing stations and has lost
    roughly $2.4-million a day since it began operating in 1998. 
  • Chinese scientists have appealed to Premier Zhu Rongji to delay filling the Three Gorges dam reservoir in 2003 to avoid resettlement chaos and disastrous flooding upstream. 
  • China’s Xiaolangdi dam on the Yellow River, built with more than a half- billion dollars from the World Bank, doesn’t have enough water to generate power. 
  • Abandoned in 1990 due to environmental opposition, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir revives the $6-billion Bakun dam project in 1993 but it collapses in financial ruin in 1997 forcing Malaysians to pay for the $250-million government
    bailout of the dam’s private developer.

North America

  • In 1999, leading dam-builder, Chicago’s Harza Engineering, is hired by the Chinese government to provide “quality control assurance” at Three Gorges after Premier Zhu Rongji sounds the alarm about corruption and shoddy construction practices. Harza announced this year it is moving into microturbines. 
  • A first in Canada: a large dam on B.C.’s Theodosia River will be demolished to help restore the West Coast salmon fishery. The British Columbia Rivers Heritage Board estimates that 300 dams should be removed because they are structurally
    unsafe, heavily laden with silt or offer little economic benefit compared to the ecological expense.

Central and South America

  • Financed by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, Guatemala’s Chixoy dam is sited on a geological fault and, as a result, has been redesigned three times. It was scheduled to begin operation in 1983, but “the damned thing wouldn’t work,” said one World Bank official – taking two years and $57-million to repair. In the early 1990s more leaks in the pressure tunnel were discovered; around $8-million a year is spent on structural maintenance. A
    confidential 1991 World Bank report called Chixoy “an unwise and uneconomic disaster.” 
  • Financed by the World Bank, the Inter- American Development Bank and Canada’s EDC, the Yacyret√° dam (Argentina, Paraguay) lost three turbines in 1998 after cracks appeared. In May, 1999, four turbines failed; the dam’soperator is seeking damages of $200,000 for each day the turbines are inactive. Yacyret√° is unable to service the repayments on its outstanding debt of $10.5-billion. 
  • Arguing against the 570-MW Ralco dam, the Chilean National Energy Department says that natural gas piped from Argentina to fuel high-efficiency power plants would be more reliable and economical than increasing Chile’s reliance on drought-prone hydro dams. 
  • In Brazil, the National Movement of People Affected by Dams is demanding that no licences be given for new dams until compensation is made for damages caused to people forcibly moved by dams.


  • The Swedish government declared a moratorium on dam building in 1987. Swiss-Swedish company, Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) exits dam building in 2000 for small-scale and renewable generating technologies. 
  • Kvaerner of Norway, one of the world’s leading suppliers of turbines in the 1980s and early 1990s, won 90% of all international tenders for turbines in 1993. By 1998, Kvaerner was bankrupt. It was later bought by Canada’s GE Hydro for the
    fire sale rate of $72-million. 

    NOTE: All figures in U.S. dollars

Categories: Campaign Letters

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s