Mekong Utility Watch

PRESS RELEASE: World Commission on Dams set to release final report tomorrow

November 15, 2000

Dam Builders Fear Tougher Guidelines, Fewer Subsidies, an End to Large Dams.

November 15, 2000 – International dam builders are bracing themselves for the release of a report expected to expose the poor environmental, social, and economic record of large dams, and prompt tougher social and environmental standards and lending criteria for future dam projects.

The report, “Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making,” to be released tomorrow, is the result of a two-year, $10-million initiative led by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union.

The WCD report is expected to criticize dam builders for past failures and recommend more rigorous planning and public consultations with affected communities, as a prerequisite for financing.

If the WCD guidelines are adopted, the dam-building industry fears that it could become more costly and difficult to obtain financing from dam financiers, including the World Bank, Canada’s Export Development Corporation, and the Canadian International Development Agency.

According to Norwegian Kaare Hoeg, President of the International Commission on Large Dams, “Our concern is that [WCD] criteria will be so strict so as to prohibit developing nations from obtaining financing.”

Probe International, a Toronto-based citizens’ group that has opposed the use of foreign aid for large dams since the early 1980s, welcomes the vast evidence gathered by the WCD that proves large dams too often don’t work properly, are crippled by drought, and corruption, and have costs that routinely exceed the benefits. But the group also criticizes the WCD for arguing that with better planning tools and bigger budgets past mistakes will be avoided, and that new large dams should be built.

“The truth is that big dam technology is dead and for good reason,” says GrĂ¡inne Ryder of Probe International, who addressed the WCD in Vietnam earlier this year. “Dams are uncompetitive with the alternatives. Private investors won’t risk their own capital on big dams and favour cheaper, less risky investments in high-efficiency, combined-cycle gas turbines and cogeneration schemes.”

Threatened by new generating technologies, the introduction of competition in electricity markets, and relentless opposition from Third World citizens whose livelihoods depend upon healthy free-flowing rivers, the WCD and its aid agency supporters are now making what Probe International deems a “futile attempt” to recast big dams as anti-poverty, pro-conservation schemes.

“We don’t think the World Commission on Dams is serious about making the dam-building industry internalize costs. It is not serious about protecting the rights of riverine populations, or about finding economic, environmentally acceptable ways of meeting the energy and water needs of Third World citizens. The WCD is all about saving the large dam industry’s neck,” says Ryder.

The WCD commissioners received 900 written submissions and heard hundreds of hours of testimony, from engineers to peasants, detailing evidence against large dams.

The WCD is now trying to distance itself from some of the studies it commissioned which show, for example, in India, that the costs of dams “are systematically underestimated and benefits exaggerated” and in Thailand, that the controversial Pak Mun dam should never have been built.

For related stories see:
The global demise of dams, Probe International (November 2000 Campaign Letter, Part 1)
Peddling yesterday’s technology: aid for large hydro dams must be stopped, Probe International
Pak Mool cost more than it’s worth, Probe International
Dam removals on a roll across the USA, ENS
Canadian group wants more dams dismantled , ENS
Shell Oil chief will co-chair G8 task force on renewable energy, ENS
Power leader sees Capstone MicroTurbine as the technology for the next 80 years, BusinessWire
The electric revolution, The Economist

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