Dammed rivers: do or don’t?

At first glance, hydroelectric power from big dams appears to be a greener way to generate electricity than burning fossil fuels. But an organisation called "The World Commission on Dams" has concluded that dams' impact on eco-systems is "mostly negative" – results announced by no less than Nelson Mandela.

According to the commission, which is backed by the World Bank and industry:

  • Dam construction projects destroy habitat, reservoirs cover forest and farmland and downstream land is deprived of water and nutrients.

  • Moreover, rotting vegetation trapped in reservoirs emits methane and carbon dioxide.

  • Some estimates put the contribution of gases emitted by man-made reservoirs at more than one-quarter of the world's "global-warming potential."

  • And although dams make valuable economic contributions, projects have been undertaken for purposes of national pride – rather than electrical demand – and thus some have proved unprofitable, slow to deliver energy or water, and prone to corruption.

  • The commission estimates that the world has 45,000 large dams, with nearly half the world's rivers having at least one.

  • One-third of countries depend on hydropower for over half their electricity.

  • Over one-third of the world's irrigated land depends on dams.

  • The cheap irrigation water subsidises much of the world's food.

    Some 80 million people have been displaced by dams, mostly through government force, and over $2 trillion has been invested in them.

    That leaves experts to theorise that it might have been better to create electricity by burning gas, oil or even coal.

    Source: A Barrage of Criticism, Economist, November 18, 2000.

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    For Other Water issues http://www.ncpa.org/pi/enviro/envdex4.html#f
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