August 20, 2017

The overt reasons for building dams

Published as Chapter 1 of The Social and Environmental Effects of Large Dams: Volume 1. Overview. Wadebridge Ecological Centre, Worthyvale Manor Camelford, Cornwall PL32 9TT, UK, 1984. By Edward Goldsmith and Nicholas Hildyard.

The pace of construction

Since the beginning of the historical era, man has been building dams. The ancient civilisations of Sumeria, Babylonia, Egypt, Ceylon and Cambodia, for example, were all justifiably famed for their irrigation works: indeed, the bunds and tanks which remain at such ancient capitals as Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, or Angkor Watt in Cambodia, still survive to bear proud witness to the engineering skills of those who constructed them. Today, however, advances in concrete technology and the development of vast earth-moving machines (the largest weighing 2,000 tons) have enabled us to build dams of a size and complexity which would have staggered the ancients.

The statistics speak for themselves. In Egypt, the Aswan High Bam is seventeen times heavier than the great pyramid of Cheops. In Ghana, the Volta Dam is large enough to impound a reservoir covering 8,500 square kilometres – 5 percent of the total area of the country and an area almost the size of Lebanon. In Brazil, plans to harness the power of the Amazon and its tributaries with a complex of dams capable of providing 66,000 megawatts of electricity, will entail flooding an area the size of Montana. The Itaipu Dam on the Parana River will alone generate 12,600 megawatts of electricity – the equivalent output of 13 large nuclear power stations. [1]

Still more ambitious is the Sanxia Dam on China’s Yangtse River. Once completed, the dam will generate 40 percent of China’s total current electricity output – providing 25,000 megawatts, the equivalent of the output of 25 large nuclear power stations. [2] The dam will cost up to $12 billion; flood thousands of acres, including 300,000 acres of farmland; and displace two to three million people. Elsewhere, in South-East Asia, plans are afoot to build a complex of dams on the Mekong River Basin at a cost of $8 billion at 1970 prices. 250,000 square miles of land would be affected – an area that includes most of Laos and Cambodia, two-fifths of South Vietnam and a third of Thailand. At present, 30 million people live in the region and, by the end of the century, that number could have risen to 60 million.

With funding now available from such institutions as the World Bank and the various international aid agencies, the pace of dam construction has accelerated dramatically since the Second World War. Significantly, the very first loan ever made by the World Bank to a developing country – in March 1948 to Chile – was for an irrigation and hydro-power scheme. By June 1982, the Bank had lent $26.7 billion for agricultural projects, of which $10 billion went to financing no fewer than 285 irrigation projects. About 38 percent of the money advanced by the Bank for agricultural development schemes has been for irrigation projects – and 90 percent of that lending has occurred during the last ten years. [3]

By 1990, the worldwide total of dams over 150 metres in height is expected to have reached 113, of which 49 will have been built during the 1980s. [4] In the Philippines alone, an estimated 861 dams are in the pipeline. Thirty-nine are already in operation, 12 are under construction and 177 are awaiting construction. A further 31 are being studied, and over 361 have been identified for study. Feasibility studies have been completed on 12 and tentative planning studies are underway on another 229. [5]

Even more impressive than the dams themselves are the vast reservoirs whose waters they serve to impound. In 1970, there were at least 260 man-made reservoirs with a surface area of 100 to 1,000 square kilometres, and 40 with a surface area of more than 1,000 square kilometres. [6] The volume of water stored in those reservoirs – some 4,000 cubic kilometres – has been estimated to be “approximately equal to one third of the water of the earth’s atmosphere”. Small wonder, perhaps, that the reservoirs behind today’s ‘superdams’ are said to be the only man-made structures which are clearly visible from space.

Back to top

Plans for the future: dam them all?

For the future, even more ambitious schemes are planned, many of which involve the diversion of whole rivers, the transfer of water from one river basin to another and, even, the reversal of the flow of rivers. Thus:

  • In the USSR, plans are afoot to build the Siberian Diversion Scheme, a project which involves blocking the flow of the River Ob, and pumping its waters via a canal through Kazakhstan in order to irrigate land 1,500 kilometres away. The water will finally be flushed into the Aral Sea, whose water level is sinking due to the demands of industry and irrigation, and whose salinity is seriously increasing. The initial investment is expected to cost at least $41.6 billion. Elsewhere in the USSR, there are plans to dam the Pecara River to the North-East of Moscow in order to transfer water to a southern tributary of the Volga. [7]
  • In China, a canal is to be built to divert water from the Chang Jaing (Yangtse) River to agricultural areas in the arid north of China. Three possible routes have been proposed: a western route, a middle route and an eastern route. The western route has never been properly surveyed; the eastern route was surveyed in detail in 1978; and the middle route in 1979. At the time of writing, the middle route appears to be the most favoured. It will require the construction of a 1,265 kilometre canal to Beijing, which will cross the Huang He River just went of Zhengzhon and then pass through the Nanyang Basin in Southern Henan. [8] The scheme is expected to irrigate 3.8 million hectares of farmland and to guarantee regular water supplies to a further 1.3 million hectares. Almost 7.4 cubic kilometres of water will be provided for industrial, mining, municipal and domestic uses. [9] Giant pumping stations are also to be built to drain excess water from an area of 18,000 square kilometres – at a rate of 5,000 cubic metres a second. [10]
  • In India, a series of canals are being built in order to divert water from the Brahmaputra, the Ganges and the Indus Rivers to the drought-prone regions of Madhya Pradesh in Central India, to Rajasthan in the West, and to Tamil Nadu in the South. Those canals will ‘radiate’ out from the 2,000 mile long Ganges / Calvery River Canal, which will run down almost the entire length of the country. [11]
  • In the USA, similar schemes include the Texas Water System and the Nawapa Project. The latter (the North American Water and Power Alliance – hence its acronym) would channel water from Alaska and Canada in order to irrigate Mexico and the South-western United States. Some $2 trillion would have to be spent to realise the project. An area of 1,300,000 square miles would have to be drained; 177 lakes and reservoirs would need to be built; and the scheme would require the co-operation of 3 nations, 36 states, 11 provinces and thousands of cities. [12]

As originally conceived in 1968, the Texas Water System involved transferring water from the humid eastern region of Texas to the arid and semi-arid western region of the state – in addition to ‘importing’ massive amounts of water from the Mississippi Basin via the state of Louisiana. Charles Greer of Indiana University writes

“The key to the Texas Water System is a series of reservoirs on the major rivers of east and central Texas which drain into the Gulf of Mexico. Ultimately the system of reservoirs, large and small, would be more than two hundred in number, with a combined reservoir capacity of 125 billion cubic metres. Of this total, some 150 reservoirs existed or were under construction in 1968, with a combined storage capacity of about 63 billion cubic metres. The role of these reservoirs in the Texas Water System would be to store water, from the rivers of East Texas as well as from out-of-state imports, prior to conveyance through two major canal systems: the Coastal Canal System and the Trans-Texas Canal System.” [13]

Together, these two canals make up the Texas Water System. The coastal canal “would extend approximately 600 kilometres south-westward, flowing by gravity from the Sabine River on the eastern edge of Texas to the southern tip of the State.” As for the Trans-Texas Canal, it would extend “about 1,200 kilometres westward from the Upper Sulphur River basin in North-east Texas.” Although the original plan was turned down by a local referendum in 1969, a revised version (no less ambitious) has been proposed.



Country Volume
(million acre-feet)
Estimated Cost*
(Billion $)
United States
Peripheral Canal
High Plains Canals
Chang Jiang (Yangtze) Canal Middle Route
Chang Jiang (Yangtze) Canal Middle Route Eastern Route
Siberian Diversion
48.6 2,300 41.4
Ganges-Cauvery Canal
  3,340 4.0

Table 1: Proposed massive water diversion projects, selected countries.


Source: Bruce Stokes, Bread and Water: Growing Tomorrow’s Food, The Worldwatch Institute, Washington D.C.

* Cost estimates made in various years and do not include total infrastructure costs.

Back to top

Glittering prizes: the claimed benefits of large-scale water development projects

There is little doubt that at least some of those involved in building the massive ‘water development’ projects described above sincerely believe that they are improving the lot of mankind. In 1975 the former Commissioner of the US Bureau of Reclamation, Mr. Gilbert G. Stamm, told a congressional committee:

“Water resource projects have many positive environment effects. When water management practices regulate and augment low flows of rivers and streams, decrease erosion, prevent floods, eliminate waste of water, and in many instances change deserts into gardens where man can comfortably live and prosper, the result is betterment of environmental conditions.” [14]

In a similar vein, the US Corps of Engineers assured the American public in a 1977 publication that, by building dams, it aimed

“to preserve the unique and important ecological, aesthetic and cultural values of our national heritage: to conserve and use wisely the natural resource’s of our nation for the benefit of present and future generations; to restore, maintain and enhance the natural and man-made environment in terms of productivity, variety, spaciousness, beauty and other measures of quality . . . and to create new opportunities for the American people to enjoy the environment and the use of natural resources.” [15]

Indeed, reading the ‘official’ literature on large-scale dams and other water development projects – that is to say the literature put out by the dam-building industry – one might be forgiven for thinking that such projects can bring nothing but good for mankind. Little mention is made of their social, let alone their ecological, impact. A 1982 report by the International Commission on Large Dams, for instance, makes only one reference to the power of irrigation schemes to cause salinisation – a problem which, as we shall see, is putting hundreds of thousands of acres out of production every year. [16] Instead, we are presented with a long – and glowing – list of the benefits to be accrued from developing the rivers of the world. Those benefits range from ensuring supplies of potable water (a critical consideration for the majority of the Third World countries where unhygienic water supplies are a major cause of disease) to creating jobs and controlling floods.

But, most important of all, dams and other water projects are seen as having a vital role to play in ensuring future economic development. By supplying hydro-electricity, dams supply ‘the power to progress': and, by providing water for irrigation, they will help boost food production – and thus, it is argued, enable more people to be fed. Let us consider those two goals in a little more detail – and, in particular, let us examine their implications for the pace of future dam building.

Back to top

The lure of hydro-power

Recently the less developed countries have started exploiting their hydro-power potential in earnest. Their new-found enthusiasm for hydro-electricity is understandable: power – and in particular cheap power – is considered a sine qua non of development. And, on the face of it hydro-electric power is extremely cheap. In 1973, the cost per kilowatt of installed generating capacity of hydro-electricity was $300 to 400; today it has climbed to $1,000 – but, even at that price, it is still far cheaper than electricity produced by a thermal power plant, let alone by a nuclear reactor. It should be noted, however, that the cost of hydro-electricity varies considerably from one project to another.

Just over 123,000 megawatts of hydro-electric capacity is currently under construction – and dams capable of adding a further 239,000 megawatts are in the planning stage. Once built, those dams will double world capacity. [17] Even then, however, only one-third of the world’s hydro-electric potential will have been tapped. Indeed, if all the energy contained in the rivers of the world was to be harnessed by dams, then an estimated 73,000 terawatt-hours could be produced every year – as against the 1,300 terawatt-hours produced today.

Inevitably, technical difficulties preclude much of that energy being exploited. Nonetheless, the World Energy Conference (WEC) still considers it possible to tap 19,000 terawatt-hours a year. To achieve that target would require the construction of 2,214,700 megawatts of hydro-electric capacity. Others are less optimistic than WEC: even so, they project massive increases in the amount of energy produced by hydro-power schemes. Thus, Dr. Daniel Deudney of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, estimates that “even taking all constraints into account, world hydro-power production could reach between four and six times its present level”. [18] (See Table 2 for estimates of the hydro-electricity potential of individual continents )

Lured on by the carrot of cheap energy. Third World governments have embarked on massive hydro-electricity schemes to exploit to the very full the energy of their rivers. In Brazil, for example, a complex of dams is now being built to power the ‘Grande Carajas’ project, a massive development scheme designed to transform one-sixth of Brazilian Amazonia into a vast industrial area. [*1] If the project goes ahead as planned, a total of $39 billion will be spent on an assortment of mineral and metallurgic schemes, on agriculture, and on ranching and forestry in the area. $22 billion will alone be invested in building the infrastructure – the roads, motor ways, cities, and ports – necessary to ‘open up’ the Carajas region. Among the planned projects: the world’s largest open-pit iron mine; a bauxite mine capable of producing 8 million tons of bauxite a year; and an aluminium smelter which will produce 800,000 tons of aluminium and 320,000 tons of alumina a year for sale to Japan. [19]

Elsewhere, in Central America, the Guatemalan government has made a detailed study of its hydro-power potential – although no concrete plans for developing the area have yet been issued. At present, the country uses some 226 megawatts of electricity. According to Gaertner and Morariu, two consultants employed by the Guatemalan government to prepare an ‘Electricity Masterplan’ for the country, the gross energy potential of Guatemala’s rivers – at 50 percent discharge – is 7,436 megawatts. [20] The ‘Masterplan’ identifies 240 dam sites for development and another 431 as being ‘technically feasible’ for hydro-electricity production. Of these sites, Gaertner and Morariu deem 121 economic to develop and recommend that they be included in the “optimum development chains for the river basins investigated”. Those ‘development chains’ would provide, 4,951 megawatts of power – nearly 20 times the amount at present used by Guatemala.

Similar estimates have been made for the hydro-electricity potential of countries throughout Oceania, Asia and Africa. Indeed, it seems to be assumed by governments throughout the world that it is their duty to exploit every last kilowatt from their rivers. If they do so, then very few rivers in the future will remain free to flow unimpeded to the sea. [*2]


Continent Potential available 95% of time (MW) (1) Potential output 95% of time (GWh/year) (2) Present installed capacity (MW) (3) Current annual production (4) (4) – x 700 (2) (5)
Africa 145,218 1,161,741 8,154 30,168 2.6
Asia 139,288 1,114,305 47,118 198,433 17.8
Europe (including USSR) 102,961 827,676 135,498 505,317 61.0
North America 72,135 577,086 90,210 453,334 78.5
Latin America 81,221 649,763 18,773 91,415 14.1
Oceania 553,810 4,434,468 307,362 1,307,564 29.5

Table 2: Potential and current hydro-power developments of different continents (after UN Water Conference Secretariat, 1978)


Source: A. K. Biswas, et al, Water Management for Arid Lands in Developing Countries, Pergamon, Oxford, 1980.

*1 For further details, see Elizabeth Monosowski in Volume II: Case Studies, available from The Ecologist Worthyvale Manor, Camelford, Cornwall, UK. Price £25.00.

*2 Kassas makes the same point. According to him, it is likely that “in the near future, practically all the world’s major rivers will be brought under control.” He goes on to write:

“Some rivers will even be sealed off by estuary barrages (e.g. barrages across Morecombe Bay and the Solway Firth in the UK). But rivers represent an important agency in the hydrologic cycle: collecting surface drainage and discharging it into seas and oceans. Estimates of world total run-off of water from land to sea (mostly river flow) are in the order of 24,000 X 10 [9] gal. (103 X 10 [9] m [3] ) per day. This is equivalent to about 7 percent of the total evaporation from land and sea . Rivers discharge into the Northeastern and Pacific ocean between California and the Aleutian Islands about 21,000 m [3] /sec. Freshwater discharges into the Bering Sea by Alaskan and Siberian rivers average 10,000 mVsec. The Columbia Rivers discharges about 3,200 mVsec. and its surface water of the ocean is perceptible several hundreds of kilometres out to sea. The water masses emerging from the Bering Straits northward to the Chikchi Sea bring fresh waters and sediments together with warmth. What would be the effects of sealing off these rivers on climate, biota and hydrological cycle?”

[(Mohammed Kassas, ‘Environmental Aspects of Water Resources Development’ in Asit K. Biswas et al. (eds) Water Management for Arid Lands in Developing Countries, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1980. p.75).]


Back to top

The lure of irrigation

Irrigated agriculture is one of the most productive farming systems known to man. In the United States, for example, a Nebraskan corn farmer can produce 40 bushels of corn a year on unirrigated land. By introducing sprinkler irrigation, that yield can be increased to an average of 115 bushels an acre. [21] Irrigation can similarly increase the yields of sugar beet and legumes by 5 to 8 times; and fodder by 9 to 10 times. Indeed, under irrigation, new varieties of rice, wheat and maize can produce yields of up to 12 tonnes per hectare.

Elsewhere – most notably in Southern Asia, where 63 percent of the world’s irrigated land is to be found – the successes of irrigated agriculture are even more dramatic. “Yields of rice and wheat,” reports Robert P. Ambroggi in Scientific American , “have almost doubled and the cropping intensity has almost doubled too, reaching an average value of 1.3. As a result, total production has increased almost fourfold.” [22] indeed, he goes on to comment:

“The most efficient agricultural system in the world is an Asian one and is almost entirely under irrigation. It is the system of Japanese rice culture, where 0.045 hectare of land suffices to provide 2,500 calories per day for one person. In the US, twice as much land is needed to provide the same diet, and under the Indian system of agriculture, almost seven times as much land is needed.”

It is not at all clear just how much land is at present under irrigation. Indeed, Professor Gilbert White, one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject, himself admits: “Accurate data on existing and potential irrigated lands do not exist for most of the world.” [23]

Nonetheless, estimates abound. In 1971, for instance, Milos Holy, President of the Czechoslovak National Committee of the International Commission on Large Dams, calculated that some 13 percent of the world’s arable lands were irrigated and that they required approximately 1,400 billion cubic metres of water a year. He also estimated that the area under irrigation was then increasing at a rate of 2.9 percent per annum. By contrast, the amount of non-irrigated land coming into production was only increasing at 0.7 percent per annum. [24]

Writing in 1976, Dr. Roger Revelle, of the University of California at San Diego, estimated that some 223 million hectares – 14 percent of the world’s total cultivated land – was irrigated. [25] More recently, Professor Victor Kovda of the University of Moscow, suggests that 250 million hectares are under irrigation, 120-130 million of which have only been irrigated within the last 30 years. Kovda expects the amount of irrigated land at the beginning of the 21st century to be of the order of 350 million hectares. [26]

Others use lower figures. Professor M. El Gabaly of the University of Alexandria, estimates that only 11.8 percent of the world’s total agricultural land is now irrigated – a figure equivalent to 10 percent of the earth’s total land area. By the end of this century, he predicts, some 250 million hectares will be under irrigation – over six times the area irrigated at the beginning of the century (40 million hectares) and almost half as much again as was irrigated in the early 1970s (180 million hectares). [27]

Meanwhile, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) puts the total amount of land under irrigation in 1982 at 220 million hectares. That figure compares with 148 million hectares in 1962 and 179 million hectares in 1972. If the present rate of conversion is maintained, then FAO predicts that another 100 million hectares will be brought under irrigation by the year 2000 – thereby permitting a 10 percent increase in per capita food consumption.

Whatever the statistical uncertainties about the amount of land under irrigation, there is general agreement amongst conventional agronomists that more land must be irrigated if food production is to be increased. In 1979, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimated that – over the next decade – three-fifths of the food production increases it projected for all developing countries would result from extending the amount of land under irrigation. For the eight countries it studied in Asia, IFPRI argued that nearly three-quarters of the projected increases would result from improving existing irrigation schemes, from developing new means of increasing yields on irrigated land, and from extending the amount of land under irrigation. A study for the Trilateral Commission came to a similar conclusion: indeed, it argued that extending irrigation would prove “the single most important factor in increasing rice yields in Asia.”

In its study Agriculture: Toward 2000 , FAO assumes that the area under irrigation will expand at a rate of 1.7 percent a year from now until the end of the century. The FAO also recommends that rehabilitation work be carried out on 42 million hectares of degraded land already under irrigation. [28]

Others argue that the expansion of irrigation will have to proceed at a rate faster than even that projected by the FAO – if, that is, the world’s hungry are to be fed. Bruce Stokes, a one-time researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, for example, argues that 70 million hectares will need to be brought under irrigation within the next decade to keep pace with food demand. [29] With the world’s population predicted to rise by 1.5 billion by the year 2000, an estimated 556 million tons more grain will be required just to maintain present levels of consumption. If affluence also increases – and there is a consequent rise in the demand for meat – then still more wheat will be required in order to feed livestock.

It is quite clear, however, that with 50 percent of the earth’s surface classified as ‘arid’ or ‘semi-arid’, we are unlikely to extend the amount of irrigated land without dramatically increasing the supply of water for agriculture. The question seems to be: how best to increase that supply?

To date, the answer to that question has generally been to tap groundwater resources. Recent years have thus seen a substantial increase in the number of wells sunk for irrigation purposes. The Chinese have sunk nearly a million wells in North China since the mid-fifties. [30] In the 1960s and 1970s, 1.6 million tube-wells were sunk in India: as a result, the proportion of agricultural land irrigated by groundwater increased from 29 percent in the early 1950s to 40 percent in the mid-1970s. In the US, the number of wells in the High Plains has risen from a few hundred in the early 1970s to between 150,000 and 200,000 today. In fact, in 1980, groundwater supplied two-fifths of the water used in the US for irrigation – practically all the new land brought under irrigation in recent years deriving its water from this source.

There is a limit, however, to the number of wells which can be sunk – and that limit appears to have been exceeded in many parts of the world. Indeed, underground water is now being mined on such a massive scale that, in some areas, water levels are falling dramatically. In the Southwest of the United States, the huge Ogallala aquifer will be depleted by 40 percent within the next 20 to 40 years. Already, as a result of over-exploitation, the cost of water for irrigation is becoming prohibitive; considerable areas of agricultural land have therefore been taken out of irrigation. Unless other water sources are made available, the future of farming in the US Southwest – which produces some 20 percent of America’s food – is extremely precarious.

Two other sources of water remain. One – desalinated sea water – is prohibitively expensive. The other – rainwater – is too diffuse and unpredictable to rely upon: of the 100,000 cubic kilometres of rainwater which falls annually on the earth, 30 to 40 percent runs off directly to the oceans – two-thirds of that run-off being flood flow. Frequently, therefore, the water is neither available where it is required nor when it is required.

It is the ability of large dams to compensate for that unpredictability which makes them so attractive, one of their principal functions being to store peak flow during the rainy season for use as irrigation water during the dry season. Moreover, large dams have the additional advantage of being able to irrigate land in those very areas which are likely to be the most fertile; namely, the rich alluvial soils of the world’s major river basins and river valleys. Such basins and river valleys include those of the Nile, the lower Mekong, the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, the Tigris and the Euphrates, the Grijalva and Papaloapan in Mexico, the Sao Francisco valley in Brazil, and the Lower Colorado River in the United States. Once dammed, those rivers will yield their rich alluvial soils for irrigation throughout the year, their annual flood waters being impounded in a reservoir and released when required. No longer will their waters be ‘wasted’ on the journey to the sea.

Asit Biswas, one of the world’s leading authorities on irrigation schemes and other water development projects, argues that the future rate of expansion for irrigated lands cannot realistically be expected to exceed 17 percent a year: “With real investment costs reaching $2,000 to $10,000 per hectare, funds will not be available in the future for massive developments.” (Asit Biswas, Foreword in A. K. Biswas et al (eds), Long Distance Water Transfers, Tycooly, Dublin, 1983, p.xii.)


Back to top

Playing with water: playing with fire?

Such then are the two major benefits claimed for large-scale water development projects. Given that food and energy are the two commodities in shortest supply within the Third World, is it any wonder that so many developing countries now see large-scale dams as the touchstone of future prosperity? In a world where millions go to bed hungry and where few have access to even the cheapest material goods which we take for granted in the West, it must seem churlish to argue that the further building of large-scale dams should be ceased forthwith. Would not doing so effectively condemn still more people to death by starvation? And if the experts insist that dams provide the route to material prosperity for millions of people at present wracked by poverty, who are we to gainsay them?

But there is another side to the dam-building coin, a side which the industry involved is less than keen to show off to the public. It portrays a picture of massive ecological destruction, of social misery and of increasing ill-health and impoverishment for those very people whom dams are said to benefit most. It is that reverse face of the dam-building coin which is the subject of this book. In examining it, we shall see:

  • How little of the extra food grown through irrigation schemes ever reaches those who need it most; how, in the long run, those irrigation schemes are turning vast areas of fertile land into salt-encrusted deserts; and how, too, the industry powered by dams is further undermining food supplies through pollution and the destruction of agricultural land;
  • How millions of people have been uprooted from their homes to make way for the reservoirs of large dams; how their social lives have been shattered and their cultures destroyed; and how, also, their health has been jeopardised by the waterborne diseases introduced by those reservoirs and their associated irrigation works:
  • How dams are now suspected of triggering earthquakes; how they have failed to control floods and have actually served to increase the severity of flood damage; and how, in many instances, they have reduced the quality of drinking water for hundreds of millions of people:
  • And, finally, how the real beneficiaries of large-scale dams and water development schemes have invariably been large multinational companies, the urban elites of the Third World, and the politicians who commissioned the projects in the first place.

Truly, by playing with water, we are in a very real (if metaphorical) sense playing with fire. It is a game which, as we shall see, just isn’t worth the candle.

Back to top


1. Daniel Deudney, Rivers of Energy: The Hydro-power Potential, Worldwatch Paper 44, World-watch Institute, Washington D.C., June 1981, p.13.

2. Ralph E. Hamil, ‘Macroengineering: Big is Beautiful’, The Futurist October 1980. pp.27-28.

3. A. K. Biswas, ‘Foreword’ in A. K. Biswas et. al. (Eds), Long Distance Water Transfers: A Chinese Case Study and International Experiences, Tycooly International, Dublin, 1983, p.xii.

4. T. W. Mermel, ‘Major Dams of the World’, Water Power and Dam Construction 5,1982. Quoted by Philip Williams, Planning Problems in Irrigation Water Development, Philip Williams & Associates, Pier 33 North, The Embarcadero San Francisco, CA 94111.

5. John M. Hunter, Luis Rey and David Scott, ‘Man-Made Lakes: Man-made diseases’, Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 16, 1982, p. 1134.

6. Daniel Deudney, op.cit., 1981, p.13.

7. Bruce Stokes, Bread and Water: Growing Tomorrow’s Food, Unpublished manuscript, circa 1980, section 6, p.7.

8. B. Stone, ‘The Chiang Jing Diversion Project: An Overview of Economic and Environmental Issues’, in A. K. Biswas et. al. (Eds), op.cit. 1983, pp. 194-195.

9. Y. Bangyi and Chen Qinglian, ‘South-North Water Transfer Project Plans’ in A. K. Biswas et. al. (Eds), op.cit. 1983, p.145.

10. Ibid. p.148.

11. Bruce Stokes, op.cit. 1980, section 6, p.12.

12. Arthur Pillsbury, ‘The Salinity of Rivers’, Scientific American. See also F. Powledge, Water: The Nature, Uses and Future of Our Most Precious and Abused Resource, Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 1982, pp.277-278.

13. Charles Greer, ‘The Texas Water System: Implications for Environmental Assessment in Planning for Interbasin Water Transfers’, in A. K. Biswas et. al. (Eds), op.cit. 1983, pp.79-82.

14. Gilbert G. Stamm, quoted in F. Powledge, op.cit. 1982, p.272.

15. US Corps of Engineers, quoted in F. Powledge, op.cit. 1982, p.273.

16. ‘Dams and the Environment’, ICOLD Bulletin No. 34, 1982, p.63.

17. Daniel Deudney, op.cit. 1981, p.12.

18. Ibid, p.8.

19. Robin Wright, ‘The Great Carajas: Brazil’s Mega-Program for the 80s’, The Global Reporter, Vol. 1, no. 1, March 1983.

20. M. Gaertner and S. Morariu, Electricity Masterplan for Guatemala (part I), Report published by ZIPC, 1977.

21. Bruce Stokes, op.cit. 1980, Section, p.5.

22. Robert P. Ambroggi, ‘Water’, Scientific American, September 1980, p.94.

23. Gilbert F. White, ‘The Main Effects and Problems of Irrigation’ in E. Barton Worth-ington (Ed), Arid Land Irrigation in Developing Countries; Environmental Problems and Effects, Pergamon, Oxford, 1977, p.71.

24. M. Holy, Water and Environment, FAO, Rome, 1971. Figures quoted by Gilbert F. White, in E. Barton Worthington (Ed),Arid Land Irrigation in Developing Countries, Environmental Problems and Effects, Pergamon, Oxford, 1977, p.3.

25. Roger Revelle, SCOPE 1976. Quoted by Peter Freeman, Environmental Considerations in the Management of International Rivers: A Review, Threshold International Center for Environmental Renewal, Washington DC, Working Draft, March 1978, p.18.

26. Victor A. Kovda, ‘Arid Land Irrigation and Soil Fertility, Problems of Salinization, Alkalinity and Compaction’ in E. Barton Worthington (Ed), op.cit. 1977, pp.213 and 215.

27. M. M. El Gabaly, ‘Salinization and Waterlogging in the Near East Region’, Water Supply and Management, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1980, p.48.

28. FAO, Agriculture: Toward 2000, (Economic and Social Development Series, no. 23), Rome, 1982.

24. Bruce Stokes, op.cit. 1980, Section 2, p.l. 30. Ibid, Section 6, p.9.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Diaspora
  • email
  • Add to favorites
Back to top