December 11, 2017

Large dams – recommendations

Published in conclusion 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.

In the light of today’s knowledge, it is clear that the building of large-scale water development schemes can only be justified to an electorate and to the world at large by systematically covering up – as governments and their advisers have shown themselves adept at doing – their true implications.

Unpalatable as it must undoubtedly be to the dam-building industry, there is clear evidence that building large dams is not an appropriate means of feeding the world’s hungry, of providing energy, or of reducing flood damage.

For it to be so, we would have to accept, as largely expendable, the human and non-human population of the whole area affected by the dam, simply in order to further the political and financial interests of a very small minority.

To persuade Third World governments to abandon plans to build water development schemes, to which they are often totally committed, is very difficult. Nevertheless, every effort must be made by local environmental groups to do so. If necessary, they should resort to non-violent direct action at the dam site. We, in the West, can best prevent the construction of further dams by systematically lobbying donor governments, development banks and international agencies without whose financial help such schemes could not be built.

Indeed we call upon those organisations, herewith, to cut off funds from all large-scale water development schemes that they may plan to finance, or are involved in financing, regardless of how advanced those schemes might be.

The vast concrete hulk of a three-quarters finished dam may not provide irrigation water or electricity – but then, nor will it drown ancient villages, precious forests or stretches of fertile bottomland.

Nor will it uproot tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of rural people, condemning them to eke out a miserable existence in the degraded environment to which they will have been forcibly consigned.

Nor will it condemn those inhabiting the irrigated areas, to seeing their children ravaged by malaria and schistosomiasis to which many of them must inevitably succumb.

Nor will it systematically transform much of their remaining agricultural land into a waterlogged and salt-encrusted desert, nor cause it to be progressively made-over to large plantations geared to the export of food to foreign lands, or to large factories which manufacture goods which the local population cannot conceivably afford.

Nor will it deprive local inhabitants of their water supply in order to satisfy the unquenchable thirst of the plantations, the factories and the new conurbations that dams support.

On the other hand, if the project is completed and all this destruction is allowed to occur, we will eventually be left with a silted-up reservoir and the vast concrete hulk of an abandoned dam. All that we can then hope for is that the ruins of that dam may serve a salutary function as a permanent monument to the folly, or to the cynicism, of those who now direct the organisations which have financed so much destruction and so much misery throughout the world – a monument set in a vast muddy wasteland where once the fertile soil nourished happy and sustainable communities.

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