Dams & Development: A Monumental Report By Wold Commission On Dams

Dams And Development: A New Framework For Decision Making
November 2000
The Report Of The World Commission On Dams
Earthscan Publications Ltd, London and Sterling, VA
Excerpts from the preface by Professor Kader Asmal, Chair, World Commission on Dams:
kader asmal world commission on dams
Professor Kader Asmal
Chair, World Commission on Dams
If politics is the art of the possible,
this document is a work of art. It
redefines what is possible to all of us,
for all of us, at a time when water
pressure on governments has never
been more intense. Consider: on this
blue planet, less than 2.5% of our
water is fresh, less than 33% of fresh
water is fluid, less than 1.7% of fluid
water runs in streams. And we have
been stopping even these. We dammed
half our world’s rivers at unprecedent-
ed rates of one per hour, and at un-
precedented scales of over 45 000
dams more than four storeys high.
Compounding that shortage, one in five persons world-wide lacks access to safe drinking water. Half the world lacks sanitation; millions die from waterborne diseases. Farmers compete for water with booming but stressed cities. Towns drain aquifers that took centuries to fill. Saltwater pollutes groundwater miles from the sea. In China, Mexico and India water tables fall a metre a year. In a few decades, as we seek a fifth more water for 3 billion new people, one in three of us may struggle to drink or bathe.
Some see in our scarcity a harbinger of troubled waters to come. They believe water scarcity inevitably locks peoples, regions and nations in a fierce, competitive struggle in
which restless millions race to the bottom in fear and self-interest. And thus, they maintain, when rivers cross borders within or between nations, water scarcity leads to
water stress which leads to water wars.
Our Commission, and through it, this Final Report, contradicts that sentiment. We see
water as an instrument, a catalyst for peace, that brings us together, neither to build
dams nor tear them down but to carefully develop resources for the long term.
Dams remove water from the Ganges, Amazon, Danube, Nile or Columbia to sustain cities on their banks. For parting – or imparting – the waters, dams are our oldest tool. Yet are they our only tool, or our best option?
The World Commission on Dams has undertaken a rigorous, independent and inclusive global review, testing the waters to help you answer that question with authority.
I saw dam benefits by-pass thirsty adjacent communities en route to the city, dams exhaust and erode rich soils through water logging and salinity. I saw dams displace no one, dams create wetlands and work, dams cost thrice their budget, dams utterly abandoned and which had no symbolic value. Then I saw politicians approach rivers with ambitious, bureaucratic schemes, opposed by local activists shouting, ‘Save our beloved dam’.
No matter how much you know, or think you know, about dams, you cannot read the
following report and keep your assumptions intact. No matter how sceptical, you will
come away changed, I think, for the better. For the truth is no typical dams exist.

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