Six facts to reject dams

By Manzoor Chandio
Written in 2006

1- Dams can provoke famines
2- Dams cause unnatural disasters
3- Dams cause waste of water
4- Dams are drain on economy
5- Dams destroy nature
6- Dams generate costliest hydropower

1. Dams can provoke famines

Dam protagonists in the country are propagating that the country would face famines if the dams are not constructs.
First, the question of any famine due to non-construction of dams in this country does not arise as the population density, according to the previous census, is only 106 people per kilometer.
There are no famines in the Ganges River basin and the Yangtze River basin, with an average population density 401 people per km and 214 people per km.
If any famine provoked in Punjab and Sindh, the backbone of this country’s agro-based economy, it would be due to water diversion by India as all major rivers, excluding the Kabul river, are sourced in that country.
The Baglihar Dam, located some 150 kilometers north of Jammu city on the River Chenab in Indian-controlled Kashmir region is being constructed in violation of the Indus Basin Water Treaty.
The Chenab is a tributary of the River Indus on which India has no water rights.
Besides, India is constructing three other big dams on the River Sutlaj, the River Ravi and the River Beas and a Wullar Barrage on the Jhelum River as the country wanted to have full regulatory and strategic control over the waters of Indus River System.
When the waters of the Indus river system will be in the hand of India it would be easy to destabilize the country because water shortage would ultimately alienate those at the receiving end like Sindh which is not only the tail-end of the Indus water system but also the last frontier of the South Asian monsoon rain system.
There are no underground water reservoirs in Sindh. And if any famine breaks out in Sindh, it would be due to behavior of leaders like the Punjab chief minister who wants more dams and water diversion for his province regardless of repercussions.
If we look at the causes of famines in modern times we can not find a single example where a famine occurred because of no dam was constructed. In fact there are no large dams in some of the world's richest countries like Ireland, Switzerland, Singapore, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Canada, Denmark, Austria and the United Kingdom.
Singapore exports everything but imports water. Civil wars can unleash famines like in the Horn of Africa and the Sub-Saharan Africa. Lack of democracy can also cause famines as in North Korea, Cambodia and Sudan.
Large dams which are very capital-intensive themselves can trigger famines because they swallow money that can be used on alternate development.

2. Dams cause unnatural disasters

It is said by pro-dam lobbies in this country that dams are necessary to control floods.
Those who advocate dams should know that dams on the ground suggest a doom-laden scenario. Simply erecting structures on rivers does not automatically help stop floods.
TIME magazine in its issue of Aug 9, 2004 had a cover story on South Asia's water woes which said that "unlike many other catastrophes, most water crises are man-made."
During this monsoon season half of Dhaka and two-third of Bangladesh came under floodwater. Reports suggested artificial structures on the Himalayan rivers, including dams, are the real culprit for this massive flooding.
What is happening during each monsoon season that flood waters from dams and barrages which China, Nepal, Bhutan and India store for lean period are making their way to this delta nation. First, torrents of ubiquitous rains are accumulated in artificial dams whose "poorly maintained embankments burst and irrigation channels and dams that had been allowed to choke with silt trapped the flood on the land".
If there were no dams, flood waters had passed through natural flood plains as they used to since centuries.
Quoting Sumita Dasgupta of the New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment the magazine said "dams and embankments often block rather than facilitate drainage".

3. Dams cause waste of water

“Globally, 70 per cent of managed water go to irrigate agriculture” out of which 80 per cent is wasted due to seepage, irrigation inefficiency and conventional tillage methods.
In this country, out of 80 per cent wasted water, 70 per cent water is wasted in Punjab.
According to the WWF “drip irrigation systems for water intensive crops such as cotton can mean water savings of upto to 80 per cent compared to conventional flood irrigation systems”.
“But these techniques are out of reach of for most small farmers” because of Punjab and federal governments’ insistence on dams.
The WWF estimates that increasing irrigation efficiency on the Indus plains by just 10 per cent would allow two million more hectors of farmland to be irrigated.
The WWF says “Much of the water provided by dams for agriculture is lost and globally, some 1,500 trillion liters of water are wasted annually.”
The waste is “equivalent to 10 times the annual water consumption of the entire African continent,” it says.
The WWF says lining and strengthening of canals and watercourses could avoid the construction of two dams with the capacity of Tarbela, Pakistan’s largest dam.

4. Dams are drain on economy

According to the World Commission on Dams “on average, large dams go over budget by 56 per cent”.
That was why the World Bank in its recent report questioned the economic viability of the Greater Thal Canal project, Kachhi, Rainee Canal and other projects.
The report said: “This is more so when water supplies are not assured, command areas comprise sandy soils and high pay-off short-terms investments compete for resources.”
It points out that proposed irrigation projects are not viable either due to unavailability of water or ‘trickle down’ benefits.
The WWF finds that “large dams are also very capital- intensive and can be a drain on the national economy, especially in the poorest countries.”
“Proponents of these projects argue that investment in large-scale projects will contribute to development, if not directly then through the ‘trickle down’ effect. Indeed, the economists are questioning the 'economic growth trickle down' development thinking. The fact is that benefits of existing dams have not trickled down.
Poverty in post-dam Pakistan increased. Successive governments have spent billions of rupees on poverty alleviation, food import bills and debt retirement programmes.

5. Dams destroy nature

It is right that capitalization on water resources compelled many nations to construct dams. But this water draining had made rivers sick.
The world environment bodies say the problems may be magnified as more large dams are built in a river system resulting in an increased and cumulative loss of natural resources, habitat, environmental sustainability and ecosystem integrity.
The United States, the pioneer of dam technology, is decommissioning its dams one by one because they are draining its economy.
When the USA started dismantling the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River The New York Times recommended “the removal of other dams whose environmental costs now outweigh their benefits.”
In America, several dozens dams have been removed. Those owned by private owners are purchased by the government and teared down. “Experience suggests that nature benefit when any dam comes down” says the NYT.
It is being strongly lobbied in Congress to dismantle four large dams on the Snake river to save a species of fish.

6. Dams generate costliest hydropower

“Many of the benefits conferred by dams -- such as hydropower -- are cancelled out by wasteful practices and environmental damage” says World Wide Fund for Nature.
Dams in this country have permanently rendered two million acres of land barren, millions of people dispossessed and coastal Sindh brought to the brink of catastrophic collapse. Keti Bundar and Shah Bundar no longer have any estuaries and harbors.
It would be preposterous to talk about ‘cheap’ hydropower without including the cost of two million acre lost in Thatta and Badin districts.
According to Sindh’s agricultural associations the province is losing 16 billion per year due to unavailability of water on time.
When Sindh’s need water it is stored in dams on the pretext of power generation.

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