Nov 20 2006

Water, Dams, and Danger

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:28 PM

Many African countries are poised to launch a new wave of dam building. Dams are central to the production of hydroelectricity in Africa, and hydro is the main source of power in many of the most important African countries south of the Sahara. In recent years, hydro production has been hampered by droughts, and low water levels in lakes and rivers. This has been especially the case in east Africa. But the ending of droughts can bring unexpected problems. In Kenya, heavy rains threaten to burst a dam, providing a grim reminder of the unpredictability of African climate. Between 1.5 million and 1.8 million Kenyans have already suffered under the heavy rains and severe flooding, the UN says. For an authoritative survey of dam-building in Africa, see the International Rivers Network’s web site, which maintains extensive files on African dams and hydro projects As IRN notes: “Although Africa’s great rivers are considered “under–dammed” by global standards, the continent’s large dams (more than 1,270 at last count)have consistently been built at the expense of rural communities, who have sacrificed their lands and livelihoods to them yet reaped few benefits.
Africa’s dams have done considerable social, environmental and economic damage, often with complete disregard for the human rights of dam–affected communities, and have left a trail of “development–induced poverty” in their wake. More dams are being planned every year. Dam proponents long to develop Africa’s huge hydropower potential, but projects routinely overlook the social costs to local communities, economic costs to river–based livelihoods and human health, and environmental costs to river ecology. In addition, climate change is expected to increase extremes of drought and flooding, with the result that Africa’s already highly variable climate and hydrology will be even more difficult to predict, making hydropower even more risky and water resources even more precious.

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