Dams: Cornucopia or Disaster?

The current debate on dams has become dogmatic, emotional, and somewhat counterproductive. There is no one single solution that would be valid for a heterogeneous world, with differing climatic, physical, social, economic and environmental conditions; varying institutional, technical and management capacities; dissimilar institutional and legal frameworks for managing water; and divergent levels of development and available technology. No single paradigm can be equally valid for all these differing conditions, and this includes dams. What is needed is a systematic approach, where the main objectives of water developments are first identified, i.e., poverty alleviation, regional income redistribution, economic efficiency and environmental conservation. The best alternative available to achieve these objectives for the area in question should then be sought. The best solution may or may not include dams. In the field of water development, small is not always beautiful and big is not always magnificent. Solutions must be case-specific, and they could vary from one location to another, and even at the same location over time. Solutions may include construction of dams, large, medium or small, and/or other alternatives such as rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge. There cannot be one, single, dogmatic, a priori answer of dams or no dams, in terms of optimal water resources development, which will suit all the different conditions of all the countries of this world, either at present, or for decades to come.

By Asit K. Biswas, 2004. Article published in International Journal of Water Resources Development, Volume 20, Number 1, pages 3-14. DOI: 10.1080/0790062032000170571

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