Africa and dams

The World Bank’s Legacy:

Dam Construction

Good And Bad Dams

Dams And What They Do

Clark Report

About Rivers

Large Dams Impacts

Questions And Answers







The World Bank’s Legacy:  $75 billion has funded misery and destruction worldwide

The World Bank has been the largest single source of funds for large dam construction worldwide. Under its stated aim of alleviating poverty, it has promoted and funded dams that have displaced more than 10 million people from their homes and land, caused severe environmental damage, and pushed borrowers further into debt. Never hesitant to exact loan repayment in perpetuity for projects it has funded (even failed projects), the World Bank has never been forced to pay for the destruction it has caused to millions of people’s lives and the environment.

Large dams, whether built for hydropower, flood control or irrigation, epitomize the huge infrastructure development projects which have been the staple of World Bank lending throughout its history. The World Commission on Dams (WCD) estimates that the Bank has provided almost $75 billion (in 1998 dollars) for 538 large dams in 92 countries, including many of the world’s largest and most controversial projects.

The WCD’s final report recognizes the World Bank’s important role in supporting dams for the past 50 years:

"Both the multilateral and bilateral development banks played a significant facilitating role in getting Asia, Africa and Latin America started in the dam business.... [They] have helped finance studies needed for dam construction, and lent money for the construction of the dams themselves. They identified development goals through strategic sectoral planning documents, provided resources and technological capacity and created basin-wide institutional frameworks to plan and implement dams. Although the proportion of investment in dams directly financed by bilaterals and multilaterals was perhaps less than 15%, these institutions played a key strategic role globally in spreading the technology, lending legitimacy to emerging dam projects, training future engineers and government agencies, and leading financing arrangements." 

The Bank’s portfolio of large dams is like a primer on the folly of damming rivers. In case after case the benefits have been far less than promised, and the costs – in terms of money spent, debts incurred, communities uprooted, fisheries and forests destroyed, and opportunities lost – have been far greater than imagined. While the Bank claims that its operations have improved in recent years, proposed projects such as Bujagali Falls Dam in Uganda and Nam Theun 2 Dam in Laos reveal it still has much to learn. These dams, if they proceed according to current plans, would not comply with the WCD’s new guidelines. (See case studies in this packet for further details)

"We Shall Not Be Moved"
World Bank lending for dams peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s at a level of more than $2 billion a year (1993 dollars). Since the mid-1990s the World Bank’s lending for large dams has declined significantly.

A major reason for decline in Bank funding has been the struggle by anti-dam movements across the world. This is a partial victory for the anti-dam movement. But the communities who have been affected by Bank-funded dams have nothing to celebrate. Neither do those whose lives will be destroyed by future Bank projects. A growing movement of dam-affected communities from all over the world is demanding reparations, or retroactive compensation, for the continuing damage to their lives because of dams which have already been completed.


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