Dams and development

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The World Bank's lead dam specialist Alessandro Palmieri believes that the Bumbuna hydropower project, in post-conflict Sierra Leone, exemplifies the right way to implement stakeholder involvement in hydropower projects. A new World Bank working paper on The Role of Communication in Large Infrastructure Studies: the Bumbuna Experience finds that “transparency and participation are the best way to avoid criticism and opposition.” The working paper, by Leonardo Mazzei and Gianmarco Scuppa, suggests that lack of communication may be enough to cause large hydropower projects to fail. (Another conclusion I draw is that Italians know a lot about dams.)

The larger, and more frequently debated, question is whether the hydroelectric power generated by large dams offsets the ecological damages they cause. With a few very notable exceptions, is the age of big dams over? Or is a resurgence of multilateral funding for big dams only beginning? The Asian Development Bank has just released an extensive e-paper on dams and development that should provide much fodder for the debate.

The ADB is responding to critics like the International Rivers Network, who argue that the resurgence of major multipurpose hydropower projects is a mistake. For example, the IRN is against plans for a series of dams in Chile. The NYTimes reports on Spanish firm Endesa’s bitter fight to construct several dams in the Patagonia region in Chile. Authors of the IRN report Spreading the Water Wealth: Making Water Infrastructure Work for the Poor advocate small, decentralized and more environmentally sustainable water projects to aid those in poverty. (via Acumen Fund)

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