Large dams, larger issues

Anger in anti-dam writings often act as mental blocks.

Some time ago, the editor of Himal invited me to write a piece giving my reactions to the articles, reports and reviews published in the journal on matters connected with water resources, and outlining my own thinking on the issues involved. Let me begin by saying that I find myself in agreement with many of the things that have been said in those articles and reports. However, there are some aspects and features which trouble me. In what follows I propose to draw attention to certain general attitudes and intellectual tendencies, and refrain from trying to correct scattered instances of errors of fact or perception or understanding on specific matters.

(i) Many of the writers tend to believe that while their own motivations in opposing large dams are the purest and noblest, those of the supporters of dams must be suspect. There is a tendency to look for hidden motivations, sinister influences, dubious funding sources, and so on. On the other hand, those who support dams speak of the "anti-dam lobby", question the bona fides of the NGOs concerned, and hint darkly at foreign funding. Some of the accusations on both sides may well be – probably are – true. However, there are honourable bureaucrats, engineers, and politicians (and even honourable World Bank officials!) who genuinely believe that they are trying to promote the cause of development as they see it. Equally, there are wholly honourable anti-dam activists who are fighting what they consider to be an evil. Not everyone belongs to a ´lobby´; and when all lobbies have been discounted, a sharp division in opinion still remains. It is this division which needs to be dealt with.

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Himal Southasian