The Whirled Bank Group

The World Bank is the greatest single source of funds for large dam construction, having provided more than US$50 billion (1992 dollars) for construction of more than 500 large dams in 92 countries. The World Bank has been "directly or indirectly associated" with around 10% of large dams in developing countries (excluding China, where the Bank had funded only eight dams up to 1994). The importance of the World Bank in major dam schemes is illustrated by the fact that it has directly funded four out of the five highest dams in developing countries outside China, three out of the five largest reservoirs in these countries, and three of the five largest hydroplants.

Since 1948, the World Bank has financed large dam projects which have forcibly displaced on the order of 10 million people from their homes and lands. The Bank's own 1994 "Resettlement and Development" review admits that the vast majority of women, men and children evicted by Bank-funded projects never regained their former incomes nor received any direct benefits from the dams for which they were forced to sacrifice their homes and lands.

According to the Manibeli Declaration these large dams have had "extensive negative environmental impacts, destroying forests, wetlands, fisheries, habitat for threatened and endangered species, and increasing the spread of waterborne diseases." In addition the World Bank has "tolerated and thus contributed to gross violations of human rights by governments in the process of implementing Bank-funded large dams, including arbitrary arrests, beatings, rapes, and shootings of peaceful demonstrators."



The World Bank is one of the major funders of the 67-kilometer long Yacyreta dam which joins the Argentine and Paraguayan sides of the Parana river. More than 5,000 people so far have been forced to move from the flooded banks of the Parana river because of the dam construction. Most of them were not properly compensated for their losses, and many were moved to resettlement colonies that had begun to crumble even before they were completed. Workers struggled to reach their jobs, children often failed to reach their schools. Diseases flourished because there were no working sewers and few health-care facilities. New nature preserves, set up to compensate for the loss of unique habitats, include one which contains a military base, an international highway, a garbage dump and land from which stone for the dam was quarried.

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In 1978 the World Bank financed the Chixoy dam in Guatemala which was built in the department of Alta and Baja Verapaz, where 75,000 Maya Achì indigenous group have lived for hundreds of years. An intimidation campaign against the Maya Achì Indians began in 1980, following the community's refusal to move to the new settlements provided by the government. Prior to dam completion and the resettlement of local residents, between February and September 1982, the death squads and the army killed about 400 men, women and children from Rio Negro, during massive or individual massacres.

The dam has also turned out to be a financial disaster. The final cost of the project has not yet been clearly defined. Evaluations range from US$1.2 billion (521% higher than predicted) to US$ 2.5 billion. Nor does it cover the country's energy needs. Guatemala still spends US$150 million a year to produce electricity. Every year a minimum of US$ 8 million are spent on structural maintenance costs of the Chixoy project, and only when fully operating does it cover about 50-60% of the country's needs. Energy costs supported by the population have constantly increased during the last few years, but still only 30% of the population benefit from electric power.

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The World Bank is currently funding the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Africa's largest infrastructure project, involving five dams (one of which is built and another underway), miles of tunnels through the Lesotho mountains, and a small hydropower component. The project delivers Lesotho's water to Gauteng province, South Africa's industrial heartland and site of metropolitan Johannesburg, in the suburbs of which many of the country's wealthiest citizens have made their homes amid plush lawns and swimming pools. The poor in South Africa's townships, who suffer from water inequity dating to apartheid, will mostly be unable to afford the project's expensive water.

The project's social impacts in Lesotho have been especially hard on the rural highlands communities who have lost fields, grazing lands and access to water sources due to the project. Despite decade-old promises, their livelihoods have not been re-established and poor people have been pushed further to the edge in their struggle for survival. Furthermore recently a dozen major international dam-building companies involved in the LHWP were caught lavishly bribing at least one top official on the project, allegedly giving nearly US$2 million in bribes over ten years. For more information see:



The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private-sector investment arm of the World Bank, is now considering financing the U.S.-based AES corporation, the largest independent power producer in the world, to construct a US$520-million dam near Bujagali Falls on the Nile. The dam would create a socially and environmentally destructive reservoir, would worsen downstream impacts as it would be the third dam in the upper Nile, and would drown the spectacular Bujagali Falls. This dam will permanently displace 820 people, and affect an additional 6,000 by submerging communal lands, burial sites or portions of their land. Replacement land for those who would lose homes or crops is practically non-existent in the area. In addition, the reservoir is expected to increase serious water-borne diseases like malaria and schistosomiasis. Stagnant pools of water are breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes and schistosomiasis-spreading vector snails. Malaria is already the leading cause of death in Uganda.

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The World Bank has provided loans for the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river. With a proposed height of 136.5 meters to irrigate more than 1.8 million hectares and quench the thirst of the drought prone areas of Kutch and Saurashtra in Gujarat. The opponents of the dam counter that these benefits are grossly exaggerated and would never accrue to the extent suggested by the government. Instead the project would displace more than 320,000 people and affect the livelihood of thousands of others. Overall, due to related displacements by the canal system and other allied projects, at least 1 million people are expected to be affected if the project is completed. After an independent review was extremely critical of the plans for the dam, the World Bank bowed out of the project. For more information see

Shortly after the World Bank withdrew from the Sardar Sarovar dam, it also pulled out of the US$1 billion Arun III hydroelectric project in eastern Nepal after local groups exposed the Bank's faulty project planning and appraisal process.



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