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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 21:49 GMT
World Bank to back dam schemes
By the BBC's Martin Plaut

Three Gorges dam under construction in China
China's Three Gorges Dam is highly controversial
The World Bank has adopted a new water strategy.

Once it avoided dams and other large-scale projects because of the controversy surrounding them.

Now the Bank has decided that it cannot meet the needs of the world's poor without becoming involved in the kind of schemes which have been so criticised in the past.

In the early days of the World Bank, in the 1950s and '60s, the dams it helped finance were almost the trademark of the organisation.

Big was beautiful and the Bank's experts toured the globe advising on their construction.

'Greater care'

But local activists soon complained that the dams and canals were displacing vast numbers of people, destroying local communities and leaving destitution in their wake.

When the environmental lobby joined in, arguing that whole habitats were being wiped out, the Bank went into retreat, and big dams were definitely off the agenda. Now they are back.

The Bank argues that it simply cannot meet the needs of the poor without supporting major projects, whatever the protests that this provokes.

But the Bank says it has learned from past mistakes and will undertake careful impact assessments before it backs a scheme.

"We have to look at the consequences of projects," argues John Briscoe, the Bank's senior water adviser, "not at our reputation".

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