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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 16:57 GMT
Scrap bad dams urge Greens
Iguassu falls   BBC
Latin America's Iguassu falls thunder majestically, but fresh water is getting short
Alex Kirby

A leading green group wants governments to consider phasing out dams that fail to deliver their promised benefits.

WWF, the global environment campaign, says there are often other ways of meeting people's needs for water and energy.

It says some development schemes need rethinking in case they do more harm than good. WWF believes human activities are leading inexorably to a global freshwater catastrophe.

Its call for a rethink on dams comes in an action plan it is proposing at the International Conference on Freshwater, which starts in the German city of Bonn on 3 December.

Tension high

The conference, involving more than a thousand delegates from 130 countries, international groups and charities, hopes to finalise some practical recommendations before it closes on 7 December.

It is concentrating on global water supply, the disposal of waste water, the protection of lakes and rivers, and cross-border co-operation.

Kariba dam   BBC
Dams can be a mixed blessing
Several ministers attending the conference are from the Middle East, where tensions over water are already acute.

WWF says human activities are causing the rapid dwindling of the world's freshwater, with more than three billion people already affected by water shortages.

Jamie Pittock, director of WWF's living waters programme, said: "Freshwater biodiversity is in a far worse condition than forest, grassland and coastal ecosystems.

"Unprecedented action at all scales is needed now if we are to avert a global catastrophe in terms of loss of essential natural services and consequent human suffering."

More harm than good

WWF is especially concerned about the need for better management of mountain wetlands, where it says the destructive impacts of some development schemes are still costing billions of dollars to undo.

Kosovar refugees at standpipe   NTV
Water shortages fuel wars
It says governments should consider decommissioning dams that do not function properly, economically, socially or ecologically.

WWF also urges development agencies like the World Bank "to show responsibility in projects they fund which could do more long-term harm than short-term good".

It is concerned about "the unsustainable and unregulated abstraction of water from international or transboundary waters".

WWF says one way to help to defuse these conflicts between countries is to set up programmes of integrated river basin management.

Vanishing wildlife

These could also ensure that river water was used primarily for basic human needs and for protecting the environment, and only then for agriculture, industry and other purposes.

Jamie Pittock told BBC News Online: "We're concerned about dams that have outlived their usefulness or are damaging the environment.

"I know examples in Australia and the Pacific north-western US. Some of these dams just don't add up.

"Biodiversity is seriously endangered in rivers like the Rhine in Germany. The Konya in Turkey doesn't have enough water to sustain wildlife, and the fish on which people depend have virtually disappeared."

See also:

30 Nov 01 | Africa
Africa's shared water worries
13 Nov 01 | Business
Balfour abandons Turkish dam project
13 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Warning over world's water supplies
16 Nov 00 | World
Human cost of dams 'too high'
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