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Can dams meet human needs and be eco-friendly? - 29 Sep 2003

Nairobi, 29 September 2003 – A UNEP-facilitated Forum that seeks to reconcile widely opposing views about how to balance the benefits of dams with their risks and drawbacks is concluding a one-week meeting here today after agreeing to move forward with continued stakeholder discussions.

Bringing together some 100 representatives from governments, civil society and industry, the second meeting of the Dams and Development Forum seeks to help the world community navigate a way forward through the conflicting interests at stake in dam construction.

“Dams are at the centre of many controversies related to water resources management. While often criticized for damaging the environment and uprooting communities, dams can also ensure adequate water supplies for households, agriculture and economic development,” said Executive Director Klaus Töpfer of the United Nations Environment Programme.

“It is vital that we learn how to strike a balance between benefits and impacts. New dams will have to built if we are to meet the Millennium Development Goals on access to water and sanitation – but these must be ‘good’ dams and not ‘bad’ ones, dams that promote development without damaging the environment. Dialogue amongst key stakeholders is the best path to this goal,” he said.

Meeting in Johannesburg in 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) agreed on the need to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

The WSSD also highlighted the challenge of climate change. Because dams are a major source of hydropower, they can contribute to expanding renewable energy.

UNEP’s Dams and Development Project, which serves as a secretariat to the Forum, seeks to promote a dialogue on improving decision-making, planning and management of dams and their alternatives based on the core values and strategic priorities agreed in 2000 by the World Commission on Dams. The Project has secured funding and pledges of over $2.5 million from the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

UNEP’s goal is to support country-level, regional and global dialogues on the issues surrounding dams in an effort to involve all stakeholders in finding agreed solutions. It also promotes the dissemination of information and facilitates networking and the exchange of ideas on good practices.

Billons of people depend upon dams for drinking water and food production. The current storage capacity of reservoirs worldwide is estimated at just under 7,000 cubic kilometres. However, over one billion people lack access to freshwater facilities.

Note to journalists: For more information, please contact Eric Falt at +254-2-62-3292, +254-733-682656 (cell) or eric.falt@unep.org; Nick Nuttall at +254-2-62-3084, +254-733-632755 (cell) or nick.nuttall@unep.org; or Michael Williams at +41-22-917-8242/8196/8244, +41-79-409-1528 (cell) or michael.williams@unep.ch.