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Large-scale hydroelectric dams are not viable – Oxford dam-busters

Oxford dam-busters

Oxford dam-busters image

Large-scale hydroelectric dams are not economically viable in a vast majority of cases and can seriously damage emerging economies, according to new research.

A team at Oxford University said countries pursuing projects – including Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Pakistan – risk saddling themselves with “serious debt owing to ill-advised construction”.

The Saїd Business School based its study on data from 245 large dams in 65 countries. The findings show the construction costs are on average 90%-plus higher than their budgets at the time of approval, in real terms.

This is before accounting for “negative impacts on human society and environment and without including the effects of inflation and debt servicing”, the researchers added.

The study also found that the magnitude of cost overruns has not declined over time and “dam budgets today are as wrong as at any time during the 70 years for which data exists”.

In the case of Brazil’s Itaipu dam, built in the 1970s, there was a 240%-plus cost overrun that impaired the nation’s public finances for three decades. Itaipu will most likely never pay back the costs incurred to build it.

Nevertheless, Brazil is currently building the Belo Monte hydro project, which “has proved non-viable even before opening”. The researchers also warn that “China, Indonesia, Pakistan and other nations show similar amnesic behaviour regarding the building of dams”.

Costs aside, mega-dams also take an inordinately long time to build, some 8.2 years on average and often more than 10 years.

Report co-author Dr Atif Ansar said:  ‘Proponents of mega-dams tend to focus on rare stories of success in order to get their pet projects approved. The purported success of the Hoover dam in the USA, for example, is an often-heard argument in favour of building new large dams.

“Instead of relying on the outcome of just one project, decision makers should consider evidence for the entire population. In the case of large dams, the probability of failure dominates.

“If leaders of emerging economies are truly interested in the welfare of their citizens, they are better off laying grand visions of mega-dams aside.”

Image: the Hoover project in the US is often touted as an argument for hydroelectric dam development (Wikimedia Commons)

Tripartite expert committee to study the deadly impact of the Nile Dam in Ethiopia

A committee made up of experts will be formed to oversee the implementation of the recommendations made by the International Committee of Experts to combat the impact of the Grand Ethiopian Deadly Dam.

The announcement by Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdul Muttalib comes days after the conclusion of high-level meetings in the Sudanese capital after which it was agreed to hold another meeting in January to discuss some “sticking points”.

Muttalib said last week that he and his Ethiopian and Sudanese counterparts had discussed the implementation of a mechanism to oversee the implementation of the recommendations but provided no further details. The minister announced on Sunday that this mechanism will take the form of a committee made up of an expert representative from each country and will be formed “within two weeks of approval by the ministers.”

The minister said that it had been agreed the committee would have one year to complete its work, starting from the date of its formation. All three countries will bear the cost of the committee.

The ministers agreed that all three countries will share their collected data “required to conduct complementary studies in as timely manner.”  It was also agreed to pass on the studies of the International Committee of Experts to “a select group of global consultancy firms known for their competence and experience.”

Muttalib highlighted that the meeting in Khartoum included a “lengthy debate on the presence of an international element in the work of the commission.” The ministers deferred this decision until their meeting in January, also to be held in the Sudanese capital.

The minister said last week that the meetings had been carried out “in a good spirit”. This is a marked difference from the tension that existed previously, which intensified following a blunder by Egyptian politicians who suggested espionage as a possible solution to the potential impact of the Deadly Dam.

  • ‘Sticking points’ remain following Ethiopian Dam meeting
  • Sudan downplays negative impact of Ethiopian dam project
  • Ethiopian delegation in Cairo for dam talks
  • Nile Talks Highlight Ethiopian, Egyptian Split
  • Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia dam talks ‘successful’

War Drums on the Nile Part 9, “Time of Brief Consultation and Studies” Between Egypt & Ethiopia

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan agreed to conduct further studies on what impact a hydropower dam on the main tributary of the Nile River will have on downstream countries, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said.

Ethiopia also assured Egypt that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River is being built in a way that will address Egypt’s water-security concerns, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said at a joint press conference with Amr today in Addis Ababa, the capital.

“We are embarking on a period of mutual cooperation,” Amr said. “We’re looking to the future and I think the future will be very good for both of us.”

Ethiopia is building the $4.3 billion, 6,000-megawatt dam about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Sudanese border. The facility is set to be Africa’s largest hydropower plant when it is completed in 2017. A joint panel report finalized last month, which hasn’t been made public, “didn’t clarify in detail the impacts” the dam will have, according to the Egyptian presidency.

The ministers agreed to “immediately initiate consultations among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on how to move forward” with recommendations, which included further studies, made by the panel last month, they said in a statement handed to reporters.

Friendly Talks

Talks were friendly and Egypt is convinced that Ethiopia is “determined not to hurt” Egypt by blocking vital flows of the Nile River, Amr said.

Ethiopia is the source of 86 percent of the water that flows into the Nile, the world’s longest waterway, which Egypt relies on for almost all its water.

The dam “will only reduce Nile water flow significantly during the stage that the reservoir fills,” former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn said in a June 13 e-mailed response to questions. The 74 billion cubic-meter dam will be filled in about five to six years, according to Ethiopia’s government.

Tedros will visit Egypt soon to continue discussions, according to the statement.

Nile War Drums – “Mater of life & Death” “Israel & US Behind It


Ethiopia has angered Egypt with its plans to construct a massive hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile, a key Nile River tributary. Ethiopia just divert to start filling the reservoir that may take over 5 years to fill up, mean while the flow of the Nile will be disrupt from Sudan and Egypt. Ethiopia contributes 87 % of the Nile water.

During Monday’s meeting, an Islamist party leader suggested Egypt support Ethiopian rebels to exert pressure on Addis Ababa. A liberal politician suggested spreading rumors that Egypt was buying military planes for possible airstrikes.

The Ethiopian foreign office summoned the Egyptian Ambassador to Ethiopia to clarify the position  of his country,