Dams which made headlines

China’s Three Gorges dam increased the length of the day by 0.06 micro seconds. It generates a massive 22500 MW of energy. If you are wondering how large exactly 22500 MW is, then, it is amount of energy generated by 18 large nuclear power plants, sans the radiation.

For better or for worse, many dams have made the headlines. Environmental effects, displacement of people and financial feasibility of the dams are usually the reasons. Here are two dams which have captured the attention of the world.

Three Gorges dam

The biggest, the costliest and the most environmentally destructive. Those are the three words one can use to describe this dam. It is 101 meters, 2.3 km long. Its reservoir has a length of 660 km. The cost of the dam stated officially is $27.2 billion(Unofficial estimated run up to $88 billion) .The authorities claim that the hydroelectric power plant at the dam substitutes the burning of more than 30 million tonnes of coal each year.The dam also helps in mitigating the periodic floods which have ravaged the fertile plains of the Yangtze valley(claiming millions of lives every year.)

It displaced more than 1.2 million people. The dam submerged 13 cities, 140 towns and 1350 villages. Over 12% of the resettlement budget has been embezzled. Pollution from industry, agriculture and house holds is causing frequent algae blooms in the reservoir. Since the dam is not able to clean itself now (as the gates are closed and the run off does not reach the sea as frequently as before) all the waste is accumulating in the reservoir.

The Yangtze river,on which the dam has been built, carries around 500 million tons of silt into the dam each year. Some is flushed through the sluice gates at the bottom of the dam. But most it is deposited at the bottom of the reservoir. This silt is held from the downstream areas. Usually agriculture areas depend on the silt from teh floodding of the rivers for nutrients. This is one of the reasons why major cultures have developed near rivers. This may lead to reduction in the agricultural produce form the down stream areas. Also, the silt from the upstream is what keeps the sea from eroding the lands at the mouth of the river. As the silt is now being with held around 4 square kilometers of coastal wetland is being eroded each year. Sea water is creeping up the Yangzte destroying arable land.(China has less arable land per person compared to other major world economies).

Simply stating, if corrective measures are not taken immediately, the Three Gorges dam could become an “environmental catastrophe”.

Sardar Sarovar dam

World bank approved $450 million in 1985 for this dam. After a damning report by the independent Morse commission it pulled from it in 1993. Around the same time the Supreme court of India suspended the construction of the dam. In a controversial decision in 1999, it revoked its suspension on a condition that the displaced people be properly compensated. Now the dam height is being increased to 122 meters(from 80 meters) though the conditions of compensation to the displaced haven’t been met. In 1983, the project’s cost was a little over a $1 billion. In 2012, the project’s estimated cost ran up to $11 billion.

If the dam is completed it will submerge 245 villages and and 376 square kilometers of land, It will displace more than 240,000 people. Even though the Supreme court gave a binding order that the displaced be properly compensated with cultivable land and housing facilities with civic amenities, the state governments have never complied with the agreement.

The dam became a symbol for the oppression of the tribal people by the middle class(through political power).

What can we do to save our rivers and ecosystems?

It is known fact that dams across rivers will affect the surrounding environment. Some say the negative affects are still debatable. While we debate on this, dams continue to destroy our ecosystems.

The need for more electricity drives these dams. Where does this need come from?

Improper utilization of electricity. Wastage in power due to large distances between source and consumer. Countries trying to drive industries to gain economic superiority and become a world power.
It would have been cheaper, cleaner and more productive for China to invest in energy efficiency than in new power plants. -Douglas Ogden, Energy foundation

Proper power networks, dependence on renewable resources of energy and reduction in wastage should help us sustain our basic needs for electricity.

What about “Countries trying to drive industries to gain economic superiority and become a world power.”? Until now, from the beginning of time, we have evolved through competition. Now, the same competition may drive us to extinction(not exactly, but you know what I mean). Countries try to become super powers by driving consumption. Look around you, and list down all the things that you need to live a healthy and peaceful life. I bet that those things are not even 10% of your entire belongings. Do you know how much resources it takes to manufacture a small toy in China and bring it to the U.S? We need to reduce our need for consumption and everything will follow.

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