Dams | WWF


Ataturk hydroelectric plant, part of the GAP (South-east Anatolian project), producing electricity and irrigation for the arid southeast. Anatolia, Turkey.
© Edward PARKER / WWF

Dams - blessing and curse?

Over 48,000 large dams are in operation worldwide. And more are being built to provide drinking water, irrigate the land, produce hydropower, and prevent floods.
Yet today:
  • Over one billion people do not have access to safe drinking water
  • More than double that number lack basic sanitation
  • Two billion people have no access to electricity.
And those numbers are set to rise.

To meet the demand for water and energy, more large dams are being proposed as a key solution.

For a time, dam building slowed, as decision-makers learned of their harmful impacts. But in recent years, the number of new dam proposals has skyrocketed.

While WWF believes that some new hydropower is inevitable in the fight against climate change, many currently proposed dams raise the question:

Will dams really bring benefits to those whose needs are greatest?

Too often, the benefits of dams come at great environmental and social costs. Dams can destroy ecosystems and cause people to lose their homes and livelihoods.

The WWF report, Rivers at Risk, identifies the top 21 rivers at risk from dams being planned or under construction.

It shows that over 60% of the world's 227 largest rivers have been fragmented by dams. This has led to:
  • the destruction of wetlands
  • a decline in freshwater species - including river dolphins, fish, and birds
  • the forced displacement of tens of millions of people.
The report highlights the Yangtze as the river at most risk with 46 large dams planned or under construction. The Danube and Amazon rivers are also included in the list.

Getting the balance right is crucial.

For example, much of the water provided by dams is lost, mainly due to inefficient agriculture irrigation - which globally wastes up to 1,500 trillion litres of water annually. This is equivalent to 10 times the annual water consumption of the entire African continent.

It's not just important that we get it right. It's critical that we get it "dam right".

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