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Development organisation calls for moratorium on new dams

The Berne Declaration is opposed to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China

(Keystone Archive)

A Swiss non-governmental organisation has called for a moratorium on the planning and construction of large dams.

It follows the release of a report by the World Commission on Dams (WCD), which concludes that large dams are often uneconomic and harmful to the environment.

The Berne Declaration said in Zurich on Friday that the WCD report highlighted many of the concerns raised by NGOs.

"We are pleased with the report. We feel it vindicates many of the criticisms that NGOs have made for so many years," the Berne Declaration's Peter Bosshard told swissinfo.

The WCD report argued that large dams have a huge social and environmental impact and tended to benefit the well-off at the expense of poorer sectors of society.

Also speaking in Zurich, the WCD Commissioner Judy Henderson called for fundamental changes to the way water and energy projects are planned and carried out.

"The social and environmental issues that have not in the past been taken into account must be brought into the process. Dams constructed in the future must be subject to strict criteria that satisfy all technical, economic, social and environmental issues."

Bosshard of the Berne Declaration urged public financial institutions, including the World Bank, to adopt the recommendations included in the report. One of the key recommendations is that no dam should be built without the consent or acceptance of the local community.

He called for a moratorium on funding new dams and a review of major projects already underway - including the highly controversial Three Gorges Dam project in China - to establish whether they comply with the WCD recommendations.

"I think it is up to industry to demonstrate if it can build dams to the new guidelines," said Bosshard. "And certainly NGOs will oppose dams which violate them."

Bosshard said the report gave campaigners a valuable weapon against dam projects such as those at Narmada in India or the Three Gorges in China.

He said financial institutions should also assume responsibility for unresolved problems and pay compensation to people whose way of life has been harmed by the construction of large dams.

The Berne Declaration was formed in 1968 to promote equitable, sustainable and democratic North-South relations.

swissinfo with agencies


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