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Tuesday, 27 September 2011 - Strasbourg Final edition
Dam infrastructure in developing countries
P7_TA(2011)0409A7-0213/2011

European Parliament resolution of 27 September 2011 on financing of reinforcement of dam infrastructure in developing countries (2010/2270(INI))

The European Parliament ,

–  having regard to its resolution of 17 February 2011 on the World Bank's energy strategy for developing countries(1) ,

–  having regard to the ‘World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change’,

–  having regard to the 2011 report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), entitled ‘Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone. Summary for Decision Makers’,

–  having regard to the 3rd UN World Water Development Report, 2009,

–  having regard to the 2008 report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), entitled ‘The Energy Access Situation in Developing Countries’,

–  having regard to the 2007 report of the UNEP Dams and Development Project entitled ‘Dams and Development: Relevant practices for improved decision-making. A compendium of relevant practices for improved decision-making on dams and their alternatives’,

–  having regard to the World Commission on Dams Final Report, entitled ‘Dams and Development: a new framework for decision-making’, of 16 November 2000,

–  having regard to the UNEP report entitled ‘High Mountain Glaciers and Climate Change’, of 8 November 2010,

–  having regard to the 2008 UNEP report entitled ‘Freshwater under threat. South Asia. Vulnerability Assessment of Freshwater Resources to Environmental Change’,

–  having regard to Rule 48 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Development (A7-0213/2011),

A.  whereas by current estimates there are more than 50 000 large dams, 100 000 smaller dams and 1 million small dams worldwide,

B.   whereas international standards define a large dam as higher than 15 metres, and a small dam, generally, as lower than 15 metres,

C.  whereas some 589 large dams were built in Asia from 1999 to 2001 and, as of 2006, 270 dams of 60 metres or larger were planned or under construction,

D.  whereas the licence to construct the world's third largest dam, the Belo Monte dam in Brazil, was granted despite serious environmental concerns, as the dam will flood 500 square kilometres, thus causing severe damage to the Amazon's invaluable ecosystem and biodiversity and displacing 50 000, mainly indigenous people,

E.  whereas the European Investment Bank has been involved in a number of large dam projects, including in Asia (in countries such as Laos and Pakistan),

F.  whereas water is vital for agriculture, only 5% of Africa's cultivated land is irrigated, less than 10% of the potential of hydropower has been tapped and only 58% of Africans have access to safe drinking water,

G.  whereas poor water resource management in Africa has led to excessive soil erosion, increased costs of water treatment, rapid siltation of reservoirs, decline in economic life and disruption of water supplies,

H.  whereas large hydropower projects account for 25% of the proposed emissions reduction credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM),

I.  whereas development of decentralised water infrastructure is a prerequisite for water security in Africa and for meeting the targets of the Millennium Development Goals; whereas improvement of storage methods is needed to enable reliable water supply during droughts and to retain excessive water during periods of flooding; whereas average per capita storage capacity in Africa is about 200 cubic meters a year, much less than that of developing countries in other regions,

J.  whereas, from 2007 to 2008, support for trade-related infrastructure (TRI) increased strongly (up 75%) and, although commitments have fluctuated extensively in this area, the 2008 figure of close to EUR 5 billion in total is a record high,

K.  whereas the World Bank is the largest external financier in the water sector, with a portfolio of USD 20 billion in water-related projects under implementation in more than 100 countries,

L.  whereas dams, that fundamentally alter rivers and the use of natural resources, have a significant impact on human communities, riverine and wetland ecosystems and biodiversity,

M.  whereas the report of the World Commission on Dams of 16 November 2000 concludes that, while large dams have failed to produce as much electricity, provide as much water, or control as much flood damage as foreseen, they have had huge social and environmental impacts, and efforts to mitigate these impacts have been largely unsuccessful,

N.  whereas dams reservoirs emit greenhouse gases, including methane due to the rotting of vegetation,

O.  whereas the UN estimates that by 2050 2 billion people will live under the threat of severe flood damage,

P.  whereas the World Commission on Dams estimates that some 40-80 million people have been physically displaced by dams worldwide,

Q.  whereas the World Commission on Dams concludes that large dams have led in many cases to significant and irreversible loss of species and ecosystems; and whereas understanding, protecting and restoring ecosystems at river basin level is essential to foster equitable human development and the welfare of all species,

1.  Considers that, globally, no other natural hazard has proved more destructive to property or cost more human lives than floods over the past century, despite the billions of dollars spent on flood management;

2.  Highlights that water is a scarce natural resource, which gives rise to equity consideration in its allocation; stresses therefore that rethinking the management of freshwater resources, in the context of climate change, is undoubtedly a key challenge facing the world;

3.  Points out that there has been a documented increase in the frequency of serious floods throughout the second half of the 20th century and that flooding will prove a critical issue in the coming decades;

4.  Notes that the least developed countries (LDCs) are the most vulnerable to the effects of flooding; supports the recommendations of UNEP to deal with flooding, according to which improved land management must be combined with improved storage methods that rely on traditional and more current scientific knowledge; advocates the rehabilitation and restoration of critical ecosystems ranging from forests to wetlands, which can enhance water supplies and act as buffers against extreme climatic events such as flooding;

5.  Highlights that global warming will affect patterns of precipitation, impacts on glaciers and ice, representing therefore a growing challenge in terms of food security;

6.  Notes also that, owing to the acceleration of glacial melting especially prevalent in the Himalayas and the Andes, mountainous regions are increasingly at threat from floods and avalanches; points out, however, that glacial melt is not the only factor affecting water flows in the Himalayas, but that timing and intensity of the monsoon, other rainfall and especially land use practices such as deforestation, overgrazing, agricultural systems and settlement patterns are determinant; in particular, stresses that deforestation frequently increases the rate and speed of the flow of water into major channels, while floods arising from ‘glacier lake outburst floods’ (GLOFs) are often exacerbated by unsustainable land use practices;

7.  Considers it essential to adopt a multi-pronged flood strategy in regions where there is a critical threat of floods posed by unstable glacial lakes, exacerbated by the effects of global warming on precipitation patterns and by black carbon deposits, proved to accelerate glacial retreat; deplores, accordingly, the utter lack of flood prevention measures in many LDCs; but warns against relying on large dams to prevent flood damage, especially in a context of climate change, ín which extreme precipitation events are likely to increase the intensity and frequency of flash floods, thereby raising concerns about dam safety;

8.  Stresses that dam construction must be assessed in terms of its impact on river flows, the rights of access to water and river resources, and whether the dam will uproot existing settlements, disrupt the culture and sources of livelihood of local communities, or deplete or degrade environmental resources;

9.  Underlines that the World Commission on Dams concludes, in its report entitled ‘Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making’ of 16 November 2000, that the economic profitability of large dam projects remains elusive, as the environmental and social costs of large dams were poorly accounted for in economic terms;

10.  Points out that glacial retreat causes naturally occurring glacial lakes to expand rapidly to a point where they risk bursting as glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs); welcomes the priority that the South Asia programme of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, in partnership with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, has given to the issue of GLOFs;

11.  Recalls the tragic disaster of 1941, when the city of Huaraz, Peru, was destroyed by the bursting of a glacial dam, causing 4 500 deaths;

12.  Recalls that floods in LDCs threaten not only lives but also the areas' development; recalls that a GLOF, which occurred in 1985 and originated from a glacial lake in Khumbu Himal, Nepal, destroyed the almost completed Namche Small Hydel Project;

13.  Stresses that the ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) has identified over 8 000 glacial lakes in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas alone, 203 of which, because of the nature of their location and the instability of their naturally occurring dam walls (moraines), are considered to be potentially dangerous;

14.  Underlines that in South Asia an estimated 1,3 billion people rely on the 10 identified perennial river systems, which are fed by rainfall and runoff from melting snow and glaciers in the Himalayas; urges that the EU prioritise the region so as to forestall future humanitarian disasters caused by the increasing frequency of water-related hazards;

15.  Further stresses that downstream areas in LDCs thrive on the natural resources of river basins and are some of the most intensely rich agricultural areas in the world; recalls that both China's and India's rapid economic growth is in part due to their joint status as the world's leading rice producers, with the majority of their output coming from the river basins of the Ganges, the Yangtze and the Yellow River, all at threat from GLOFs;

16.  Notes that balanced investment in demand-side management measures, land management, improved water capture and storage methods and institutions is needed to increase the sustainable and efficient use of water, to mitigate the effect of recurrent floods and droughts, and to achieve basic water security as a platform for Africa's economic development; asks for priority to be given to investments that focus on growth, reduce rural poverty, build climate resilience and adaptation and foster cooperation in international river basin;

17.  Notes that there is no known method of reinforcing natural glacial lakes, but notes that the UNEP report on ‘High Mountains Glaciers and Climate Change’ (2010) mentions other methods to mitigate the effects of an outburst flood by using siphons and constructions of open channels and tunnels in order to lower the water level in the glacial lakes and by controlling the water flow into the local river system to use the water reservoir as a resource;

18.  Takes the view that, unless high-producing agricultural areas are protected from the effects of flooding, emerging economies could see an abrupt turnaround in their development and a rapidly growing food security problem; recalls that, while the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas is expected, first of all, to increase river flows for 2-3 decades, the flows will decrease substantially in the longer term; deems therefore essential to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies to address droughts in the future;

19.  Takes the view that investment in capacity building is necessary as sound water management institutions can ensure sustained returns on water efficiency investments and optimize the allocation and use of water by multiple economic sectors and across administrative and political borders;

20.  Strongly supports the recommendations of the WCD according to which priority should be given to optimising the performance of existing infrastructure before building any new projects; considers that periodic participatory reviews should be carried out for existing dams to assess issues including dam safety and the possibility of dam decommissioning;

21.  Highlights that, without detailed current information concerning areas at risk from water-related hazards, implementing early warning systems, monitoring glacial lakes and provide mountainous regions with practical measures for adaptation and mitigation of climate change will prove an insurmountable task; supports the initiative called Himalayan University Consortium, started by local universities to cooperate with further scientific studies in the matter;

22.  Notes that most dams are designed on the basis of historical data of river flows, with the assumption that the pattern of flows will remain the same as in the past; points out that climate change has introduced huge uncertainties in the basic parameters affecting dam projects (as climate change is not just about averages, but also about extremes); points out also that climate change is likely to exacerbate further the problems connected with sedimentation, whose accumulation behind these dams also deprives downstream plains of nutrients that are essential to soil fertility;

23.  Stresses that major infrastructure facilities, vital to promoting the EU's policy objectives of sustainable development and enhanced food security in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals, are increasingly at risk from the effects of flooding, and must be safeguarded; recommends that financing agencies (bilateral aid agencies, multilateral development banks, Export Credit Agencies, EIB), should ensure that any dam option for which financing is approved results from an agreed process of ranking of alternatives regarding irrigation, water storage and hydropower and respect the WCD guidelines; further stresses that hydropower plants are also particularly at risk from flash floods and avalanches;

24.  Points out that small water storage facilities can increase climate resilience by providing cost-effective solutions to water supply and drought mitigation and improve food security by increasing agricultural productivity; points out that small storage options include off-stream reservoirs, networks of multipurpose small reservoirs and groundwater storage;

25.  Stresses that there is little evidence to establish that big dams are the only, the best or the optimal solution to the electricity question as they do not necessarily improve access to power for the poor and vulnerable sections of society;

26.  Recalls the obligations on Policy Coherence for Development; also stresses that greater attention should be paid to the impact of dams on populations living downstream, for which dam building might lead to fundamental changes, such as a loss of food security;

27.  Encourages financing institutions and the EU to finance capacity building and training in improved land management and improved water management storage methods that take into account scientific and technological knowledge and the revival of old knowledge such as ancient traditional irrigation systems, as outlined in the UNEP report entitled ‘High Mountain Glaciers and Climate Change’; considers that all financing from the EU should contribute to the promotion of the EU's policy objectives of sustainable development and food security, in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals;

28.  Stresses that constructing and reinforcing dams in LDCs is not enough to safeguard vulnerable areas and calls for a concerted effort in dealing with the root of the problem, not merely the symptoms, thus preventing the wasteful spending of EU taxpayers' money;

29.  Calls on the EU, in addressing the root causes of the increased frequency and intensity of floods, to make further commitments in greenhouse gas reductions so as to meet its objective of limiting climate change to 2°C above the preindustrial level;

30.  Urges the EU to widely implement and promote emission reduction measures targeting black carbon, such as the recovery of methane from coal, oil and gas extraction and transport, methane capture in waste management and the use of clean-burning stoves for residential cooking, which will contribute to combating climate change and to reducing glacial retreat;

31.  Reiterates its conviction that small hydropower dams are more sustainable and economically viable than large hydropower; in particular, stresses that decentralised, small-scale options (micro hydro, home-scale solar electric systems, wind and biomass systems) based on local renewable resources are more appropriate in rural areas far away from centralised supply networks;

32.  Stresses that black carbon remains as prevalent a cause of glacial retreat as carbon dioxide; recalls, in particular, that black carbon and ozone in the lower atmosphere are harmful air pollutants which damage health, reduce life expectancy and exacerbate the melting of snow and ice around the world, including in the Arctic, the Himalayas and other glaciated and snow-covered regions; highlights the fact that ozone is also the most important air pollutant responsible for reducing crop yields, and thus affects food security; notes that methane is an important precursor to ozone formation and that reductions of methane emissions also reduce the formation of ozone;

33.  Urges immediate action be taken with a view to reducing black carbon and methane emissions, mainly through the promotion of research and investments in technology aimed at reducing polluting emissions, as a fast-action method of halting glacial and snow melting; recommends that, given the short atmospheric life of black carbon and methane, combined mitigation by means of fast-action strategies could dramatically and rapidly alleviate the threat of GLOFs;

34.  Calls on the EU to promote existing technology that drastically reduces black carbon emissions; stresses that regulations banning slash-and-burn tactics in forests, enforcing stringent and regular vehicle emissions tests, limiting biomass burning and monitoring the annual emissions of power plants must be supported and encouraged; calls on the EU to promote the 16 different measures to reduce emissions of black carbon and methane that are set out in the UNEP report entitled ‘Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone’, with a view to achieving both air quality improvements and near-term climate benefits in its dialogue with developing countries and working towards a broadening of different existing regional air pollution prevention agreements on the basis of the work within the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP);

35.  Calls on the EU to promote the establishment of a global early warning system for floods, landslides and tsunamis (possibly under the auspices of the UN) and to ensure that this information reaches remote areas and the most vulnerable segments of the population in developing countries;

36.  Points at the on-going negotiations to include black carbon in the revision of the Gothenburg Protocol to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) as a model and stresses the need to follow up the UNEP report entitled ‘Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone’ by elaborating a Global Action Plan to reduce the emissions of short-lived climate forcers;

37.  Calls on the EU, given the transboundary nature of GLOFs, to foster inter-country dialogues with a view to developing policies that deal with natural disasters and to encourage the appropriate investments to protect the countries of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas region from flooding; urges recognition of the fact that this is not an issue faced by one country but by many and, as such, calls for a multilateral approach in its resolution;

38.  Recommends the formation, as a matter of urgency, of a cross-border agency, established under the auspices of the United Nations, with the express purpose of sharing available data, addressing the problems and causes of transboundary water-related hazards and proposing appropriate adaptation and mitigation measures; stresses that, without such an adjudicating agency at the helm, critical negotiations on flood prevention and alleviation may prove insurmountable between conflicting countries; emphasises that glacial regions, so often the source of flood events, are considered to be points of strategic importance, forming boundaries between nations, and that, as a result, the affected parties might prove reticent in sharing vital information;

39.  Points out that dam building projects have an impact on international security; stresses that those impacts can be negative by creating cross-border conflicts, social unrest and harm to the environment; recalls, however, that energy and water supply issues can have a positive impact by fostering dialogue between bordering states or regions as well;

40.  Stresses that any planning of dams should be evaluated according to five values: equity, efficiency, participatory decision-making, sustainability and accountability; urges, more broadly, that the decision-making process on dams take fully into account the notion of human rights; recalls, in particular, that, where projects affect indigenous and tribal peoples, such processes must be guided by their free, prior and informed consent; calls for thorough impact assessments which fully evaluate the environmental and social costs of dam projects to be conducted in a transparent manner, with public participation, prior to the approval of any dam project;

41.  Expresses its concern that the World Bank has spent over USD 100 billion on the construction of dams, mainly for large-scale export-oriented hydropower projects, which have led to the displacement of an estimated 40-80 million people, the loss of livelihoods, damage to ecosystems and the creation of massive debt burdens for developing countries;

42.  Emphasises that people who have been displaced due to the construction of dams should not merely receive financial compensation but that their ability to secure their long-term livelihood needs to be ensured;

43.  Calls for the comprehensive, transparent and participatory evaluation of the full range of options available to reduce the impacts of floods and meet water and energy needs, with priority given to ecosystem-based solutions and to making existing systems more effective and sustainable;

44.  Urges the EU to pursue policies of ‘soft-path’ management to deal with floods; recognises that flood conditions are not static and as such require a flexible approach; calls for the improvement of flood forecasting, the flood-proofing of individual buildings and the development of floodplain storage and bypass systems;

45.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

(1) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2011)0067.

Last updated: 7 January 2013Legal notice