GLOBE AND MAIL, JUNE 12, 2003
Dam promotion draws fire
Canadian support ignores environment, homelessness concerns, coalition says
By GEOFFREY YORK
Thursday, June 12, 2003 - Page A14
BEIJING -- Canada continues to give financial support to massive dam projects around the world, despite mounting concerns that the dams are causing environmental damage and forcing millions of people to abandon their homes, according to a new report.
From the rain forests of Belize to the famed Three Gorges of China, the Canadian government and private sector have persistently promoted dam projects that inflict damage on people and the ecology, according to the report, which was issued yesterday by a coalition of Canadian environmental and human-rights groups.
In the latest evidence of Canada's strong support for foreign dam projects, Hydro Quebec is helping organize a congress of the International Commission on Large Dams next week in Montreal.
The meeting is "a symbolic indication" of the "increasingly aggressive export plans" of the key players in Canada's dam industry, the report says.
By supporting foreign dams so enthusiastically, it says, the Canadian government is ignoring the recommendations of a major study in 2000 by the World Commission on Dams, which called for greater awareness of environmental risks and the rights of the affected populations.
Foreign dam projects are a lucrative business in Canada, especially since the country is now the world's top producer and second-biggest exporter of hydro-electricity, the report says.
The report mostly blames the Canadian International Development Agency and the Export Development Corp., which have given financing to feasibility studies and business contracts that pave the way for hydro dams around the world.
"Canada continues to be active in the promotion of large dams," the report says. "By using market intelligence through foreign missions, trade missions, strong marketing campaigns in priority markets, and Canadian government financial support through the EDC and CIDA Inc., Canada continues to aggressively promote this industry."
In Belize, for example, CIDA has spent $466,234 to finance environmental and feasibility reports that helped promote the Chalio dam on the Macal River -- one of the last undisturbed rain-forest valleys in Central America. The CIDA grants over the past three years are expected to pave the way for $12-million in contracts to Canadian businesses from the Belize dam project, the report said.
In China, the EDC has provided $189-million in loans for Canadian-built equipment for the massive Three Gorges dam, including $153-million for General Electric Canada to build six turbines for the project. China announced yesterday that it had finished the first stage of filling a huge 436-kilometre reservoir behind the dam -- the biggest in the world. About 500,000 people have been forced to move to make room for the dam, and another million are expected to be relocated by the time the project is finished.
In Southeast Asia, CIDA has financed studies for 15 dams on the Mekong River which are expected to displace 180,000 people in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
The report calls for a moratorium on CIDA and EDC support for large dam projects until Canada has reviewed its policies and determined how to comply with the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams, an independent alliance of governments, development agencies, businesses, multilateral organizations and non-governmental groups.
The commission spent more than two years researching the issues and holding public hearings before publishing its recommendations in November, 2000.
"It is time to end the silence," the report says.