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Water & Energy Alternatives

"Our struggle is not only against dams, our struggle is to meet the needs of the people."
--Rajendra Singh, whose group, Tarun Bharat Sangh, has helped build rainwater
harvesting structures serving thousands of poor farmers in arid Rajasthan, India.

There are often better, cheaper, less-destructive alternatives to building a large dam, whether to meet energy or water needs. These alternatives - from small-scale, decentralized water supply and new renewables, to large-scale efficiency and conservation options - have frequently been ignored or dismissed out of hand when a large dam project is on the table.


Wind power is the world’s fastest growing energy source.
Photo: Bill Pottinger

In its final report, the World Commission on Dams describes a sensible approach to better evaluate different options for meeting water and energy needs. Put simply, it recommends using a comprehensive, participatory process to first evaluate needs for water, food and energy; followed by a similarly open public process to assess the full range of options for meeting those needs. "In this assessment process, social and environmental aspects have the same significance as economic and financial factors," the WCD report states. It recommends that the first priority should almost always be to make existing systems more effective and sustainable.

Here are a few of IRN’s resources on better options for meeting water, energy and flood management needs.


Major UNDP Report Supports Soft Path to Water Development

The UNDP’s 2006 Human Development Report argues that efficiency improvements and small projects are more likely to resolve the world’s water crisis than large dams and canals. Read excerpts from the report and an IRN opinion piece that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor. The full report is available at hdr.undp.org.

It’s Extreme Not To Be Green

IRN Commentary on the New UN-Sponsored Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a UN-sponsored analysis of the overall health of the planet, 2005.

Beyond Dams, Options & Alternatives

Report by American Rivers and IRN seeking to provide an overview of low-impact and non-structural alternatives to dams for stakeholders, decision-makers and you, 2004.

Dammed Rivers, Damned Lies

What the water establishment doesn’t want you to know. Briefing kit about large dams and their alternatives, 2003.

New Approaches to Energy and Water Supply

Excerpt from River Keepers Handbook: A Guide to Protecting Rivers and Catchments in Southern Africa. Order the full handbook, 1999.


World Rivers Review Special Focus: Renewable Energy

This issue of World Rivers Review focuses on renewable energy, including articles on what is needed to expand solar power in Africa, pros and cons of India’s wind power boom, Nepal’s success in rural electrification, lessons learned from microhydro around the world, a call for a renewable energy plan for the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, and a look at China’s new renewables law.

This issue is from December 2006. See other issues of World Rivers Review.

Green Energy Gets a Boost at Bonn Conference

Article from World Rivers Review, August 2004.

Renewables Could Invigorate Africa’s Energy Jobs

Articles from World Rivers Review, June 2004.

China Takes a Great Leap Forward in Sustainable Energy Supply

Article from World Rivers Review, April 2004.

Geothermal Energy: A Hot Option for Uganda

Article from World Rivers Review, June 2003.

Winds of Change Bypassing Africa

Wind Power could bring fresh air to Africa’s energy mix. Article from World Rivers Review, February 2003.

Africa’s Renewable Potential Shines

Article from World Rivers Review, December 2002.

Brazil Weighs Potential for an Energy Evolution

Experts say a new energy direction is possible for hydro-heavy Brazil, World Rivers Review, August 2002. (WITH 1/2 page sidebar on African energy conservation plan)

Wind Power Soars Worldwide

Article from World Rivers Review, February 2002.

Beyond Hydropower

Energy options for the 21st century, briefing paper, 2003.

Faster, Cheaper, Cleaner

Efficiency and Renewables Can Cure the California Energy Crisis, World Rivers Review, June 2001.

A Responsible Energy Policy for the 21st Century

Article from World Rivers Review, January 2001.

There Goes the Sun

Will We Squander Our Clean-Energy Future? World Rivers Review, June 2000.


Spreading the Water Wealth

Spreading the Water Wealth: Making Water Infrastructure Work for the Poor

International Rivers Network’s first annual "Dams, Rivers and People" report focuses on water infrastructure and poverty. Spreading the Water Wealth analyzes the different strategies to reduce poverty in the water sector, and presents a proposal for a new global water policy that is pro-poor and environmentally sustainable.

Visit the feature page for this publication.

Creating a True "Trickle-Down Economy"
Low-Cost Drip Systems Bring Income, Food Security to Rural Poor

Read an article on the efforts of International Development Enterprises to reduce poverty among the world’s poorest farmers. World Rivers Review, December 2003.

Connecting the Drops

Holistic watershed approaches take some US cities by storm, World Rivers Review, April 2003.

Harvesting Rain, Transforming Lives

India’s stellar water-harvesting movement inspires hope, World Rivers Review, December 2002.

India’s Babbling Brook of Water Harvesting Grows into a River

Article from World Rivers Review, February 2002.

A Crisis of Mismanagement

Real solutions to the world’s water problems, 2003.

One Drop at a Time

Interview with Water Conservationist Amy Vickers, World Rivers Review, October 2001.

A New Course for Water Policy

Article from World Rivers Review, February 2000.

Water Conservation Report Offers Solutions

This report, by IRN’s Africa staff, describes how demand management and water conservation could delay large water projects planned for Southern Africa by years, and save money. "An increase in regional water efficiency of only 20% in urban and agricultural water use would save more water than the combined use of Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe," the report notes. It was submitted to World Commission on Dams in November 1999.

Harvesting Rain Offers Hope for Dry Delhi

Article from World Rivers Review, October 1999.

Making Water Go Farther

Article from World Rivers Review, October 1999.

Water Conservation

Success Stories from California, World Rivers Review, April 1999.

flood management

The Wise Use of Watersheds

Excerpt from Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams, 2001.

A Brief History of Japanese Flood Control

Article from World Rivers Review, February 1997.

A Golden Opportunity for Flood Management

Article from World Rivers Review, February 1997.

Citizens Work to Protect Chitose River

Article from World Rivers Review, December 1996.

latest additions

World Water Week Opinion Editorial in Frankfurter Rundschau
IRN Policy Analyst Ann Kathrin Schneider authored an op-ed in the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, wrapping up the main points of the August 20-26, 2006 World Water Week Conference in Stockholm. This document is written in German.