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 About Rivers and Dams

Millions of people worldwide are facing serious threats to their livelihoods and cultures due to the construction of large dams. Intended to boost development, these projects have led instead to further impoverishment, degraded environments and human rights violations. An estimated 40–80 million people have been forcibly evicted from their lands to make way for dams. Evidence shows that these people have often been left economically, culturally and psychologically devastated. Learn more about the struggles dam–affected peoples around the world.


This girl is one of 6,200 indigenous people to be displaced by the World Bank–funded Nam Theun 2 Dam in Laos

Growing evidence shows that dams often fall short of meeting their projected benefits. In November 2000, the World Commission on Dams released a highly critical report showing that dams have generated less power, irrigated less land and supplied less drinking water than projected. While dams can prevent some floods from occurring, the WCD found that they can also exacerbate damages suffered when floods do occur. Projects studied by the WCD incurred an average cost overrun of 56 percent, and about half faced delays of one year or more. Learn more about the economic, social and environmental impacts of dams.

Viable options do exist. For example, in South Africa potential water savings from repairing leaks and implementing other demand–side management measures could delay the need for future large water–supply dams, such as those being built in Lesotho. In India, communities are building small dams to capture rainwater for irrigation and recharge of groundwater supplies. Decentralized renewable energy offers great promise for the two billion people in the world now lacking modern energy services. Learn more about water & energy alternatives.

Thanks to the work of activists and communities around the world, the pace of dam building has slowed over the last decade. The movement to stop destructive dams and other river development projects has grown throughout the world. Together, we are fighting for just and equitable development that respects the basic human rights of all people. Learn more about this worldwide people’s movement.