Dams in India cause more harm than good, says UN report

Srisailam Dam, constructed over the Krishna River in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India

Indian dams have failed to ensure long-term food security and have even increased instances of human displacement in the country, a United Nations report on the global water crisis argues.

The UN World Water Development Report for 2018 shows that while such large hydropower projects aim at securing food sources and providing energy to industries, the results are often underwhelming. The report uses dam projects in India as an example.

“The World Commission on Dams country study on India concluded that a century or more of large-scale water development had resulted in major social and ecological impacts, including substantial human displacement, soil erosion and widespread waterlogging while, contrary to stated objectives, achieving only limited food security benefits,” it states.

Dams are also susceptible to extreme weather events. In 2016, India’s tallest dam, known as the Tehri hydroelectric, was declared virtually empty of usable water after a prolonged nationwide drought. It was reduce to zero percent of its 2.6 billion cubic metre storage capacity. When active, it could produce a 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

India is the world’s largest extractor of ground water, followed by the US, China, Iran and Pakistan. Together, these countries account for 67 percent of total global extractions, causing even richly irrigated regions like the basin of the Ganges to experience water stress.

The report adds that large-scale groundwater programmes have been operating in India for decades, though treating flood-prone regions still take less priority than water-scarce areas.

The UN estimates around five billion people could suffer as a result of water scarcity by 2050.

Indian NGO Tarun Bharat Sangh, which is led by India’s Waterman Rajendra Singh, is credited in the report with supplying water to more than a thousand dry villages in Rajasthan. The NGO revived five rivers, recharged ground water and boosted agricultural production by up to 80 percent, the report said.