“It shows that government is not heeding warnings about the dangers of damming up rivers,” she said. According to Friedman, a moratorium on large dams and massive investment in desalinisation are the only sustainable options for our dry country. While conceding that dams have made an important contribution to human development, Friedman noted that the World Commission on Dams (WCD) has found the cost to be too high in many cases, especially in social and environmental terms.
The WCD estimated that 60% of the world’s large rivers are fragmented by dams and diversions which have led to the loss of aquatic biodiversity, upstream and downstream fisheries, and the services of downstream flood plains, wetlands, and riverine estuarine and adjacent marine ecosystems. “There’s ample evidence that large dams have failed to produce as much electricity, provide as much water, or control as much flood damage as their supporters originally predicted,” she said.
Friedman also pointed out that, according to the draft National Environmental Outlook 2005, almost all SA’s exploitable water sources have been tapped and almost all are degraded; water requirements already exceed availability in most catchments; pollution is increasing and water quality declining. “Not one of our major river systems are afforded protection along their length or catchment and SA’s much- vaunted and legally mandated environmental reserve is not yet being implemented anywhere in the country, almost a decade after it became a legal requirement,” she said. – Roelof Bezuidenhout