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The Globalization Reader, 5th Edition by John Boli, Frank J. Lechner

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66 Toward Democratic Governance for Sustainable DevelopmentTransnational Civil Society Organizing around Big Dams

Sanjeev Khagram

For proponents, dams symbolize temples of progress and modernity, from a life controlled by nature and tradition to one in which the environment is ruled by technology, and tradition by science. But a growing number of opponents see the same projects as destructive of nature and indigenous cultures, imposing unacceptable costs while rarely delivering on their ostensible benefits.

This chapter tells the story of the conflicts between a powerful set of interests (government agencies, international organizations, multinational corporations, and domestic industrial and agricultural lobbies) that favor dam construction and the affected peoples groups and civil society coalitions that oppose them. It explores what could prove to be an important model for global governance that incorporates all these stakeholders: the World Commission on Dams.

Today, big dams contribute 20 percent of global electricity generation. In sixty-five countries, hydropower produces more than 50 percent of electricity; in twenty-four more than 90 percent. Worldwide, agricultural crops currently get more than 30 percent of their water from irrigation, a lion's share of which comes from big dams. Future increases in agricultural production to meet the needs of a growing global population will require greater numbers of irrigation dams. Moreover, nearly 1 billion people still ...

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