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Constructing Dams vs. Global Warming

Username By Barrie | May 5th, 2008 | Comments 1 Comment »

The Public Works Ministry has announced a government plan to construct 17 large dams, including the Nipah and Bajulmati, East Java; Ponreponre in South Sulawesi; Peusangan 1, 2 and Keuliling in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam; Lebak Karian in Banten; Asahan 3, 4 and 5 in North Sumatra; Lore Rindu and Sulewana in Central Sulawesi; Mamberamo in West Papua, and the 45-year-old plan for the Jatigede dam in West Java. At the end of a six-day trip to Beijing last year, Vice President Jusuf Kalla confirmed the Jatigede project (to be the second largest dam in Indonesia after Jatiluhur) would soon be built by China’s largest dam building company, Sinohydro Corp.

Our vice president mentioned that large dams built during Soeharto’s presidency were successful achievements.
But we must not forget the negative impacts of such large dams on many aspects of human lives. These large dam projects go against the commitments our goverment made to fight global warming at the UNFCCC meeting in Bali last December.

Large dams are large greenhouse gas (GHG) contributors. The World Commission on Dams findings have shown that dam water inundates large tracts of land (including forests, stones of historical sites, housing materials and fields), whose anaerobic reactions from decaying organic material emits greenhouse gases — which at present contributes up to 28 percent of the world’s total emissions.

The International Rivers Network assessed that power dams in the Amazon basin produced up to 45 times more GHG (including methane and carbon dioxide) than by naturally powered plants. As dam turbines churn up the dam water, these GHG’s are released into the atmosphere.

The most relevant of domino-effects our government needs to anticipate are the socio-economic impacts of building large dams. Dam construction often creates social conflicts especially between upstream societies who do not need to move, and downstream societies who would receive irrigation benefits.

One of the most controversial issues is compensation for farmers. During Soeharto’s time, with ‘the national interest’ as a pretext, people were often forced into abandoning their land with very little compensation. Kedung Ombo dam is one of the most controversial cases, which involved the World Bank as its main financier.

The people of Tanjung Pauh village who were displaced by the Kotopanjang dam in Riau, were promised rubber trees ready to harvest in several years. It turned out there were no rubber trees. Villagers were cheated for the sake of the Japanese funded dam.

Instead of its predicted lifespan of 100 years, Kedungombo is now not expected to hold water for more than 10 years. Jatigede would in fact be built to cover up the failures of the Jatiluhur dam to irrigate Karawang and Indramayu, as Citarum water catchment area has only been 9 percent left. These all depict that the national history of large dams is worthy to reappraise the worthiness of the government to initiate or continue building other 17 large dams.

The international world has moved forward to the dam decommissioning, de-activation or dismantling policies, especially in Europe and the United States.

In 2000, decommissioning negotiation was made between the Colombian dam builder company and the victimized communities, Embera-Katio people. Out of 2000 large dams built before 1950 in British Columbia, almost two dozens have been dismantled, while proposals have piled up to destroy others, as not functioning as expected, instead endanger water ecosystems.

International Rivers Network believes the trend of river revival as dam decommissioning is likely to go worldwide, as climate change makes the safety of dams and the high cost of retrofitting them a serious argument for decommissioning. (

Public Works and Infrastructure and Housing Ministries have actually worked on much more secure and environmental friendly alternative projects to secure irrigation and power, that is micro hydropower.

So, why don’t we keep moving forward to reappraise all the large dam projects, turning to undestructive water and power projects?

The writer, Lim Mei Ming, is a freelance journalist. She can be reached at

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One Response to “Constructing Dams vs. Global Warming”

Jennifer | March 14th, 2012 at 7:23 am | comment link
top comment

The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation canals in India alone.

India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.

Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.

This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.

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