Following the success of the Hoover Dam and the Tennessee Valley complex of dams, more than 1,000 large dams (at least 15 meters tall) were constructed each year during the mid-1960s. Since then, there has been a dramatic decline in dam construction, to around 200 a year. Ugandan-born Khagram, an adviser to the World Commission on Dams in the late 1990s, explains why: not because of the exhaustion of feasible dam sites, but because of a combination of changing world norms with respect to environmental issues and human and indigenous rights, social mobilization, and opposition from nongovernmental organizations. Much of the book focuses on the controversial Narmada River projects of India and the complex legal, political, and social environment in which they proceeded. Comparative perspective is provided by an examination of large dam projects in Brazil, China, Indonesia, and South Africa and Lesotho. Khagram also describes how official lenders, including the World Bank and the U.S. Export-Import Bank, were intimidated into withdrawing financial support, even though the projects often proceeded without them. Disappointingly, he offers no appraisal of the contribution big dams have made to material well-being-or of whether the disruptions they sometimes cause outweigh their benefits.
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