Dam Impacts in Asia

Hydro-electric power is the conversion of the kinetic energy of falling water into electricity. Of the world’s electricity, 15% is produced in this fashion (Baird, Stuart. http://www.iclei.org/efacts/hydroele.htm, 07/09/00). In 1996 the demand for electricity in developing Asia was rising at 8% a year and the region has enormous potential for hydro-electric power (The Economist (US), Oct 12, 1996 v341 n7987 p66(1).). In order to produce hydropower, dams must be built. From an economic viewpoint, unless a river is dammed for industrial or commercial purposes it is useless. However, ecologically all river water is used. The dilemma remains one of whether the benefits of industrialisation outweigh the costs to the environment. Most Asian countries are willing to tread the path of industrialisation at all costs. This essay will examine the advantages and disadvantages of dam construction, then look at China’s Three Gorges Project as a case study.
The main advantage of dams can be seen when hydro-electric power is compared to other energy sources such as coal, oil, wood and nuclear power. Dams are renewable and emit no air or water polluting by-products as well as no waste heat as thermal pollution (Kraushaar & Ristinen, 1993, p186). China’s Three Gorges Project is expected to produce 84 billion kilowatt hours which is equal to a coal mine that extracts 40 – 50 million tons of coal per year. China presently uses coal to generate three quarters of its energy which releases carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere (Three Dams Project, http://www.dur.ac.uk/~des0www4/cal/dams/othe/3dams.htm, 15/09/00). These emissions contribute to global warming, so dam construction can help reduce this threat to the environment.
While dams are generally viewed as being environmentally unsound, they can also be seen as preventing environmental degradation. Nine out of ten Nepalese still use firewood for cooking. Deforestation was also a major pr…


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