The Year in Review: World River News in Brief

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …. 2011 saw dams cancelled or delayed in Burma, Laos and Central America; the decommissioning of a few large dams in the US, and strong growth in true renewables in many parts of the world. But 2011 also ushered in huge dam plans in China, Turkey and Ethiopia; and saw new dams proposed or ready to start construction on too many rivers around the globe. As our friends in Mozambique say, “A luta continua!” The struggle continues… Herewith, the year’s high- and low-lights.


  • Installing solar panels
    Installing solar panels
    Global investment in clean energy generation capacity reached a record high of $260 billion in 2011, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance – an increase of 5% above 2010 levels and almost five times the 2004 total. A highlight was a 36% surge in total investment in solar technology, to $136.6bn. Rooftop PV modules, whose cost has dropped by 75% in the past three years, accounted for more than half of solar’s growth.
  • The Global Wind Energy Council reported a total of over 41 gigawatts of new wind power were installed in 2011, an increase of 6%. China led the way with 18GW of turbines last year, but 75 countries now have wind installations. Global capacity is now 238 gigawatts.
  • China continued to hold the role as the world’s biggest dam builder . Chinese banks and companies were involved in constructing some 300 dams in 66 countries outside of China.
  • The World Bank's International Finance Corporation recognized indigenous people’s right to free, prior informed consent regarding projects in their territories. At the same time, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks revised their infrastructure strategies and reaffirmed their commitment to funding large, centralized projects such as the Grand Inga Dam on the Congo River. International Rivers is monitoring the banks' support for such projects, and is helping partner groups advocate for the respect of their rights.
  • The International Hydropower Association began promoting its Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP). Civil society is calling for governments and developers to use binding standards rather HSAP, which can be used to simply greenwash dams.
  • Thanks to work by International Rivers and local partner groups, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee examined the threats to a number of World Heritage sites threatened by dams, including in East Africa; India, China, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Bangladesh, Russia, Thailand, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The committee recommended a halt to the Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia, and has plans to visit the dam site.


  • A new dam-building spree for China’s major rivers was outlined in the 12th Five Year Plan. The added capacity is equivalent to building a new Three Gorges Dam every year for the next five years. The Nu/Salween River is a potential hydro hotspot, but the river’s fate is still undecided thanks to efforts by local experts to show dam building in this seismically active region requires further study.
  • Sinohydro , the world's largest dam builder, made significant progress in adopting the first-ever environmental policy for its overseas operations. The company said it plans to publish the policy soon. Sinohydro also launched its IPO on the Shanghai stock exchange, amid increasing scrutiny by the Chinese media on China's environmental footprint overseas.
  • China's highest government body for the first time officially acknowledged the "urgent problems" of the Three Gorges Dam , particularly when it comes to ecosystem impacts, bank erosion and massive landslides in the reservoir, water pollution and algal booms, and the welfare of relocated communities. Government officials have admitted to these problems in the past, but the statement comes this time from the State Council.

South Asia

  • The Nepali government cancelled the West Seti Dam in July; the project had struggled to find funding. China has since expressed interest in building the project. Local activists have vowed to continue their campaign against the project.
  • A sustained protest prevented the Lower Subansiri Dam from being completed. At least 40 organizations are working to stop the project, and have prevented its turbines to be delivered to the site. In May, the company trying to transport the turbines gave up, saying it would try another route.
  • In August, International Rivers, together with four partner groups, organized the first national workshop on river basin planning in India. The three-day event led to the preparation of a civil society blueprint on river basin planning by a task force that included International Rivers.
  • Bhutan's prime minister warned that climate change could halt the tiny kingdom's ambitious dam plans. Himalayan glaciers are melting fast. The government wants to raise its hydropower capacity seven-fold from a current peak of about 1,500 megawatts; most of the power would be exported to India.

Southeast Asia

  • The Burmese president suspended the controversial Chinese-funded Myitsone Dam for five years, saying it was "the desire of the people." The cancellation, which may signify a new openness within the Burmese government, has also been a wake-up call for China.
  • In a crucial decision for the Mekong River, the Xayaburi Dam – the first of 11 proposed for the Mekong mainstream – was delayed in April due to widespread concerns over transboundary impacts and the need for further study and consultation. This decision was re-affirmed in December when the four regional governments again agreed to delay plans for the dam pending further study.


  • Amid turmoil in Egypt, which has long held rights to most of the waters of the Nile, the Ethiopia government announced it intends to build Africa’s biggest dam, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam , on the Nile.
  • Kenyan activists protested China's involvement in Gibe 3 Dam , being built by Ethiopia on the Omo River. The World Heritage Committee urged Ethiopia to halt to the project, which will harm the Omo Valley and Lake Turkana.
  • A long-running protest by people displaced by Merowe Dam on the Nile in Sudan spread to the capital of Khartoum, where it is met with repression from government forces. The Chinese-built dam was completed in 2009.
  • Sudan contracted Sinohydro to build Kajbar Dam on Nile in Sudan
  • The governments of South Africa and the DR Congo signed an agreement to develop Grand Inga, Africa’s largest dam. The African Development Bank began a feasibility study for the project. The project is expected to cost at least $80 billion, not including an extensive new transmission system to carry the electricity across the continent.
  • Kenya announced it intends to get half of its electricity from geothermal power by 2018, to cushion against the growing uncertainty of hydropower.

Latin America

  • Protests grew over Belo Monte Dam
    Protests grew over Belo Monte Dam
    The Brazilian government has insisted on pushing forward with the Belo Monte Dam project in the Amazon. At the same time, public outcry has been growing over this destructive project. In November, 1.4 million Brazilians signed a petition against the dam. A dozen outstanding legal cases on the project’s violations of domestic human rights and environmental legislation are pending in Brazil’s courts.
  • The Brazilian construction company Odebrecht cancelled plans for a mega-dam in Peru in November. The firm withdrew its plans to develop the Tambo-40 Dam on the Tambo River in the Peruvian Amazon. Braziliian dam builders are also reportedly shying away from other proposed dams in the Peruvian Amazon.
  • Peru’s government also cancelled the Inambari Dam in June. Thousands of local people had protested for months, calling for a cancellation of the dam and mining concessions in their territory. The project, proposed for the Amazon basin 300 km from the border with Brazil, would be built by a Brazilian company.
  • in January 2011, the Honduran Congress approved a contract with China’s SinoHydro, to build the first of three dams on the Patuca River. Local activists are calling for proper environmental studies and for the right of indigenous peoples to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent before any projects are built in their territories.
  • The EIA for Patagonia’s HydroAysen dam project was approved. The decision sparked huge protests all over Chile – the biggest protests there since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship.

Dam Removal

  • Elwha Dam is coming down. Photo: NPS
    Elwha Dam is coming down. Photo: NPS
    Deconstruction of two dams on the Elwha River in Washington State got underway, after a long campaign to decommission them. The dam removal is one of the largest in the US, and will open up river habitat to endangered salmon and other species.
  • On the White Salmon River in Washington state, another big dam removal began last year. The removal of Condit Dam will restore 33 miles of habitat.
  • Removal of two dams on Maine’s Penobscot, New England’s largest river, also began in 2011.


  • Drought-related power outages affect Tanzania, China, Kenya, the Balkans, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka, all of which have a large dependence on hydropower for meeting their energy needs.
  • The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board launched a policy debate on the future of the CDM. While the carbon market continues to struggle amid the financial crisis and new scandals involving fake carbon credits, the CDM Board nevertheless awarded carbon credit financing to a number of controversial projects, including two in Latin America that involve human rights violations, and two hydropower projects that had already started construction (CDM projects are supposed to be unable to go forward without the credits).
  • The Green Climate Fund was created at the COP17 meeting in South Africa. Civil society is now closely monitoring it to make sure it does not include large hydropower, and that strong social and environmental safeguards guide its operation.