March 07, 2006

The World Bank bulldozer

In 1994 the World Bank started funding the construction of a dam in the Kihansi Gorge, in the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania. The dam now provides a third of Tanzania's electricity. Its construction and operation has reduced a once spectacular waterfall to a trickle and has destroyed the habitat of a number of rare species, including a toad that as a result now dwindles to extinction.

How much more expensive would be to provide that electricity by other means? If the World Bank made a mistake, who is responsible? According to the Science article from which I have gathered the information (The Lost World of the Kihansi Toad, by Kevin Krajick), then-World Bank Vice President for Africa Callisto Madavo wrote that measures at the gorge were "designed to ensure an optimal balance between biodiversity conservation and economic development." Really? Optimal for whom? According to what criterion?

I don't know whether the dam is a good idea or not. But I think it is a bad idea to have obscure officials inside the sinister World Bank making important decissions while they know very well that they will bear little or none of the costs of whatever goes wrong.

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