World Bank Group
The World Bank Group has traditionally been the most important financier of large dams. Since its creation in 1944, the Bank has funded approximately 600 dams. With projects such as Chixoy, Kariba and Sardar Sarovar, these dams have included some of the world's most appalling development disasters.
"Lending for big dams accounts for 10% of the World Bank's portfolio but 95% of its headaches." John Briscoe, World Bank senior water advisor, 2003
The World Bank Group does not just fund concrete projects. It also creates dam-building institutions, devises master plans for countries' development, and generally promotes a top-down development model.
After strong grassroots campaigns, the World Bank mostly withdrew from funding large dams in the 1990s. Other funders - particularly Chinese financiers but also Southern financial institutions and export credit agencies - didn't hesitate to fill the gap.
Yet recently, the World Bank has returned to promoting large dams by adopting new high-risk infrastructure and energy strategies. It is also trying to weaken its own social environmental standards in order to compete with other financiers. Some of the dams the Bank is currently funding include Nam Theun 2 (Laos), Bujagali (Uganda), Allain Duhangan (India), and Lom Pangar (Cameroon). (See World Bank Pipeline Projects to Watch for a list of proposed World Bank water and energy projects.)
The International Finance Corporation, the private equity arm of the World Bank Group, is also involved in promoting dams, and has partnered with the public sector for dam financing. Meanwhile, the IFC's Performance Standards are frequently used as social and environmental benchmarks.
International Rivers coordinates civil society campaigns to keep the World Bank Group out of destructive dam projects. We monitor the projects that move forward, and ask the Bank to address the unresolved legacy of dams it has funded in the past. We work to strengthen the Bank's environmental, social and anti-corruption policies, and promote more sustainable water and energy alternatives.