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Germany

A Damming Question

At the International Fresh Water Conference in Bonn, environmental groups and officials grapple with the costs of damming and expanding rivers

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More than 1 million people have to be resettled for the Three Gorges Dam in China

Amid warnings by environmental groups of the rising human cost of dam construction, the United Nations proposed a multi-million dollar dam and reservoir reduction program at the International Fresh Water Conference in Bonn on Tuesday.

In reducing dam and reservoir size, the United Nations hopes to capture as much drinking water as possible while re-settling as few people as possible. Klaus Töpfer, chief of the United Nations Environmental Program, said Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden are sponsoring the $2.5 million program.

Töpfer spoke on the second day of the five-day conference, where 2,300 participants are grappling with issues surrounding the global shortage of fresh water. Environmental officials will then use findings or proposals that result from the conference at the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg next year.

Environmental groups held a press conference earlier in the day criticizing countries building major dams for their poor record of re-settling people in the path of construction.

“The resettlement policy is not taking into account the real problems of people,” said Ulrich Delius, whose group, Society of Indigenous People, works with indigenous populations throughout the globe.

There are more than 20 dams currently under construction, and more than 19 proposed, according to the American nonprofit group Environmental Defense. Many of those are located in Southeast Asia, where flooding is a constant problem. Of those under construction, none is greater than the 1.4 mile wide Three Gorges Dam planned to span the Yangtze river in Eastern and Central China.

The project, in which four German companies, including Siemens, are taking part, has been a favorite target of environmental groups since construction began in 1994. More than 1 million people have to be resettled by the time the dam is completed in 2009, a number environmentalists say the Chinese government will never reach.

Environmental groups also turned their focus inland, attacking plans in Germany to expand the Danube, Elbe and Havel rivers in Germany.“Those who want the three rivers to serve as highway for monster ships will not only destroy the last river wilderness they will manufacture financial ruin,” said Helmut Röscheisen, the general secretary of the German Association for Environmental Protection.

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