For Once, A World Bank Dam Environmentalists Won’t Hate (Much)

Ordinarily, the thought of a World Bank-financed dam sends environmentalists into frothing rage.

However, in Kazakhstan, the Bank is financing dams that are beginning to restore parts of the Aral Sea, which at one point was down to a quarter of its original size.

By the 1990s only a quarter of the Aral Sea was left, but recently using a $68m loan from the World Bank, the Kazakh government built a dam that split the sea into two parts.

[…]

Communities in the area are already feeling the impact. The fishermen are back in their boats, the clouds and the rain have returned and many across this impoverished region say the future no longer looks hopeless.

When you think about the impact of human activities on the environment, remember that the government is often one of the worst causes of environmental devastation. Almost all attempts to turn desert into farmland have been government projects, specifically because no private investor would ever attempt it.

3 thoughts on “For Once, A World Bank Dam Environmentalists Won’t Hate (Much)

  1. Good post, but I dunno if I buy this part:

    “When you think about the impact of human activities on the environment, remember that the government is often one of the worst causes of environmental devastation.”

    It might be better phrased to say that *individually*, government projects can be far worse environmentally than private projects. This is primarily because government will take on projects of a scale too large for private businesses to consider (like, say, the damming projects of the TVA).

    Taken *collectively*, though, the sum of all those smaller private projects almost certainly outweighs the sum of the public ones. Global warming, for instance, is caused by the sum of lots and lots of tiny private decisions, not because of the failures of one massive project.

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  2. I didn’t claim that government was the worst polluter, hands down. Just that while environmental degradation is often characterized as an exclusively “corporate” creation, government activity, whether through government-owned enterprises, defense waste, power generation, or even the government’s own attempts to provide sanitation (i.e., landfills) are frequently large if not the largest contributors to environmental devastation, especially local devastation with immediate health impacts.

    I’m not sure that ozone depletion has claimed more lives yet than, say, Hanford, and it is surely way behind Chernobyl. That doesn’t mean ozone depletion hasn’t been a problem, and that the regulatory action taken wasn’t successful; but the popular image needs the occasional corrective.

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  3. Of course, the problem with government pollution is that government is also the watchdog. So a lot of the single-worst pollution disasters have been government related (Chernobyl, the Aral Sea) specifically because of the conflict of interest when government.

    You don’t let the guard dog into the henhouse – He has to keep the fox away from outside, not inside.

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