Multinational Monitor

SEP 2003
VOL 24 No. 9


Fishing Off the Deep End - And Back
by Carl Safina

Dead Seas: Nutrient Pollution in Coastal Waters
by Doug Daigle

Coasts at Risk: Coastal Sprawl and the Shore
by David Helvarg

Deep Trouble: Corporate and Military Designs on the Deep Seas
by Deborah Cramer

The Seaweed Rebellion: Marine Grassroots Movements to Protect Coastal and Ocean Ecosystems
by David Helvarg


Working for a New Ocean Ethos: Ocean Activism on the Shorelines
an interview with Christopher Evans


Behind the Lines

A Sea Change to Reverse the Oceans Crisis

The Front
Executive Excess

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

AES Out of Uganda

U.S. energy giant AES Corporation in August announced that it will abandon construction of the controversial Bujagali dam in Uganda.

The proposed $530 million dam on the Nile River has been marred by controversy since the troubled Virginia-based AES was first awarded the right to develop the Bujagali Falls site in 1994 [see "Falling for AES's Plan," Multinational Monitor, June 1999]. The controversy was fueled by both a lack of competitive bidding, and by a refusal to disclose the terms of the contract between the company and the Ugandan government. The project also met with stiff opposition from local organizations concerned that the dam would drown the culturally important Bujagali Falls, and who urged the government to preserve the falls and look to less-harmful and cheaper energy alternatives.

"AES maintained that Bujagali Dam would help pull Uganda out of poverty, but in reality it is a costly white elephant that would increase the nation's debt load, and produce electricity that few Ugandans could afford," says Lori Pottinger of the Berkeley-based International Rivers Network.

The World Bank has provided key support to the dam project. The Bank saw the dam as a key element in its effort to privatize the Ugandan energy sector, and for five years has championed the dam above all other options. In 2001, the Bank approved approximately $215 million in support for the project. Construction was put on hold amidst corruption allegations last year.

Legal action by Ugandan NGOs forced the government to make public the contract with AES in 2002. An independent review of the contract revealed that Ugandans would have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in excessive power payments if the dam were built according to plan.

Despite the AES setback, the World Bank refuses to give up on the project.

World Bank Regional Vice President for Africa Callisto Madavo told Dow Jones that the project is key to ensuring stable long-term power supply in Uganda, and the World Bank "plans to assist the government in its desire to implement this important project expeditiously."

Lungs and the Workplace

Workplace exposure to dust or fumes may account for as many as five million cases of emphysema, chronic bronchitis and related diseases in the United States -- diseases that have been mainly attributed to smoking, a new University of California, San Francisco survey shows.

While smoking still accounts for most of the 16 million cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the finding that occupational exposure may contribute to the illness in up to five million people strongly suggests a need for better workplace prevention, the researchers say.

COPD involves chronic lung inflammation, a narrowing of the airways and increasingly severe breathing difficulties. It is the fourth highest cause of death in the United States, killing more than 100,000 people a year. Worldwide, COPD kills three million people every year and is expected to become the third most common cause of death within 15 years. Annual direct and indirect costs of the disease in the United States have been estimated at more than $30 billion, according to NIH statistics.

"Although smoking prevention remains paramount, controlling hazardous exposures can also have an important role in reducing COPD," says Dr. Paul Blanc, senior author of the study and UCSF professor of occupational and environmental medicine.

The research team's findings are being published in the September issue of the European Respiratory Journal.

The study found that chronic bronchitis, emphysema and related diseases are twice as frequent in people who have been exposed to toxic airborne substances in the workplace, regardless of whether or not they smoke.

Breaches in the Dams

Fifty-seven dams in 15 U.S. states and the District of Columbia are scheduled for removal in 2003, according to an August report by the environmental group American Rivers.

More than 114 dams have been removed since 1999, when the breaching of Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River captured national attention. The decommissioning trend is the result of two converging developments, according to American Rivers -- a growing appreciation of the ecological benefits of removing dams and the rapid aging of much of the nation's dam infrastructure.

"Communities across the country are experiencing a new beginning on their local rivers," says Serena McClain, of American Rivers' Rivers Unplugged campaign. "And while many regard these efforts as dam removals before they happen, afterwards they are remembered as river restorations."

The dams slated for removal this year represent just a tiny fraction of the total number of dams in place across the United States. There are approximately 76,000 dams greater than six feet high and countless smaller obstructions. The vast majority of these dams were built for purposes such as running mills, controlling floods, and creating municipal and agricultural water supplies. Less than 3 percent generate hydroelectricity.

While dams can provide valuable services, the ecological price is high. Dams drown valuable habitat under reservoirs, block the annual migrations of fish, and can create downstream conditions inhospitable for fish and wildlife.


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