Conservation & Environmental Matters

From: Phillip Owen <>
Date: Tue, 14 Mar 2006 08:29:58 +0200
To: <>
Subject: Small is Beautiful


Small is Beautiful in Meeting Water and Energy Needs of the Poor

Contact: Patrick McCully, + 1 510 213 1441,
For a media kit visit

March 13, 2006 - The basic water, food and energy needs of the world’spoorest people can be met by redirecting investments in waterinfrastructure to cheap, decentralized and environmentally sustainabletechnologies. Such a strategy is affordable, and can generate the economic growth needed to produce broad-based poverty reduction. These are the conclusions of a new report, Spreading the Water Wealth: Making Water Infrastructure Work for the Poor, released today by International Rivers Network.

This week, thousands of experts from industry, governments and civil society are converging in Mexico City for the 4th World Water Forum.

They will face a huge challenge: worldwide, 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. More than 2 million children die from dirty water and poor sanitation each year. How to meet these challenges will be the main topic of discussion at the Forum.
“The good news is that it is technically possible, affordable and achievable to provide water for all those who need it in coming years,” says Patrick McCully, Executive Director of International Rivers Network, and one of the report’s authors. “The bad news is that the big-dam lobby is coming to Mexico City to press for an aggressive resurgence of investment in water mega-projects, which are not likely to significantly reduce poverty.”
McCully argues that the needs of the poor must be put front and center in water infrastructure strategies, and rebuts the main arguments for the mega-project approach.

“The widespread implementation of small-scale infrastructure for delivering water and energy services is required to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Small-scale projects such as local rainwater harvesting structures, drip irrigation and pump technologies, and water-saving farming techniques can reduce poverty more effectively and at lower cost than the mega-projects that focus on cities, industry, and modern agriculture. “The difficulty lies not in the lack of appropriate technologies, but in generating the political will and institutional capacities to implement these options, and in blocking the lobbying efforts of those whose interests lie in maintaining the status quo," says McCully.

The report includes an essay by Paul Polak, president of International Development Enterprises (IDE), who describes IDE's work in bringing cheap treadle pumps and drip irrigation kits to millions of small farmers across the global South. Polak estimates that reaching the Millennium Development Goal of bringing 100 million small farming families out of extreme poverty through low-cost water technologies would cost approximately $20 billion over ten years less than a tenth of developing countriesí investment on large dams in the 1990s. The estimated economic benefit is $300-600 billion.

McCully compares this to the megaproject approach: ìIn Rajasthan, supplying water costs $2 per person with rainwater harvesting techniques, and approximately $200 per person through the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam. Irrigating a hectare of land in India costs $3,800 through the Sardar Sarovar Project, and $120 through treadle pumps. Yet governments and financial institutions spend about $20 billion on large dams every year, but have so far mostly ignored the low-cost solutions.”

Just as the great majority of people without access to water live in rural areas of developing countries, so do most of the 1.6 billion without access to electricity. According to the report, the energy needs of poor rural areas are most likely to be met by improved cook stoves, mini and micro hydro projects, and other small renewable energy sources. Massive hydropower projects that provide power for mines, industries and big cities rarely provide benefits to rural people.

Further information:

• Spreading the Water Wealth: Making Water Infrastructure Work for the Poor can be downloaded at:
• Contact Patrick McCully, Executive Director, International Rivers
Network. Tel: + 1 510 213 1441 or + 1 510 848 1155,

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International Rivers Network protects rivers and defends the rights of communities that depend on them. IRN opposes destructive dams and the development model they advance, and encourages better ways of meeting people’s needs for water, energy and protection from destructive floods.