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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010


Scrutiny of dam projects

Examining the worthiness of dam projects is an important promise of the Democratic Party of Japan. The party's manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election called for halting the construction of the Yanba dam in Gunma Prefecture and the Kawabegawa dam in Kumamoto Prefecture.

Once large-scale public works projects are started it is extremely difficult to halt them. It has often been pointed out that such projects, especially dams, are a waste of public money. In view of the central and local governments' dismal financial situation and the ongoing depopulation of the countryside, it is questionable whether these dam projects are necessary. It is logical that the government investigate alternative means of flood control.

Efforts to review the worthiness of dam projects began last month at various locations around Japan. Involved are 30 dam projects under the jurisdiction of the central government and 53 dam projects under the jurisdiction of prefectural governments with subsidies from the central government.

The examinations are based on standards adopted by a panel of experts at the land and infrastructure ministry. The panel says that the dam projects will be compared against alternative means of flood control such as the improvement of embankments and construction of flood control channels.

But there are several problems with the review. It is being conducted by the central government, the Japan Water Agency and the prefectural governments — all entities that have been proponents of dam projects. There is no guarantee that the views of citizens and researchers who have been monitoring dam projects with a critical eye will be taken into consideration.

Although the entities that are reviewing dam projects are considering alternative means of flood control, they are relying on the same data that were used to justify the original projects. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the data are scientifically wrong. It is also problematic that the government has not made the data public, as if it has something to hide.

Citizens, researchers and lawmakers must monitor the review process carefully to ensure it is not unjustly used to support dam projects.

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