River Basin Development

2.13. River basin development projects are instruments of major importance for economic and social development, and are often an essential part of the development programmes. However, many of the environmental problems which are commonly discussed have arisen in connexion with the construction of these projects. This underlines the need for careful study and analysis in the design of large dams or dam sites, so that their negative side effects can be minimized
through proper planning. Some of the environmental problems which are generally associated with river basin development projects include the spawning of waterborne diseases, the filling of reservoirs with sedimentation, the drying-up of down-stream fisheries, the spread of salinization and water-logging in associated irrigation projects, the inundation of valuable agricultural and forestry land, the displacement of population and the loss of mineral resources, wild life areas or valuable historical sites. The emergence of most of these adverse effects is generally gradual.

Some of them can be readily corrected but others are practically irreversible because the capital investment is very large and fixed. Some of the consequences can be on a very large scale and may even be such as to frustrate the purpose of the development project or plan. However, many of them can be anticipated by preliminary analysis. For these reasons, environmental aspects of such projects clearly merit high priority for analysis but it must be borne in mind that
many of the associated environmental costs may have to be assumed in the pursuit of benefits offered by the project, or that remedial action could be taken to minimize these costs. It is often wrongly assumed that in the past all adverse side effects have come as surprises.


2.14. Pollution emanating from industrial development represents more of a potential than an actual threat at this time in many developing countries. However, there are a number of isolated instances of industrial pollution even in these countries. The developing countries have an advantage in so far as they can learn from the experience of the developed nations. By taking sensible decisions on the location of industries and their waste disposal, and by instituting social controls under which the private sector must function, they can avoid some of the worst environmental problems that have arisen in connexion with industrial pollution. Developing countries should give careful consideration to the question of location of industries and formulate concrete guidelines in the context of their own national situation, which would prevent the rise of major environmental problems. It would also be useful to identify cases where labour-intensive technologies may produce less environmental disruption. This seems to us a high priority area for research.


2.15. A basic choice in the field of transport is between systems that provide mass transportation and the owner-operated vehicle. In the United States, and increasingly in Western Europe and Japan, the choice of the motor vehicle as the primary means of personal transportation is now resulting in critical environmental consequences: air pollution with damage to people, vegetation and landscape, increased accidents; pressure on urban space, and distorted configuration of human settlements. Here there is a clear area of choice. In the transport policies adopted by the developing countries some of these environmental problems can be avoided by providing means of mass transportation and by thereby reducing the need for owner-operated vehicles. This is, in any case, dictated by their own level of development and the need to reduce visible disparities among various income groups. Mass transit facilities represent the obvious alternative in urban areas to the kind of environmental problems that have arisen already as a result of emphasis on owner-operated motor vehicles in more developed societies.