United Nations: Obsolete Dams are an Increasing Risk

In 2050, more than half of the world’s population will live downstream. The United Nations warns that if we do not act, the lion’s share of those dams will be over by then.

The numbers actually speak for themselves: of 58,700 dams worldwide, most were built between 1930 and 1970, and are expected to be between 50 and 100 years old. After 50 years, the dams often begin to have signs of aging. The United Nations agrees the report On the dangers of aging: The chance of defects increases, Maintenance and repair costs continue to rise, and dam functionality and efficiency are declining.

To put out the order

Well-built dams can easily remain functional for over a century, but it is likely that more and more dams will be decommissioned because it is no longer economically and practically possible to continue using them. This process of “unbundling” has already begun in the United States and Europe.

There are huge differences around the world. For example, in the United States, the average lifespan of dams is 56 years, while in Europe, the average lifespan of large dams is over 100 years. In China, India, Japan, and South Korea, where 55% of all large dams are located, the average lifespan of dams is (only) less than 50 years. All of these dams together hold about 7,000 to 8,000 cubic kilometers of water, enough to put 80% of Canada under low water at a depth of one meter.

Exacerbate climate change

Vladimir Smakhten, co-author of the report, noted in an accompanying report Press release Climate change could exacerbate the problem. The increased number of floods – which is also worse – as well as other climate extremes due to climate change could exceed the capacity of dams. Countries must take this into account if they are to determine which dams they want to take out of work, Samakhtin says.

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