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NEWS: Controversy swirls around Harper-backed Dahla dam in Afghanistan

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits the Dahla dam project. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits the Dahla dam project. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press.

The Toronto Star reports that “one of Canada’s signature project in Afghanistan” was the Dahla dam. The 55 metre-high dam, which blocks the Arghandab River, was first constructed in the early-1950s and is now being rehabilitated with the stated purpose of doubling the amount of irrigated land in the Arghandab River basin. The Harper government awarded the $50-million project to Quebec-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin and consulting firm Hydrosult.

Today the newspaper notes, “Canada spent about $10 million on security in Afghanistan at its $50-million Dahla dam project, where private security contractors were linked to allegations of corruption and involved in an armed standoff with Canadian security officials. …The Canadian International Development Agency contracted the project to SNC-Lavalin, which was responsible for security. …The Dahla dam was guarded in part by Watan Risk Management, a controversial Afghan security firm… The U.S. banned contracts with Watan in 2010 as part of efforts to prevent aid money from winding up in the hands of corrupt officials and the Taliban, but SNC-Lavalin maintained its ties into 2011, when it finally severed the relationship.”

“NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar wants a post-mortem on how Canada’s development funds have been spent. ‘This is something that if Canadians knew the amounts we’re spending and the way it was being done, they would be quite upset,’ said Dewar.”

The National Post has previously reported that Nipa Banerjee, who headed CIDA’s work in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2006, says, “All the projects have failed. None of them have been successful. I think we went into Kandahar to increase our international profile … rather than thinking about the interests of the people of Kandahar. It was too much politicized and militarized and securitized, and as a result we ended up with failure.”

To read Blue Planet Project founder Maude Barlow’s 9-point critique of major dam projects, please see http://canadians.org/blog/?p=6779. Later this month, the Blue Planet Project will be releasing a report titled, ‘Dam Truths: A Compilation of Case Studies About Popular Struggles Against Big Dams’.