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WCD Final Report
NGO letter to the World Bank (March 2001)


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NGOs protest against World Bank position on World Dams report

The Berne Declaration and the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People protest against the World Bank's refusal to accept the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams report. In a letter to President Wolfensohn which was endorsed by 85 other groups from 30 countries, they say that if the Bank does not comprehensively adopt the WCD's recommendations, NGOs will hesitate to engage in other dialogues with the Bank in the future.

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In a letter to President James Wolfensohn, 87 NGOs and movements from 30 countries on 19 March protested against the position which the World Bank has so far taken on the World Commission on Dams (WCD) report. The groups, which were all involved in the WCD process, say the Bank's response to the report has been "ill-advised, disappointing and in parts inappropriate". After the high-level report was published on 16 November, 2000, a Bank mission set out to consult those governments which are most actively involved in building large dams. As a result, the World Bank informed the WCD Forum in Cape Town on 25 February that it would not adopt the WCD's new guidelines, but would only use them as a non-binding reference point when considering new dam projects. At the same time, the NGOs say, Bank representatives are silently lobbying governments and other institutions to reject the WCD's recommendations.

"NGOs certainly agree that borrowing country governments have an important role to play, and are interested in having an active dialogue with them on the implementation of the WCD report", says Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, one of the authors of the NGO letter. "Yet if the World Bank simply consults the water and energy ministries which build the largest dams, it should refrain from pretending to be an honest broker, but should make it clear that it represents one interest group in a conflictive debate", Thakkar adds.

The NGO letter points out that the World Bank was actively involved in the WCD process from the very beginning, that the Bank has "quite likely had more opportunities for inputs into the process than any other institution", and that it has repeatedly "applauded the WCD as a model for resolving conflict through dialogue". In their letter, the NGOs call on the Bank to comprehensively adopt the recommendations of the WCD, to establish independent reviews of its planned and ongoing dam projects, to establish mechanisms for providing reparations to communities that have been hurt by earlier dam projects, and to place a moratorium on the funding of new dams until it has implemented the WCD guidelines. The NGOs point out that many international financial institutions, government agencies, scientific bodies and industry associations have already come out in support of the WCD recommendations.

"The World Bank's response to the WCD report is a test-case for the value of multi-stakeholder dialogues to resolve social conflict", says Christine Eberlein of the Berne Declaration, the co-author of the NGO letter. "If the Bank does not implement the consensus recommendations which were reached by the WCD, but uses dialogue only to deflect opposition, NGOs will likely distrust any future multi-stakeholder processes promoted by the Bank", Eberlein adds.

The World Commission on Dams was an independent body chaired by South African minister Kader Asmal whose twelve prominent members represented the different perspectives involved in the large dams debate. The Commission conducted the first ever comprehensive evaluation of the impacts of large dams, and published its consensus report on 16 November, 2000. In its report, the WCD recommends, inter alia, that all water and energy projects should be based on a balanced assessment of needs and options, that all decision to build dams should be based on the agreement of dam-affected communities, and that optimizing the existing water and energy facilities should have priority over the building of new projects.

For further information:

.. Peter Bosshard, Berne Declaration,, phone +41 1 277 70 07 .. Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP,, phone +91 11 747 9916 or 748 4654. .. or for NGO comments on the WCD .. (official website of the WCD)

The Berne Declaration is a Swiss advocacy group with 16,000 members. Through research, public education and advocacy work, it has promoted more equitable North-South relations for more than 30 years. The Berne Declaration has been involved in the WCD process from the beginning, and is a member of the WCD Forum.

NGO letter to the World Bank

Mr. James D. Wolfensohn President, The World Bank 1818 H St., N.W. Washington, DC 20433

19 March, 2001

Follow-up to the World Commission on Dams

Dear Mr. Wolfensohn

We wish to convey to you our concerns about the response of the World Bank to the World Commission on Dams report. The undersigned NGOs and movements of dam-affected people have all been actively involved in initiating, supporting and monitoring the WCD process. While regretting its many gaps and ambiguities, they have welcomed the WCD report as the first comprehensive and independent evaluation of the social, environmental and economic impacts of large dams. They are also actively involved in the follow-up process to the release of the report.

The World Bank has played an active role in the creation of the WCD, in the selection of its Commissioners, and in the preparation of the WCD's knowledge base and report. Quite likely, the Bank has had more opportunities for formal and informal inputs into the WCD process than any other institution. Throughout the process, World Bank representatives (including yourself) have applauded the WCD as a primary example of multi-stakeholder approaches and as a model for resolving conflict through dialogue. Given this active involvement, the Bank should certainly feel ownership for the consensus report which has emerged from the WCD process.

At the London launch of the WCD report on 16 November, 2000, you welcomed the new report, and announced that the critical test for the World Bank would be whether its borrowers and project financiers would accept the Commission's recommendations. Since this time, a Bank-wide task-force has studied the WCD report, and Bank representatives have visited a series of governments to solicit their reactions to the report. At the third WCD Forum meeting in Cape Town, we were informed that the World Bank would not adopt the report's 26 guidelines, but would use the report as a mere, non-binding reference point for decision-making on dam-related projects. At the same time, we learnt from various sources that Bank representatives are misinforming or even lobbying governments and other institutions so that they reject the WCD report. Some institutions which expressed positive views about the WCD recommendations reported that they were strongly criticized by Bank representatives for doing so.

We believe that the position which the World Bank and its representatives have taken on the WCD report is ill-advised, disappointing and in parts inappropriate. The international network which monitors or fights large dams and which has monitored the WCD process has always been driven by Southern movements and NGOs. We therefore certainly agree that borrowing country governments, along with other constituencies, have an important role to play in the WCD process, and are interested in having an active dialogue with them on the implementation of the report. When the World Bank consults borrowing country governments, it should however go beyond simply soliciting the views of some of the most ardent dam-building bureaucracies in the respective countries. If the Bank bases its attitude towards the WCD report solely on the position of the water and energy ministries involved in building dams, it encourages actors who in many cases defend vested interests and who have often been reluctant to engage in a dialogue with other government ministries or civil society. Finally, if the Bank simply builds its position on the views of dam-building governments, it should refrain from pretending to be an "honest broker", but should make it clear that it represents one interest group in a conflictive debate.

When the WCD report was launched, 109 NGOs and social movements from 39 countries, including many of the undersigned movements and organizations, issued a call entitled, From Commission to Action, to the World Bank and to other public financial institutions. We called on the financial institutions

.. to immediately and comprehensively adopt the recommendations of the WCD, and to integrate them into their relevant policies; .. to establish independent, transparent and participatory reviews of their planned and ongoing dam projects; .. to establish and fund mechanisms to provide reparations to affected communities that have suffered harm as a result of existing dam projects; .. and to observe a moratorium on the funding of new dam projects until they have fully implemented the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams.

In the light of the attitude which the World Bank has so far taken towards the WCD report, we again urge you to take these minimum next steps, which are based on the Commission's findings and recommendations. By doing so, the World Bank could join the coalition of international organizations, bilateral funders, national industry associations, companies, and scientific bodies which have embraced the report so far and which are now working towards the implementation of its recommendations.

We believe that a failure by the Bank to amend its position on the WCD report will have negative impacts beyond the water and energy sectors. The response to the report is a test-case for the value of multi-stakeholder dialogues to resolve social conflict. The Bank has itself made the WCD process a model of consensus-building through a multi-stakeholder approach. The fairness of the process has never been seriously challenged, and the Commission has indeed managed to reach a new consensus. If the World Bank does now not feel committed to this consensus, it indicates that the multi-stakeholder approach was not meant to effectively resolve the problems which brought about its creation, but to deflect opposition or to buy time. If the Bank does not effectively adopt and implement the WCD's recommendations, NGOs may be less inclined to engage in future multi-stakeholder dialogues with the World Bank. We encourage you to consider this general concern as the World Bank finalizes its position on the WCD report.

We look forward to your response, and thank you for your interest in the concerns expressed in this letter.

Sincerely yours,

Christine Eberlein Berne Declaration
Himanshu Thakkar South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People

This letter is being endorsed by the following 85 groups from 30 countries:

Melanie Gillbank, AID/WATCH, Australia Tim Fisher, Australian Conservation Foundation, Australia Harun-ur-Rashid, Community Development Library, Bangladesh Hossain Shahriar, Environmental & Social Development Organisation, Bangladesh Majibul Haque Dulu, Jamuna Char Development Project, Bangladesh Saleem Samad, Like-Minded Environmental Activists Group, Bangladesh Hamidul Huq, Unnayan Shohojogi Team, Bangladesh Sadi Baron, Dam-Affected People's Movement of Brazil Pamela Foster, Halifax Initiative Coalition, Canada Gabriel Rivas-Ducca, COECOCEIBA-Amigos de la Tierra Costa Rica Jose Daniel Jimenez , Consultoria en Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Dominican Republic Helene Ballande, Amis de la Terre, France Roberto A. Epple , ERN European Rivers Network, France André Pelissier, SOS Loire Vivante, France Sharon Courtoux, SURVIE, France Wolfgang Kuhlmann, Arbeitsgemeinschaft Regenwald und Artenschutz, Germany Iris Weiche, Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilf, Germany Andreas Noack, biz, Germany Bernhard Henselmann, EarthLink - The People & Nature Network, Germany Rolf Künnemann, FIAN, Germany Jurgen Maier, German NGO Forum Environment & Development, Germany Manfred Treber, Germanwatch, Germany Heinz Peter Vetten, MANDACARU, Germany Hans Branscheidt, medico international, Germany Niklas Reese, Philippinenbüro, Germany Dario Jana, Red Internacional de Apoyo al Pueblo Pehuenche, Germany Rudolf Fenner, Robin Wood, Germany Renate Domnick & Theodor Rathgeber, Society for Threatened Peoples, Germany Heffa Schücking, Urgewald, Germany Alex Flor, Watch Indonesia, Germany Birgit Zimmerle, WEED, Germany Wolfgang Sachs, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Energy, Environment, Germany Sophia Woodman, Human Rights in China, Hong Kong/China M.K.Sukumar & Ashish Mandloi, Narmada Bachao Andolan, India Vimalbhai, National Alliance of People's Movements, India Antonio Tricarico & Jaroslava Colajacomo, Reform the World Bank Campaign, Italy Ikuko Matsumoto, Friends of the Earth Japan Satoru Matsumoto, Mekong Watch, Japan Masahito Ujiie, National Dam Opposition Network, Japan Reiko Amano, NGO Association for Public Works Review & Nagara River Citizen's Coalition, Japan Kazuyoshi Okada, Sagami River Camp-In-Symposium, Japan Grace Akumu, Climate Network Africa, Kenya Argwings Odera, Sondu-Miriu Advocacy Campaign, Kenya Fernando Melo, Promotora de Servicios para el Desarrollo Sociedad Civil, Mexico Ulli Eins, Earthlife Africa Namibia, Namibia Clement Daniels, Legal Assistance Centre, Namibia Wiert Wiertsema, Both ENDS, The Netherlands Paul de Clerck & Monique de Lede, Friends of the Earth Netherlands Rev. David Ugolor, African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, Nigeria Tonje Folkestad, Association for International Water and Forest Studies (FIVAS), Norway Muhammad Nauman, Creed Alliance, Pakistan Naeem Iqbal & Mishka Zaman, Pakistan Network of Rivers, Dams, and People, Pakistan Khawar Mumtaz & Najma Sadeque, Shirkat Gah,Pakistan Mushtaq Gadi, SUNGI Development Foundation, Pakistan Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, Shaheen Rafi Khan & Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Pakistan Oscar Rivas, Sobrevivencia/Friends of the Earth Paraguay Joan Carling, Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Philippines Jacek Bozek, Ecological and Cultural Association 'Klub Gaja', Poland Juraj Zamkovsky, Friends of the Earth Slovakia & Center of Environmental Public Advocacy, Slovakia Brian Ashley, Alternative Information & Development Centre, South Africa Helene Epstein & David Hallowes, Earthlife Africa Durban, South Africa Richard Worthington, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, South Africa Liane Greeff, Environmental Monitoring Group, South Africa Quentin Espey, Group for Environmental Monitoring, South Africa Phil Owen, SAWaC, South Africa John Taylor, Skuifraam Action Group, South Africa Klas Ronnback, Miljoforbundet Jordens Vanner/Friends of the Earth Sweden Göran Eklöf, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Sweden Alex Sutter, Menschenrechte Schweiz MERS, Switzerland Brigitte Anderegg, SOLIFONDS, Switzerland Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South, Thailand Hüma Ülgen Söylemez, Dogal Hayati Koruma Dernegi, Turkey Alex Wilks, Bretton Woods Project, United Kingdom Nicholas Hildyard, CornerHouse, United Kingdom Tom Griffiths, Forest Peoples Programme, United Kingdom Kate Geary, Ilisu Dam Campaign, United Kingdom Roger Moody, PartiZans, United Kingdom Geoff Nettleton, Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links, United Kingdom Kay Treakle, Bank Information Center, U.S.A. Korinna Horta, Environmental Defense, U.S.A. Brent Blackwelder, Friends of the Earth U.S.A. Kate B. Showers, Institute for Environmental Awareness, Inc, U.S.A. Patrick McCully, International Rivers Network, U.S.A. Doug Norlen, Pacific Environment Resource Center, U.S.A.

Individual endorsements:

Bina Srinivasan, Researcher, India Scott Robinson, Anthropology, Universidad Metropolitana, Mexico Munawar Hassan, Pakistan

cc. World Bank Executive Directors , Ian Johnson, World Bank Vice-President for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development , Prof. Kader Asmal, former Chair, World Commission on Dams

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