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WCD Final Report
Position of the opponents of the Commission recommendations (Feb - March 2001)


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Contents :

Position of the International Commission on Large Dams

Third WCD Forum Meeting, Spier/Cape Town, 25-27 February, 2001

Response to the WCD Report Speech by Theo Van Robbroeck, Honorary President, ICOLD

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen

After the Gland meeting, which I attended as the incumbent ICOLD President, I had high hopes that the initiative taken by those present at that workshop would demonstrate the true role and value of water storage in development. Now, almost four years later, I must confess that my hopes have been dashed. There were in fact, early indications that this might happen. Right from the start, even before the Gland meeting, the IRN, Berne Declaration and other extremist organisations publicly attacked the World Bank report on fifty dams with which the Bank had been involved, and which was supposed to be discussed. Needless to state that this report was relatively favourable towards dams. To make matters worse, that report had been distributed marked confidential! In the face of so much demonstrated prejudice, I wrote to the organisers that our participation would be fruitless.

I should have stuck to my intention to withdraw from the meeting, instead of allowing myself to be prevailed upon to attend after all. The second occasion when I should have ended ICOLD's participation was when the same people publicly rejected the composition of the Commission, as painstakingly drawn up by the Interim Working Group of the World Bank and the IUCN. In the process they viciously attacked the Bank, the IUCN and the Chairman-designate, Prof. Kader Asmal. At a hastily convened meeting of the Working Group, to which I and some of the contras had been invited, the latter objected among others to the presence of a serving President of ICOLD on the Commission. He was consequently replaced. They also insisted on Medha Paktar, a known agitator, as an additional Commissioner. They demanded that their choice be the Vice-Chair, instead of the initial choice of the Chairman. At the time, I was of the opinion that, even before these changes, the composition of the Commission was already skewed in favour of opponents. In the end, against my better judgement, I again gave in, but with a lot of trepidation. I was so convinced of the merits of dams in bettering the lives of people, especially those from less developed areas, that this was bound to come out in the eventual report. Since then the composition of the Commission became even more unbalanced when Ms Shen Guoyi, the Director-General of the Department of International Cooperation in the Ministry of Water Resources of the People's Republic of China withdrew because of ill-health, a fact that is not even mentioned in the report!

In the end, it was not at all surprising that the attacks on dams as reflected in Goldsmith and Hildyard and Patrick McCulley's books dictated the agenda of the study and the tone of the report! It creates the strong impression that dams are somehow tainted and to be avoided unless there is no other way out. In my opinion, and that of most of the ICOLD National Committees, it is definitely not balanced. Most press reactions, even the one in the journal of the Institution of Civil Engineers in Britain and comments by laymen friends confirm my impression. It bothers me that there is not a word of criticism of the attitude of the extremist fringe conducting campaigns against dams, however irrational they often are!

On reading the report, I asked myself the question: did the Commission fulfil its mandate? My answer is no.

At Gland, the WCD was given the task 1. To review the development effectiveness of large dams and assess alternatives for water resources and energy development and 2. To develop internationally acceptable criteria, guidelines and standards, where appropriate, for the planning, design, appraisal, construction, operation, monitoring and decommissioning of dams .

Task 1

Beyond a few bland statements such as: Dams have made an important and significant contribution to human development, and quoting a few figures for the share of irrigation in food production and of hydro in energy generation, there is little in the report about the development effectiveness of dams in regulating the world's rivers for human utilization. Nowhere has it been stated that in many cases dams are the only solution to water problems. In areas of the world where river flow is intermittent, such flow can virtually not be used for development without storage. Dams appear to have been measured against objectives originally stated by the developer, which in many cases, I admit, have not been totally met. But no attempt has been made, nor is it stated anywhere, that the outcome may nevertheless have been, and in most cases was, largely positive. Failure to meet an arbitrary rate of return required by a financing agency does not mean that a low or negative rate has been achieved, or that an alternative solution would have resulted in a better rate or a more appropriate project. In fact, for reasons that are beyond me, the WCD explicitly rejects the notion of drawing up a balance sheet weighing up the pros against the contras. It is as if the millions that benefit from large dams and associated projects do not really count.

The Commission also utterly failed to make an objective and scientific assessment of the alternatives to large dams for water supply, power generation and food production. A number of so-called alternatives advanced by the opponents are put forward without critique. Even where hydro has a major advantage over fossil fuel- such as, for example, reduction in harmful gases, the casual reader of the report might conclude that dams are the major culprits! No attempt has been made to measure the small-scale, local solutions offered by opponents, against the enormous growth in demand in developing countries. Over-optimistic views on the future economics of largely untested technologies are advanced.

Task 2

Apart from criteria, guidelines and standards for consultations with stakeholders, for the study of alternatives and for environmental and social issues, which are very exhaustive indeed, I largely failed to find these for the planning, design, appraisal, construction, operation, monitoring and decommissioning of dams. This could have been acceptable if the Commission had clearly stated that the criteria, guidelines and standards of ICOLD, ICID and the various financing agencies are sufficient and had endorsed them. Instead, the only reference to such guidelines etc. can be found in a brief paragraph in Chapter 9: Recognising that guidelines are available from other sources, the Commission focused principally on what needs to be done differently.

Does this mean that, in my view and ICOLD's there is no merit in the report of the Commission? No. There is a lot to be said in favour of the Chapter on Rights, Risks and Negotiated Outcomes. Also on the Strategic Priorities and the Criteria and Guidelines. Commissioner Henderson at the ICOLD Congress in Beijing in September last year recognized that the ICOLD Position paper on dams and Environment broadly conforms to these. They have been accepted by all National Committees and have in most cases been implemented in recent years. The modus operandi proposed by the Commission is, however, extremely cumbersome and likely to be costly. If applied fully as suggested, very few development projects of any kind will ever get off the ground! Agitators will continue their campaigns regardless of the merits of the case, with the result that most proposals will land in the courts, and will become prohibitively expensive. It is also doubtful whether States will ever allow their powers to be usurped to the extent suggested.

ICOLD will further study these proposals and will cooperate with instances such as the World Water Council, and some of the financing agencies that have the necessary experience in dams and the courage of their convictions to try and make them fully practical. We will, however, not collaborate with attempts to perpetuate the Commission, in whatever form it may be resurrected! We have learned our lesson, but would like to make use of this opportunity to give our own lesson:

1. Although it is claimed in the report that there was consensus among the Commissioners, this is an illusion after reading "A Comment of Medha Paktar" page 321

2.INDIA and CHINA, as ICOLD members, have emphatically rejected the WCD Report So have many others, especially in Asia where the most urgent needs appear.

3. No steps towards reaching possible consensus can be taken without the full cooperation of developing countries, and certainly not against their wishes! ICOLD will take appropriate initiatives soon.

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Position of the International Commission on Irrigation & Drainage

World Needs 45,000 More Large Dams - ICID

" World Needs 45,000 more large dams: World Bank Should Reject WCD Report" - Bert Schultz, ICID

Dr. Bert Schultz, the Director General of ICID ( International Commission of Irrigation ) in an interview to Maharashtra Times ( Mumbai, 22.2.01) by Sudhir Bhongale, has said that

" It is ridiculous to suggest that the big dam should be planned only after consensus ( among stakeholders?). As of today, it takes 10 to 20 years to undertake a major project and 30-40 years to complete the construction on that. If the criterion and guiding principles of the WCD are to be implemened, (a) dam cannot be completed even in hundred years. According to us, there is no alternative for the large dams."

" Structural and non-structural alternatives should go hand-in-hand. People will become destitute if water is not provided. Can we see with eyes open the migration for water?"

"Today, there are 20 countries building the large dams. Out of them only 8-10 are building the dams in reality(sic). There is a need to build large dams in the coutries like India, China, Japan, Spain, Turkey, African and Latin American countries. There are 45,000 large dams in the world. Equal number of dams will ahve to be built in the next hundred years. Otherwise, we will have difficult situation regarding the food-grains, drinking water, power and industry etc. India will have to produce 200 million tonnes more foodgrains in the next 25-30 years. Therefore India will have to build 8,000 to10,000 more large dams. This is the opinion of Mr. Raymond Lofty(?) of Switzerland, which cannot be ignored."

" We in ICID, International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) and International Hydropower Organization (IHP) are marshalling our arguments against the weak links in the WCD report. Though the World bank has very little share of financing the large dams, it has considerable influence on the other agencies. Therefore, we are going to present the report giving real picture regarding the development by large dams ( so that) the World bank should not take a negative stand. The governments in all countries are intelligent enough. Therefore I have no doubt that they would reject this report. I hope that the World bank too would reject the WCD report."

" WCD should have discussed with the fgovernments of the nations that need to build the large dams. They (WCD) did not discuss with any of the government."

" I was the member of the Forum of the WCD in the capacity of the ICID President. Not one of the 68 members of the Forum could get the Report before its publication. ICID had established a study group, in a meeting in 1998, to prepare a position paper to be presented for the WCD. The position paper was approved by 41 out of 43 member states. We had submitted the paper to WCD in January, 2000. But they had not given any answer to it(sic). I was given only five minutes to present the viewpoint of my organization in the meeting of the Forum. They did not hear fully what we wnated to say."

( Translated from Marathi).

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