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World Commission on Dams (WCD)


ISSUES: Impacts of large dams around the world

GOALS: To conduct a rigorous independent review impact of large hydro-electrical and irrigation dams; develop recommendations on future dam building and to propose practical guidelines for future decision-making.

PARTICIPATING STAKEHOLDERS (Commission and Forum): Multilateral agencies; affected communities; international professional associations; international NGOs; government agencies; utility companies; research institutes; private sector firms in the power and engineering sector; river basin authorities.

TIME FRAME: WCD launched February 1998, started work May 1998 - November 2000 (publication of report)

MSP CONTACT DETAILS; URL: http://www.dams.org; complete report at http://www.damsreport.org/

Type: Informing / advisory, not judicial
Level: International; with regional inputs

Procedural Aspects:

Designing the MSP
WCD was established in February 1998 through a process of dialogue and negotiation involving representatives of the public, private and civil society sectors. It has attracted substantial interest because of the unique way in which the different sides of the debate were brought together, and the belief that this may form a model for resolving other contentious development issues. It was set up and financed by Aid agencies, industry, governments, and NGOs.
An Interim Working Group, composed of participants of a workshop facilitated by the World Bank and IUCN in Gland, Switzerland) was tasked with establishing the World Commission on Dams (WCD).
The mandate for the work of the Commission is the result of agreements reached at the workshop in Gland, Switzerland, along with the subsequent preparatory work and consultation process that followed.
History of the WCD: Started as a debate within the World Bank. The Bank used to fund large dams to a great extent (6-7% of the WB annual budget). This caused crises, e.g. with the Namada dam; and the Bank's involvement in dams building was looked at by an independent inspection panel (WB Operational and Evaluation Department's first evaluation of Bank financing of big dam projects). The bank subsequently declined its lending, whereas coal related lending went up. NGO campaigns called for comprehensive reviews of Bank funded dam projects. Companies were interested in finding a way forward on dams building, e.g. because of the criticism and the decrease in available loans by the World Bank and other funders.
The environmental advisors within the Bank had all along discussed these issues critically – a debate about the "green position" of the Bank. IUCN was then asked to create an external group to discuss the issue of large dams. The Bank's and IUCN's original idea was to set up a working group and have a 3 day conference which took place in Gland, Switzerland, in April 1997. A wider group of stakeholders were then invited, including anti-dam groups. IUCN contacted the International Rivers Network to get potential names and comments on the design of the event. It was important to have representation from people actually affected by these developments and therefore strong critics, rather than what has been termed more "establishment-type groups", where the power issue would have less prominent and therefore the outcome less progressive. The process of setting up the Commission was also supported by an NGO meeting mid-March 1997 in Curitiba (Brazil) which had issued a Declaration calling for a international independent commission to conduct a comprehensive review of large dams. The Gland workshop brought together 39 participants representing governments, the private sector, international financial institutions, civil society organisations, and affected people in a balance later mirrored in both the Commission and the Forum (WCD 2000: 27). One of the outcomes was the agreement reached at the last day of the Gland meeting to carry on the work, for example, through a Commission. After the meeting, participants were communicating via email.
In the view of some NGOs, the shape of any potential Commission – scope and range - would have been narrower without "alternative stakeholder input" at Gland. A joint press statement issued by the World Bank and IUCN noted that all stakeholders were going to collaborate on a study reviewing the effectiveness of large dams and setting standards etc. Thus all stakeholders involved were established as central to the legitimacy of the process. The joint WB / IUCN press release read ”Dam-builders and some of their strongest critics agreed today…”. IUCN and the World Bank noted how they had brought together the two sides of a highly contentious debate and forged consensus between them.
The workshop in Gland produced one recommendation: People affected by dam building, e.g. re-settlements etc., need to be (materially) better off after the building than before (a recommendation also put forward in the WCD report). The principles of transparency, consultation and independence were enshrined as key to the process.

Identifying the issues to be addressed in an MSP
To ensure the independence of the Commission, IUCN and the World Bank have maintained their roles as initiators, but neither institution interfered with the work programme of the Commission.
Issues for the initial Gland meeting were identified by WB and IUCN. After that, issues were identified by participants, the Interim Working Group and subsequently the Commission and the Forum, and via input from regional hearings / meetings and via expert and stakeholder background papers.

Identifying relevant stakeholders
Relevant stakeholders were identified before the initial conference in Gland by the World Bank and IUCN.
Involvement of NGOs: The issue of whether to participate was considered carefully, given the scarcity of NGO resources and time, and the issue that the usual power balance might happen and decisions would be favourable to the industry. Dam critics noted that there would be less chance of this happening if the commissioners had integrity and the process was transparent.

Identifying MSP participants
Selecting the Commissioners was no easy process as some people felt the suggested lists did not include adequate representation of people affected by dam building.
The Commission was composed of a chair and 11 members, balanced by regional representation, expertise and stakeholders. Commissioners are members in their individual capacities, not representatives of organisations. Ensuring inclusiveness, independence and transparency were the goals of the process. “As an international commission, our process has been unique in taking on board a range of interests and opinions previously held to be irreconcilable" (WCD 2000).
The WCD Forum is a consultative group consisting of 68 organisations, acting as a 'sounding board' and advisory group for the WCD. It is a mix of participants at the initial Gland meeting, new stakeholders  and interest groups. Selection criteria were relevance, balance and representation of a diversity of perspectives, interests and regions. The Forum is a mechanism for maintaining a dialogue between the WCD and the respective constituencies of the Forum members. Members of the Forum provide ongoing input into the Commission, play a key role in outreach and most likely in the follow-up work.

Setting the goals of an MSP
The Interim Working Group negotiated the form and mandate of the Commission. This group had been part of the Gland meeting and represented all stakeholders.
The WCD addressed the conflicting viewpoints within the debate on large dams through:

Undertaking a global review of the development effectiveness of large dams and assessments of alternatives;

Developing a framework for assessing alternative option and decision-making processes for water and power development;

Developing internationally acceptable criteria and guidelines for planning, designing, construction, operation, monitoring and decommissioning of dams.

The goal was to undertake an independent review of large dams and their impacts as well as developing proposals for the future.

Setting the agenda
This was identified at the Gland meeting and shaped at each and every consultation session. Ultimately the 12 commissioners as representatives of all interested groups agreed the final agenda of issues.

Setting the time-table
After the Gland meeting via communication between participants; then by commission, including consultations with the WCD forum.

Preparatory process

Commissioned research and submitted papers

Five-month preparatory phase (January-May 1998)

Regional meetings; thematic group (which was increasingly important – long list of stakeholders (funded by themselves, mostly); forum as a sounding board which also created commitment

Background papers were being prepared to feed in expert & stakeholder views

A large part of the Commission’s work involved a broad and independent review of the experience with large dams. The resulting WCD Knowledge Base includes 8 in depth case studies of dams, several country reviews, briefing papers, Thematic Reviews, Cross-Check surveys as well as the result of public consultations, including regional, and 947 submissions made to the WCD.

Communication process
Meetings were held; otherwise: huge email traffic.
Form Gland meeting on: NGOs were very thoughtful and business too in-the-face, which made the NGOs more powerful. Some business people have been 'converted' by this process. And some NGOs changed their views, too (comment from WB and NGOs).
“The experience of the Commission demonstrates that common ground can be found without compromising individual values or losing a sense of purpose” (WCD 2000, Executive Summary).
“Those groups facing the greatest risk from the development have the greatest stake in the decisions, and therefore must have a corresponding place at the negotiating table” (WCD 2000: 209).
The WCD report aims to encourage  “improved decision-making processes that deliver improved outcomes for all stakeholders” (WCD 2000, Executive Summary). The Commission grouped the core values that informed its understanding of the issues under 5 main headings: equity; efficiency; participatory decision-making; sustainability, and accountability.
“Only decision-making processes based on the pursuit of negotiated outcomes, conducted in an open and transparent manner and inclusive of all legitimate actors involved in the issue are likely to resolve the complex issues surrounding water, dams and development" (WCD 2000, Executive Summary).
Regarding gaining public acceptance: “Acceptance emerges from recognising rights, addressing risks, and safeguarding the entitlements of all groups of affected people. (…) Decision-making processes and mechanisms are used that enable informed participation by all groups of people, and result in the demonstrable acceptance of key decisions” (WCD 2000) (e.g. bringing about change will require planners to identify stakeholders through a process that recognises rights and recognises risks).

Decision-making process: procedures of agreement
[On Commission decision-making: More information needed]
At Forum events, there were usually no formal voting or endorsement procedures, but reports reflecting the sense of the meeting were produced.

Implementation process
The Commission identified that they were not constituted to implement the recommendations and indeed did not have the mandate or authority to do so. One key aspect is development finance; the Multi- and Bi-Lateral Agencies have been tasked with responding to the recommendations. This may initiate some form of institutionalising of the WCD process/recommendations.
WCD urged all groups to study their report and its recommendations, “bearing in mind that it results from consultations that, in terms of inclusiveness and breadth of scope, are beyond the reach of any individual interest group” (WCD 2000: 311). “Capacity must be built if good outcomes are to be achieved, including strengthening civil society and particularly empowering women to make their voices heard” (WCD 2000: 313).
The report is being studied by individual governments, some have in some way or the other adopted it. Further steps are under discussion.

Closing the MSP
The mandate of the Commission expired with the publication of the report in November 2000. Another WCD Forum meeting was held in February 2001 to assess and discuss follow-up, which might include a strategy of feeding the results into governmental decision-making, establishment of regional commissions and setting up a follow-up group. The February 2001 Forum meeting was prepared by the Secretariat and a Forum Liaison Group comprising representatives of IUCN and World Bank, two of the civil society Forum members, and two of the industry, government and operators Forum members.

Structural Aspects:

Structures / institutions of the MSP
WCD Secretariat; Capetown, South Africa. SG (until March 2001): Achim Steiner.

WCD Secretariat

Website at www.dams.org
Publication of the WCD report in November 2000, described by Commissioners as a ‘consensus document’. It "..sets out to distil more than 2 years intense study, dialogue and reflection by the Commission, the WCD secretariat, the WCD stakeholders’ Forum and literally hundreds of individual experts and affected people on every aspect of the dams debate" (WCD 2000 Executive Summary).
WCD describe the report not as a blueprint but “as the starting point for discussions, debates, internal reviews and reassessments of what may be established procedures and for an assessment of how these can evolve to address a changed reality”.

Relating to non-participating stakeholders
The WCD has entered into partnerships with various organisations, networks and international agencies. These collaborations have led to exciting opportunities for sharing, reviewing, and disseminating information of common interest.
Some NGOs comment that a negative charge of eliticism could be placed against the process - despite its claims of inclusiveness – as almost all WCD documents used the English language, and without Internet access it would have been hard to get hold large amounts of the documentation. (The reason given was the tight time frame for their task.)

Relating to the general public
Website, publication, press releases, big public launch events in all regions (publicity via involving celebrities like Nelson Mandela).

Linkage into official decision-making process
There are linkages via individual governments; many governments are currently reviewing the report. Government interest increased over the course of the Commissions work period.
For example, Brazil decided to do their own WCD for Brazil (individual commission); Sweden decided to build no more dams (Dec 2000); Germany is reviewing the WCD report; etc.
Further linkages, for example into the Earth Summit 2002 process, are under discussion.

The World Bank and IUCN undertook to secure the initial core resources for the Commission to be created and to implement its work program. IUCN provided the initial administrative support system to facilitate the work of the Commission and the Secretariat.
The Gland meeting funded by Swiss Development Corporation, and a contribution from the WB. The Commission then engaged in fundraising activities, ending up with a large number of funders for the Secretariat and the Commission, including 17 governments and government agencies, 20 private sector firms, 12 NGOs and foundations, and 4 multilateral agencies.
The WCD has thereby implemented a new funding model involving all interest groups in the debate. Funding  was sought from the public and private sectors as well as from civil society.
Contributors had pledged funds equal to more than three-quarters of the Commission's total projected budget of about US $9,9 million.

Additional Information / Remarks
The Global Public Policy Project which is sponsored by the UN Foundation to explore the potential of public policy networks for increasing the effectiveness of the United Nations, recognised the value of the WCD as a tri-sectoral process (public, private, civil society). The process took on board all the different interests and moved the debate forward. The WCD report acknowledges the conflict and ‘stalemate’ that was developing around the dams controversy benefited no-one: “A new way had to be found”. Understanding the WCD process is important because it is being hailed as a precedent for dealing with other controversial global policy issues (e.g. by the World Bank and others).
Monitoring of the follow-up is necessary – there is a need to learn from this experience. It is unclear as yet who could fulfil that monitoring role.
Some NGOs believe that amongst the many process-related factors that allowed such a welcome report is the fact that governments and international agencies were marginalised from the process, and the private sector dam industry wasn't as strong as it could have been.
Some say that the whole process and report raises much more issues for countries than just dams -  that is, governance issues in general.


Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.