Cushing Reading

"The World Commission on Dams Report: What Next?," Katherine Kao Cushing, pp.149-155, 171-172, The World's Water, 2002-2003

Set 1

World Commission on Dams (WCD) – independent body, est’d in 1998

  • Reviews the development effectiveness of dams and asses alt. for water resources and energy development
  • Develops int’l acceptable guidelines for future decision making in planning, design, construction, monitoring, op., and decommissioning of dams (WCD 1999)
  • Comprised of reps. from NGOs, academia, gov’t depts., etc.

WCD study in 2000

  • Process:
    • looked at eight large dams in four continents
    • cross-checked large dams in 52 countries
    • reviewed five categories of issues relevant to water and energy development
    • mtgs. w/ regional stakeholders
    • looked at submissions from individuals, groups and institutions
    • interdisciplinary – researchers from econ., marine bio., soc., hist., and engineering
  • Results:
    • Constituted the WCD’s knowledge base for data
    • Study of over 1,000 dams showed social and envt’l impacts of dams
    • Explored non-dam alternatives, but failed to show how to integrate this option into water and energy development process
    • Guidelines for future water and energy development were idealistic and not detailed enough to give org’s enough direction as to the implementation of the future guidelines

WCD’s conclusions:

  1. Dams made sig. contributions to human development w/ considerable benefits.
  2. Price to secure benefits has been too high in terms of social, economic and environmental capital.
  3. Distribution of benefits not equal, i.e. water and energy needs not met

WCD suggests:

  • bringing stakeholders to the decision-making table and eliminating unfavorable projects at early stages
  • offer up only suggestions made by stakeholders
  • social and envt’l impacts should register higher than economic impacts

Other WCD Findings:

  • Large hydropower dams perform better in terms of meeting needs than irrigation dams
  • Vulnerable populations do not get water and energy needs met; don’t benefit from econ. or soc. benefits from dams
  • Large dams have irreversible effects on watershed, aquatic ecosystem, etc.
  • Failure to assess potential envt’l and soc. damage makes it so no response mechanism is in place when such damage occurs

WCD proposes recognition of rights and risk assessment

  • rights (ex. constitutional, common law, etc.) need to be included in decision-making process
  • differentiates between voluntary (developers, gov’ts) and involuntary (indigenous peoples, ecosystems, etc.) risk-takers

WCD suggests negotiation agreements between stakeholders should be legally binding and an appeal process should be in place

Seven strategic priorities:

  1. gaining public acceptance
  2. comprehensive options assessment
  3. addressing existing dams
  4. sustaining rivers and livelihoods
  5. recognizing entitlement and sharing benefits
  6. ensuring compliance
  7. sharing rivers for peace, development and security

DDU: WCD Forum members met in 2001 and formed Dams and Development Unit (DDU), hosted by UNEP

  • purpose is to disseminate WCD findings and promote WCD guidelines
  • comprised of industry, the World Bank, UNEP, envt’l NGO and water development agencies

Set 2

  • Goals of World Commission on Dams
    • Performance assessment of dam projects worldwide
    • Analyse non-dam alternatives
    • Propose criteria for future river and dam development
  • Findings:
    • The group made a number of findings which seem to be translated into the new principles or recommendations, which they call "strategic priorities"
  • Priorities:
    • Should gain public acceptance for a project
    • Should do comprehensive options assessement
    • Should addresss existing dams
    • Should sustain rivers
    • Should recognize entitlements
    • Should ensure compliance
    • Should share rivers for peace, development and security
  • So what?
    • Claims of the Conca article are correct
    • A multi-party network can come up with great ideas that can be spread across the world, but they may still be limited. In this case, the principles are challenging because their adoption by governments will be limited.