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The World Commission on Dams

Brokered by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Commission on Dams (WCD) was established in May 1998 in response to the escalating local and international controversies over large dams. It was mandated to:

  • review the development effectiveness of large dams and assessed alternatives for water resources and energy development; and
  • develop internationally acceptable criteria, guidelines and standards for the planning, design, appraisal, construction, operation, monitoring and decommissioning of dams.

The World Commission on Dams published its final report, entitled Dams and Development: a new framework for decision-making, in November 2000. The report is widely acknowledged as a significant contribution to the debate on dams, not only on the benefits and costs of large dams, but more generally to the current rethinking of development decision-making in a world deeply affected by rapid global change. In particular, its recommendation that decisions on major infrastructure developments take place within a framework that recognizes the rights of all stakeholders, and the risks that each stakeholder group is asked, or obliged to sustain, has been regarded as shifting the dams debate onto a new plane.

At the same time, the report has not settled all issues surrounding water and energy development. There has been a wide range of responses to the Report and there continues to be debate on whether the report struck the proper balance between recognizing the benefits that dams have realized as opposed to the problems they have created. There was general agreement that the rights and risks approach, the five core values and the seven strategic priorities provide a good framework while some groups expressed reservations regarding the Commission's policy principles and guidelines. In many cases, it is acknowledged that the Report contains appropriate recommendations that provide a basis for moving the discussion forward, even if there may be debate on the precise nature and detail of the implementing mechanisms.

The third and final meeting of the WCD Forum was convened in February 2001. The meeting, among other recommendations, concluded that optimising the impact of the WCD Report required a range of actions to be undertaken beyond the initiatives of individual stakeholder groups. There was general consensus that the actions taken at the international scale by the WCD needed to be disseminated at the country and local level, moving the debate further through local multi-stakeholder processes.

With the publication of the report, the Commission was disbanded. The WCD Secretariat in its previous form was closed on 31 March 2001 , leaving a small transitional group in place until 31 July 2001 to act as a bridge to the establishment of the DDP.


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