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
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
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 .
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.
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.
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"
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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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."
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?"
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
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