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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 10:54 GMT
Dam commission 'good for democracy'
Bridge, dam and river   BBC
The commission involved a wide range of people in reaching its conclusions
Alex Kirby

An independent assessment of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) says it made worthwhile gains during its three-year existence.

The WCD model can advance international debates on environment, development, and social justice, it says. The commission produced no legally-binding results, but developed solutions to conflict and gave marginalised groups a voice.

But similar initiatives will depend for success on their independence, transparency, and inclusiveness.

The WCD, which existed from 1998 to 2000, reviewed the development effectiveness of large dams (those over 15 metres high) and assessed alternatives to dam building.

High price

It was set up by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and was chaired by Professor Kader Asmal, South Africa's Education Minister.

It concluded that dams worldwide had provided many benefits, but often at too high a price.

Indian monument   AP
A monument at risk from dam-building
The assessment of its work was conducted by researchers from the World Resources Institute (WRI) of Washington DC, US, the Lokayan Action Group in India, and the Lawyers' Environmental Action Team (LEAT) in Tanzania.

Their assessment concludes that the WCD had to settle for a trade-off: it did not attract maximum political support from governments, but this meant there was more space for ordinary people, including some of those affected by the dams.

The commission is faulted for not including "more women and gender advocates in its secretariat and advisory forum". But the researchers compliment the WCD for managing to remain its own creature.

They say it was independent of both the World Bank and the IUCN, and in a broader sense as well.

They comment: "Maintaining independence by diversifying funding sources was a major accomplishment of the WCD that enhanced its broader legitimacy.

'More democratic than technocratic'

"Diverse funding sources demonstrated that the WCD was not beholden to any one set of interests."

On transparency, they say the WCD aimed for and substantially achieved high standards.

High dam on river   AP
Dams can be a power for good
But they note the practical challenges raised "where stakeholders' use of information is limited by language, and their access to information is limited by Internet availability".

The report rebukes the WCD for sometimes failing to reach the highest standards.

It says: "The commission's track record for transparency was tarnished towards the end of the process when it did not communicate clearly whether the forum would have an opportunity to review a synthesis of work programme results.

"Its efforts to disseminate information about opportunities for participation were not matched by its management capability to acknowledge stakeholder inputs."

But the WCD is credited with having "accomplished a process that was very inclusive by global standards . . . more democratic than technocratic".

The assessment concludes that the commission's full potential lies in "this promise of democratisation, at both the national and global levels".

See also:

13 Nov 01 | Business
Balfour abandons Turkish dam project
01 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
China builds second biggest dam
28 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysia gives megadam green light
16 Nov 00 | World
Human cost of dams 'too high'
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