After WCD Launch, Critics Demand Dam-Building Moratorium

Major New Report Confirms Social, Economic, Environmental Harm From Dams

Dam critics are marking today's release of the report of the World Commission on Dams by challenging the funders of the dam industry, including the World Bank and export credit agencies, to halt all support for dams until the commission's recommendations are fully implemented. The groups are also demanding reparations for social and environmental damage caused by dams. Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy lends her support to the call from non-governmental organizations. 

"The World Bank and export credit agencies play a key role in dam building, and have been actively involved in the WCD process. They must now urgently act on the WCD's recommendations", says Peter Bosshard of the Swiss advocacy group, the Berne Declaration. "NGOs are calling on them to adopt all the WCD’s recommendations, to review all ongoing projects in the light of the new guidelines, and to place a moratorium on funding dams until they have done so."

An NGO declaration published today by the Berne Declaration and the International Rivers Network calls on public funding agencies to halt all financial support for large dams until they have fully adopted the WCD recommendations and established mechanisms to provide reparations to those who are suffering the impacts of past dams. Under the title, 'From Commission to Action', the declaration also calls for a suspension of all large dam projects that are currently being planned or under construction until they have been subjected to participatory reviews as advocated by the WCD. The declaration was endorsed by 109 NGOs from 39 countries.

"The World Commission on Dams report vindicates much of what dam critics have long argued. If the builders and funders of dams follow the recommendations of the WCD, the era of destructive dams should come to an end", says Patrick McCully, campaigns director of the California-based International Rivers Network. "Had the planning process proposed by the WCD been followed in the past, many dams would not have been built", adds Liane Greeff of the South African NGO, Environmental Monitoring Group. Among the ongoing and planned projects which are clearly in breach of the WCD guidelines are China's Three Gorges dam, the dams on India's Narmada river, the Ilisu dam in Turkey, San Roque in the Philippines, Bujagali in Uganda, Ralco in Chile, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, and dams in the Brazilian Amazon and the Uruguay River Basin in the far south of Brazil. 
"Speaking as someone whose farm is to be flooded by a dam, the key recommendations of the WCD are that no dam should be built without the agreement of the directly affected people, and that reparations are needed for those who have suffered because of past dams", says Sadi Baron, Coordinator of Brazil's Movement of Dam Affected People (MAB).

"For planners and engineers of big dams their past mistakes have served only to add to the majestic arc of their 'learning curve'", says Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize-winning author from India and supporter of the Save the Narmada Movement (Narmada Bachao Andolan - NBA). "It is time for them to get off their learning curve, which has devastated the lives of millions of people, and actually learn", adds Roy, who lends her support to the calls of the anti-dam movement at a press conference in London today.

Baron, Bosshard, Greeff and McCully are members of the International Committee on Dams, Rivers and People (ICDRP), which is comprised of human rights and environment groups and peoples' movements from 13 countries. ICDRP member groups pressured the World Bank to establish an independent review of the world's dams and have closely followed the WCD process.

The WCD Report

The World Commission on Dams is an independent body sponsored by the World Bank to review the performance of large dams and make recommendations for future planning of water and energy projects. It is comprised of 12 Commissioners from a wide spectrum of backgrounds ranging from Göran Lindahl, CEO of engineering giant, ABB, to Medha Patkar, leading activist with India's Save the Narmada Movement. 
The WCD's final report, launched on 16 November in London, provides ample evidence that large dams have failed to produce as much electricity, provide as much water, or control as much flood damage as their backers claim. In addition, these massive projects regularly suffer huge cost-overruns and time delays. Furthermore, the report shows that: 

  • large dams have forced 40-80 million people from their homes and lands, with impacts including extreme economic hardship, community disintegration, and an increase in mental and physical health problems. Indigenous, tribal, and peasant communities have been particularly hard hit. People living downstream of dams have also suffered from increased disease and the loss of natural resources upon which their livelihoods depended;
  • large dams cause great environmental damage, including the extinction of many fish and other aquatic species, huge losses of forest, wetland and farmland;
  • and the benefits of large dams have largely gone to the already well-off while poorer sectors of society have borne the costs. Based on these findings, the commission recommended that:
  • no dam should be built without the agreement of the affected people;
  • comprehensive and participatory assessments of the needs to be met, and alternatives for meeting these needs should be developed before proceeding with any new project;
  • priority should be given to maximizing the efficiency of existing water and energy systems before building any new projects;
  • periodic participatory reviews should be done for existing dams to assess such issues as dam safety, and possible decommissioning
  • mechanisms should be developed to provide social reparations for those who are suffering the impacts of dams, and to restore damaged ecosystems.