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IN A development having far-reaching
implications, dam critics and proponents from all over the world agreed
to work together to set up an independent commission to review the world's
dams at a workshop in Gland, Switzerland, on April 10- 11. The top-level
commission will review the social,
economic and environmental costs
and benefits of the world's dams,
recommend international standards
on dam construction and assess sustainable and equitable methods of land
and water management and energy
The review commission will also
make recommendations on repairing
the environmental damage done by
existing dams and on compensating
people whose livelihoods have suffered
because of dams.
Co-sponsored by the World Bank
(WB) and the World Conservation
Union (IUCN), the 35 participants at
the workshop included senior WB
officials, critics of large dams from
advocacy groups and academia,
representatives from dam-building
companies and agencies and dam-affected people.
The Gland meeting itself was a
result of sustained campaign by dam-critics from all over the world demanding the rejection of a review of 50 WB-funded dams by the bank's operation evaluation department (OED) in
August 1996. Forty-nine NGOs from 21
countries, including the Centre for
Science and Environment, New Delhi,
had urged the commissioning of "a
comprehensive, unbiased and authoritative review of past WB lending for
This demand thus seems to have
been accepted at the subsequent Gland
meeting. However, the demand for a
moratorium on the provision of loans,
credits, guarantees and other forms of
support for large dams until the review
commission is established, remains
Participants denounced the conclusion of the OED report which
states that the benefits of large dams
"far outweighed" their costs. The
International Rivers Network, a US based NGO, has found that figures
used in the review "appear systematically to exaggerate actual project benefits". OED's figures for hydropower production from individual dams, for
example, appear to exaggerate actual
electricity production by as much as
100 per cent.
Over the next six months, IUCN will
work with the WB to find funding
sources for the independent review
initiative, establish its terms of reference
and select five to eight commissioners.
Once established, the review will have
two years to receive submissions, hold
hearings, commission studies and
publish its conclusions.
Shripad Dharmadhikary, who represented India's Narmada Bachao
Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement), welcomed the decision to set up
an independent review commission but
added that it would not lessen the intensity of the campaigns against dams, to
bring justice for dam-affected people
and for the implementation of equitable
and sustainable alternatives.
Peter Bosshard, secretary of the
Switzerland advocacy group Bern
Declaration, said, "We are aware that
we will need to be constantly vigilant
to ensure that the review is truly independent and that its terms of reference
are as comprehensive as agreed in