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The World Commission On Dams

The WCD Core Values and Strategic Priorities

WCD Core Values
(extract from the WCD Report, p199)

“Improving the development process and its outcomes must start with a clear understanding of the shared values, objectives and goals of development and their implications for institutional change. The Commission grouped the core values informing its understanding on these issues under five main headings:

  • Equity
  • Efficiency
  • Participatory decision-making
  • Sustainability
  • Accountability

These five values run through the entire report and are the focus of concerns raised by the evidence presented in the Global Review. Applying these values to the evidence it has collected, the Commission believes that negotiated outcomes using a rights-and-risks approach will deliver the most favourable development results. Reference to these values enables all stakeholders to test decisions relating to water and energy development.”

For further details, please refer to the WCD Report, Chapter 7 “Enhancing Human Development: Rights, Risks and Negotiated Outcomes”

Gaining Public Acceptance

Public acceptance of key decisions is essential for equitable and sustainable water and energy resources development. Acceptance emerges from recognising rights, addressing risks, and safeguarding the entitlements of all groups of affected people, particularly indigenous and tribal peoples, women and other vulnerable groups. Decision-making processes and mechanisms are used that enable informed participation by all groups of people, and result in the demonstrable acceptance of key decisions. Where projects affect indigenous and tribal peoples, such processes are guided by their free, prior and informed consent.

Recognition of rights and assessment of risks are the basis for the identification and inclusion of stakeholders in decision-making on energy and water resources development.

Access to information, legal and other support is available to all stakeholders, particularly indigenous and tribal peoples, women and other vulnerable groups, to enable their informed participation in decision-making processes.

Demonstrable public acceptance of all key decisions is achieved through agreements negotiated in an open and transparent process conducted in good faith and with the informed participation of all stakeholders.

Decisions on projects affecting indigenous and tribal peoples are guided by their free, prior and informed consent, achieved through formal and informal representative bodies.

Comprehensive Options assessment

Alternatives to dams often do exist. To explore these, the needs for water, food and energy are assessed and objectives clearly defined. The appropriate development response is identified from a range of possible options. The selection is based on a comprehensive and participatory assessment of the full range of policy, institutional and technical options. In the assessment process, social and environmental aspects have the same significance as economic and financial factors. The options assessment process continues through all stages of planning, project development and operations.

Development needs and objectives are clearly formulated through an open and participatory process before the identification and assessment of options for Water and energy resource development.

Planning approaches that take into account the full range of development objectives are used to assess all policy, institutional, management and technical options before the decision to proceed with any programme or project.Social and environmental aspects are given the same significance as technical, economic and financial factors in assessing options.Increasing the effectiveness, spread and sustainability of existing water, irrigation and energy systems is given priority in the options assessment process.If a dam is selected through such a comprehensive options assessment, social and environmental principles are applied in the review and selection of options throughout the detailed planning, design, construction and operation phases.

Addressing Existing Dams

Opportunities exist to optimise benefits from many existing dams, address outstanding social issues and strengthen environmental mitigation and restoration measures. Dams and the context in which they operate are not seen as static over time. Benefits and impacts may be transformed by changes in water use priorities, physical and land use changes in the river basin, technological developments, and changes in public policy expressed in environment, safety, economic and technical regulations. Management and operation practices must adapt continuously to changing circumstances over the project’s life and must address outstanding social issues.

A comprehensive post-project monitoring and evaluation process and a system of longer-term periodic reviews of the performance, benefits and impacts for all existing large dams are introduced.

Programmes to restore, improve and optimise benefits from existing large dams are identified and implemented. Options to consider include: rehabilitate, modernise and upgrade equipment and facilities; optimise reservoir operations; and introduce non-structural measures to improve the efficiency of delivery and use of services.

Outstanding social issues associated with existing large dams are identified and assessed; processes and mechanisms are developed with affected communities to remedy them.

The effectiveness of existing environmental mitigation measures is assessed and unanticipated impacts are identified; opportunities for mitigation, restoration and enhancement are recognised, identified and acted upon.

All large dams have formalised operating agreements with time-bound license periods; where re-planning or relicensing processes indicate that major physical changes to facilities, or decommissioning, may be advantageous, a full feasibility study and environmental and social impact assessment is undertaken.

Sustaining Rivers and livelihoods

Rivers, watersheds and aquatic ecosystems are the biological engines of the planet. They are the basis for life and the livelihoods of local communities. Dams transform landscapes and create risks of irreversible impacts. Understanding,protecting and restoring ecosystems at river basin level is essential to foster equitable human development and the welfare of all species. Options assessment and decision-making around river development prioritises the avoidance of impacts, followed by the minimisation and mitigation of harm to the health and integrity of the river system. Avoiding impacts through good site selection and project design is a priority. Releasing tailor-made environmental flows can help maintain downstream ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.

A basin-wide understanding of the ecosystem’s functions, values and requirements, and how community livelihoods depend on and influence them, is required before decisions on development options are made.

Decisions value ecosystem, social and health issues as an integral part of project and river basin development, and avoidance of impacts is given priority,in accordance with a precautionary approach.

A national policy is developed for maintaining selected rivers with high ecosystem functions and values in their natural state. When reviewing alternative locations for dams on undeveloped rivers, priority is given to locations on tributaries.

Project options are selected that avoid significant impacts on threatened and endangered species. When impacts cannot be avoided, viable compensation measures are put in place that will result in a net gain for the species within the region.Large dams provide for releasing environmental flows to help maintain downstream ecosystem integrity and community livelihoods and are designed, modified and operated accordingly.

Recognising Entitlements and Sharing Benefits

Joint negotiations with adversely affected people result in mutually agreed and legally enforceable mitigation and development provisions. These provisions recognise entitlements that improve livelihoods and quality of life, and affected people are beneficiaries of the project. Successful mitigation, resettlement and development are fundamental commitments and responsibilities of the State and the developer. They bear the onus to satisfy all affected people that moving from their current context and resources will improve their livelihoods. Accountability of responsible parties to agreed mitigation, resettlement and development provisions is ensured through legal means, such as contracts, and through accessible legal recourse at national and international levels.

Recognition of rights and assessment of risks is the basis for identification and inclusion of adversely affected stakeholders in joint negotiations on mitigation, resettlement and development related decision-making.

Impact assessment includes all people in the reservoir, upstream, downstream and catchment areas whose properties, livelihoods and non-material resources are affected. It also includes those affected by dam-related infrastructure such as canals, transmission lines and resettlement developments.

All recognised adversely affected people negotiate mutually agreed, formal and legally enforceable mitigation, resettlement and development entitlements.

Adversely affected people are recognised as first among the beneficiaries of the project. Mutually agreed and legally protected benefit-sharing mechanisms are negotiated to ensure implementation.

Ensuring Compliance

Ensuring public trust and confidence requires that governments, developers, regulators and operators meet all commitments made for the planning, implementation and operation of dams. Compliance with applicable regulations, with criteria and guidelines, and with project-specific negotiated agreements is secured at all critical stages in project planning and implementation. A set of mutually reinforcing incentives and mechanisms is required for social, environmental and technical measures. These should involve an appropriate mix of regulatory and non-regulatory measures, incorporating incentives and sanctions. Regulatory and compliance frameworks use incentives and sanctions to ensure effectiveness where flexibility is needed to accommodate changing circumstances.

A clear, consistent and common set of criteria and guidelines to ensure compliance is adopted by sponsoring, contracting and financing institutions, and compliance is subject to independent and transparent review.

A Compliance Plan is prepared for each project prior to commencement, spelling out how compliance will be achieved with relevant criteria and guidelines and specifying binding arrangements for project-specific technical, social and environmental commitments.

  • Incentivesthat reward project proponents for abiding by criteria and guidelines are developed by public and private financial institutions.
  • Costs for establishing compliance mechanisms and related institutional capacity,and their effective application, are built into the project budget.
  • Corrupt practices are avoided through enforcement of legislation, voluntary integrity pacts, debarment and other instruments.

Sharing Rivers for Peace, Development and Security

Storage and diversion of water on transboundary rivers has been a source of considerable tension between countries and within countries. As specific interventions for diverting water, dams require constructive co-operation. Consequently, the use and management of resources increasingly becomes the subject of agreement between States to promote mutual self-interest for regional co-operation and peaceful collaboration. This leads to a shift in focus from the narrow approach of allocating a finite resource to the sharing of rivers and their associated benefits in which States are innovative in defining the scope of issues for discussion. External financing agencies support the principles of good faith negotiations between riparian States.

  • National water policies make specific provision for basin agreements in shared river basins. Agreements are negotiated on the basis of good faith among riparian States. They are based on principles of equitable and reasonable utilisation, no significant harm, prior information and the Commission’s strategic priorities.
  • Riparian States go beyond looking at water as a finite commodity to be divided and embrace an approach that equitably allocates not the water, but the benefits that can be derived from it. Where appropriate, negotiations include benefits outside the river basin and other aspects of mutual interest.
  • Dams on shared rivers are not built in cases where riparian States raise an objection that is upheld by an independent panel. Intractable disputes between countries are resolved through various means of dispute resolution including, in the last instance, the International Court of Justice.
  • For the development of projects on rivers shared between political units within countries, the necessary legislative provision is made at national and sub-national levels to embody the Commission’s strategic priorities of ‘gaining public acceptance’,‘recognising entitlements’ and ‘sustaining rivers and livelihoods’.
  • Where a government agency plans or facilitates the construction of a dam on a shared river in contravention of the principle of good faith negotiations between riparians, external financing bodies withdraw their support for projects and programmes promoted by that agency.

For further details, please refer to the WCD Report, Chapter 8 “Strategic Priorities – A New Policy Framework for the Development of Water and Energy Resources”.

Go to the WCD Website

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