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The World Commission On Dams

The Compendium of relevant practices for improved decision-making on dams and their alternatives

The Compendium on Relevant Practices deals with a set of priority key issues concerning the planning and management of dams. It contains information about the current state of the normative frameworks and implementation of these issues, illustrated by a number of selected case studies. The Compendium is intended to inform policy-makers, managers and practitioners about what people are actually doing in this area i.e. real-life examples of good (and not so good) practice to inspire them to do things better on the ground.

It provides an in-depth understanding of emerging environmental and social issuessocial issues to guide practices at local level as well as for incorporation of these issues into policy and regulatory frameworks. It is intended to serve the purpose of building the capacity of decision-makers. The publication is a contribution of DDP to the efforts of countries and the international community directed towards achieving the development goals through environmentally and socially sustainable development of water and energy resources.

The Compendium fulfils the goal of DDP Phase 2, of producing non-prescriptive practical tools based on the core values and strategic priorities of the World Commission on Dams, and other relevant reference materials. As such, the Compendium is not meant to replace or replicate the WCD or any other relevant reference material, but is an additional source of information aimed at enhancing the consideration of environmental and social issues.

The methodological approach: dealing with controversial issues and diverging views

The methodological approach to elaborate the Compendium built on the process initiated before Phase 2 and evolved as a result of intense consultation with stakeholders. It followed four stages.

Stage 1 aimed at consolidating the process of clarifying the key issues contained in the WCD strategic priorities. The issue-based workshops were the key platforms for this. Early in Phase 2 (2005), DDP undertook some background work of analyzing the SPs and identifying the key issues associated with each one of them in a structured manner i.e. the first, second and third level elements. A preliminary list containing 36 first-level issues was produced.

The 4th DD Forum meeting prioritized 9 key issues to be developed and included into the first version of the Compendium from the preliminary list

Prioritized key issues selected for the elaboration and inclusion into the Compendium

Strategic priorities
Priority key issues
Gaining Public Acceptance
Stakeholder participation: scope, mechanism
Comprehensive options assessment
Identification of options
Addressing existing dams
Addressing outstanding social issues
Sustainable rivers and livelihoods
Environmental management plan
Recognizing entitlement and sharing benefits
Social Impact Assessment

Compensation policy

Benefit sharing

Ensuring Compliance
Compliance enforcement/mechanism
Sharing rivers for peace, development and security
International policy concerning shared river basins

Stage 2 put in practice the issue-framework-implementation approach developed by DDP to address controversial issues. It involved an analytical process that focused on issues and their implementation in practice, rather than on strategies or principles. This depoliticized the discussion on the issues by placing them at technical and operational level. Differences between stakeholders were reduced as the discussion became more factual. Wider consensus was reachable around these more concrete issues captured in specific examples. The discussion about examples shifted from looking at whole projects to specific practices within projects demonstrating how certain elements of the priority key issues were effectively considered. The discussion on the practice of a certain issue was thus disengaged from that of the performance of the project as a whole.

Further, the formulation relevant practice was adopted. This was different from good or best, as given the sensitive nature of issues around dams, it would be difficult to reach agreement on what constitutes good practice. This approach differed from the one followed by most literature on dams which tend to focus on shortcomings and failures. The Compendium presented therefore practices that, though not exempt from weaknesses, show a positive way forward.

The research part of the second stage was undertaken with the assistance of external experts. This stage was carried out during the first semester of 2006 involvinged also the selection of examples and the preparation of detailed reports on the nine priority key issues. The nine reports contain the characterization of the issue, the description of case studies selected by the consultants to illustrate implementation and the list of references of sources of information. These reports are accessible hereon the DDP website and comments thereon are welcome.

The Compendium of relevant practices for improved decision-making was prepared based on the information contained in the detailed reports. Stage 3 involved the elaboration of several drafts by the DDP Secretariat that were subjected to stakeholder consultation, including at the 5th DD Forum meeting. The final draft was reviewed by a professional editor.

The consultation

The Dams and Development Project adopted a transparent and open approach and consulted on an on-going basis on all substantive aspects and activities of the project with the stakeholders. The consultation benefited from modern electronic forms of communication and was undertaken primarily through the DD Forum, the Steering Committee and the Government Advisory Consultative Group which were established as part of the project governance structure.

During the elaboration of the Compendium, consultations were held on the methodological approach, the prioritization of the key issues incorporated into the first version of the Compendium, the terms of reference for elaborating the selected issues, the outline of the Compendium and its various drafts.

Obtaining some reasonable consensus between stakeholders who for long had held different positions, divergent interests and conceptual departure points was a major challenge. Besides the safeguards adopted by DDP of the issue-framework-implementation approach, focusing on relevant practices and remaining factual explained above other measures instituted were neutrality, avoiding judgments and incorporating different views into the document. This resulted in the endorsement of the Compendium by almost all stakeholder groups thus establishing a methodology of dealing with contentious issues.

The establishment of the Government Advisory Consultative Group (GACG) by 18 governments of developed and developing countries in October 2005 to advice UNEP on the Compendium was an important milestone. The governments were brought back into the dams and development debate after stepping out as a reaction to the WCD Report. This fulfilled one primary objective explicitly stated in Phase 1 objectives of DDP. The GACG held 3 meetings during Phase 2 and provided advice on the structure, contents and style of the Compendium. The recommendations of the GACG complemented the input of civil society and other groups resulting in a balanced product.

The comments and observations made by various stakeholders during the process of preparing the Compendium and how these were dealt with can be accessed here.

The publication

The final report 'Dams & Development: Relevant Practices' or the Compendium contains 9 chapters. Chapters 1 and 9 deal with the introduction and the conclusions and recommendations respectively. Chapters 2 to 8 of the Compendium are on the various key issues and discuss the characterization of the issues, synthesis of the current status regarding frameworks and implementation and descriptions in boxes of some of the most promising case studies that illustrate specific aspects of the issues presented. Annexes provide further information on the process and rationale behind the elaboration of the Compendium and the full list of examples.

Limitations were found in the elaboration of the Compendium as it deals with new or emerging issues that are not yet fully developed, well documented, broadly evaluated and subject still to implementation problems. While these limitations were acknowledged, the usefulness and relevance of the document was ensured by gathering and presenting the information in a non-prescriptive and non-judgemental way, accommodating divergent views.

In view of the fact that available published information is limited and that assessment of practices is still weak, the Compendium presents therefore the first few aspects of the full knowledge base that will be required to address these key issues fully under a variety of circumstances.

The final version of the Compendium can be accessed here. Stakeholders are invited to submit their comments and observations on the Compendium here.

Building on the Compendium

The impact of the Compendium is in the long term. Strengthening policies and regulatory frameworks as well as building capacities to enhance the consideration of environmental and social issues in the planning and management of dams requires persistent and sustained efforts beyond the short-term duration of a Project.

The Phase 2 Interim report of DDP made recommendations on future activities based on the outcomes of DDP for broader impact on the ground:

  • Enhance the Compendium through extending its scope by addressing the remaining key issues and adding new practical experiences on the issues already addressed. This will be informed by monitoring and assessing the use of the Compendium.
  • Disseminate the Compendium widely and assist decision-makers, managers and multistakeholder platforms in using the Compendium to improve regulatory frameworks and capacities to deal with the emerging social and environmental issues.

The effective implementation of the emerging issues will require in addition to sound frameworks and managerial capacities innovative scientific, technological and information resources, tools and mechanisms supporting the translation of concepts and notions into practice. A case illustrating this is environmental flows. Whilst there is almost consensus on adopting this approach at policy level, the technological and knowledge base needed to implement it will need to be further developed. Many other emerging issues require innovative hard and soft technological approaches.

Another challenge is enhancing the availability of information on practices, their outcomes based on their assessment by the various stakeholder groups. A new culture of transparency, independent evaluation of performance and disclosure of information is required in the dams and development arena. Thus the accessibility of quality information will be improved.

The Compendium is a useful tool for the dissemination of relevant practices from developed and developing countries around the world and it thus enhances South-South and North-South cooperation.

More details on the lessons learnt during developing the Compendium and recommendations for the future are in the Final Report of the Dams and Development Project.


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