World Commission on Dams (WCD)

Guidelines and Recommendations

World Commission on Dams / ©: WCD
World Commission on Dams
The World Commission on Dams (WCD) was set up in 1998 by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The 12 member strong commission represented a broad range of stakeholders involved in the dams debate, including industry, governments, water resource managers, and people affected by dams.

The mandate of the commission was to conduct an independent review of the development effectiveness of large dams, to assess alternatives, and to develop practical guidelines for decision-making. Following a wide ranging global review of the world's dams, the WCD report Dams and Development was published in 2000 (it is available to your right for downloading).

The WCD report:

  • Provided a comprehensive and integrated framework for decision-making on the provision of water and energy services.
  • Gave clear guidelines and recommendations for decision makers aimed at safeguarding rights, reducing the risk of conflicts, and lowering overall costs, including social and environmental ones.
  • Discussed a number of demand and supply side options that can reduce, or at least delay, the need for dams.
  • Proposed improved management of existing dams in order to minimise environmental and social impacts.

WCD work continues

The Commission disbanded after the report was published, but work on dams and development continues in many different ways. Shortly after the report, the Dams and Development Project (DDP) was established to broaden awareness of the issues presented and to look at how  the WCD recommendations could be translated into action on the ground. The DDP project was hosted by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and supported national as well as global dialogue on the WCD.

Much of the debate about dams in the past decade has referred to the WCD, with governments, regulators, banks, and industry either supporting or rejecting its recommendations. The International Hydropower Association (IHA) accepts the WCD core values and strategic priorities, even though it disagrees with some of the detailed recommendations.

WCD Guidelines and Recommendations

The WCD recognises the following steps for decision makers considering dam construction:

  • First assess the real needs
  • Review and select from a number of alternatives
  • Where a dam project emerges as the preferred development option, then:
  • Ensure that all agreements are clearly formulated before tendering
  • Ensure that the project is compliant in all respects before commissioning
  • Monitor dam operations to take account of changes in the context.

WCD's main recommendations relate to strategic priorities (chapter 8) for decision-making and include:

  • The need for clear public acceptance, including the provision of reliable information to enable stakeholders to make informed decisions and participate effectively in decision-making. With regard to indigenous people, this must include prior informed consent.
  • A comprehensive assessment of all the options ensuring, in particular, that social and environmental aspects are giving equal weight alongside technical factors.
  • A post-project review of existing dams, both from a technical and social point of view.
  • The development of a basin-wide understanding of the aquatic ecosystem and of ways of maintaining it.
  • The recognition that the benefits of dams should be widely shared.
  • Checks and balances to ensure that at all stages and procedures comply with agreed standards.
  • Special reference to cross-border impacts.

Finally the WCD provides a set of 26 guidelines on how to assess options and implement dam projects in a way that meets the Commission's criteria.

WWF has fully supported the WCD and still sees the WCD report as the main reference document on dams issues. Its implementation across the board would greatly improve the environmental performance of dams.

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