Issues in World Commission on Dams report development: inconsistencies between the facts found and the guidelines

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The World Commission on Dams (WCD) is an international and independent body consisting of 12 dam experts. It published its only and final report ‘Dams and Development’ in November 2000 after 2·5 years of preparation. The report is composed of two parts: part I contains the facts found and part II contains recommendations. The aim of part I was to present solid facts about both the benefits and the costs of building dams. The aim of part II is not as clear to the authors. Many members of the media in developed nations believed that part II proposed a concrete set of guidelines, a blueprint for the future. This perception was shared with many environmentally concerned non-governmental organizations, who regarded the guidelines in part II as a blueprint to be observed. However, in February 2001, the Chair of the WCD stated that the guidelines were intended only to offer guidance, and are not a rigid regulatory framework. The question to be asked and answered is whether the guidelines in part II may be regarded as a rigid framework to be implemented as it stands. The authors do not regard the guidelines in part II as ready for implementation, as this part of the report has many shortcomings, which stem from a ‘missing link’ between part I and part II, in that the latter does not reflect the findings in the former. Moreover, part II of the report includes some suggestions that are not based on findings in part I. This paper tries to answer the following questions about the WCD's report: (1) Why was the set of guidelines in part II regarded as the blueprint by so many people and institutions? (2) What ‘incompatibilities’ exist between the two parts of the report? (3) Why were such incompatibilities mostly disregarded in developing the report? (4) How may the set of suggested guidelines in part II become an operational instrument.

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