Narmada Bachao Andolan, India Berne Declaration, Switzerland

Tuesday, April 15, 1997

Independent Commission to Review World’s Dams

Dam critics and proponents have agreed to work together to establish a top–level commission to 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 production. The review will also make recommendations on repairing the environmental damage done by existing dams and on reparations for people whose livelihoods have suffered because of dams.

The need for an independent review of dams was agreed last Friday by participants at a workshop in Gland, Switzerland, co–sponsored by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the world’s largest network of conservation organizations and agencies. The 35 participants at the workshop included senior World Bank officials, critics of large dams from advocacy groups and academia, representatives from dam–building companies and agencies, and dam–affected people.

The two–day workshop in Gland was organized to discuss the findings of a review of 50 World Bank–funded dams, carried out by the Bank’s semi–independent Operations Evaluation Department (OED), and to recommend further studies. Participants at the workshop largely agreed that the OED’s conclusion that the benefits of large dams "far outweighed" their costs was based on inadequate data and flawed methodology. International Rivers presented to the workshop a detailed critique of the OED review.

Over the next 6 months, IUCN will work with the World Bank to find funding for the independent review initiative, establish its terms of reference and select 5–8 commissioners. This work will be done in close consultation with dam critics and proponents. The commissioners will be eminent figures who are acceptable to all the different interests represented at the Gland meeting. Once established, the review will have two years to receive submissions, hold hearings, commission studies and publish its conclusions.

Participants at the workshop agreed that there was an immediate need to improve the implementation of existing standards on dams, and in particular of the World Bank’s policies and guidelines. Participants also agreed that the World Bank’s requirement that dam–builders eventually restore the incomes of people negatively affected by dams was inadequate and that instead people should be immediately better off.

Patrick McCully, Campaigns Director of International Rivers, said

"We are greatly encouraged that the World Bank and other dam builders have accepted that dam building has caused many problems, that there is a need for an independent review of dam impacts, and that existing practices through which dams are planned and built are in serious need of improvement. We look forward to working with the World Bank and IUCN in establishing the format of the review."

Shripad Dharmadhikary, a leading activist with India’s Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement), said

"While we warmly welcome the willingness of the dam industry representatives at the Gland meeting to work with dam opponents in establishing an independent review this does in no way mean that we will lessen the intensity of our campaigns against dams, for 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 delighted at the call for the establishment of an independent review, however, we are also 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 Gland."


Shripad Dharmadhikary Tel. +91 265 382232 Fax. +91 265 324958 (attn. NBA tel. 382232)