The Dam Crusader Is Still With Us

A previous post on this blog claimed that John Briscoe had retired from the World Bank. This is not correct. John will retire soon, but is still the Bank's Country Director for Brazil. Read John Briscoe's comment on our blog post and a brief rejoinder. (The picture on the left is from a presentation by John Briscoe on the World Bank and infrastructure.)

Message from John Briscoe, World Bank:

Dear Peter:

I am disappointed.  The IRN had once baptized me as a leading mafioso -- now I am relegated to being a mere Crusader.    But I am also reassured to learn that the reason why not a single country in the world that is building dams has accepted the hallowed World Commission on Dams guidelines is not that the guidelines are impractical, but due to my massive powers of persuasion!

The IRN has long drawn on courageous anonymous sources who leak confidential documents from within the belly of the World Bank beast.   I suggest you check to see whether your sources are still awake.

First, your source in the Postal Department of the Bank has not served you well. With apologies to Mark Twain, the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.   I have not “left the World Bank earlier this year” but am alive and well as the Bank’s Country Director in Brazil.

Second, your source in the Bean-Counting Department at the Bank has not served you much better.   They tell you that I left the Bank in frustration because of the “limited success” of my “campaign” to get the Bank into infrastructure. Your faithful readers must scratch their heads when in your very next blog item you castigate the Bank for the massive increase in lending for hydropower.

Third, your sources in the World Bank Staff Psychiatry Department also need to be evaluated.   They should know that I did not “leave the Bank in frustration” but am in fact very happy as the Country Director for Brazil.  Part of my fulfillment is that the recently-approved Country Strategy Partnership (which can be read at repositions the Bank as a partner for Brazil in addressing complex, long-run, path-setting issues, including development and conservation in the Amazon and hydro and nuclear energy.   Just as the developing countries on the Board of the World Bank were happy with the Water Strategy which you so dislike, so too the Government of Brazil is delighted with this new approach in which the Bank puts its reputation in play rather than hides it under the bed.   All of which means I am not sad and frustrated, but happy and fulfilled!

Finally, yes, it is true that I will retire from the Bank.   As you and your fellow-campaigners might say “twenty years is enough”.   Since you deemed the motivation for my retirement to be so interesting, this is a final item I would like to correct.   The “push” is nothing more dramatic than the impending collision of Father Time with the Bank’s mandatory retirement age.  The “pull” is that I will start a new life, as you pointed out, as a Professor at Harvard University.

Finally, finally, I want to thank you and Patrick and Mehda and Shripad and Himanshu and many others associated with the IRN for enriching the debate about issues of development, poverty and water.  I learned a lot, and it would have been rather dull without you!?

John Briscoe
World Bank Country Director for Brazil

(PS.  Since I got your blog through every nom de guerre that a former Marxist accumulates over time, I thought you might want to send this supplementary note back out to your faithful readers.)

Peter Bosshard’s response:

Dear John,

Thank you for your comment and correction. I am sorry for announcing your retirement prematurely. We have corrected the earlier blog post, and informed the readers who received the post.

Just to clarify, not calling you a mafioso was not meant as a demotion! Like the Corleone clan, the World Bank has been known to persuade people (or borrowing governments) by making offers that they could not refuse. But as you have noted, the Bank is also good at leaking internal documents, and I doubt the mafia would tolerate such breaches of its code of silence.

As Oilwatch has pointed out, the World Bank has increased its lending for large dams (and thermal power projects). Our main concern is not with the numbers. While we do think that some of the projects funded by the World Bank should not go forward, most of the Bank’s new dams are small or mid-sized projects or rehabilitations of earlier projects. We are concerned that beyond their own financing, Bank representatives are traveling around the world promoting large dams and playing down more sustainable alternatives as if the Bank was part of the global dam industry. And we are concerned that the Bank continues to neglect decentralized solutions in the water sector, renewable energy and rural electrification in its operations. As you point out, this approach may be supported by many governments, but as the Bank’s own evaluations have shown, this is not the same as reducing poverty.

I am happy to hear that you are not retiring in frustration, and apologize again for getting the date wrong. We will follow your next reincarnation with interest.

Best regards,

Peter Bosshard
International Rivers

Peter Bosshard is the policy director of International Rivers. His blog, Wet, Wild and Wonky, appears at