At World Water Week, an Appeal for Rivers and Rights

Peter Bosshard
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On September 7, dam builders, governments and NGOs are meeting at World Water Week in Stockholm to discuss appropriate social and environmental standards for future dams. They convene on the 10th anniversary of the World Commission on Dams (WCD), which proposed a new decision-making framework for dams emphasizing the rights of affected people and the protection of the environment.

Peter Bosshard, Policy Director of International Rivers, pointed out at the Stockholm event that the principles of the WCD have become the most legitimate benchmark for water and energy projects. Recent experience with dams demonstrated the importance of the following WCD principles:

  1. Balanced and comprehensive assessment of all available options: In 2010, new wind power capacity has surpassed the increase in hydropower capacity. The cost of solar power is declining fast and likely to be cheaper than new hydro within the planning horizon of many big dams. This indicates that alternatives to large dams are often available now, and will increasingly be available in the near future.
  2. Integration of environmental concerns into decision-making: UNEP's recent Global Biodiversity Assessment and IUCN's Red List found that freshwater ecosystems are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate. Environmental concerns have to be consistently integrated into decisions regarding water and energy projects.
  3. Respect for the rights of affected people: Experience in Canada and Switzerland demonstrates that respecting affected people's rights - including free prior informed consent for indigenous peoples - weeds out destructive projects, and reduces the social and environmental damage in projects that do go forward.

A new report published by International Rivers documents how the principles of the WCD's decision-making framework have been implemented in practice. At the launch of the new report, Protecting Rivers and Rights, International Rivers' Peter Bosshard commented: "The principles of the WCD's rights-based approach have shown their value in concrete projects. Ignoring the rights of people and the environment too often results in dams which destroy ecosystems and impoverish people."

At the 10th anniversary of the World Commission on Dams, 78 civil society networks and organizations issued an appeal for strict standards in dam building. In their appeal, the environmental organizations say:

"When a dam has been identified as the best solution through a comprehensive, transparent and participatory options assessment process, it is important that the strongest standards are followed to guarantee the rights of affected communities and protect the environment. (...) On the 10th anniversary of the World Commission on Dams, we reassert the rights-based principles espoused by the WCD report and numerous conventions, laws, policies and regulations. We call on governments around the world to uphold the principles they have endorsed through various norms and standards when they plan, build and commission dam projects."

The new International Rivers report, civil society appeal, and a video on the 10th anniversary of the WCD are available at

Event at Stockholm World Water Week:

International Rivers is an environmental and human rights organization with staff in four continents. For over two decades, International Rivers has been at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them.

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Learn more about the activities surrounding the 10th anniversary of the WCD.