Who Said It Couldn't Be Done?

Katy Yan

The most comprehensive guidelines for large dams that protect the rights of river-dependent communities were outlined by the World Commission on Dams (WCD) report in 2000. When it was published, dam-affected communities and their allies worldwide celebrated its recommendations, which charted a better way forward for dam-building and community-centered development. 

Many governments and institutions took up the challenge of adopting the WCD framework through national dialogues, some of which have led to real policy changes. However, other groups, like the dam industry and the World Bank (which was actually one of the initiators of the commission), have failed to even try to implement the WCD's recommendations.

Ten years after the groundbreaking WCD report, International Rivers has assembled a series of case studies showing that it can be done – the WCD recommendations have been applied and are leading to clear successes on the ground. More importantly, the principles espoused by the WCD represent basic values of human rights and sustainable development that should be adopted across development sectors (not only dams, but also mining and other resource extractions). While the case studies in this briefing kit, "Protecting Rivers and Rights: The World Commission on Dams Recommendations in Action," are not comprehensive – nor are the examples perfect projects – they nevertheless show what can be achieved through trying.

Resettlers from Maguga say they are happy with their new lives
Resettlers from Maguga say they are happy with their new lives
Liane Greeff
Among the case studies, you'll read about Maguga Dam in Swaziland, a strong example of a project incorporating the WCD principle of benefit sharing (an oft-neglected idea that adversely affected people should be recognized as the first to benefit from a development project, rather than simply being compensated for their losses). Through the hard work of local leaders, who worked closely with project authorities, the Maguga communities received water, electricity, and jobs from the project, as well as assistance with setting up farming cooperatives, and health and sports facilities. They were able to build their houses as they wanted. They could also decide to use part of the money they received for housing to develop businesses or purchase communal equipment. While this project did not address all the water and energy needs of the affected people, it did show that implementing WCD principles is feasible and can improve project outcomes for local communities.

To read more about this project and about other key principles, such as free, prior and informed consent, mitigating downstream impacts, and the need to assess all available water and energy options, download the briefing kit.

Do you have a river success story to share? Let us know in the comment section below!

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