Press Release - Thursday, November 23, 2000

The Export Development Corporation support for dams
criticized in new report by World Commission Report on Dams
Coalition demands EDC place a moratorium on dam-building

Ottawa, November 23, 2000 - A Canadian coalition of environment, development and labour groups challenges the Export Development Corporation (EDC) to halt all support for dams until recommendations from the newly-released World Commission on Dams are fully implemented. The groups are also calling for reparations for social and environmental damage caused by dams. The World Commission on Dams (WCD) report, released late last week, confirms social, economic, environmental harm from dams.
“The era of destructive dams should come to an end, if the Export Development Corporation follows the recommendations of the WCD”, says Pamela Foster, Coordinator of the NGO Working Group on the Export Development Corporation. “The World Commission on Dams report vindicates much of what development, human rights and environment supporters have long argued”. 
Among the ongoing and planned EDC-supported projects that are clearly in breach of the WCD guidelines are China's Three Gorges dam, Ralco in Chile and the Urra dam in Colombia. 
The World Commission on Dams report sets out a new framework for decisions on dam building in developing countries based on five core values - equity, efficiency, sustainability, participatory decision-making, and accountability. It proposes seven principles to guide governments: gaining public acceptance, comprehensive options assessments, taking account of existing dams, sustaining rivers and livelihoods, recognizing entitlements and sharing benefits, ensuring compliance with decisions, and sharing rivers between countries.
“EDC, the World Bank and other export credit agencies play a key role in dam building and, therefore,  must act on the WCD's recommendations. Specifically, a moratorium must be placed on funding dams until they have adopted the WCD guidelines, and all ongoing projects must be reviewed in light of the new recommendations”, says Esperanza Moreno, Acting President and CEO for the Canadian Council for International Cooperation. 
The World Commission on Dams is an independent body sponsored by the World Bank to review the performance of large dams and make recommendations for future planning of water and energy projects. It is comprised of 12 Commissioners from a wide spectrum of backgrounds ranging from Göran Lindahl, CEO of engineering giant, ABB, to Medha Patkar, leading activist with India's Save the Narmada Movement.
The report, "Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making,"was released last week and is the result of a two-year, $10-million initiative led by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union.  The WCD report is available on the WCD web site
For more information contact: Pamela Foster, 613-789-4447, email:
The WCD's final report provides ample evidence that large dams have failed to produce as much electricity, provide as much water, or control as much flood damage as their backers claim. In addition, these massive projects regularly suffer huge cost-overruns and time delays. Furthermore, the report shows that:

  • large dams have forced 40-80 million people from their homes and lands, with impacts including extreme economic hardship, community disintegration, and an increase in mental and physical health problems. Indigenous, tribal, and peasant communities have been particularly hard hit. People living downstream of dams have also suffered from increased disease and the loss of natural resources upon which their livelihoods depended;
  • large dams cause great environmental damage, including the extinction of many fish and other aquatic species, huge losses of forest, wetland and farmland; and
  • the benefits of large dams have largely gone to the already well-off while poorer sectors of society have borne the costs.

Based on these findings, the commission recommends that:

  • no dam should be built without the agreement of the affected people;
  •  comprehensive and participatory assessments of the needs to be met, and alternatives for meeting these needs should be developed before proceeding with any new project;
  •   priority should be given to maximizing the efficiency of existing water and energy systems before building any new projects;
  • periodic participatory reviews should be done for existing dams to assess such issues as dam safety, and possible decommissioning;
  • mechanisms should be developed to provide social reparations for those who are suffering the impacts of dams, and to restore damaged ecosystems.

The WCD was set up by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union. It is chaired by Professor Kader Asmal, South Africa's Education Minister. It has tried to find a way through \the increasingly confrontational debate about the role the 45,000 large dams have played in development\. Large dams are those over 15 meters high. Professor Asmal said: "It means nothing to build billion-dollar dams if your monuments alienate the weak. It means nothing to stop all dams if your protests only entrench poverty. But show me a clear and sustainable way to provide food, energy, stability and running water for those who most need it - that means something. And that we have done."
The commission's members surveyed 125 large dams, eight of them in detail.
It found that:

  • globally, dams account for 19% of electricity generated and for an estimated 12-16% of global food production;
  •  many fall short of their physical and economic targets;
  •  they have led to the loss of forests, wildlife habitat, and aquatic biodiversity. Efforts to counter their impact have met with limited success ;
  • estimates suggest that some 40-80m people have been displaced by dams worldwide, yet mitigation, compensation and resettlement attempts are often inadequate; and
  •  it is almost always the most marginal members of society who are harmed by dams. \Little or no meaningful participation of affected people in the planning and implementation of dam projects has taken place\, the commission says.

The WCD says there is far greater scope for using alternative ways of meeting people's needs, including renewable energy, recycling, better irrigation, and reducing water losses. It is concerned about the loss of cultural heritage involved, and criticises the environmental performance of large dams. It says rotting vegetation trapped underwater releases carbon dioxide and methane, both potent greenhouse gases, and that this can cause more pollution than generating electricity by burning fossil fuels.