World Summit on Dams


20 March 2001
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


20 March 2001

Acting chairperson: Ms S B Nqodi

Relevant documents:
PowerPoint presentation by World Commission on Dams
Executive Summary of the Report of the World Commission on Dams
Executive Summary of Environmental Monitoring Group Report: Once there was a Community: Southern African hearings for communities affected by large dams (see Appendix)

World Commission on Dams website:

The World Commission on Dams spoke on the importance of dams as a source of energy and water, the Commission’s programmes around the world and how it assists governments in implementing dam projects - providing information and facilitating consultation between governments and affected communities. The committee was particularly interested in the role of government in dam construction.

The Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) told the committee that her organisation is disseminating information on WCD programs to other organisations of civil society in the southern African region. She said presently EMG is establishing a network on water advocacy with Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the region.

World Commission on Dams
Mr James Workman said the international World Commission on Dams (WCD) was formed several years ago to guide the debate on how to develop dams to meet the energy and water demands of growing societies. The WCD is responding to these increasing demands by working together with governments. Mr Workman does not believe that people should oppose the construction of dams.

The WCD receives funding from the World Bank and he assured the committee that there are no strings attached as WCD makes independent decisions. Its studies are published on its internet site. The WCD has a multi-sectoral approach with its commissioners, water and energy experts and the stakeholders including the affected communities. The purpose is to create as many partnerships as possible. This will be done for two years and thereafter a comprehensive independent review of dams would be made from which recommendations can be developed for future decision-making. The idea is that with more and better information they can make better decisions. There is a lack of systematic evaluation of dam projects, their impact and alternatives globally. See the WCD documents for a full overview.

Environmental Monitoring Group
Ms Liane Greef introduced the Environmental Monitoring Group as an environmental development non-governmental organisation. She said that when Professor Kader Asmal was elected as the Chairperson of the World Commission on Dams, he needed a local partner who would liaise with WCD Secretariat and the global following of WCD programmes through email, and the Environmental Monitoring Group has had that liaising function. It meets on a regular basis with the Secretary-General of WCD and members of the Secretariat in order that they can report-back WCD findings to the global grouping of NGOs.

EMG has been involved in many projects around South Africa and the region, including the Lesotho Highland Water project, as well as helping people who were displaced as a result of the construction of the Inanda dam in KwaZulu-Natal. EMG welcomed the WCD report as the most independent objective evaluation of large dams to date.

Ms Greeff noted that the dominant paradigm understates the benefits of dam construction. As a result of this they welcome the proposed Dam Development Unit which was formed in a recent WCD meeting and its task will be the dissemination of WCD findings around the world. She welcomed the recent formation of a network of 35 organisations for water advocacy issues in southern Africa. It aimed at working together in advocating the management of water resources in the region. She noted that the world summit on sustainable development will be held in Johannesburg in 2002. It would be very important for South Africa to prepare a greater input as a host country through the findings from WCD.

Mr Cassim (IFP) noted that WCD has introduced a framework that will ensure that those who build dams would undertake environmental studies according to set guidelines. How big a quantum leap could people expect as a result of people following the new framework?

Mr Workman replied that through this framework they are looking at ways of reaching decisions through consensus. The aim is not to build bigger or more dams, but through these guidelines and criteria, the result could be better dams and better management of good projects.

Mr Cassim commented that he did not see a role that parliamentarians could play in the building of dams. If the Minister of Water Affairs decided that they want a dam built, they will proceed with the project administratively and the issue would not come to parliament. He argued that building of dams is largely an administrative function rather than a legislative one.

Mr Workman said parliamentarians should be part of the process as they are representative of the voices of different sectors of the community. On the question of administrative versus legislative functions. He is from the United States where the Congress makes its voice heard at all times. Ironically in the US the issue is more about the removal of dams than dam construction, and the benefits and costs associated with that in terms of environmental impact and people’s jobs.

Mr Sigwela (ANC) wanted to know about the usefulness of dams not as a source of hydro – electric power, but as a source of conservation of water resources. How does WCD deal with water conservation?

Mr Workman said dams do have environmental benefits as well as impacts. Their water storage capacity needs is not questioned. WCD is trying to explore a wider range of water conservation approaches. Ms Greeff added that in a draft report of water use in the Western Cape, 29% goes to toilets and 35% goes to gardens. In terms of conservation of water resources in the Western Cape, the "working for water programme" is a much more effective way of conserving water resources.

Ms Chalmers (ANC) asked how does WCD make interventions that carry enough weight to change what is going on? Further WCD talks of underperformance as far as dam irrigation is concerned, is that happening because of bad planning or technological incapacity?

Mr Workman said the weakness of WCD is that they do not have "teeth" (authority or power) to effect changes. As a result of not having "teeth" they have to be very persuasive in their arguments and be factually accurate. He said the only thing they rely on are the facts that are contained in their reports. Their responsibility is to give decision-makers their findings and governments have to decide how to use that data.

On the question of underperformance, Mr Workman talked about an optimism gap. He said planners tend to deliberately or unconsciously overlook the different kinds of costs that might be incurred and only look at benefits. Mr Workman said another reason is a technological or economic one. He used the example a dam built in 1930 for agricultural purposes. Thirty years later, a lot of industries are built and take much of the energy that was created for agriculture. This means that the reason for the dam has changed as agricultural incentives are not as strong as they were in the 1930s. These might be the reasons for underperformance of dams.

Mr Moss (ANC) said it is estimated that about 7 million people in South Africa do not enjoy clean water. What would you suggest the committee to do to solve the problem. He also asked about the outstanding problems that exists with communities that have been reallocated because of the construction of dams. Is there anything done about such situations or else what should be done?

Mr Workman said he was hired by the Chairperson of WCD, Prof. Kader Asmal, who is addressing this issue of people without clean water. This is one of the issues that have been taken seriously by the government. The South African government is trying to regulate water consumption by pricing water to those who can afford to pay and on the other hand the government is trying very hard to solve the problem of those who do not afford to pay. He said he believes that the government is doing enough to solve these problems.

On the question of displaced people, Mr Workman said issues of displacement and resettlement of people should be dealt with before any new dam is constructed. People should be the beneficiaries and not victims of such new development projects.

Mr Mclntosh (DP) asked Mr Greeff about the meeting the Environmental Monitoring Group held in Kempton Park in February this year where people from southern Africa were invited to discuss water issues. Mr Mclntosh, as a public representative, was barred from attending the meeting. He wanted to know why individuals who happen to be politicians are excluded from meetings of such importance and what was their agenda in doing that?

Ms Greeff replied that this was a regional civil society network of organisations in the SADC region. She added that there were 35 organisations from 10 countries. She said there were two issues for preventing Mr Mclntosh to attend. One was that he was from a political party and a Member of Parliament whilst the network was for non - governmental organisations. The second issue is that they were limiting South African representation as much as they could to ensure equitable participation from other SADC countries.

Ms Mbuyazi (IFP) wanted to know about the indigenous people who are affected by the overflow of dams. She asked if they are part of the preparatory stage of the workshop on sustainable development that will be held in 2002.

In reply, Ms Greeff noted that one of WCD commissioners Ms Joji Carino is in the commission because of her involvement with indigenous people in the Philippines. She is also from an indigenous community. Indigenous peoples and their rights are one of the important issues that kept on coming through WCD deliberations. She said the strongest recommendations of WCD was that all indigenous communities have a right to say no to any project if they feel it will not benefit them.

The meeting was adjourned.

Executive Summary of Environmental Monitoring Group Report: Once there was a Community: Southern African hearings for communities affected by large dams

The Southern African hearings for communities affected by large dams, took place on the 11th and 12th of November 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa. Participants from Southern African countries met to discuss and analyse the negative and positive social, environmental and economic impacts that large dams have had on their communities. The Hearings were hosted by the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG), the Group for Environmental Monitoring (GEM), and, the Botswana Office of the International Rivers Network (IRN - Botswana), under the patronage of His Grace, the Most Reverend Njongonkulu Ndungane, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

Importantly, the World Commission on Dams (WCD) Secretariat staff including Mr Achim Steiner, the WCD Secretary-General was present throughout the Hearings. Kader Asmal, South Africa's Minister of Education who chairs the WCD, hosted a reception for delegates on the evening of the 11th November and delivered a speech that, captivated the audience. Additional high profile speakers included the, South African Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Minister Ronnie Kasrils, Justice Albie Sachs of the South African Constitutional Court and Joji Cariño, a WCD Commissioner from the Philippines.

The issues and themes highlighted by community representatives throughout the two-day event are reflected in the Final Declaration, which is to a large extent the voice of affected communities in Southern Africa.

While, a call was not made to forever halt the construction of large dams, it became clear that the history of large dams and affected communities in Southern Africa has been one of broken promises and incalculable losses. Livelihoods, land, livestock, wildlife, cultural values, ancestral sites and lives have been lost. Large dams have also caused a decrease in the standard of living of communities; a decrease in health levels; an increase in HIV/AIDS and other diseases as well as in crime and inter- and intra-community conflicts. As such the meeting called for a moratorium on new dams to be instituted until the World Commission on Dams has published its findings and best practice guidelines.

There has been inadequate community participation, inadequate information dissemination, and inadequate compensation. Communities were often forced to move against their will. They were not treated with dignity or with respect for their customs. In fact, large dams have been devastating to many of Southern Africa's local communities.

Participants made a number of other recommendations to ensure that past injustices are rectified, and to ensure that in the future communities would be treated in a just, equitable and dignified manner. In order to facilitate effective participation of communities in the decision-making and implementation process, and to increase openness and transparency, the meeting called for communities to be empowered, with information as to their rights; with the development of community committees; and, that funds be provided for community and NGO participation, amongst others. Binding and enforceable contracts for compensation and resettlement programmes need to be entered into. And dams (in all their aspects) must be continually monitored.

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