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ICOLD Symposium on
"Benefits and Concerns about Dams"


Dresden, September 13, 2001

1st Session – WCD Report – Government and Multilateral Stakeholders' Views


Session Chairman: H. Lütkestratkötter

H. Lütkestratkötter:

Ladies and gentlemen,
It's just the coffee break which has come to an end. May I invite you for the first session of our today's symposium. The first session concentrates on the views of governmental and multilateral agencies and groups, including critical views. We thought it would be beneficial to have all the different views in one room at our symposium today, to use this as an opportunity to see whether we will be able to arrive at some generally acceptable conclusions. I would like to invite all of you to make every possible effort to contribute to reaching this goal today. As I already said, it would have been a great pleasure for me to welcome Prof. K. Asmal here today, but as I already mentioned, he was advised by his doctors not to travel under the circumstances of critical health; however, he was kind enough to video-record the speech he had prepared for the symposium today and we will, instead of having Prof. K. Asmal here, present the video.

Speech by Prof. K. Asmal (video-recorded)

H. Lütkestratkötter:

Well, ladies and gentlemen,
This was different to what had been planned, but I think you share with me the impression that we should all thank Prof. Asmal for making this effort to get his speech video-recorded and send this video over to us. And I also think, you will join me in wishing him a very speedy recovery. (Applause)
We had envisioned to have here as the second speaker of this session the Minister of Economic Development and Co-operation of the German Federal Government, her excellency Mrs. Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, however, as I mentioned this morning, she is a member of the national security council which is meeting right now. Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul will be represented this morning by the Vice Minister of Economic Development and Co-operation, Mr. Stather. Thank you very much for coming, I would now like to invite you to give your presentation.

Presentation by Mr. Stather

H. Lütkestratkötter:

Thank you very much, Mr. Stather, for your presentation. I would now wish to invite Mr. A. Palmieri, Senior Dam Specialist of the World Bank, to present the World Bank's position.

Presentation by Mr. A. Palmieri


H. Lütkestratkötter:

Thank you, Mr. Palmieri, for your presentation of the World Bank's views. I think there was quite a number of substantial statements which will be later on referred to in our discussions. As the next speaker the programme shows Mrs. Barbara Unmuessig. Unfortunately we only yesterday got the information that she has to see her mother urgently, who had been hit by a stroke yesterday. So, on that background, I think it is understandable, that Mrs. Unmuessig can not be here today. We discussed yesterday with a small group of NGOs people about who could take here part, and I am extremely glad that Dr. Peter Bosshard from Switzerland stepped in and we can have a presentation on the NGOs' views.
Because of standing in on very short notice, Dr. Bosshard suggested that there should be a second part of the presentation, within the timeframe originally foreseen for the presentation by Mrs. Unmuessig; this second part of the presentation will be covered by Mr. Shripard Dharmadhikary. He is an engineer from India, he worked in industry and later on joined the Narmada group which is a mass movement of people affected by large dams being built in the Narmada river valley in India. May I now invite you, Mr. Bosshard, to give your presentation.

Presentation by Dr. Peter Bosshard


Presentation by Mr. Shripard Dharmadhikary

(unfortunately not available)

H. Lütkestratkötter
I would like to thank all the speakers of the first session. I think these were very interesting and well-balanced contributions. We are now running a little bit out of time, but I think we still should use the few minutes left for at least some discussion. Those who feel a certain time squeeze now from hearing that from me should consider that there will be more sessions in the afternoon and that there will still be ample opportunity for making contributions, short statements, raising questions and giving answers. May I now invite the first question.
We have microphones here; would you please before raising your question give your name and institution.

Contribution from the floor:

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
My name is Lafitte from Switzerland, and I am the President of the International Hydropower Association. I just wish to make a very brief statement on our position concerning the WCD report. We explained during the last forum organised by the WCD in Cape Town our position. We think that the report does not recognise the necessity of dams. Secondly, the report is unbalanced concerning the advantages of dams; and thirdly, even if we agree with the objectives of the criteria we do not agree with the detailed criteria which are not applicable. And it is an undermining of the position of the states and authorities, which is something very important today in the face of globalisation and privatisation. We are very interested in continuing to have a dialogue such as in the follow-up of the forum organised by the WCD and as you know, as the World Bank knows, IUCN and the governments know, there will be a follow-up in the WCD action, this is the Dams Development Unit. We have asked in Cape Town forinformation about the terms of reference of this Development Unit and for more precise information about who will be in the steering committee. We have just recently received an official answer on that matter. Our conditions to participate in such an action of dialogue, the continuation of which we think is absolutely necessary, is that the terms of reference of this new action must be clear, which is unfortunately not the case today. It is said in these terms of reference that the World Commission on Dams report can not be changed, it is a state, and it will be distributed around the world and tried to be applied. The second problem is that the steering committee is totally unbalanced with four NGOs and the decision of creating this steering committee was taken not in a consensus in the liaison group but just by the persons that are today on the steering committee. So, we think we are totally ready to participate in a discussion but really on a transparent and fair level as it is recommended in the WCD report. I have nothing more to say but I have a lot of questions. Thank you.

H. Lütkestratkötter

Thank you very much, Prof. Lafitte. Here is a second question.

Contribution from the floor:

Hello. My name is Haffa Schücking and I work with the German environment (...) (microphone trouble)

H. Lütkestratkötter

Please go ahead...! Maybe we can just..., Mrs. Schücking, here is a second question, let us see if we can get assistance to get that microphone replaced so that it would work, and would you then please raise the next question.

Contribution from the floor:

My name is Ferdinand Budweg from Brazil. I am living in Sao Paulo, and Sao Paulo is the third largest city in the world, with almost 18 million inhabitants. About 20% of these inhabitants are poor to extremely poor and another 20% to 30% are in the best case in an economically modest situation. And these people, for being able to live in such a city, depend on cheap water supply, on cheap food, on cheap energy, and on cheap transportation. All of this depends almost directly on water, because most of our energy production depends on hydropower. Now, the World Commission on Dams' report calls for a sitting together and discussing the pros and cons of dams between those affected by the dams and those encouraging the construction of dams. In the report, those affected by dams are considered only those who are directly affected by dam projects, those who live in the reservoir area and lose their land, and understandably these people are against the construction of dams; I mean that is quite sure. But now, those who live in these big cities – and Sao Paulo is not a singular case, it is just an example for other cities and the urbanisation process is progressing quickly – those are also "affected people", and if we want to come to clear conclusions on pros and cons, we will have to invite those people, the urban poor and the urban people affected also to join us at the table of negotiation. Thank you very much.

H. Lütkestratkötter:

Thank you, Mr. Budweg. Now, is your microphone ready, Mrs. Schücking?

Contribution from the floor:

Yes, I hope so... Alright then, my name is Schücking and I work for a German environmental and human rights organisation called Urgewald and for the past ten years we have monitored the activities of international financial institutions. Now, I have a question for Mr. Palmieri. I have to say I am quite surprised about the World Bank's reaction to the WCD report, especially because for several years I have heard speeches by World Bank officials where the World Bank was padding itself on the back for having helped –rightfully, I think – bring about the establishment of the World Commission on Dams and having been able to produce this type of bringing in our stakeholders. Therefore, my surprise was very great that all of a sudden when the report came out, the Bank was much, much less enthusiastic about it. And to someone who has followed very intensely World Bank politics, you know, in bank speak saying "The WCD report will be an important reference for our work...." in my experience means that by and large you will ignore it as long as the recommendations of the WCDare not really translated into the Bank's own safeguard policies, which the Bank, by the way, has already trouble implementing. I do not think that much will actually change in World Bank operations. Anyway, I am curious about the discussions that have been going on inside the World Bank because – and this is my question – I would like to hear more from you, because I feel that there is a faction within the Bank actually saying that the WCD report is a most innovative report on development issues, and that they feel that the Bank as a leading international development institution should actually be the first and foremost institution to embrace the report. Thank you.

Answer by Mr. Palmieri:

I think that your question can be summarised in the apparent disconnection between the proactive role of the Bank in facilitating the work of the WCD and what in your opinion and in other people's opinion is what you call a "reaction". Now, first of all, let me make clear that I do not like the word "reaction". We are not reacting to a report. We are – as I said before – welcoming the report and we have started using it. I mean the world is to use the report, not to react or not. What happened at the time of release of the report, I think is a consequence of how the report was arrived at. As you correctly said, we very strongly supported the Commission and facilitated its formation but then we stayed hundred percent away from the decision-making process in the Commission. This was a very clear statement. And we had very strict instructions from our management that the Commission should be completely independent from the Bank during its work. Before the report came out, no one in the Bank had the opportunity of seeing a draft of the report like many other people around the world because this was a decision of the Commission. Our President was given a copy only in December, I think a week before the release, to prepare a speech and he could hardly read it.
So, nobody knew it and therefore we had to start quite an extensive consultation after the report came out. The way in which the Bank is using the report is a dynamic process in which we get feedback from all people affected by this report – positively and negatively – and we are trying to represent the views of everybody.Finally, the World Bank, as you say, is a leading institution but it is not a government, we are owned by governments and we need to listen to their views.

H. Lütkestratkötter:

Thank you, Mr. Palmieri. There was a question here, and I have seen a hand over there. So, you will be next after this gentleman to the right. And after that, I would like to invite one final question because otherwise we would have to come to a democratic decision to skip lunch – which I would not recommend ... because it's not on the WCD report and not backed by the report, so I think we should not do that... (laughter)

Contribution from the floor:

My name is Jothiramalingam, I am the Managing Director of a state-owned power corporation in India. We have around 2,800 MW power generation capacity of hydroelectric power stations. So, the ICOLD has got its mission. Nelson Mandela says we are against hunger, poverty and all these things. We faced problems in a particular project, not a very large dam, a tailrace project called Gerosapa (?). The area of land submerged totalled about 800 hectares. No private person owned land in the submerged area, there was no resettlement and rehabilitation problem. However, the submerged area was covered by forest. The project which was supposed to be completed within four years took ten years, thanks to the environmental groups and NGOs. But they were unable to prove that the submerged area has got endangered species of flora and fauna. The last point they raised in the Supreme Court was that there is a particular fish variety which was supposed to go against the river current; so when you build the dam you have to construct a fish way – but that was not either accepted. What was the result? Time overrun from four years to ten years. Cost overrun three times. 40% of the power generated goes to the agricultural sector where we supply power at one third of the generating cost, and to the poor people who pay 10 rupees, which is one fifth of a dollar. The cost overrun and the time overrun could have been avoided, but these environmental groups and the NGOs achieved delaying this project for no reason.

Contribution from the floor:

My name is Papageorgiou from Greece. Let me make a few remarks only, because the time is pressing. First of all, in Greece we have applied the basic principle since some thirty years ago that for each project we have to have a report on the repercussions and the corrective measures prepared by an independent consultant. The measures we have taken is to re-establish the displaced peopleby providing them with fields, houses and other means to continue their existence, and it is our policy to retain the people as much as possible to their native land. Secondly, we even come to modify projects in order to satisfy those needs. Now, in the WCD report, which I read – and this is an answer to Prof. Asmal, I indeed read it through, I see that they combined all imaginable causes to be blamed on dams. They forgot that the basic function which a dam is carrying out is storing water in the rainy season and supplying it during the dry season. If those using the water by right or by authority make bad use of the water, why should the dam be blamed for that? An example: they speak again and again about water logging. But it is a basic principle that in parallel with an irrigation network we have a drainage network. They speak about gas emission from reservoirs and they even push that to that extreme of placing this issue on the same pedestal with thermal power stations and the pollution they are provoking with emissions. I can tell you that in Greece, before impounding we strip the soil of the vegetation and we use the lumber in other uses, we burn the leafs in the reservoir before impounding. As far as the participatory process is concerned, we are not against it but – and this is a question to Mr. Palmieri as well – what do you do with people who choose intransigence and then it comes to the basic principle of democracy. In every democratic country, the various groups have the opportunity to pursue their views: there is an election held, there is the democratic parliament elected and the government. So, with whom are you going to deal, Mr. Palmieri, or the World Bank, with the intransigent groups who will not agree with any consensus or with the democratic government or the democratic parliament. There comes another question which is relevant to us: shall we choose to become politicians or shall we remain in our function as advisers of the state, of the various groups, on how to build safe dams respecting the environment and supplying humanity with the water it needs, because the other options offered and mentioned in the Report can only assist, they can not solve the need for water for irrigation, for drinking water, for electricity supply. Thank you.

Answer by Mr. Palmieri:

I will try to go to the specific point that you raise to me or better to the World Bank: With whom do we deal in the decision-making process. Well, first of all, the World Bank is not the decision maker. The decision is only with that country's government. Our recommendation, which is in line with the strategic priorities of the WCD Report, is to involve and to listen to everybody, to try and listen to the wide spectrum of opinion on any major decision regarding development. Let me remind you of what I heard in Antalya at the ICOLD congress by Prof. Asmal, and I think many of you were there, so you will recall that, this event was during the process of the report preparation. I remember him stating that the decisions on water resource development are not easy ones and can take a long time. His approach when he was in South Africa was to listen to everybody but within a very specific timeframe. Let's say, we have to arrive at a decision within this timeframe. The decision can be "no" or can be "yes", but we have a time frame and this should be the clear understanding of everybody involved in the decision-making process. So, this is my answer.

H. Lütkestratkötter:

Thank you very much, Mr. Palmieri. I see someone who would like to make another contribution, but Mr. Failer you are the last speaker from the floor, please bear in mind that the decision on when lunch will start is now in your hand. (Laugther)

Contribution from the floor:

My name is Egon Failer, I am from Lahmeyer International and I have been working in this hydropower and dam business for 25 years, I have travelled for 25 years around the world and therefore I know exactly what I am talking about. Just this morning I returned from Iran. Let me make a few comments about what we have discussed with colleagues, with clients, with people, with poor people on the issues mentioned by the NGOs. Basically, as to what Prof. Lafitte said, we agree with him. The WCD report is definitely one-sided and unbalanced. There is a very negative tone about the dams. The report mentions all the negative points. As professionals we understand that when you build big infrastructure projects, there are always negative points. However, there are also positive points. These dams, these billions of dollars are not invested because we like dams, there is a reason behind. Personally, I am convinced that in the world there are more dams with a positive effect and helping the poor people than negative ones. I can prove this. What is very negative in this report are its consequences for financing. Almost once a week I have discussions with banks, with export credit agencies, with financing institutions for dams. When you are looking for money, they ask you: "Did you read this WCD Report?" Dams are "out"! – And this is a negative thing. I do not understand, when you want to help the poor people, then there are projects which should be supported, which you, actually the NGOs, should help. As I told you, this morning I returned from Iran and I think a lot of people from Iran are here, too. The need for water is something that only people coming from that area do understand. Just a few figures: in Iran, 90 percent of the land is desert area. There are 60 million people to be fed. The water resources are very limited and the water that is available during winter time should be stored. Now the government has decided to build 60 dams in Iran right now. And more dams will be built in the future because the people need it: for irrigation, for flood control, for power generation – and I tell you: if they would have been controlled by NGOs these projects would not have been built. I can tell you that we, the industry people, are prepared to have a dialogue with you but you must also accept compromises and not always see only the negative aspects of dams. Thank you very much.

H. Lütkestratkötter:

Thank you very much. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen for making your contributions. Thanks to the speakers of this morning, thanks to those who raised questions or gave answers. Under normal circumstances the session chairman would be requested to give a summary. This, you will understand, is definitely not possible at this stage. But I think that a few comments, a few statements which I feel meet with a consensus in this room could be summarised as follows: I think we all share the view that a dialogue is necessary, and I find it a very positive spirit and I feel enthusiastic about the fact that there is a great willingness in this room to welcome dialogue and to go for dialogue. Of course it is necessary to have clear terms of reference for a continuation of dialogue. The WCD report in this respect has never been meant as a law and it should be understood like this: It is not a law, it is to be used in the process and I think we have to see how this report in a balanced way can be made a part of the process. To do that, I feel it is also a consensus that such a process needs a balanced, neutral steering committee – otherwise no dialogue will be possible. All stakeholders will have to have seats on such a steering committee. And I think we have to understand the rules for community participation. Most of the countries in this world do not have what theoretically is a model that goes by the name "grass-roots democracy", i.e., just calling in all the people of a country or a certain region to take part in the decision-making process. With a growing number of population that could come to a point where it simply would not be practical any more. And that leads to the point where I think we should also be democrats when going to such process. Being democrats definitely means to respect democratically appointed government authorities and decisions taken by them. Once again, this was not meant as a summary but just as a contribution that summarises what I figured out could have been the major statements this morning.
Thank you again.