THE DEBATE on the controversial World Commission of Dams (WCD) report issued last October is 'over', according to comments made by the president of the International Commission on Irrigation & Drainage (ICID), Professor Bart Schultz.
The WCD report, sponsored by the World Bank, sparked major debate last year. Environmentalists argued that it showed most major dam projects should not proceed, while promoters of large dam projects said following the report's set of 26 guidelines would make construction of any large dam impossible.
Delivering the keynote speech at the Gerald Lacey Memorial Lecture, held at the ICE on 16 May, Schultz said that the report was a 'useful document to generate discussion, but absolutely inadequate, as it stands, to find the required sustainable solutions'. It was of particular concern regarding projects in the world's least developed and emerging countries.
However, Schultz maintained that the report was produced in isolation without reference to ICID or other organisations with specialist expertise. 'Unfortunately it has not been possible to discuss the position paper with representatives of the WCD, nor was ICID consulted on the draft WCD report, ' he noted.
The ICID and its sister organisations - the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) and the International Hydropower Association (IHA) - wrote to the president of the World Bank stating that the organisations 'do not accept the unbalanced judgement of the role of existing dams and that the 26 guidelines as they currently stand are considered unrealistic for application', said Schultz.
'This implies that for the above mentioned organisations the WCD report is a closed book and that they will concentrate on new developments, ' he added.
He said that individual governments would make their own decisions regarding major water management and flood protection projects in their own countries, rather than observing some internationally imposed set of rules, and that this reality could not be ignored. The international engineering and environmental community, he added, should instead try to assist the promotion of 'integrated approaches and sustainable solutions, to reduce the risk of too much focus on short term benefits and try to understand the tremendous challenges of the emerging developing countries'.
Speaking after the meeting, Professor Schultz, who is head of environmental engineering at the hydraulic engineering branch of the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works & Water Management, said that adopting a list of guidelines to apply to all conditions around the world would not work.
'In the developed world, we take on board environmental considerations. I began to apply the 26 criteria to projects in the Netherlands where there is an advanced approach to these problems, and got as far as the fourth one before I could go no further.'
He argued: 'Many of the WCD steps I agree with, but there is no country which could adopt the full set of guidelines. Environmental groups have seized upon them as a full set, but I don't believe that is what was intended in drawing them up.'
He said that the next major dam projects were likely to occur in China, India, Iran, Korea and Japan, places with vastly different political approaches and procedures, he said. 'It is far better to work together with these countries rather than impose a completely new set of guidelines from outside, ' he added.