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IRN Press Release: April 7, 1997

World Bank Dam Evaluation "Seriously Deficient" NGOs Demand Independent Review and Moratorium on World Bank Support of Large Dams

Forty–nine non–governmental organizations (NGOs) from 21 countries have today written to World Bank President Mr James D. Wolfensohn demanding the World Bank reject the conclusions of an internal review of its large–dam building record.1 The NGOs urge the commissioning of "a comprehensive, unbiased and authoritative review of past World Bank lending for large dams".

The confidential internal review was completed by the World Bank’s Operations Evaluation Department (OED) in August 1996. The conclusions of the 67–page evaluation have been released to the public in the form of a 4–page Précis which states that for the 50 large dams reviewed "in most of the cases . . . benefits have far outweighed costs, including the costs of adequate resettlement programs, environmental safeguards, and other mitigatory measures."

A detailed critique by International Rivers Network of a leaked copy of the OED review, however, reveals that its conclusions are based on seriously flawed methodology and incomplete and inadequate data.2 IRN has found that figures used in the review "appear systematically to exaggerate actual project benefits." OED’s figures for hydropower production from individual dams, for example, appear to exaggerate actual electricity production by as much as 100 per cent.

OED’s conclusions on environmental impacts and mitigation, IRN states, "do not appear to be based on an understanding of the nature of the ecological effects of dams." OED did not compare projected with actual costs and benefits for any of the 50 dams reviewed.

IRN’s critique found that the conclusions cited in the publicly released Précis "form the apex of a process of incremental censorship". Negative comments on dam performance in the background document to the OED report are cut or weakened in the main report, and then emasculated further in the Précis.

The NGO letter to President Wolfensohn states that "Given the huge expense of large dams, the controversy over whether or not they are an effective means of achieving the benefits which their proponents claim for them, and the huge scale of their social and environmental impacts, a comprehensive, unbiased and authoritative review of past World Bank lending for large dams is essential."

The NGOs believe the review should be done by "a commission of eminent persons independent of the World Bank" which "must be able to command respect and confidence from all parties involved in the large dams debate".

"Until the completion of a redesigned, authoritative independent review and the implementation of any recommended policy reforms", the NGOs state, the World Bank should "impose a moratorium on the provision of loans, credits, guarantees and other forms of support for large dams".

IRN’s critique will be formally presented at a workshop on large dams sponsored by the World Bank and IUCN – The World Conservation Union to be held April 10–11 in Gland, Switzerland. The workshop will be attended by around 35 representatives of NGOs, academia, the private sector, governments and the World Bank.

The NGO letter states that the workshop is "an encouraging sign that the Bank is prepared to hold an open debate on its funding of large dams" and that it "offers an excellent opportunity for the World Bank to begin in a credible and unbiased way the process of reviewing its financing" of dams.

The NGOs note that Mr Wolfensohn has in the past "given substantial attention to the human rights, economic, and environmental issues surrounding several individual dam projects" and state that his "leadership is essential in guaranteeing" that an independent review take place.


For more information:
Patrick McCully
Tel. +1 510 848 1155 Fax. +1 510 848 1008 (7 April)
Tel. +41 22 999 0001 Fax. +41 22 999 0002 (9–11 April c/o Dams Workshop)

Notes:

1. The groups include a 200,000 member teachers’ union from Argentina, a group of small hydro engineers from Nepal, India’s Save the Narmada Movement, Oxfam UK and Ireland, the Brazilian Movement of People Affected by Dams, and Friends of the Earth International. Other countries represented are Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, The Netherlands, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Uruguay and the USA. The full text of the letter and the list of groups are available on IRN’s web site www.irn.org.

2. Patrick McCully, ’A Critique of "The World Bank’s Experience With Large Dams: A Preliminary Review Of Impacts" (World Bank Operations Evaluation Department, August 15, 1996)’, International Rivers Network, April 11, 1997.

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  • A Critique of "The World Bank’s Experience With Large Dams: A Preliminary Review Of Impacts" (World Bank Operations Evaluation Department, August 15, 1996)
  • Executive Summary of "A Critique of "The World Bank’s Experience With Large Dams: A Preliminary Review Of Impacts" (World Bank Operations Evaluation Department, August 15, 1996)"
  • International Finance Campaign Page.