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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
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
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
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:
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
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.