Strategic Cooperation

WCD in the Netherlands (water management)

The World Commission on Dams: General Introduction

Dams can contribute to development, but simultaneously have a major impact on ecosystems and livelihood assets of local people. In 1997, the IUCN and the World Bank initiated the World Commission on Dams (WCD) with the objective to formulate a set of recommendations on dams and sustainable development. The WCD launched its final report 'Dams and Development: A new framework for decision making' nearly three years ago.

The main findings of the WCD are that dams have made positive contributions to human development. However, in too many cases the social and environmental price has been too high. Depending on the context, different alternative development options exist, including e.g. demand management, supply efficiency and other technical options. In decision making processes leading to the construction of dams, participation and transparency has been too late and too limited.

In order to assure that the costs and benefits of future dams are distributed equitably and effectively towards poverty reduction and sustainable development, the WCD Report proposes a set of core values, strategic priorities and guidelines. These guidelines are not meant as 'strict' guidelines, but need to be adapted to country-specific circumstances, using the WCD as a 'back of the mind' checklist.

WCD in the Netherlands: State of Affairs

Focusing on dams, the main stakeholders in the Netherlands are Dutch governmental institutions, the financial sector, and environment and development oriented civil society organisations:

  • The Dutch Government determines the legal and regulatory framework for dam-related activities. Dutch Government engages in dam development, either directly or indirectly as a financier, or as advisor or developer of dams. Therefore, it functions as a role model;
  • Dutch development and private banks finance dams and dam-related activities and give expert advice on the financial backbone of dam projects;
  • Dutch civil society organisations are concerned about the possible socio-economic and environmental impacts of dams and other large-scale infrastructure, facilitate a more active us of the WCD recommendations and support the development of innovative approaches to hydropower generation, irrigation and water storage.
Currently, the WCD recommendations are considered by the Dutch financial institutions and the Dutch government on a case-by-case basis. Apart from the Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS), no organisation actively promotes the use of the WCD report in dam-related development decisions. At the moment, no Dutch institution – private or public – has formally included the recommendations in its investment or public policies.

The way forward

The WCD Expert Meeting hosted by Both ENDS, the IUCN-NL and the WWF on the 1st of October in the The Hague showed that a significant group of public and private sector representatives are interested to take the WCD one step further towards implementation. In order to effectively bring the implementation of the WCD one step further, the proposal is to implement the following actions:

  • Inform 'Partners for Water' on the results of the Expert Meeting and propose to further the WCD implementation within the Dutch government;
  • Develop tailor-made guidelines and awareness raising and information materials for two different stakeholder groups viz. the Dutch government institutions, and the Dutch financial sector;
  • Analyse available options to large dams as well as case examples of national WCD follow-up dialogues to use as basic input in awareness raising and information materials;
  • Analyse the ways in which the WCD can be relevant for decision making processes in the Netherlands;
  • Continue multi-stakeholders discussions, focusing on specific issues (e.g. options assessment, role of the financing sector, sovereignty, etc.);
  • Continue to exert pressure on international institutions to synchronize their actions and take more leadership in the WCD follow-up process.

Final Report WCD in the Netherlands
Based on the Dutch Expert Meeting on the World Commission on Dams, October 1st 2003, The Hague (pdf-en).

Background information:

A Trojan Horse for Large Dams: How export credit agencies are offering new subsidies for destructive projects under the guise of environmental protection, A report prepared for ECA Watch, September 2005 (pdf-en pp 30)

The OECD Arrangement and New Subsidies for Dams: The Case for Strengthened Standards, by Nicholas Hildyard & Eliah Gilfenbaum (pdf-en pp 23)

Both ENDS Information Package on Dams and the Environment

Useful links:

The World Bank and Dams

The Whirled Bank

The World Commission on Dams

International River Network

Dam Right - WWF

International Commission on Large Dams

For further information please contact: water(at)