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Department of Geography


The World Commission on Dams twenty years on: revisiting the debate on large dams

As part of the wider FutureDAMS consortium (a Global Challenges Research Fund project on linkages between water, energy, food, and the environment, led by The University of Manchester and the International Institute for Environment and Development, UK), Christopher Schulz and Bill Adams of the Department of Geography are investigating the legacy and impacts of the World Commission on Dams (WCD).

The WCD was a global science-policy interface which sought to establish a consensus on best practices around the construction of large dams, and was active from 1998 to 2000. It united 12 commissioners from different countries around the world as expert stakeholders from the government, academia, civil society, and industry sectors.

It represents a remarkable attempt to overcome long-standing controversies over the construction of large dams. This was to be achieved by commissioning an extensive review of existing research and knowledge on dams, as well as broad stakeholder consultation activities, which then informed the WCD’s recommendations and reports.

As the world is currently experiencing a surge in large dam construction across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the work of the WCD retains its relevance today. Our research will cover both historical and contemporary aspects. One part of the research will seek to understand the processes and methods that led to the establishment of the WCD consensus by interviewing former commissioners and the WCD support staff.

This research will provide important lessons on the conditions under which a consensus on a contentious environmental governance issue can be reached. A second part of the research will investigate contemporary dam-building and policy, and aim to trace the guidelines and procedures that are relevant for dam decision-makers today.


Dam Dam