Dam standoffs diverted thanks to IRE expert's work

by Sean Kelly
Staff writer

Bitter disputes surrounding dam megaprojects around the world are closer to being resolved, thanks to an agreement facilitated by Tony Dorcey, a UBC expert in sustainable development.

After months of negotiations, the World Bank and the World Conservation Union recently launched a two-year World Commission on Dams.

Dorcey's recommendations shaped the commission's design, and its statement of mandate is based on the international multi-stakeholder report he edited.

"Projects such as the Narmada Dam in India and the Three Gorges Dam in China have met with fierce resistance from affected communities and environmentalists," says Dorcey, a professor with UBC's Institute for Resources and Environment (IRE). "The result has been a virtual breakdown of constructive dialogue."

Dorcey says problems surrounding large dam projects seemed intractable a year ago. That's when senior government and non-government officials from around the world met for two days in Gland, Switzerland, at the invitation of the World Bank and the Conservation Union.

Dorcey, who has experience resolving sustainable development issues in multi-stakeholder processes, was asked to chair and facilitate the meeting.

The result was what Dorcey calls a "surprising and remarkable" agreement to work together in establishing the World Commission on Dams.

Dorcey's recommendations on the institutional and operational design of the commission on dams were adopted last August.

The commission's main goals are to review the effectiveness of dams with regard to a region's development, and to create standards, guidelines and criteria for the planning, construction and operation of them.

A 12-person international commission composed of environmentalists, distinguished scientists, politicians and representatives of major hydro-electric power companies will work with a consultative group of diverse stakeholders. These include affected communities and research institutions such as UBC.

"UBC will have a role to play because of our sustainable development expertise, and the quality of our research into the social, environmental and economic aspects of natural resources," says Dorcey.