Lessons Learned from the Three Gorges Dam
Activity 1


The World Bank was established in 1944, one year prior to the formation of the United Nations. The bank is accountable solely to its members and has its own sources of finance, including subscriptions and income from loans. The Bank was set up as an independent, specialized agency of the UN as well as a member an observer in many UN bodies. The World Bank and the UN cooperate closely in areas of mutual concern, with particular focus, with particular focus on economic and social issues. The Bank works with UN specialized agencies through the coordination of policy, implementation of projects, and coordinating and co-financing aid.

Under the World Bank's Articles of Agreement, any member can withdraw from the Bank at any time by giving notice. A member can also be suspended and after one year be expelled if it does not meet its Bank obligations. When a country withdraws or is expelled, it still continues to be liable for its contractual obligations. Only a few countries have withdrawn from the Bank and all but one (Cuba) rejoined at a later date.

In April 1997, with support from the World Bank and the IUCN - The World Conservation Union, representatives of diverse interests met in Gland, Switzerland to discuss the role of large dams in development in light of reactions to a pertinent report by the Operations Evaluation Department (OED) of the World Bank.

The breakdown of dialogue on the construction of dams worldwide - between NGOs (non-governmental organizations), the private sector, governments and international organizations such as the World Bank - was imposing considerable costs on all parties. The World Bank and the IUCN realized that no group involved in the conflict could resolve the stalemate alone.

The Gland-workshop brought together 39 participants from governments, the private sector, international financial institutions, civil society organizations and affected people. The consensus proposal that came out of the meeting was for all parties to work together in establishing the World Commission on Dams (WCD) with a mandate to review the development effectiveness of large dams and develop internationally acceptable criteria, guidelines and standards for large dams.

The World Commission on Dams commenced its activities in May 1998 under the chairmanship of Professor Kader Asmal, then Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry in the South African Government. The Commission's Secretariat was located in Cape Town - South Africa, reinforcing its intention to serve developing countries in its approach to the task at hand.

Many felt that the contested nature of the dams debate would pull the Commission apart. However, the twelve Commissioners from diverse backgrounds developed an understanding and approach based on mutual respect that saw them through many contested discussions.