Development of Dams in West Africa: new report on evolution of international policy on dams

04 February 2011 | News story

Ten years after the publication of the World Commission on Dams report, the West and Central Africa office of IUCN commissioned a study to look at the approaches to decision-making around large dams.

In close collaboration with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the report informs the current regional Consultation on Large Infrastructures Projects in the Water Sector in the ECOWAS Zone. More information on the Dialogue régional sur les grandes infrastructures hydrauliques can be found here.

The purpose of the study has been to review the diversity of decision-making around environmental and social aspects concerning the development of large dams in both developing countries and in emerging economies. Case studies were carried out of the Lom Pangar Hydropower Project in Cameroon, and of the Water Charter of the Senegal River (la Charte des Eaux du Fleuve Sénégal).

The report proposes a simple framework of analysis for different levels of practice, and emphasises the importance of extending the traditional core commercial and financial transactions relating to finance for large infrastructure. Extending this framework to include the environmental and social aspects as project components embeds social and environmental aspects at the core of the financial decision making, rather than these critical elements appearing as bolt-on additions to a robust financial transaction process.

In preparing the report, perspectives of key informants representing a range of interests were gathered, including review of five policies at international level (the World Bank’s Safeguard Policies, the IFC Performance Standards, the ‘Equator Principles’, the ‘Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol’ and the report of the World Commission on Dams).

The report states: ‘Review of five leading international policies has helped to identify the niche of each policy in relation to the design of dam projects where leading actors share common ground, and where they advocate differing approaches. Key to creating good projects is bringing together the perspectives of commercial contracting and public policy-making. The Lom Pangar project in Cameroon is a good example of this interaction, the project preparation process has been aimed at designing a project which is both economically viable and environmentally and socially sustainable’.

This report helps us evaluate and understand good practice and recognise the role of dams as investments in national economies. We will use this knowledge as we further update our strategy on dams this year”, said Ousmane Diallo, IUCN Regional Water Coordinator for West and Central Africa.

The report can be downloaded from here.

The author of the report was Peter Newborne, researcher and consultant. The views expressed in this report are those of the persons consulted and the author, not of IUCN.