New archive restores knowledge produced by the World Commission on Dams

An archive has been launched containing more than 200 documents produced by the World Commission on Dams, whose work culminated in a series of recommendations for best practices in dam planning, construction, operation and decommissioning.

News, 21 December 2021
Dam filling up a half empty reservoir

Kaleta dam in Guinea, just prior to filling the reservoir (Photo: copyright Jamie Skinner/GWI West Africa/IIED)

In November 2000 the World Commission on Dams (WCD) launched its final report in London, in the presence of Nelson Mandela. 

The commission, which comprised representatives of civil society, academia, the private sector, professional associations and one government member, had spent three years and around US$11 million reviewing the global evidence base on dams and development. 

Its final report (PDF) made recommendations for best practices in dam planning, construction, operation and decommissioning, and raised awareness for the social and environmental issues associated with large dams. 

The WCD was praised for the extensive consultations it carried out and its multi-stakeholder governance, and two decades later is still referred to as the “leading reference for anyone wishing to make dam decision-making more equitable and sustainable”

But until the launch of a new archive by IIED this week, if you had tried to find the global evidence base online you would have been sorely disappointed. 

IIED principal researcher Jamie Skinner said: “I have worked on dams and hydropower for many years, and one of the key references is the work of the World Commission on Dams and the many analyses and inputs that it produced. 

“The various case studies, thematic reviews, regional consultations and contributions were widely available until around 10 years ago, but while dams continue to be on the agenda and will be a topic of research for years to come, the WCD evidence base was no longer easily accessible online. 

“This was brought home to me recently when I was asked to join a project that attached a scanned version of the hardback report, complete with pencilled notes.” 

Working with FutureDAMS, IIED has now again made available 209 documents produced by the WCD for others to access online. 

Added Skinner: “With the institutional memory of the WCD work fading, we took the step to once more make these documents available for everyone to access and benefit from the work of the commission.” 

The WCD archive is the latest is a series of document repositories created by IIED in recent years. In January 2020 the institute marked the ten-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake by publishing an online archive documenting post-disaster community planning work in the city of Port-au-Prince, returning over 3,500 pages of planning documents, including almost 1,000 maps, to the public domain. 

And last April IIED worked with the Sustainable Development Strategies Group and the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment to make available an extensive catalogue of community development laws related to the mining sector featuring legislative arrangements from 54 countries. 

IIED web planning and content manager Matt Wright said: “As these examples show, there is a real danger of valuable data being lost for a variety of reasons, from it not being properly stored and made accessible at the time to the degradation of websites as time passes and domains lapse. 

“At IIED we’re devoting time and effort to preserving our digital data and, in line with the Principles for Digital Development, ensuring our digital platforms and solutions are sustainable for the long term.”