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24 September 1997
South African Water Minister to Head New World Commission on Dams

As international debate intensifies over the social, environmental and economic impact of large dams in a number of countries, a prominent South African cabinet minister, Professor Kader Asmal, has been chosen to chair the new World Commission on Dams. The Commission, to be formally launched in November, will conduct the first-ever independent review of the cost and benefits of large dam projects.

The Commission will carry out a two year review of the development effectiveness of large dams and develop standards and guidelines to advise countries on future dam-building decisions, including the assessment of alternatives. Its final report will be delivered in early 2000. By working closely with both advocates and opponents of large dams, Professor Asmal and eight fellow members of the Commission will try to address the deadlock which has polarized the international debate on large dams.

"The use of water is of vital interest to all of humanity. This forum offers a unique opportunity to mediate among competing interests and obtain consensus on the issues around large dams; it will actively seek to review the development effectiveness of dams and to establish a set of guidelines, standards, and criteria for future generations. I hope that the Commission's report will provide real content to the concept of sustainable development." -- Prof. Kader Asmal, Chairperson, World Commission on Dams

The establishment of the Commission was the unanimous recommendation of governments, civil society organizations, international financial institutions, and private business people who met in Gland, Switzerland, in April 1997, to discuss the future of large dams. The conference, hosted by the World Bank Group and IUCN-The World Conservation Union, was the result of more than 18 months collaboration to develop an open and clear dialogue on the role of large dams in sustainable development. Professor Kader Asmal, was invited to chair the Commission earlier this month by James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank Group, and David McDowell, Director General of IUCN after extensive consultations with the stakeholder representatives from the conference.

"Large dams constitute a major technical, social, environmental, and developmental challenge. For this challenge to be met successfully, the World Bank is prepared to join IUCN and other stakeholders to create an appropriate framework focused on learning from experience and on the design of adequate standards." --James Wolfensohn, World Bank Group President

As one of the initiators of the new Commission, IUCN, the world’s largest grouping of environmental organizations, said the Commission would create invaluable opportunities to address the fundamental concerns expressed by both supporters and opponents of large dams.

"We look to the Commission to address the difficult trade-offs that affect the biodiversity value of ecosystems and the daily life of communities when decisions about water resources and energy development are made." -- David McDowell, IUCN Director General

Professor Asmal, South Africa’s Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, brings with him a distinguished track record in water resources management, as well as human rights. As a prominent member of President Nelson Mandela’s cabinet, Professor Asmal has led the fundamental review and reform of South Africa’s water management policy. Prior to his return from exile in 1990, he was a law professor at Trinity College Dublin for 27 years, specializing in human rights, labor, and international law. He was also founder of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, as well as the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1963 and chairperson until 1990. In 1983, Professor Asmal received the Prix UNESCO award for the advancement of human rights.

In 1993, he served as a member of the negotiating team of the African National Congress at the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum, and in May 1994, was elected to the National Assembly. In 1996, he was awarded the Gold Medal Award for conservation from the World Wide Fund for Nature—South Africa. He is also the patron of the Global Water Partnership. During his tenure as Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, he has spearheaded the recognition of the concept of "the environment as a prime water user."

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