World Commission on Dams research



The Department of Geography team at the University of Cambridge are undertaking a review of the work of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) and its final report in 2000.  The WCD was an attempt to change the way large dams were conceived, designed and developed.

The project will assess the activities, achievements and limitations of the WCD’s work, in the light of future innovation in dam design and planning.

The work will:

  • Complete a literature review of research on the aims and legacies of the WCD
  • Analyse the aspirations, methods and legacy of the WCD as a science policy interface, drawing on in-depth interviews with key actors
  • Analyse changes in the knowledge systems, methods and training used in contemporary dam system design and management drawing on in-depth interviews with dam-related professionals.

Key Staff:

Professor Bhaskar Vira is the Head of Department and Professor of Political Economy. Bhaskar’s research concerns environmental and development economics, in particular, the often-hidden costs of environmental and developmental processes, and the need for scholarship to draw attention to the distributional consequences of public policy choices. He has worked mainly in India.

Dr Christopher Schulz is a Research Associate with Professor Bill Adams, working on the legacy and impacts of the World Commission on Dams (WCD). He joined the FutureDAMS team in August 2018, following a previous research position at the University of St Andrews, and a PhD in Geography at the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Bill Adams was a research lead for FutureDAMS prior to his retirement in 2020, and continues to have an active interest in the project.

Annual forum update video

This video is available to watch via the Annual Forum Dropbox or on request to Rose Sumner


WCD research


Keynote seminar – Perfecting the River: Dams, Dreams and Organic Machines

Professor Bill Adams, Moran Professor of Conservation and Development, University of CambridgeIn 1996, the geographer Richard White published a book on the history of human exploitation of the Columbia River in North America. He called it The Organic Machine. He spoke...

Webinar: The Word Commission on Dams: A new consensus on large dams?

The World Commission on Dams (WCD, 1998-2000) was an attempt to overcome conflicts between supporters and opponents of large dams, which had emerged around the world in the late 1980s and 1990s. It was created on the joint initiative of World Bank and IUCN and brought...

Still Wasting the Rain?

By Bill Adams Recently, I have found myself wondering how far the world of dams has changed since I began my career.  Thirty years ago, I sat down to write the book Wasting the Rain.  In it, I tried to challenge the dominant approach to large scale water development...

The World Commission on Dams: then and now

By Christopher Schulz and Bill Adams On 16 November 2000, the World Commission on Dams (WCD) launched its final report in London, in the presence of Nelson Mandela. This event marked the conclusion of an unlikely process. WCD was composed of 12 eminent personalities...

How to improve dam planning in Latin America – what environmental and social scientists say

Latin America is currently seeing a boom in the construction of new dams. Brazil is the world’s third largest producer of hydroelectric energy, largely thanks to its abundant water resources. Small-scale hydropower dams (locally known as PCHs) have become an...

Xth International Meeting of the Latin American Water Network (WATERLAT-GOBACIT)

Christopher Schulz participated in the Xth International Meeting of the Latin American Water Network (WATERLAT-GOBACIT), held at the University of Concepción, Chile in October 2019. He presented preliminary findings of the Cambridge Geography team* from their ongoing...

The World Commission on Dams 20 years on

FutureDAMS is all about improving the decision-making around large dams. Where to build them, how to reduce negative impacts, how to maximise positive impacts, and, occasionally, when not to build them. Twenty years ago, the World Commission on Dams (WCD, 1998-2000)...

Watch: Prof Bill Adams on designing dams that don’t cost the earth

The FutureDAMS consortium (originally known as DAMS 2.0) hosted a public lecture by Professor Bill Adams of Cambridge University to mark the start of the project. The lecture focused on 'Designing Dams that Don’t Cost the Earth', providing a historical overview of dam...