28 March 2014

IPE Report Part 1: Who are the international experts?

I've just received the IPE report (finally) and am going through it - I will post assessment of the report in the next few posts and the actual report in a few days.

Who are the international "experts" who were paid to consult on this report? Why all white men? Why such low profiles? Why do I care? In my work I hear the voices of the government officials, the international community, the industry, the nationals, the locals, and NGOs. Some people feel empowered, others totally powerless, when it comes to discussions about dams. I try not to judge who is right and who is wrong in the discussion - when it comes to my research. However, I feel critical when it comes to the discussion of assessing a water resources project - who is doing the assessing and how they are assessing.

The powerful are governments, international consultants, IGOs, banks, politicians, engineers...but why? Why this particular acceptable list of credentials? Dams impact many more sectors and people than the ones at the national or international table. Maybe this is my American lens of everyone should have a voice, but why can't all the stakeholders sit down and decide given objective information? At least have someone present to represent local interests or national interests - like a set of local or regional leaders - if you don't want everyone there.

Then there is this idea that international guys are brought in, often times these folks are not foremost in their fields, their advantage often appears to me to be willingness, nationality, skin color, and white hair - of course this isn't always the case, and they give their blessing based on limited information. Who are the people who come in to justify decisions and speak on behalf of the river, the project, based on their years of experience - but only visit the site 4 times, don't spend time in the local communities, just a quick and dirty AND they get paid well for their time - payment to me is a problem. I wonder about this process - is this the way we should continue to do business? What makes this more acceptable than a series of town meetings with local or regional inhabitants, national experts in their field of study - say the aquatic species of the Nile in transition zones? Is it time, money, or both? How much do these guys get paid compared with national counterparts and should this be made public? Why are they paid at all? Why don't they volunteer their time for the assessment if they are in fact experts in their fields? How many hours are they really investing? Crowd sourcing is popular with other things, why not with the "international" voice? There are many trained scientists, engineers, economists, out there who find this stuff interesting enough to give it time without expecting something in return, except a voice in the process. In saying this, I have no idea how involved these guys were in the report, since there are qualified people in Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia to create a report - these guys may have just been shadows. Even shadows though gives legitimacy and I challenge this idea - why?

In looking over the online presence of the four internationals paid to help with this report, I think two of the guys are not good picks for conflict of interest reasons

Yon, the environmental expert, works for a dam company - when assessing the environment as a living system and not another component of the engineering project - both the physical changes and the ecological changes need careful assessment. There are many good scientists who study the environment - an ecologist or a hydrologist that does work/research on system change - who should be included in the future - when and if another group of "experts" is established to help guide the process of Nile basin management (as a total system).

The dam expert - Egon Failer comes off as too emotional about dams, pro-dam and takes the discussion personally, so his feelings may be getting in the way of his objectivity. There are some links to his work below. He is unbiased and has been working in Sudan - controversy surrounds his actions and attitude. I would have looked for an engineer who is capable of giving an objective opinion.

Socio-economic - I would look for an anthropologist and economist team who has again worked/researched communities in transition. I don't know enough about Mr. Roe to know if he has this expertise. The water resources modeler, there are so many great people out there that work this, and I have no reason to believe that Dr. Basson isn't good at what he does.

Working around international development, the word expert gets tossed around. However, experts in international consulting are like cops, self-appointed authorities. If any of you has any more information on these experts, please do send on the information about their credibility.

I have not included an assessment of the national experts as these were all politically appointed. That, in my opinion, has its own set of problems attached. I worked for US government and dealt with the level of expertise in the typical US political appointee - not necessarily qualified, not necessarily unqualified - it depends on 1st on being in the right time/place, largely on interpersonal relationships, and sometimes, on a proven track record.

The list of guys:
Dr. Bernard Yon (Environmental consultant - France) He works from an outfit called Sogreah which is a French dam company.  
This is his contact information.
Some work he is credited for in Cameroon.

Not much online about this guy.
John D.M. Roe  (Socio-economic consultant - UK) Not much online about this guy.

Egon Failer - (Dam engineer consultant - Germany)

Failer has been involved with dams in Sudan and has a criminal suit against him in Germany for human rights violations related to the Merowe dam. The quote below is from Mr. Failer during an ICOLD meeting (transcript). Talk about self-confidence...
"My name is Egon Failer, I am from Lahmeyer International and I have been working in this hydropower and dam business for 25 years, I have travelled for 25 years around the world and therefore I know exactly what I am talking about."

Thinus Basson (Water resources modeler, another engineer, South Africa)

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