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The World Commission On Dams

Details of submission:

Chixoy dam

Contributor / Author:
DDP  Secretariat

Relevant WCD Strategic Priority(-ies):

  • Gaining Public Acceptance
  • Comprehensive Options Assessment
  • Addressing Existing Dams
  • Sustaining Rivers and Livelihoods
  • Recognising Entitlements and Sharing Benefits
  • Ensuring Compliance
  • Sharing Rivers for Peace, Development and Security


Why this is an example of these Strategic Priority(ies)

Addressing outstanding social issues falls within the scope of addressing existing dams.


The Government of Guatemala and INDE constructed the Chixoy dam with the financial support from the Inter-American Development Bank (US$ 105 million) and the World Bank (US$ 117 million) which contributed about 50% of the total budget. During the loan negotiations the World Bank requested a resettlement plan, which was published in December 1979. The plan projected that 450 people would need to be resettled from the reservoir area, but the rural people resisted. In the following according to a WCD case study - one of the worst cases of violations of human rights developed. The Chixoy dam funded by the World Bank was built in the area where the Maya Achi have lived for generations. The campaign of terror against the indigenous Maya Ach people of Rio Negro village began after they refused to move to the camped houses and poor land at the resettlement site (). Prior to the completion of the dam and the filling of the reservoir nearly 400 people from Rio Negro were killed by the armed police and military, among them were women and children. The issue remained largely forgotten until a 1996 investigation by Witness for Peace. The investigation established that some 376 people from the village of Ro Negro - around 1 in 10 of those to be resettled in the dam submergence zone - were massacred between 1980 and 1982. The Witness for Peace report states that the Ro Negro victims died because they blocked the 'progress' of the Chixoy Project. Many villagers believe INDE encouraged the violence so that their officials could pocket compensation payments due to the villagers (WCD 2000a, p.17). Beside of the killings, several outstanding social issues were recorded: 1,000 hectares of communal land were inundated, but only 224 hectares provided as compensation. Ceremonial religious centres were inundated without any compensation or mitigation measures. The community as a whole lost its sense of safety, security, psychological stability and cultural integrity as neighbouring communities competed for compensation and displaced families were separated into four different communities.

In 1996, following a report by the human rights group Witness for Peace, the World Bank sent a commission to Guatemala to investigate the causes of the violence and the implementation status of resettlement plans. The commission established a long list of outstanding social issues and came to the conclusion that INDE did only partly implement the mitigation and compensation measures agreed on in the Resettlement Plan. In turn, the World Bank urged INDE to provide the outstanding compensations etc. in a timely manner (World Bank 1996). To speed up the process, the World Bank provided a remedy fund and asked a national NGO to purchase farmland and provide training and technical assistance to the community.

In 1999, the World Bank came to the conclusion that the project affected communities have reached the socioeconomic level they had in 1976 when relocation began (World Bank cited in World Rivers Review 1999, p. 8), but this compliance has been challenged by community leaders and NGOs (Aguirre et al. 2004). Additional independent research is highly recommended to qualify the debate on this dam as the effectiveness of the measures put in place to address those outstanding social issues, which can be mitigated.

Main lessons learned:

  • The World Bank played a leading role in implementing the right to remedy in the case of the Chixoy Dam and that the remedy fund for post-project indemnity payments solved many outstanding social issues generated by the dam. While it is also clear that not all issues including remedies for the murdered villagers and the fact that the resettlers received the compensations 15 years too late have been solved, the living conditions of the survivors have been enhanced and reduced to some extent the critique voiced against the Chixoy Dam.

Compliance with national or international guidelines or policy

Additional Information

  • Schmidt-Sotlau, K. 2006. Addressing Social Issues Final Report
  • Aguirre, M., Bird, A.; Colajacomo, J., Jonson, B.R., Sanchez, C.O.; 2004. Complanse struggles Chixoy Dam Legacy issues, Guatemala. In: DDP Workshop on Addressing Existing Dams, Proccedings, August 2004; pp. 76-80.
  • Marthews, A., Neta, G., Sullivan, M. & Uzzell. 2000. Reparations For Dam-Affected Populations. Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley.
  • McCully, P. 1999. After the Flood: Reparations for Dam Victims Needed to Right Past Wrongs. World Rivers Review. Stewart, J., O'Connell, K., Ciborski, M. & Pacenza, M. 1996. A People Dammed - The Impact of the World Bank Chixoy Hydroelectric Project in Guatemala. Witness for Peace.
  • WCD 2000a Displacement, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reparation and Development. A thematic report by Leopoldo Jose Bartolome, Chris de Wet, Rhodes, Harsh Mander and Vijay Kumar Nagaraj.
  • WCD 2000b Reparations and the Right to Remedy. Thematic Study by Barbara Rose Johnston. World Bank 1992. Project Performance Audit Report: Guatemala: Chixoy Power Project. World Bank 1996. Background Note: Chixoy Hydroelectric Project, Guatemala.
  • World Rivers Review 1999. Resettlement Gone Wrong: The Case for Reparations.
  • WCD 2000c The Chixoy Dam. Case study by Jaroslava Colajacomo.

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