Viewpoint: The Power of One

A few people stand out: People who influence and inspire us. People who, through the examples of their lives, enable us to reflect on what we can do to make the world a better place.

Dr. Jan Veltrop,
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Dr. Jan Veltrop was such an individual. Jan, who died in March 2007, has left a great legacy of personal achievement (see memorial on page 12). Jan, a colleague and friend, was known to many individuals in the world of dams and hydropower, and he leaves us much to remember. My briefest assessment of Jan is that he was passionate, knowledgeable, and dedicated. After a long and distinguished career in the field of dams and hydropower engineering – which included a stint as president of the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) from 1988 to 1991 – Jan became a statesman and ambassador for dams and hydro.

In the late 1990s, Jan became a commissioner of the World Commission on Dams (WCD), a special purpose body created to prepare dam development guidelines. In taking on this role, he was unprepared for the consequences and for the personal anguish that would ensue. After the WCD issued its Dams and Development report in 2000, a firestorm followed. Jan, having brought his honesty, integrity, and good faith to the WCD process, did not anticipate the opportunities that others would exploit to manipulate outcomes. From the perspective of constituents in the dams and hydro sectors, the prescriptions and interpretations of Dams and Development were onerous and unworkable. (One result has been that, in the intervening years, much effort has gone into creating alternate development guidelines that, in fact, can work.)

In a 1997 editorial in Hydro Review magazine – HRW’s North American sister publication – Jan made statements that are perhaps more true today. In calling for examination of the possibilities for developing more hydropower, he cites “the international issue of CO2 emissions, related to global warming.” He also notes that “energy systems are among the most critical [systems] that need

to be put on a sustainable basis.” Further, he states that “for the foreseeable future, hydropower is the tried-and-true, most practical alternative for quickly and economically adding non-polluting, renewable energy to … electricity supplies.” And that “hydropower is a far better environmental citizen than its radical critics acknowledge.”

Jan truly demonstrated what one individual can do. And while “we’re all in this together,” progress toward any goal is inevitably the sum of many individual contributions. Each of us, by improving our efforts and effectiveness, contributes to betterment for all.

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