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Social impacts of large dam projects: A comparison of international case studies and implications for best practice

Tilt, Bryan, Braun, Yvonne, He, Daming
Journal of environmental management 2009 v.90 no.3 pp. S249
dams (hydrology), social impact, rural areas, rural economics, China, South Africa
This paper applies the tool of social impact assessment (SIA) to understand the effects of large dam projects on human communities. We draw upon data from two recent SIA projects: the Lesotho Highlands Water Project in Southern Africa, and the Manwan Dam, located on the upper Mekong River in southwestern China. These two cases allow us to examine the social impacts of large dam projects through time and across various geographical scales. We focus on a range of social impacts common to many large-scale dam projects, including: the migration and resettlement of people near the dam sites; changes in the rural economy and employment structure; effects on infrastructure and housing; impacts on non-material or cultural aspects of life; and impacts on community health and gender relations. By identifying potential impacts in advance of a large dam project, agencies and policymakers can make better decisions about which interventions should be undertaken, and how. We conclude our analysis with an overview of lessons learned from the case studies and suggestions for best practice in assessing the social impacts of large dams. Conducting proper social impact assessments can help to promote development strategies that address the most important concerns for local populations, enhancing the long-term sustainability of dam projects.