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Large Hydropower Dams: Linkages Between Natural Resource Access And Governance Issues

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Frauke Urban and Giuseppina Siciliano

Frauke Urban and Giuseppina Siciliano
Centre for Development, Environment and Policy CeDEP, School of Oriental and African Studies SOAS
Corresponding author: Dr. Giuseppina Siciliano,
36 Gordon Square WC1H 0PD London,
tel. 00447597745708.


Introduction In the pursuit of low carbon energy and climate change mitigation, hydropower is experiencing a new renaissance in many parts of the world (International Rivers, 2013; World Bank, 2013, 2009). As a result of the renewed interest in dams in the last years, new large hydropower projects have been planned all over the world, especially in developing countries. Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America are the most targeted continents. In Southeast Asia, 72 new projects have been planned in Laos, 10 in Sarawak, Malaysia and at least 6 projects in Burma and at the border of Thailand-Burma. Moreover, many large hydropower dams are being built or considered in the Nile Basin in Africa and in the Amazon basin (Hataway, 2010; Millikan, 2010; Ministry of Energy and Mine, 2012). Despite the importance of large dams for improving energy access in poor countries, water provision for irrigation and the production of clean energy, they have been subject to various controversies in relation to their social and environmental impacts. In terms of biophysical aspects, the main impacts refer to the alteration of the hydrology of the river and fragmentation of river systems, but also fragmentation of the vegetation, impacts on soil and water quality, species composition and aquatic biota, changes to geomorphology (Bakken et al, 2014; Brown et al, 2009; Burke et al, 2009). Regarding social impacts the most documented are displacement, resettlement and migration, loss and/or decline of livelihoods, changes in livelihood strategies and employment structure, poor compensation, impacts on infrastructure and housing, impacts on culture and social relations, impacts on community health and gender relations (Brown et al, 2009; Lerer and Scudder, 1999; McDonald-Wilmsen and Webber, 2010; Jackson and Sleigh, 2000; Tilt et al, 2009; Tullos et al, 2013; Urban et al, 2013; WCD, 2000). Other less studied social implications relate to loss of land and water access, food security and indigenous people's rights. This paper aims to discuss the impacts of large dams on natural resource access and 'good' and 'bad' practices related to the governance of the environmental and social impacts of large hydropower dams in Asia and Africa. Linkages between water and land use, energy production and access, as well as food security will be at the core of the analysis. The paper draws on four case studies to discuss these issues, namely the Bui Dam in Ghana, the Kamchay Dam in Cambodia, the Bakun dam in Malaysia and the planned Zamfara dam in Nigeria. All dams are financed and built by Chinese banks and companies. Methods/Materials This paper draws on extensive research and fieldwork in Cambodia, Ghana, Nigeria, Malaysia and China funded by the Economics and Research Council's (ESRC) Rising Powers programme (ESRC reference ES/J01320X/1). The analysis draws on semi-structured in-depths interviews with local communities, local and national governments, dam-builders, financiers, NGOs and donors as well as focus group discussions. In addition, we conducted a multi-level stakeholder mapping, used quantitative supplementary data from the International Rivers' dams database, and conducted an analysis of firm strategies, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) documentation and national legislations. Results and Discussion Results show that in all the analysed case studies large hydropower dams undermine livelihood strategies and access to natural resources, such as water, land, energy and forest access for local residents. The energy produced by the dams is usually exported to urban areas or to neighbouring countries for income generation at the national level and urban development. Through our fieldwork we found that local people affected by the dams through resettlement and/or livelihood changes have lost access to land, forests and water. This situation is aggravated by the poor governance of the impacts of the dams by builders, financiers and local governments and a lack of implementation of social and environmental safeguard processes. In general, international standards and guidelines for dam construction are poorly implemented, except for the case of the Bui dam in Ghana, which provides the only example of best practice since international standards for environmental and social assessments of the impacts were implemented from the beginning of the planning process. Conclusion While hydropower development is a priority in developing countries, as a mean to increase electrification rates and promote national development, the implementation of best practices and international standards remains slow in these countries. As a consequence, access to resources such as water, land, forest and energy by local affected communities is undermined at the cost of national development. Balancing national and local interests and priorities is one of the main issues related to the unequal distribution of benefits and negative externalities in dam construction, since rarely proper compensation for the losses or mitigation strategies are effectively implemented in developing countries. We suggest that there needs to be a global benchmark system or a global code of conduct for social and environmental sustainability for international hydropower projects. It would be useful to regulate future dam contracts by an international governing body to prevent severe social implications for the local population. 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2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin