Dams, displacement and development

A dam disaster in Zimbabwe prompts STEPS co-director Ian Scoones to reflect on dams, displacement and development more broadly on the Zimbabweland blog. He points to a new paper in Energy Policy that reiterates the advice of the World Commission on Dams, and the need for a more diverse approach to water resources development.

With new data, the paper once again points to the lack of economic viability in most large dam projects, and the way risk appraisals and economic assessment systematically underestimate costs. The cost of large dams has long been a theme of the work of STEPS member, Lyla Mehta who has written extensively about the issues of scarcity, displacement and livelihoods in India, and in particular in Kutch, Gujarat.

Despite their appeal large dams are rarely a good way of dealing with uncertainty in rainfall and water supply. However dams are central to regional hydropolitics, and often are a focus for political tussles over resource access across regions and countries, as shown in another STEPS project led by Jeremy Allouche.