Over the past two decades, nearly 1,000 hydropower dams have been constructed around the world. While construction of these dams provide many benefits to wildlife, famers, and the climate, the costs that local communities have to bear at locations where they are constructed is mostly left out of conversations, at least until now.
A team of social scientists from Michigan State University and a researcher from Stanford University carried out in-depth study of overall impact of hydropower dams. While the overall impact of hydropower dams has been positive on the globe and countries as a whole, population relocation, loss of green spaces, and declined economic conditions are some adversities that communities in the immediate surrounding areas face.
To study this, the research team analyzed 631 hydropower dams across Africa, Europe, Asia, South America, and North America all of which were constructed since 2001 and received official approval before 2015.
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It highlights the need to address the disparities to reduce the impact on local communities in surrounding areas.
Meanwhile, the visit to two separate areas where dams were constructed recently, and experiencing the sudden changes it inflicted on surrounding communities inspired the lead researcher to undertake the study. The first was visit to Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia in 2015, and the second was visit to Mekong River Basin, Laos in 2018.
The residents of these areas relocated several years ago, and seem to have a better life, but they are anxious and feel uncertain about their future. Meeting the people whose lives have changed because of dam construction made the realization that most evaluations undertaken are based on case studies for large dams, and there is lack of comprehensive analysis on a global scale, including medium and small-sized dams.