Dams and Resettlement as Development: A Case for Building Good Practice



Dams have been a part of the economic development model of almost all nations of the world. At some stage of their development, most countries with water resources that can be economically exploited have built dams for energy, irrigation, and drinking water. Hydropower provides a non-polluting source of energy that may be generated in increasing amounts for the growing needs of growing populations. Once built, dams entail relatively low costs and maintenance compared to the costs associated with other forms of energy generation.

Dams however, are not built without a significant cost. In addition to substantial adverse impacts on the physical environment, they can disrupt the lives and lifestyles of people living in the reservoir area and of those dependent on this area. Even when thorough surveys of people adversely affected by dams are conducted, which is not always the case, it is not easy to recognize all the adverse impacts of dam construction on the affected people. Impacts that are not fully identified are difficult to fully mitigate. Poorly planned and implemented dams can devastate local socioeconomic systems without replacing them with comparable and acceptable alternative systems.

The adverse impacts of dam construction are compounded when the affected people belong to indigenous groups with a close or special relationship to the lands on which they live. The land likely to be submerged behind a dam could be supporting a distinct culture, with a language, and customs and traditions that are unique to the location. Resettlement of people from such locations is a much more difficult process, and can be successful only if the affected people themselves determine that acceptable alternatives exist, and those alternatives are actually offered to them.

Efforts to select the best dams to build and then build them well need to focus on refining the methodologies that would help answer the following questions: 1) is the particular dam being proposed the best means to fulfill the identified current or future needs of the population, and 2) once a dam is selected for construction, what are the processes that need to be followed to successfully plan, design, and implement associated resettlement. If the international, multi-institutional effort currently underway under the auspices of the International Commission on Large Dams could help forge an agreement on the processes and criteria for finding answers to the above questions, the development impact of dams would increase significantly. However, the underlying assumption here is that the above questions are technical in nature and that answers to them can be found by improving processes and refining methodologies. According to some commentators on the dams debate, this may not always be the case. Dams, according to them, are sometimes used as political instruments to further the interests of entrenched groups in society. It is hoped that an agreement on a process for assessing the relevance of specific dams and the steps that should be taken in building them, would help make the process less political.

Selection of Dams for Construction

Aparticular dam should be selected for construction only after a careful analysis of all other options -- options that not only compare different dams but also compare dam building to other feasible alternatives to fulfill the same demand for water or energy. A methodology for screening and ranking dam investments has been developed in recent years and applied in a number of countries. In the case of power projects, the process starts with an estimate of total energy demand that needs to be met and a list of all potential dams that can be built in the country/region to fulfill that demand. The next step is for the experts from various disciplines to meet and agree on the technical, economic, environmental, and social criteria on which the potential dams would be assessed. The criteria are verified through consultations with government agencies, NGOs, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders in the process. The potential dam sites are then evaluated on the agreed criteria, and plotted on a matrix in which the technical-economic criteria are measured along one axis and social-environmental criteria along the other. Though local communities are consulted during this exercise and the feasibility of broad resettlement alternatives is an important criteria, the locus of participation remains at the national level. Dams which end up in the most favorable zone of the matrix -- those with high technical-economic advantages and the least environmental-social impacts -- are selected as potential candidates for construction with the objective of meeting the established energy demand. This cohort of potential dam projects is compared with other feasible alternatives to achieve the same objectives, for example, demand side management, thermal power generation, non-conventional energy sources and power imports. The comparison between different alternatives relies on the same environmental and social criteria as the ones used for comparing dams. The information is presented to key stakeholders including government agencies, civil society organizations, academics, expert groups, and the general public, who discuss the trade-offs between the various scenarios. The discussion should result in selection of the option or mix of options that yield the highest amount of energy at the lowest cost with acceptable environmental and social impacts.

The advantages of this exercise are multiple: It helps ground the debate around dam building at the national instead of the project level. This allows for a rational and objective discussion, before the political environment of particular dam sites can cloud the technical analysis. It facilitates comparison of large dam construction with alternative models involving construction of a series of small dams, and helps assess the relative environmental impact of both. The process also helps construct environmental and resettlement impact scenarios associated with different heights of a specific dam to enable selection of the optimum dam height. It helps planners, experts in various fields, and other stakeholders in the civil society to play a much greater role in discussing the overall direction of development, and allows for an explicit recognition of the tradeoffs that are inherent in selecting particular sites over others. And finally, once nationally agreed decisions are made, it may help prevent the delays and costs that result from conflicts and protest movements that arise over specific dams.

This methodology was adopted in Norway in 1985 resulting in the selection of 116 projects (3000 MW) out of 320 potential dam sites, while 58 other projects (1500 MW) were considered feasible for hydropower development but were in strong competition with other uses. Most dam sites in the Norwegian exercise did not have any direct adverse social impacts since there were very few people living in the reservoir area. The national hydropower plan for Norway has been updated three times since then taking into account development of other options such as demand side management, wind energy development, gas based power plans, and power imports. Similar exercises have been, or are being, conducted in Colombia, Brazil, Nepal, Laos, and Vietnam, though the scope of the exercise as well as the rigor with which they are conducted varies. There is need for greater scrutiny of this methodology and for evaluating its potential in helping systematize the process of selecting dams for construction. If a review of the methodology yields favorable results, it should be mainstreamed as an integral part of decision making related to construction of dams.

Process for Planning and Implementing Resettlement

Once the specific dam site is selected, a process that ensures full participation of key stakeholders in decision making, and internalizes all costs associated with resettlement related activities, needs to be initiated. Three critical aspects of the process are highlighted in the following paragraphs.

Identify and involve key stakeholders. Most problems with the design and implementation of resettlement components of dam projects can be traced to lack of thorough identification and involvement of key stakeholders in the decision-making process. This lack of adequate identification and involvement could manifest itself in the following ways:

1) The planning process of many dams is based on an inadequate survey of adverse impacts and affected peoples. There have been instances where entire categories of impacts were not identified. While it is relatively easy to survey those whose land, houses, and other assets are taken for the dam, others, who might be using the reservoir for collecting forest products, seasonal fishing, grazing, and similar activities are easy to miss. The remoteness of most dam sites also makes the survey process more difficult. There have been cases where resettlement planning focused mainly on those affected by the reservoir and did not identify those affected by the construction of irrigation canals, power houses and auxiliary facilities as project affected people.

In the absence of thorough surveys in the earliest stages of project planning, it is difficult to determine the range and the extent of impacts. Consequently, it becomes difficult to assess feasibility of resettlement options, prepare accurate budgets or deliver entitlements to people affected in all the categories of impact. For example, in the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project in India, the deficiencies in the initial survey of project impacts made subsequent implementation difficult, even when the policy and institutional environment was substantially strengthened. The exact number of households at different elevations, or the households in different categories of impact were not identified during the surveys, thereby making it difficult for the project agency to prepare credible annual plans to assist them.

2) There is a lack of information provided to the affected people. Information on the project, its impacts, and the proposed mitigation strategies is a basic right of resettling populations. Resettlement affects people in fundamental ways; all the major determinants of their life -- occupations, housing conditions, lifestyles, social relationships, and social support systems -- change significantly. In the absence of efforts by the project agency to inform them about the resettlement program, the information vacuum is filled by other, often unreliable sources. This is one of the causes for initiation of resettlement related conflicts that arise in some dam projects (for example, the Guavio Hydroelectric Project in Colombia). Lack of information sharing also has adverse implications on the design of the resettlement program. Unless information is shared with affected people and other stakeholders, it is difficult to obtain useful suggestions on improving the resettlement program. Resettlement programs designed in the absence of full disclosure of information and the resulting exchange of ideas it facilitates, are not likely to achieve desired outcomes.

3) There is inadequate involvement of affected people and other stakeholders in planning and implementing the resettlement program. Programs designed and implemented by centralized project agencies, without involving the affected people, the local governments and other stakeholders, are rarely successful. Specialist knowledge on resettlement can never effectively replace peoples assessment of resettlement options most appropriate to their conditions. It is difficult to design effective resettlement programs without the involvement of key stakeholders, and even more difficult to implement them. Key stakeholders in a resettlement program are the affected people, their representatives, host populations, any NGOs or other civil society organizations working in the area, local governments of the affected and the resettlement areas, project contractors, funding agencies, consultants conducting various studies, and the engineering and resettlement units in the project design and implementation agencies. Systematic stakeholder involvement acts like a self-correcting mechanism that enables timely identification of problems, and helps find workable solutions for them.

Internalize resettlement related costs. Another imperative in ensuring that the best dam projects are selected and that the resettlement programs are well implemented is to internalize the full costs of resettlement into the project budget. This helps planners assess the real cost of resettlement and factor it into assessments regarding the feasibility of specific projects. If the full costs of environmental mitigation and resettlement were assessed during initial project feasibility studies, many of the world's large dams may not have been undertaken. The artificial externalization of resettlement costs makes projects appear less expensive than they actually are and distorts their rates of return, possibly leading planners to make the wrong choices about their construction.

The typical resettlement costs are easy to identify. They are: costs of taking land, houses, and other fixed assets; the cost of constructing resettlement sites and procuring alternative lands for agriculture; costs associated with job creation and other economic rehabilitation activities, and transfer allowances for the move to the resettlement sites and subsistence allowances for a reasonable duration of transition. These costs are often underestimated, and inadequate allowance is made for inflation and other contingencies. In addition, there are costs that are sometimes missed or ignored in computing resettlement cost estimates. Such costs are in relation to populations and impacts not adequately surveyed during the design stage. In many dam projects the number of people finally affected turns out to be higher than the initial estimates. The planning process of many dams underestimates temporary or partial impacts, and consequently underestimates the cost of mitigating them. Examples in this category are impacts related to seasonal flooding of people living on the fringes of the proposed reservoir; impacts on people fishing in the river to supplement their income and nutrition; impacts on seasonal grazers, forest product collectors, and impacts on population not directly affected by the project but dependent on those who are required to resettle.

Inaccurate estimation of resettlement costs has two consequences. One, if the project involves significant resettlement, a sub-optimal decision may be made regarding project selection. Two, the types of resettlement alternatives offered to people may inappropriately be made contingent upon the funds available for resettlement. There have been instances where the entitlements offered to affected people were determined based on arbitrary funding limits imposed by project agencies based on early cost estimates, rather than deriving detailed budget estimates from the cost of entitlements and activities that constitute the resettlement program.

Assess institutional capacity for resettlement planning and implementation. The third key issue that needs to be addressed, both in selecting a particular dam for construction and facilitating smooth implementation of resettlement, is the institutional capacity of the resettlement implementation agencies. Dam related resettlement is highly complex, and can pose a formidable challenge to institutions engaged in designing and delivering conventional development programs. While participation helps make the right decisions and choices, and adequate budgeting facilitates the availability of money to pay for them, the resettlement program could still fail, unless competent institutions exist to implement the complex set of activities associated with reservoir resettlement.

Some development practitioners have gone so far as to say that in certain situations, especially in complex resettlement projects in remote settings that do not offer the possibility of making significant multi-institutional alliances, successful resettlement is inherently impossible. Even those who don't prescribe to this extreme view agree that planning and implementation of large scale resettlement programs can be extremely complex and difficult from the institutional perspective. Factors that contribute to this complexity are: the multiple administrative jurisdictions spanned by a typical reservoir resettlement program; the frequent lack of commitment among project agencies to resettlement issues; the complex interface between the project implementing agency and the local governments that typically have control over land and have the mandate to implement development programs; the large number of implementing agencies that need to be coordinated; the difficulties in preserving staff continuity and institutional memory over the long duration of a reservoir resettlement program; the need for household focused institutional design capable of addressing the different circumstances of each participating household; and the possible conflict between resettlement entitlement policies of the project and those of local jurisdictions within which the project operates.

Project decision makers need to assess the capacity and commitment of key institutions responsible for resettlement prior to selecting a project for construction. If suitable capacity does not exist, efforts to create adequate capacity should precede dam construction. Criteria for assessing institutional commitment and capacity include: 1) willingness to make the necessary policy and institutional changes to develop an adequate framework for resettlement; 2) willingness to allow independent, external monitoring and evaluation of the resettlement program; 3) past experience in implementing resettlement programs; 4) adequate staffing, both in numbers and the skills required to plan and implement resettlement; and 5) capacity of allied agencies involved in resettlement activities.

There could be situations where the project agency, being a new corporate entity, manages to create adequate capacity within the project resettlement unit, without the existence of complementary capacity among other local agencies who play a key role in resettlement implementation. Efforts to strengthen capacity should target not only the project implementation agency but all the key local agencies involved in resettlement planning and implementation. This may not be easy to accomplish, given the large number of institutional jurisdictions under which these agencies typically function.

Suggested Steps for Successful Reservoir Resettlement

An impressive body of knowledge has developed on the experience gained and lessons learned from the implementation of reservoir resettlement. Multilateral and bilateral development institutions, project review panels, government agencies, local sector institutions, and resettlement researchers and practitioners working individually have contributed to this effort. As a result, it is now possible to list the key steps that should be followed and important issues that need to be addressed to increase the likelihood of successful resettlement in dam projects.

Establish a panel of experts for the preparation of the resettlement program. Involvement of a panel of reputed resettlement experts, including international experts where necessary, is extremely useful in transferring international best practice to the efforts to design resettlement programs. Such expertise is routinely employed during resettlement implementation, usually as part of an environmental review panel. The use of such panels during the planning stage can substantially help improve the resettlement program, as demonstrated by the impressive preparation of the resettlement component of the Ghazi Barotha Hydropower Project in Pakistan.

Establish systems for preparation, review, and approval of resettlement plans. While carefully prepared resettlement plans are required for all projects assisted by multi-lateral and bilateral institutions, there may be no established mechanisms to prepare and review similar resettlement plans for projects implemented by national and regional governments. Evidence shows that an established system of review and approval by capable state and national level agencies helps improve the quality of resettlement planning and increases the likelihood of successful implementation. It is usually effective to develop some resettlement planning capacity in the institutes responsible for designing the dam. This ensures close collaboration between resettlement planners and design engineers at the earliest stages of project design, which is critical for minimizing resettlement and integrating the resettlement program into the main project.

Conduct early, detailed surveys of who is affected in what ways, and when. In addition to identifying the precise scope and extent of impacts on all affected people, it is important to know when the different communities will be affected. The dam takes a few years to build, and the reservoir expands in annual spasms. It rises higher and spreads farther behind the wall of the dam in successive years, expanding the area of impact both vertically and horizontally. This has implications on resettlement planning. Households from large number of communities along the river are affected at the same time, though they may not want to resettle with households from other communities and are likely to prefer resettlement next to the members of their as-of-yet unaffected community. Therefore, in order to ensure availability of acceptable relocation options to the affected communities, resettlement sites for all communities need to be made available sufficiently in advance of their full displacement. This has implications on resources and land acquisition schedules, and requires substantial institutional capacity to initiate resettlement simultaneously at a large number of sites.

In identifying adverse impacts, emphasis needs to be laid on temporary and partial impacts discussed earlier, since they are likely to be missed in resettlement planning. For example, households living on the periphery of the reservoir may lose land only for a few days once every few years due to high floods. A survey of permanent impacts of the reservoir might ignore them completely. Consultations with this group of periodically affected people will help identify feasible compensation alternatives. While lands likely to be submerged in a "hundred year" flood should ideally be acquired, project planners can evaluate the trade-offs between outright acquisition and compensating for losses during temporary submergence of land in high floods once every few years.

Discuss feasible resettlement alternatives with the affected people, and design mitigation for all categories of impacts. Based on a detailed survey of impacts, and consultations with the affected people, feasible resettlement entitlements need to be designed for all categories of impacts. Inadequate identification of adverse impacts and the failure to design mitigation measures for each adverse impact are major factors for the failure of resettlement programs. For this purpose, consultations with the affected people need to be carried out at two stages. First, the affected people in each impact category need to be consulted on the range and extent of impacts and the compensation / resettlement alternatives acceptable to them. Subsequently, after the feasibility of these alternatives has been assessed, they need to be offered to the affected people for their selection. Failure to design mitigation measures for one or more categories of impact, even if the impacts are minor, can trigger dissatisfaction among large sections of the affected population.

Verify the technical, legal, financial and economic feasibility of the resettlement entitlements. Since land based resettlement strategies are perceived as more secure than non-land based investment strategies, there has generally been a less thorough evaluation of land based resettlement proposals. This assumption has not always been valid in actual practice. Being a marketable fixed asset, land does offer greater security than business or employment based resettlement, especially for communities practicing traditional forms of agriculture or that have otherwise not been exposed to non-land based economic activities. However, the income restoration potential of agriculture dependent on transfer of new farming skills could be as difficult to predict as the uncertainties of business or the sustainability of jobs.

The near complete economic displacement resulting from dam projects also offers the opportunity for constructing new bases for livelihoods. Those among the affected people who have the required technical skills and the capacity to bear some risk may find the non-land based economic rehabilitation programs very attractive. On the other hand, if the affected communities prefer, and opportunities exist in the upper catchment areas, options based on moving to these areas may be explored. Depending on the agricultural models practiced by the affected people, this socially least disruptive model may actually promote conservation of the catchment area, contrary to the general assumption that any economic activity in the catchment will have a detrimental impact on siltation and life of the dam.

Regardless of the type of economic activities the resettlement program is based on, thorough analyses of their feasibility need to be conducted before the proposed activities are offered as real options for the affected people. The analyses need to focus on the following: technical aspects -- does the technology available to resettlers support the type of activity being proposed; legal issues -- are there any legal obstacles to assisting the affected people -- (for example, local land ceiling limits may not allow provision of replacement land at the same level); economic feasibility -- are the demand and supply patterns for the goods or services the resettlers are supposed to market propitious; and financial requirements -- is start up capital and credit available at affordable terms. The feasibility analyses helps construct a menu of alternatives out of which the affected people need to make the final selection. Underpinning the detailed feasibility analysis of the resettlement options is a consideration of the capacity and preferences of the resettlers to undertake the proposed activities.

Conduct detailed feasibility assessment of resettlement sites. Resettlement sites should be acceptable to the resettlers, capable of supporting their current population and make provision for population growth. Land based resettlement should be included on the menu of options only if capacity of the land, including its soil quality, irrigation potential, and carrying capacity is adequate. Inadequate analysis of these issues can give rise to serious problems. The Itaparaica project in Brazil, for example, was based on extremely poor quality soils, with the result that despite huge expenditure on improving the agricultural potential of the resettlement sites, sufficient area of land is not available to accommodate the large number of resettlers. Similarly, in the Sardar Sarovar Narmada project in India, though good quality land is being procured through innovative, market-based mechanisms, the probability of procuring adequate alternative land for all of the affected families is low.

Resettlement site selection is one activity where consultations with individual households are necessary and approval given by community representatives is not sufficient. To facilitate inspection of sites by all affected people, regular site visit programs should be organized so that the affected people can register their views on the resettlement areas as part of the feasibility analysis for the sites. Typical resettlement programs plan movement of affected people from the catchment into the command areas, with the assumption that the increased economic potential of the irrigated area will provide greater economic opportunities to affected people. This resettlement model has worked well in many large dam projects. However, such movement is sometimes detrimental to the social capital that exists in the affected communities, and may not be preferred by them. Project planners should not make any assumptions about the adequacy of sites without consultations with the affected people.

Ensure strong institutional design to deliver what is promised. As discussed earlier, the capacity of institutions responsible for resettlement planning and delivery of resettlement entitlements is a major factor in determining the effectiveness of the resettlement program. Resettlement institutions need to be multi-sectoral, given that a resettlement program involves conducting a diverse range of activities, such as land taking, impact measurement, physical relocation, job provision, land development, credit provision etc. In addition to institutions involved in implementation, successful resettlement requires adequate capacity in the project design agency and in the regulatory agencies at the sector, state and national level.

Institutions engaged in regular government functions may sometimes lack the interest or capacity to work through participatory approaches that are critical for resettlement. Project implementation units, on the other hand, may have more flexibility in recruiting specialists but may not always have the mandate to coordinate functions such as land taking and integration with host communities that are important for resettlement. A mix of government institutions, the project implementation unit, specialized agencies, and NGOs and other civil society organizations is, therefore, required for successful resettlement implementation. The specific circumstances of each household undergoing resettlement are likely to be different. Unlike administration of other development functions that involve delivery of one or few services, and thereby lend themselves to an aggregated approach to implementation, resettlement, with impacts that affect all aspects of the resettlers' lives, requires an approach that is customized at the household level. The capacity of the project implementation unit needs to be supplemented by grass roots organizations who can assist each affected household to benefit from the assistance being offered. Failure to program the need for household-level assistance into institutional design increases the chances of poor implementation.

Cost all resettlement entitlements and activities and provide for contingencies. All resettlement related programs and activities should be costed realistically and included in the project budget. Accurate estimation of resettlement costs also requires broad consultations with the affected people on the preferred resettlement alternatives. A resettlement cost table should include estimates of costs associated with: conducting census and socioeconomic surveys of the affected people; conducting resettlement studies and preparing resettlement planning documents; taking land, structures and other assets; procuring land for resettlement sites; developing the resettlement site; implementing economic rehabilitation programs; moving affected people and their household effects to the resettlement site; transition allowances; continuing participation activities during implementation; cost of monitoring and evaluation, establishing and maintaining a grievance redress system, and engaging an international review panel. Compensation and other resettlement costs should be linked to an acceptable local price index, revised annually. Provision should also be made for physical contingencies. Clear responsibility for funding the resettlement program should be established. Mechanisms need to be established to ensure that resettlement funding will not suffer disproportionately in case there are any financing problems.

Some power projects in Colombia and Brazil have earmarked part of the project revenues for area development and resettlement activities. This is an effective mechanism to make the affected people real partners in development and is based on the notion that their assets should be treated as equity in the project. It also addresses the problem of funding recurring resettlement costs associated with economic rehabilitation and community development programs.

Link the schedule of dam construction to resettlement implementation. A detailed resettlement implementation schedule needs to be prepared in consultation with the affected people and with attention to the timetable for the construction of the dam. The pace of dam construction needs to be linked to the progress in completion of resettlement activities in a manner that ensures that the dam is raised to successively higher levels only after specified resettlement activities are completed for households affected at the corresponding levels. The precise timing of relocation should be agreed with the affected people to avoid requiring them to move during crop harvesting or local festival seasons.

Institute mechanisms to consult affected people throughout the planning and implementation phases. Dams related resettlement can only be successful if planning and implementation is carried out with the participation of the affected people. The process of consultation should ensure full disclosure of information about the project, involve affected people in selecting resettlement sites and economic rehabilitation programs and should continue through resettlement implementation and the monitoring of implementation. Though consultations through representatives has some advantages, it is important to ensure that the views being relayed by them are those of the affected people. Key issues such as location of resettlement sites, types of economic rehabilitation and timing of resettlement need to be discussed directly with the affected people. Representation by outside agencies, whether government or non-government, can sometimes be based on misinformed assumptions, and could feed on typical stereotypes of what an affected person "should" feel and want rather than what they actually do. In case of the Itaparaica project in Brazil, though Polo Sindical, the main NGO representing the people insisted that land based resettlement was the only acceptable option, the program has been ridden with problems. Complemented with direct communication from the affected people, the economic rehabilitation process may have been able to identify some more feasible alternatives. Similarly, though the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Campaign) in the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project claimed to represent all affected people, it did not offer any assistance to those who gradually gave up their opposition to the project and opted for resettlement. In the process of determining representation, there is need to distinguish between those who represent issues and standpoints and those who represent the affected people, although the two may not always be mutually exclusive. Good resettlement design relies on mechanisms to directly involve the affected people in decision making.

Establish systems for grievance redress. Local mechanisms, if effective and reliable, should be relied upon to air and resolve the grievances of the affected people. Proposed grievance redress mechanisms should be discussed with, and acceptable to, the affected people and should provide clear information on who to approach and how, when to expect a response, and what to do if the response is inadequate. A provision for appeal through the legal system should be available, and the project should provide legal assistance to the affected people to make an appeal.

Monitor implementation. Clear benchmarks and indicators should be agreed on for monitoring the progress in implementing the resettlement program. Wherever possible, monitoring by the project agency should be complemented by monitoring and evaluation of the resettlement program by a qualified, independent agency. Implementers and monitors should have a clear, common understanding of what the goals of the resettlement program are and how they will be measured. Monitoring reports need to be reviewed by decision makers and should form the basis of decisions to improve implementation. It is not uncommon to find monitoring and implementation proceeding on two different tracks, with very little learning taking place through the monitoring exercise. It is useful to conduct an early review of resettlement implementation to assess the adequacy of the resettlement program and make necessary modifications. In case of dams with major resettlement impacts, regular internal and external monitoring should be supplemented by international panels for overseeing resettlement implementation.

Regular supervision of the resettlement program should continue until the resettlement program is completed and the objectives of the program are achieved. Completion of the main dam has often resulted in a decline in emphasis on resettlement issues, even though the resettlement program may not have been completed. Upon completion of the activities included in the resettlement program, it is useful to conduct a follow up socioeconomic survey to determine the extent to which the objectives of the resettlement program have been achieved. The results of this survey would help assess the need, if any, for follow up efforts, and also serve as a useful basis for designing them.

Resettlement as Development

When planned and implemented diligently, reservoir resettlement programs can be effective vehicles for substantial social and economic development for the affected people. Resettlement programs help provide better economic resources, renewed civic infrastructure, and increased access to new markets. Successful resettlement programs that preserve the social capital of affected communities have resulted in improved literacy and health indicators, increased incomes and standards of living as defined by the affected people themselves and enhanced access to economic opportunities, all of which may have been difficult to achieve in the reservoir areas.

Good resettlement design taps into the development potential in the general project area and builds upon the opportunities generated by the project. Economic rehabilitation activities based on careful analysis of resettlers' aptitudes and the patterns of demand and supply of commodities and services in the area have helped affected people benefit from the economic growth in the area. Ertan and Shuikou dams in China are an example of such dynamic resettlement planning. Well designed reservoir resettlement can open up substantial opportunities for the resettlers.

The environmental and social impacts of large dams can broadly be divided into two categories: impacts that can be mitigated through careful planning and implementation, and others that cannot normally be mitigated. The discussion will benefit tremendously if better approaches are developed to address the impacts that can be mitigated. Currently, the debate on large dams is overly focused on labeling dams as inherently harmful or inherently beneficial. There should, instead, be a systematic effort to first find solutions for reducing the adverse impacts of dam construction to the extent possible, and then evaluate the overall impact of dams by comparing the benefits they bring against the cost of mitigation, and the cost of unmitigated impacts.

The large dams debate needs to sharpen its focus on developing internationally endorsed standards for resettlement. Stakeholders in this debate should help establish guidelines that facilitate the selection of the right dams for construction, and help develop systems and procedures that promote successful resettlement. The rhetoric against large dams partially feeds on the lack of clear policies and implementation guidelines for resettlement. Resettlement programs implemented on the basis of agreed norms and standards would help respond to some of the criticism on the feasibility of reservoir resettlement. It will also help crystallize the residual, difficult to mitigate, resettlement issues for a more focused discussion among researchers and practitioners. Unless this happens, the debate, despite the best intentions of both sides, will do little to help the plight of the millions affected by large dams.


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Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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