2001 – Holistic Environmental Impact Assessment of Dams Projects


For many years, engineers associated with the design, construction and operation of large dams have been undertaking environmental effects studies in association with their projects in the belief that they were thereby satisfying their obligation to the community whose interests they served. With increasing environmental consciousness of the community in developed countries, methods have been developed one by one for assessing environmental impacts of various kinds, and techniques have been developed for abating them.

However, the issue in November of the report of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) has focussed attention not only on the importance of bigger issues such as regional ecology, national economic disbenefits and social dislocation, but also on the vulnerability of dams to social and political hindsight.

This paper develops the above background, and shows why some excellently conceived techniques developed in the early 1970’s were capable of identifying almost all imaginable environmental impacts of dam projects, but were not applied in such a way as to deal adequately with the larger issues. It is argued that tools for dealing with all known issues now exist, but that responsible and competent application of the tools are not equivalent to successful application of them. d A new approach is suggested both to upgrade the quality of the decision and to make successful adoption of a soundly based decision more likely to withstand long term critical appraisal, by expressly recognising these decisions as ethical ones.


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