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Dams and displacement: Raising the standards and broadening the research agenda

Brooke McDonald-Wilmsen
Research Fellow, La Trobe Refugee Research Centre, School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia; b.mcdonald@latrobe.edu.au
Michael Webber
Professorial Fellow, Department of Resource Management and Geography, The University of Melbourne, Australia; mjwebber@unimelb.edu.au

ABSTRACT: The World Commission on Dams provided an analytical overview of the cumulative effects of years of dam development. A lack of commitment or capacity to cope with displacement or to consider the civil rights of, or risks to, displaced people led to the impoverishment and suffering of tens of millions and growing opposition to dams by affected communities worldwide. However, after the WCD, little has changed for the better in terms of resettlement policies. In fact, the standards of key agencies, like the Asian Development Bank, have been lowered and diluted compared to prior policies. Dam-induced development and displacement are stifled by a 'managerialist' approach to planning, in which solutions are sought internally and subordinated to the economics that underpins the existence of the project. The aim of successful resettlement is to prevent impoverishment and to enable displaced people to share in the project'€™s benefits. Within the field of dam-induced resettlement, this is a lofty goal rarely achieved. However, in other fields of resettlement, such as refugee studies and adaptation to environmental change, such a goal is regarded as a minimum standard. In this paper we seek to broaden the research agenda on dam-induced resettlement and to raise the standards of development projects that entail resettlement. We do this by importing some of the considerations and concerns from practice and research from the fields of refugee studies and adaptation to environmental change.