Social Impact Analysis Of Large Dams: A Case Study Of Cascading Dams On The Upper-Mekong River, China

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Large dam construction has significant environmental and social impacts at different scales. This thesis first summarizes and updates information about the history, distribution, functions, and impacts of large dams, both globally and at China's national level. It then addresses the social impacts of large dams, and introduces an empirical study conducted during the summer of 2010 in areas affected by dams along the UpperMekong River, China. The construction of large hydropower dams in this region has significantly impacted local communities. Numerous governmental policies have been designed to compensate for losses in wealth incurred by people relocated in the wake of new dam construction. I argue that wealth is a multi-dimensional attribute; identify three classes of wealth that are impacted by dam construction, namely material (land, houses), embodied (knowledge, skills), and relational (infrastructure); and compare losses and compensations for each class. Farmer interviews were conducted in ten villages affected by three dams built in 1995 (Manwan), 2003 (Dachaoshan), and 2009 (Xiaowan), and government statistics and documents were also analyzed to complement the empirical study. Results indicated that villagers often suffer from wealth loss in all three characterized dimensions, but government compensation policies typically consider only material wealth. This inequity leads to dissatisfaction on both sides, and is the root cause for disagreements and conflicts. The analysis further indicated that the degree of impact on the different dimensions of wealth varies among relocated communities, and that effects can sometimes be positive. These results will prove important to future dam projects in China, as they suggest that less dissatisfaction will arise from community relocation projects when the affected villagers and decision-makers acknowledge and agree on the degree of losses and resulting compensations in all three dimensions of wealth.

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Large dams; The Upper-Mekong River; Social impact


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Lassoie, James Philip

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Conrad, Jon M
Morreale, Stephen J.

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Natural Resources

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M.S., Natural Resources

Degree Level

Master of Science

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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