Dam problems - Social impacts

Dam good plans do not always make good practice

Hydro-electric dam under construction. Tegucigalpa / Choluteca, Honduras / ©: WWF-Canon / Nigel DICKINSON
Hydro-electric dam under construction. Tegucigalpa / Choluteca, Honduras
© WWF-Canon / Nigel DICKINSON
The socio-economic benefits of dams are numerous and in many places dams have undoubtedly contributed to economic development.
Many countries would look different today without hydroelectricity, irrigation, water supplies, flood control, and recreational activities around reservoirs.

But the negative socio-economic impacts of dams should be taken into account, too. As more and more dams are built in populated areas of developing countries, the scale of the social and economic effects is growing.

 / ©: Zeb  HOGAN / WWF-Canon
Fishermen unload their catch from the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. Fisheries are critical for sustaining livelihoods throughout the Mekong Basin.
© Zeb HOGAN / WWF-Canon
Endangered livelihoods
The disruption of natural ecosystems, particularly of floodplains, threatens the livelihoods of the millions of people downstream of dams who depend on fisheries, wetlands, and regular deposits of sediment for agriculture.
 / ©: Claire  DOOLE / WWF-Canon
Woman in the ruins of demolished houses in Fengolu city near the Yangtze River. The city was demolished to make way for the Three Gorges Lake. Chongqing Province, China.
© Claire DOOLE / WWF-Canon
Displacement of people
An estimated 40 to 80 million people have been displaced by dams worldwide. Yet mitigation, compensation, and resettlement attempts are often inadequate. WWF believes that directly affected people should be engaged in a transparent decision-making process. And we support the recognition of the right to free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous peoples.
School girls filling water bottles at a water tap. Nairobi City, Kenya / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
School girls filling water bottles at a water tap. Globally 1.1 billion people lack access to freshwater and 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
Improved access to clean water is a major benefit of dams. But the habitat they create is perfect for disease-carrying mosquitoes and snails, which bring illnesses such as malaria and schistosomiasis. Social disruption and higher population densities in resettled communities can result in poor hygiene and a host of related diseases.
 / ©: Joerg Hartmann / WWF-Germany
This town was flooded over ten years ago during the building of the Tehri Dam in India. When the waters recede during the dry season, they reveal what is left of people's homes.
© Joerg Hartmann / WWF-Germany
Damage to cultural heritage sites
In many places, large dams have impacted cultural heritage by the submergence and destruction of cultural resources such as shrines, buildings, artifacts, burial sites, and sacred landscapes.
  • Dams' adverse impacts on people and the conflicts they generate can be avoided.

    Proper siting of a dam can minimize the number of people that need to be resettled. Governments and industry can support activites that maintain livelihoods.

    Learn about solutions to dam problems.

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