Beyond hydrology in the sustainability assessment of dams: A planners perspective - The Sarawak experience
Faculty of Business and Law
School of Law and Justice
There is increasing concern about the availability of water supplies in developing countries to provide clean drinking water and sanitation as well as providing for irrigation for food security. This has led to hydrologically led investigation to establish the feasibility and storage capacity of potentially new dam sites. This task has become more difficult for hydrologists and others with the uncertainties created by climate change and the measurement of the hydrological, geographical and ecological footprint of new dams. The questions asked by hydrologists are increasingly likely to be required to be cast in terms of the four pillars of sustainability; environmental, economic, social and institutional. Similarly, regional planners have to be more cognisant of the social outcomes of dam development while understanding the wider hydrological context at a watershed and basin level. The paper defines the concept of sustainability assessment in the context of resettlement and analyses its implications for the Bakun Hydro-electric project in Sarawak, Malaysia. Specifically it attempts to address the question of what social sustainability would really mean in the context of communities affected by dam projects, and their catchments using hermeneutics, tradeoffs and offsets. The findings of this question were presented at a hydrological conference held in Santiago in October 2010, based on the outcome of specific questionnaire responses received from indigenous peoples affected by the Bakun Dam hydroelectric project. The paper also offers some insights pertaining to the social sustainability assessment aspects of dams and their catchments.