Dams have become an integral part of basic infrastructure by offering indispensable benefits like irrigation, hydropower, domestic and industrial water supply, flood control, drought mitigation, navigation, fish farming, and recreation. As controversial as they have been during the last decades due to negative social and environmental impacts, the limited and uneven distribution of water at the global level has made the world realize that more dams, mostly large dams, are needed if development is to be promoted and if basic human needs are to be covered. Overall, it has been global dynamics in terms of water, energy (including trade aspects), food, and climate securities that has recasted the role of dams triggering massive investment on construction and modernization of multiple projects all over the world. It is thus fundamental to continue improving project planning and implementation to avoid unnecessary social and environmental costs. This paper discusses the role of dams on development, hydropower as the main source of renewable energy, the potential it holds to promote regional development, resettlement as the most critical factor still facing construction of large dams, and the role an entirely new group of actors are having in investment of dam projects at the national, regional, and global levels.
By Cecilia Tortajada, 2015. Article published in Journal of Hydrologic Engineering, Volume 20, Issue 1, pages 1-9. DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)HE.1943-5584.0000919