Human Impacts of Dams
Large dams have forced some 40-80 million people from their lands in the past six decades, according to the World Commission on Dams. Indigenous, tribal, and peasant communities have been particularly hard hit. These legions of dam refugees have, in the great majority of cases, been economically, culturally and psychologically devastated.
Those displaced by reservoirs are only the most visible victims of large dams. Millions more have lost land and homes to the canals, irrigation schemes, roads, power lines and industrial developments that accompany dams. Many more have lost access to clean water, food sources and other natural resources in the dammed area. Millions have suffered from the diseases that dams and large irrigation projects in the tropics bring. And those living downstream of dams have suffered from the hydrological changes dams bring to rivers and ecosystems; an estimated 400-800 million people--roughly 10% of humanity--fall into this category of dam-affected people.
In response to the massive human rights problems and environmental impacts of large dams, affected people and supporting local and international organizations have joined together to fight for change in how and whether dams are planned, designed and built. This movement includes thousands of environmental, human rights, and social activist groups around the world. International dam-affected people’s meetings in Brazil, Thailand and Mexico in recent years have brought together dam-affected peoples and their allies to network and strategize, and call for better planning of water- and energy-supply projects. And every year, groups from around the world show their solidarity with those dispossessed by dams on the International Day of Action for Rivers, a global event to raise awareness about the impacts of dams and the values of free-flowing rivers.
The mission of International Rivers’s regional campaign work is to focus on the issues of dam-affected peoples. To learn more about dam-affected peoples by region, visit our regional campaign pages.