Research Associate, FutureDAMS
The FutureDAMS research and capacity development partnership unites academics, practitioners and policy makers to improve the planning and governance of dams.
The project aims to co-develop, with institutional and case-study partners, an approach and toolset to help design and plan better human interventions in complex human-engineered natural resource systems, with a focus on developing countries. Dams and systems of dams are conceptualised and assessed as water-energy-food-ecology system interventions that must deliver economic, social and environmental benefits and resilience under a range of plausible futures.
Inter- and cross-disciplinary research assessments will identify what has worked well historically and what needs improvement. A new framework for dam system decision-making will seek to enable the effective negotiated design of these complex systems. The proposed approach will use innovative and appropriate climate and hydrological science, engineering, economic, governance, political-science and social analytical methods to assist in the development of water-energy-food-ecology interventions that have high social and economic value.
A state-of-the art model-based multi-criteria assessment and optimization of alternative water-energy infrastructure system designs will be delivered as part of the project. Factors to be explored include hydropower dam locations, size, operations, and their link to wider regional energy, food production, economic, ecological, political and social systems. An online analytical and training toolbox will allow collaborative working between diverse groups such as local and regional stakeholder and sectoral groups, investors, planners, consultants and academics.
The dams decision-making framework and analytical toolset will be developed in partnership with key stakeholders in Myanmar, the West Africa Volta basin, and the East African Nile river basin.
Following a decade that saw a near cessation in dam building across the world, and particularly in Africa, hydropower is back on the agenda with projects and funding widespread. My research seeks to interrogate this trend, asking why and how this resurgence is happening. It does this through taking three representative cases of recent hydropower projects in Rwanda and Tanzania, the Nyabarongo, Rusumo and Steigler’s Gorge hydropower projects. Through these cases the thesis explores a range of financiers and builders in this phase of hydropower, including actors from India, the World Bank and Brazil respectively.
At an international level, the research examines the rationales behind these governments and institutions engagement in African dam-building and the practises they adopt. At a national level it explores the histories of these projects and their context in Rwanda and Tanzania’s energy sectors. This includes how the three case studies fit into the planning of new electricity generation projects in the two countries. The dam project’s locale is also interrogated. The inclusion of communities in knowledge-production and decision-making is assessed, as is the planners’ understandings of each dam’s local socio-environmental context. These three levels contribute to an understanding of the rationales and practises of this latest phase of resurgent hydropower.
Top-down and teleological modernisation theory has provided the ideological drive behind dam-building in past eras. Consequently, the thesis aims to build theory on whether the ideological drive and practises of modernisation theory, critiqued for their expert-orientated and elite-centric knowledge-production and decision-making, are continuing. Through this, the research contributes to broader reflections about the workings of a more infrastructure-heavy phase of global development.