Are large-scale hydroelectric dams inherently undemocratic?

María Alejandra García*, Laura Castro-Díaz, Sergio Villamayor-Tomas, Maria Claudia Lopez

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Construction of large-scale hydroelectric dams has increased in recent decades in the Global South and emerging economies. Population resettlement is one of the most severe socioeconomic impacts caused by dam construction. Processes aiming to mitigate its impacts and restore livelihoods are often described as inadequate. The resettlement process’ ineffectiveness could be explained by persistent deficiency in citizen participation, which is also a sign of the impacted population not being able to participate in the process affecting their lives. Our research presents a medium-N comparative study showing the pathways explaining deficiency of participation across 23 large-scale hydroelectric dams in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We conducted a fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis based on information from a qualitative meta-analysis and secondary sources. Our results suggest that there are at least two scenarios to explain deficiency in participation. The first scenario includes dams constructed during autocracies, mostly before the release of the World Commission on Dams guidelines. The second scenario involves the largest dams in our analysis, with high economic and political interests at stake built under both autocratic and democratic regimes, despite the presence of what we categorized as effective forms of public opposition to the project and resettlement process. We discuss features that make large hydroelectric dams less participatory or inherently undemocratic in the Global South.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102395
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • fsQCA
  • Global South
  • Hydroelectric dams
  • Participation
  • Resettlement


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