D URING AN interview at the Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research in
Beijing, Dr. Yin, a senior engineer and colleague of Dr. Zhou (the junior engineer mentioned
in chapter 5 ), reflected on the key challenges that his organization faces as it seeks to im-
plement what it calls “sustainable-hydropower development” ( shuidian kechixu fazhan ), a
concept that is now featured prominently in the glossy brochures that advertise the organiz-
ation's mission. Dr. Yin remarked,
Sustainable-hydropower development has two dimensions: the environmental dimension, which can usually be ad-
dressed with technical solutions; and the social dimension, which has to be addressed through policy. Our primary
focus is on the engineering and technical aspects. For example, how can we better understand and evaluate the ef-
fects of hydropower development on river ecosystems? We need better evaluation methods. It's very challenging.
But the technical problems are relatively easy to solve, compared with cultural and social problems.
Dr. Yin's acknowledgment of the social costs of dams may seem like a fairly enlightened
interactions, even the most technically inclined hydropower experts tended to recognize that
their industry could not be successful over the long term in the absence of a sound legal,
policy, and institutional framework for dealing with the social consequences of dams.
Although this goal is widely shared, the means of accomplishing it are not so clear-cut.
By a wide margin, the most pressing social problem associated with dams is the uproot-
ing of communities through displacement. Riparian, or streamside, environments happen to
be both the prerequisite for dam construction and a common place in which rural people
live and work. Displacement caused by dam construction and reservoir inundation can be
seen as the first-order social consequence of dam building, which then causes a cascade of
second- and third-order social ills: the disintegration of community identities and networks;