Geography Reference
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several decades that affirms the belief that “human beings are at the center of concerns for
sustainable development” (UNEP 1992:Principle 1).
The United States was the birthplace of SIA, and most SIA in the U.S. context takes
place under a federal mandate. Since the passage of NEPA in 1969, EIA has become an
integral part of the environmental decision-making process in the United States. Under
NEPA, federal agencies must file comprehensive environmental impact statements prior to
undertaking any actions with the potential to significantly affect the quality of the human
environment. These statements typically include a social science component that assists
agencies in understanding the social consequences of policies, programs, and projects. In
1994, the Interorganizational Committee on Guidelines and Principles for Social Impact
Assessment (2003, 1994) produced basic guidelines for conducting SIA in federal projects,
updating the guidelines again in 2003.
SIA does have some fundamental biases and assumptions that come from Western philo-
sophicalandlegaltraditionsandthatfurthercomplicate theimplementation ofSIAininter-
national contexts. Because social, cultural, and political conditions differ in disparate loca-
tions, conducting SIAininternational contexts can beparticularly challenging. Responding
to the need for internationally relevant guidelines for SIA, the International Association for
Impact Assessment developed a set of principles that are broadly applicable to large de-
velopment projects. These principles include, among other things, a dedication to the pre-
cautionary principle, a balancing of intragenerational and intergenerational equity, the pre-
servation of social and cultural diversity, and the internalization of costs associated with a
planned project (Vanclay 2003).
As we have seen in the case studies on the Lancang and Nu Rivers, resettlement causes
a wide array of subsequent social impacts, including changes in household size and struc-
ture; changes in employment and income-generating opportunities; alteration of access to
and use of land and water resources; changes in social networks and community integra-
tion; changes in the nature and magnitude of various health risks; and even a disruption of
displaced individuals' psychosocial well-being. Managing and mitigating these impacts are
important tasks because, as the WCD noted in its seminal report, these effects are “spatially
significant, locally disruptive, lasting, and often irreversible” (WCD 2000b:102).
One of the key challenges of assessing the social impacts of dam projects is establishing
a standard set of variables to measure. As Frank Vanclay has noted, “The variables that
are important must be locally defined, and there may be local considerations that a gener-
ic listing does not adequately represent” (2002a:200). The process of SIA itself provides a
partial solution to this problem, however, since the step-by-step process involves an in situ
evaluation of stakeholder identification and scoping of activities likely to result in impacts.
Although the important variables may differ considerably from project to project, a com-
prehensive SIA process should allow practitioners to identify and measure locally salient
variables. Table 6.1 shows the various steps involved in using SIA for dam projects.
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