, Volume 48, Issue 2, pp 180–191 | Cite as

Mapping the social impacts of small dams: The case of Thailand’s Ing River basin

  • Zali FungEmail author
  • Teerapong Pomun
  • Katrina J. Charles
  • Julian Kirchherr
Research Article


The social impacts of large dams have been studied extensively. However, small dams’ social impacts have been largely neglected by the academic community. Our paper addresses this gap. We examine the social impacts of multiple small dams in one upstream and one downstream village in Thailand’s Ing River basin. Our research is based on semi-structured interviews with beneficiaries, government and NGOs. We argue that small dams’ social impacts are multi-faceted and unequal. The dams were perceived to reduce fish abundance and provide flood mitigation benefits. Furthermore, the dams enabled increased access to irrigation water for upstream farmers, who re-appropriated water via the dams at the expense of those downstream. The small dams thus engendered water allocation conflicts. Many scholars, practitioners and environmentalists argue that small dams are a benign alternative to large dams. However, the results of our research mandate caution regarding this claim.


Infrastructure Ing River basin Small dams Social impacts Thailand 



We would like to thank our local partner organisation, The Mekong Community Institute, for assisting us and sharing their knowledge with us during fieldwork. We would also like to thank the two Ing River basin communities for hosting us, and our translator Numfon Jaiwong, for her assistance. Funding was provided by School of Geography and Environment, University of Oxford and Green Templeton College, University of Oxford.

Supplementary material

13280_2018_1062_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (90 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 91 kb)


  1. Abbasi, T., and S.A. Abbasi. 2011. Small hydro and the environmental implications of its extensive utilization. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 15: 2134–2143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Acheampong, E.N., N. Ozor, and E. Sekyi-Annan. 2014. Development of small dams and their impact on livelihoods: Cases from northern Ghana. African Journal of Agricultural Research 9: 1867–1877.Google Scholar
  3. Badenoch, N. 2009. The politics of PVC: Technology and institutions in upland water management in Northern Thailand. Water Alternatives 2: 269–288.Google Scholar
  4. Bakis, R., and A. Demirbas. 2004. Sustainable development of small hydropower plants (SHPs). Energy Sources 26: 1105–1118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bryman, A. 2012. Social research methods, 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Chamamahattana, P., W. Kongtahworn, and R. Pan-aram. 2005. The small hydropower project as the important renewable energy resource in Thailand. Asian Journal on Energy and Environment 6: 139–144.Google Scholar
  7. Couto, T.B.A., and J.D. Olden. 2018. Global proliferation of small hydropower plants – science and policy. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 16: 91–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Creswell, J.W. 2012. Educational research: Planning, conducting and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research, 4th ed. Boston: Pearson.Google Scholar
  9. Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency (DAEDE). 2012. The renewable and alternative energy development plan for 25 percent in 10 years. Bangkok: DAEDE.Google Scholar
  10. Duflo, E., and R. Pande. 2007. Dams. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 122: 601–646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dugan, J.D., C. Barlow, A.A. Agostinho, E. Baran, G.F. Cada, D. Chen, I.G. Cowx, J.W. Ferguson, et al. 2010. Fish migration, dams, and loss of ecosystem services in the Mekong Basin. Ambio 39: 344–348. Scholar
  12. Ersado, L. 2005. Small-scale irrigation dams, agricultural production, and health: Theory and evidence from Ethiopia. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3494, January 2005. Washington, D.C: World Bank.Google Scholar
  13. Fusch, P.I., and L.R. Ness. 2015. Are we there yet? Data saturation in qualitative research. The Qualitative Report 20: 1408–1416.Google Scholar
  14. Gleick, P.H. 1992. Environmental consequences of hydroelectric development: The role of facility size and type. Energy 17: 735–747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Google Earth 7.1.5. 2016. Ing River Dams. 19°13’31.26”N, 99°59’30.75”E, elevation 398 m.Google Scholar
  16. Guest, G., A. Bunce, and L. Johnson. 2006. How many interviews are enough? An experiment with data saturation and variability. Field Methods 18: 59–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hennig, T., W. Wang, Y. Feng, X. Ou, and D. He. 2013. Review of Yunnan’s hydropower development. Comparing small and large hydropower projects regarding their environmental implications and socio-economic consequences. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 27: 585–595.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hensengerth, O. 2015. Global norms in domestic politics: Environmental norm contestation in Cambodia’s hydropower sector. The Pacific Review 28: 505–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD). 2016. World Register of Dams. ICOLD. Retrieved 29 August, 2016, from
  20. Jumani, S., S. Rao, S. Machado, and A. Prakash. 2017. Big concerns with small projects: Evaluating the socio-ecological impacts of small hydropower projects in India. Ambio 46: 500–511. Scholar
  21. Kelly-Richards, S., N. Silber-Coats, A. Crootof, D. Tecklin, and C. Bauer. 2017. Governing the transition to renewable energy: A review of impacts and policy issues in the small hydropower boom. Energy Policy 101: 251–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kibler, K.M., and D.D. Tullos. 2013. Cumulative biophysical impact of small and large hydropower development in Nu River, China. Water Resources Research 49: 3104–3118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kingdom of Thailand (KoT) and FAO. 2012. Country program framework 2012–2016 for Thailand. Rome: FAO.Google Scholar
  24. Kirchherr, J. 2017. Strategies of successful anti-dam movements: Evidence from Myanmar and Thailand. Society and Natural Resources. Scholar
  25. Kirchherr, J., and K. Charles. 2016. The social impacts of dams: A new framework for scholarly analysis. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 60: 99–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kirchherr, J., T. Pomun, and M.J. Walton. 2016a. Mapping the social impacts of ‘Damocles Projects’: The case of Thailand’s (as yet unbuilt) Kaeng Suea Ten Dam. Journal of International Development. Scholar
  27. Kirchherr, J., H. Pohlner, and K.J. Charles. 2016b. Cleaning up the big muddy: A meta- synthesis of the research on the social impact of dams. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 60: 115–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kirchherr, J., N. Matthews, K.J. Charles, and M.J. Walton. 2017. “Learning it the hard way”: Social safeguard norms in Chinese-led dam projects in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Energy Policy 102: 529–539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lindström, A., Granit, J., and Weinberg, J. 2012. Large-scale water storage in the water, energy and food nexus: Perspectives on benefits, risks and best practices. SIWI Paper 21. Stockholm: SIWI.Google Scholar
  30. Lijphart, A. 1971. Comparative politics and the comparative method. The American Political Science Review 65: 682–693.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Molle, F., T. Foran, and M. Käkönen. 2009. Contested waterscapes in the Mekong Region: Hydropower, livelihoods and governance. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  32. Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONREPP). 2012. Environmental impact assessment in Thailand. Bangkok: Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.Google Scholar
  33. Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Owusu, K., P.W.K. Yankson, A.B. Asiedu, and P.B. Obour. 2017. Resource utilization conflict in downstream non-resettled communities of the Bui Dam in Ghana. Natural Resources Forum. Scholar
  35. Paish, O. 2002. Small hydro-power: Technology and current status. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 6: 537–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Richter, B.D., S. Postel, C. Revenga, T. Scudder, B. Lehner, A. Churchill, and M. Chow. 2010. Lost in development’s shadow: The downstream human consequences of dams. Water Alternatives 3: 14–42.Google Scholar
  37. Rubin, H.J., and I.S. Rubin. 2005. Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Scudder, T. 2005. The future of large dams: Dealing with social, environmental, institutional and political costs. London, UK: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  39. Sharma, A.K., and N.S. Thakur. 2017. Assessing the impact of small hydropower projects in Jammu and Kashmir: A study from north-western Himalayan region of India. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 80: 679–693.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Shivakoti, G.P. 2000. Participatory interventions in farmer managed irrigation systems in Northern Thailand: Dynamism in resource mobilization. Paper presented at the 8th conference of the international association for the study of common property, Bloomington, Indiana, May 31–June 4, 2000.Google Scholar
  41. Strobl, E., and R.O. Strobl. 2011. The distributional impact of large dams: Evidence from cropland productivity in Africa. Journal of Development Economics 96: 432–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Surarerks, V. 1986. Historical development and management of irrigation systems in Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai: Chiang Mai University.Google Scholar
  43. Tan-Kim-Yong, U. 1995. Muang-Fai communities are for people: Institutional strengths and potentials. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University.Google Scholar
  44. Timpe, K., and D. Kaplan. 2017. The changing hydrology of a dammed Amazon. Scientific Advances. Scholar
  45. Tortajada, C. 2014. Dams: An Essential Component of Development. Journal of Hydrologic Engineering. Scholar
  46. Venot, J.P., and J. Krishna. 2011. Discursive framing: Debates over small reservoirs in the Rural South. Water Alternatives 3: 316–324.Google Scholar
  47. Wangkiat, P. 2016. Farmers look for long-term solutions. Bangkok Post, May 1st, 2016.Google Scholar
  48. World Commission on Dams (WCD). 2000. Dams and development: A new framework for decision-making. Earthscan: The Report of the World Commission on Dams. London.Google Scholar
  49. Ziv, G., E. Baran, S. Nam, I. Rodríguez-lturbed, and S.A. Levin. 2012. Trading-off fish biodiversity, food security and hydropower in the Mekong River Basin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109: 5609–5614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Office of Environment and HeritageSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Mekong Community InstituteChiang MaiThailand
  3. 3.School of Geography and the Environment, Oxford University Centre for the EnvironmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  4. 4.Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development - Innovation StudiesUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations