More dams, more violence? A global analysis on resistances and repression around conflictive dams through co-produced knowledge


The present article analyses a unique database of 220 dam-related environmental conflicts, retrieved from the Global Atlas on Environmental Justice (EJAtlas), and based on knowledge co-production between academics and activists. Despite well-known controversial, social, and environmental impacts of dams, efforts to increase renewable energy generation have reinstated the interest into hydropower development globally. People affected by dams have largely denounced such ‘unsustainabilities’ through collective non-violent actions. Nevertheless, we found that repression, criminalization, violent targeting of activists and assassinations are recurrent features of conflictive dams. Violent repression is particularly high when indigenous people are involved. Indirect forms of violence are also analysed through socio-economic, environmental, and health impacts. We argue that increasing repression of the opposition against unwanted energy infrastructures does not only serve to curb specific protest actions, but also aims to delegitimize and undermine differing understanding of sustainability, epistemologies, and world views. This analysis cautions that allegedly sustainable renewables such as hydropower often replicates patterns of violence within a frame of an ‘extractivism of renewables’. We finally suggest that co-production of knowledge between scientists, activists, and communities should be largely encouraged to investigate sensitive and contentious topics in sustainability studies.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Source: own elaboration, based on a sample of 220 cases of conflictive dams, retrieved from the EJAtlas database. Categories are taken from the EJAtlas form. Note that categories are not mutually exclusive, i.e. one case commonly involves several groups, and individual protesters (e.g. an indigenous farmer) can belong to several groups

Fig. 3

Source: own elaboration, based on a sample of 220 cases of conflictive dams, retrieved from the EJAtlas database. Categories of forms of mobilization are taken from the EJAtlas form

Fig. 4

Source: own elaboration, based on a sample of 220 cases of conflictive dams, retrieved from the EJAtlas database. Indigenous groups were reported to be involved in mobilizations in 118 cases, out of the total sample of 220 cases. Categories are taken from the EJAtlas form

Fig. 5

Source: own elaboration, based on a sample of 220 cases of conflictive dams, retrieved from the EJAtlas database. Categories are taken from the EJAtlas form


  1. 1.

    “2017 World Hydropower Congress to be hosted in Addis Ababa”, available at

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    “World Bank turns to hydropower to square development with climate change”; available at “”.

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    The analytical term ‘Extractivism’ commonly looks at materials extracted from local territories and exported across national boundaries, commodity chains and global trade (Moore 2000; Gudynas 2016). Electricity did not originally fall under these analytical lenses, or only when it serves mining activities, mineral processing plants, etc. However, if extractivism is understood as a mode of accumulation (Acosta 2013) through activities that “remove large quantities of natural resources” to be sent far away, we need to question the role of renewable energy infrastructures to extract electricity. More, hydro infrastructure also disrupts other natural resources like water in its specific ecological cycle, causes deforestation, mines rivers beds, etc. The hydropower extraction frontiers and entire riverbeds become sacrifice zones devoted to extraction and generation, thus creating forms of dependence and exclusion of a certain section of the society and economy.

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    For a more general description of the data gathering process, see also Temper et al. (2015).

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    Our database does not generally account for individual initiatives that fall outside a collective strategy of opposition, information to which we would not necessarily have access.

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    See more at:

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    Evidences are reported by lead lawyers of the case, more details here: Last accessed: 30.11.17.

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    At the time of writing, over 40,000 families in the Narmada valley are under serious threat of drowning in the area of the Sardar Sarovar dam. Authorities are determined to close the gates despite resettlement being not fully done and infringing this way the orders of the Supreme Court.

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    Full testimony of Chilean ecologist and Right Livelihood awarded Juan Pablo Orrego can be found here:

  11. 11.

    In December 2016, anti-extractivist networks launched an open online petition to the Ecuadorian government to call for stopping violent repression against the Shuar indigenous group in the Amazon and the persecution of the organization Acción Ecologica. The petition called this “extractivist violence”, to expose the strict connection of repression with the material extraction model. The petition can be found here:


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This research has been supported by the ENVJUSTICE project, funded by the European Research Council (ERC—Grant agreement no. 695446). Daniela Del Bene and Leah Temper also acknowledge the support of the ACKnowl-EJ project, with the support of the Transformations to Sustainability Programme, coordinated by the International Social Science Council-ISSC (Grant number ISSC2015-TKN150317115354). We would like to thank all collaborators of the EJAtlas for their meticulous work and dedication in documenting the cases discussed here, as well as for their daily commitment for protecting and sustaining life. The constructive comments of three anonymous reviewers are acknowledged as well as from members of the ENVJUSTICE research team.

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Correspondence to Daniela Del Bene.

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Handled by Federico Demaria, ICTA UAB, Spain.

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Del Bene, D., Scheidel, A. & Temper, L. More dams, more violence? A global analysis on resistances and repression around conflictive dams through co-produced knowledge. Sustain Sci 13, 617–633 (2018).

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  • Hydroelectric dams
  • Violence
  • Extractivism
  • Ecological distribution conflicts
  • Renewable energies
  • Co-production of knowledge