Original Research

Together we can do more – environmental consciousness in the South African dam construction sector (1945-1980)

Lani van Vuuren
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 9, No 1 | a218 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v9i1.218 | © 2013 Lani van Vuuren | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 08 March 2016 | Published: 31 July 2013

About the author(s)

Lani van Vuuren, North-West University’s Vaal Campus, South Africa

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For several thousand years societies have diverted and dammed up rivers to meet their increasing water needs. The Industrial Revolution ushered in the modern era of water resource development, which has led to the construction of an estimated 50 000 large dams worldwide.

Rising concerns over the state of natural resources following the Second World War resulted in the emergence of public anti-dam lobby groups who used protest and advocacy to place pressure on authorities to cease dam construction activities and improve environmental legislation. While these actions proved successful in many countries this approach has led to conflict between environmental groups and dam authorities.

South Africa is highly dependent on dams for stable and regular water supply. The country’s 320 largest dams together store some 66% of the country’s mean annual runoff. In contrast with the global environmental movement, institutionalisation of the environment occurred within the water engineering sector not as a result of outside pressures but due to rising concerns from water engineers themselves.

In the absence of strong adversarial environmental non-governmental organisations, improved management of the impact of large dams grew out of early cooperation between department officials and aquatic scientists, especially around the sustainable management of water resources in KwaZulu-Natal, as this article illustrates. This trend towards negotiation and collaboration led to the country’s main developer of large dams, the Department of Water Affairs, instituting voluntary environmental policies from 1980.

Keywords: History, dams, rivers, history, environmental movement, environmental consciousness, water, aquatic science, engineering, cooperation



History; dams; rivers; history; environmental movement; environmental consciousness; water; aquatic science; engineering; cooperation


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