GCRF: DAMS 2.0: Design and assessment of resilient and sustainable interventions in water-energy-food-environment Mega-Systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Environment, Education and Development


The world is moving into an unprecedented era of dam-building with more than 3700 large dams currently planned or under construction, much of which are in DAC list countries. These projects have the potential to contribute significantly to the economic and social changes that underpin global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, past experiences show that poorly designed and planned dam projects conversely may have large negative impacts on the poor, and exacerbate political instability and environmental degradation. This proposal seeks to create the knowledge base, capacity and capability for a 'Dams 2.0' future, in which dams built in DAC list countries are selected, designed and operated to support resilient and sustainable national, regional and global development in a 2.0 degC world. This will be achieved by understanding and assessing dams as interdependent human-nexus (water-energy-food-environment) system interventions and enabling stakeholders to negotiate economic, social, political and ecological impacts despite future uncertainty.

Our proposal will address this ambitious goal through unique cross- and inter-disciplinary research and capacity development partnerships between three sets of key actors. First, our project will stimulate collaboration between several UK centres of research excellence in development, water-energy engineering, economics, food security, climate change, finance and ecology (the universities of Manchester (UM), Cambridge, University College London (UCL), Surrey, Newcastle and Southampton, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). Second, we will consolidate links with a carefully selected network of researchers and policy-makers in 4 countries/regions (The Centre for Science and Industrial (CSIR) - Water in Ghana, Technological University of Yangon in Myanmar, Jordanian Institute of Science and Technology in the Middle East region, Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi, India). Thirdly, we will seek to work collaboratively with some of the world's most influential development organisations such as The World Bank (WB), International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the International Hydropower Association (IHA), and the Climate Bond Initiative (CBI).

Dams 2.0 is led by a team with a proven track record in successfully managing large consortium grants across multiple countries and disciplines that focus on applied development and policy impact challenges. Our work will provide tailored guidance and build capacity for water-energy-food systems management in each of our case studies regions. In addition, our project will create a framework and accompanying software toolkit for dam system design and training worldwide. This online software will link several open access water, energy, food, and ecological simulation models to state-of-the-art decision-making under uncertainty approaches. This software will be made accessible via an associated suite of online training materials (games & modules we plan to develop with IWMI and the World Bank) for use by dam selection/design/operation teams globally in a range of settings.

Planned Impact

The main beneficiaries of our work will be: (1) local researchers and decision-makers in our case study countries and regions (Myanmar/South Asia, Ghana/sub-Saharan Africa, Jordan/Middle East); (2) the global research and practitioner community in the field of dam management; (3) UK academic community; (4) the broader general public. How each group will benefit from our project is summarised briefly below. Our pathways to impact statement and case for support provide greater detail.

Local researchers and decision-makers in our case study countries will benefit from enhanced capacity around the design, operation, and management of complex water-food-energy systems. Through our tailored academic training programme and collaborative research, these groups will benefit from raised academic skills and knowledge that is tailored to the management and decision-making challenges faced in their countries presently and in the future.

The global research and practitioner community will benefit from a state-of-the-art set of multi-disciplinary assessment and modelling tools for dam design and operation management. An online software portal and associate training materials will support negotiation-based decision-making, and provide comprehensive visualisations to enable the global research community to address conflict around dam projects worldwide. All software tools and materials will be fully open-access, supporting uptake and application in developing country settings. Our agreed partnerships with the World Bank and International Water Management Institute are especially significant for our being able to deliver impact across the practitioner community.

The UK academic research community will be impacted by development of new links between centres of excellence. These links will lay the foundation for the UK to influence the global research agenda on dam management, and be perceived as a world leader in research around water-food-energy system evaluation and management. This is especially pertinent given the projected global boom in dam construction (3700 new dams are currently planned or under construction), and the growing challenges to water, food, and energy security worldwide.

Finally, the general public, financiers, policy makers, and civil society groups will be impacted through enhanced understanding of the multi-faceted benefits and impacts of dam projects. Specifically, our project and the associated assessment tools developed will facilitate enhanced knowledge and learning about how modern inter-disciplinary science can contribute to sustainable resource development and negotiated solution to conflicts around dam projects.

Our impact strategy builds on the successful track record of GDI, MACE and partners in influencing policy and professional practice in DAC list countries and international agencies. We have the great advantage of being able to utilise GDI's established Communications Unit from day one of the project.


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