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Hydropower in the Himalayan Hazardscape: Strategic Ignorance and the Production of Unequal Risk

Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193 Cerdanyola del Vallès, Barcelona, Spain
Water 2019, 11(3), 414; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030414
Received: 13 August 2018 / Revised: 15 October 2018 / Accepted: 3 January 2019 / Published: 26 February 2019
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Abstract

Rapidly expanding hydropower development in areas prone to geological and hydro-climatic hazards poses multiple environmental and technological risks. Yet, so far these have received scant attention in hydropower planning processes, and even in the campaigns of most citizen initiatives contesting these dams. Based on qualitative empirical research in Northeast India, this paper explores the reasons why dam safety and hazard potential are often marginal topics in hydropower governance and its contestation. Using a political ecology framework analyzing the production of unequal risks, I argue that a blind-eye to environmental risks facilitates the appropriation of economic benefits by powerful interest groups, while increasing the hazardousness of hydropower infrastructure, accelerating processes of social marginalization. More specifically, this paper brings into analytical focus the role of strategic ignorance and manufactured uncertainty in the production of risk, and explores the challenges and opportunities such knowledge politics create for public resistance against hazardous technologies. I posit that influencing the production of knowledge about risk can create a fertile terrain for contesting hazardous hydropower projects, and for promoting alternative popular conceptions of risk. These findings contribute to an emerging body of research about the implications of hydropower expansionism in the Himalayan hazardscape. View Full-Text
Keywords: large dams; dam safety; hazard risk; environmental governance; uncertainty; knowledge politics; marginalization; political ecology; Himalayas; India large dams; dam safety; hazard risk; environmental governance; uncertainty; knowledge politics; marginalization; political ecology; Himalayas; India
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Huber, A. Hydropower in the Himalayan Hazardscape: Strategic Ignorance and the Production of Unequal Risk. Water 2019, 11, 414.

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