Assessing Economic, Social, Political and Environmental Issues Related to Mega-projects: A case study of Merowe Dam in Sudan
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Contemporary global economic development has been undergoing a transition into multiple pathways aiming at sustainable development, poverty eradication and environmental protection especially in energy production to achieve socioeconomic development (Behera, 2006; Dunning, 2006). In developing countries, a shift from traditional development to modern economic development has begun since the 1970s (Amin & Thrift, 1995; Behera, 2006). Many developing countries have used mega-dams as a source of electricity generation and water supply for irrigation, urban and industrial uses. Dams are still preferred as the primary strategy to pursue economic development, which has been reinforced by increasing levels of urbanisation, industrialisation, agribusiness and diversification of income in rural economy (Rigg, 2007; Varma, 2003). Sudan has embarked on economic development for decades and the need for electricity and water for irrigation is becoming more important over time as the country has experienced political polarisation and rapid transition towards modernisation, industrialisation and urbanisation (Verhoeven 2011). However, in 1990s the country’s economy has faltered due to electricity shortages, and stagnation in industrials and agribusiness, which has reduced economic output (Askouri, 2014; Hashim, 2009). Many academics have focused on evaluations of the contribution of mega-projects primarily to economic development in the developing economies. But, less emphasis has been placed on the agency of society, economic structure, development stage and needs of the economy, its geo-politics, level of institutional development and socio-cultural factors (Dogra, 1992; Ersumer, 1999b; Flyvbjerg, Garbuio & Lovallo, 2009; Varma, 1999; Varma, 2003). Furthermore, in 1990s the processes by which development are governed have changed remarkably. Scholars are debating the conceptual and theoretical approaches concerning actual and potential impacts of mega-projects as a powerful force in shaping development and their position in development theories. Much of the focus has been on the consequences of dams, which increasingly do not have a consensus as a development tool (Behera, 2006; Dunning, 2006). Therefore, in order to address the gap in the literature, this thesis adopts an approach that combines socioeconomic, human development and social conflict theories to study the influence of mega-projects on the development and communities through a case study of the Merowe Dam located in northern Sudan. A multi-methods approach was used to collect data, including 300 questionnaires in seven locations, in-depth interviews of over 30 participants, participant observations and secondary data. The results suggest that the electricity produced by Merowe Dam together with the complementary projects implemented by the Dam Implementation Unit (such as educational, health facilities, infrastructures, new settlements and agriculture schemes) have increased social mobility in the region and driven positive economic, social and human development in the Merowe region. However, in the context of social and environmental aspects, the positive outcomes of the project have been overshadowed by social conflicts and mistrust between project authorities and local communities. This outcome suggests difficult interactions and negotiations between various stakeholders and political institutions. The social conditions in Merowe region are now no better than before the dam, and the environmental effects have been negative in some aspects. However, it should be noted that the arid nature of the region has also played an important role in reducing the negative influence of Merowe Dam on the environment. On the basis of the discussion of convergences and divergences arising from Merowe Dam, the thesis renders support for similar projects in other developing economies to pursue socioeconomic development. The two key policy implications are: long-term monitoring of the resettlement areas and strengthening of agricultural extension services. The empowerment of local communities in negotiation and consultation processes by establishing independent mechanisms and administrative bodies to oversee the process of future projects in Sudan is also recommended in developing economies facing similar development challenges.