InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Water Science and Society > Student Materials > Module 5: Dam It All! > The Future of Dams: Developing Nations > Dams and Economic Development
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Dams and Economic Development

Despite controversy, in many developing nations major dam projects remain important engines for economic development, and hold substantial potential for renewable energy generation. As of 2012, hydroelectric power constituted as much as 16.5% of global electricity production (and 75% of estimated renewable energy generation) (REN21, 2013). Of this, ~23% is in China, ~12% in Brazil, ~10% in Canada, and ~7.5% in the United States; combined, these four nations generate over half of the worlds hydropower!

Moreover, globally, estimates suggest that up to two-thirds of economically viable dam sites have yet to be exploited. Undeveloped sites are especially abundant in Latin and South America (79% of renewable water remains unused), Africa (96%), India and China (48% is unused in Asia) (UNEP, 2013). Rapidly growing energy demand in India, China, and the Amazon Basin have driven the construction of hundreds of large dams as of 2002 (Figures 10-11; Table 1). This development may be a harbinger of things to come on the African continent. Africa has the second highest population (after Asia), and the fastest growing (See Module 1.3); it also has the lowest per capita energy use (UNEP, 2013). Looking to the future as demand for energy, water, and food in developing nations continue to grow – both per capita and in total as populations swell - it seems inevitable that demand for large dams will persist well in to the 21st century.

Table 1. Dams under construction in the most active dam-building nations, as of 1998 (from World Commission on Dams, 2000).
CountryNumber of DamsPurpose
India695-960Irrigation, multipurpose
China280Flood control, irrigation, power
Turkey209Water supply, hydropower
South Korea132Irrigation, hydropower, flood control
Japan90Flood control
iran48Irrigation, multipurpose



These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »