I Context and Objectives
Introduction: A Critical Appraisal of Major Water Engineering Projects and the Need for Interdisciplinary Approaches
Reinhard F. Hüttl, Oliver Bens, Christine Bismuth, Sebastian Hoechstetter, Hans-Georg Frede, and Hans-Joachim Kümpel
Ecological Challenges, Social and Economic Opportunities: The Multiple Facets of Major Water Engineering Projects
Water touches every aspect of human existence on planet earth. While this notion may be regarded as a triviality, it nevertheless has highly complex consequences. Water as a georesource is subject to many pressures due to its multiple functions that go far beyond its role as the fundamental basis of organic life. For instance, antagonistic social, economic and ecological demands meet to form the “waterenergy-food” nexus. Rising population numbers, changing lifestyles and climate change have substantial impacts on water resources and aquatic ecosystems. Furthermore, water is a factor in peace among nations: water can be both a source of controversy and of cooperation. The “hidden core” of many international conﬂicts can be regarded as disputes over the access to water.
As a consequence, in many regions of the world, major water engineering projects (MWEPs) such as dams, hydropower plants, large scale irrigation schemes in agriculture, channels for navigation, drinking water transfer connection, etc. are considered as a suitable means for covering the demand for energy and water. In the recent years, rising needs for energy and food have even led to some sort of “renaissance” of MWEPs. New actors – investors, emerging nations and multi-industry companies – have appeared on the scene and economic interests have in many cases impeded a thorough public debate about possible alternatives. The plans for the construction of the Nicaragua Canal as an alternative to the Panama Canal serve as an illustration of such a controversial “megaproject”.
Taken all together, MWEPs have signiﬁcantly shaped societies, economies and ecosystems. This poses crucial questions to scientists in their role as advisors to decision makers: by what means can the future use of water be organised in the most efﬁcient, but also most sustainable way? What are the consequences of further large-scale interventions? And, do the long-term effects of MWEPs limit the number and scope of future options for action and decision-making? Reﬂecting on these fundamental questions is the main motivation of the book at hand.