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Resource Management
Water Demand
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The Value of Water
 Economic Value
 Environmental Costs
Social Benefits and Costs
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Social Benefits and Costs  

A major challenge to water analysts, including public health engineers, medical doctors, technicians and economists is to advise policy makers on interventions in the water sector that produce total benefits greater than total costs (, accessed 22 April 2010).

In addition to financial / economic costs and benefits, social benefits and costs must be taken into account during the decision-making process.

Social Benefits

Social benefits of water-related projects may include

  • Increasing access to safe drinking water;
  • Increases in the quantity of water or time used for personal hygiene;
  • Reduced incidence of water-borne diseases (infectious diarrhoea, cholera, salmonellosis, shigellosis, amoebiasis, and other protozoan and viral intestinal infections);
  • Reduced incidence of other non-infectious disorders, e.g. of the musculoskeletal system due to prolonged carrying of heavy weights, especially during childhood;
  • Reduction of time otherwise spent for water collection from far away sources, thus releasing resources for other productive purposes; and
  • Access to other infrastructural services (electricity, improved market access).
Young men washing clothes on the river bank.
Source: Kellner 2009
( click to enlarge )

Social Costs

Water-related projects may also have negative social impacts, or social costs. Examples for social costs are

  • Displacement of people, whether temporary or permanent;
  • Crowding out of productive land uses thus damaging local livelihoods;
  • Occupation of traditionally / socially precious terrain (ritual or religious importance; archaeological sites); and
  • Negative impacts on human health by providing habitats for disease vectors.

Environmental and social impact analyses identify and describe potential – positive and negative – social impacts of water sector development projects. The valuation of such impacts may be difficult, yet there are tools available, and economists have developed proxy indicators to assess social benefits and costs of project interventions.

Potential social impacts of Lower Kunene/Baynes Hydropower Scheme include (NAMANG 1998, ERM 2009):

  • Inflow of large numbers of non-resident male workers influencing traditionally homogenic social structures;
  • Potential for social tension;
  • Spreading of formerly virtually unknown diseases in the Himba region (HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases);
  • Inundation of graves and other sites of archaeological/ritual value; and
  • Breakdown of social fabric/cohesion of pastoralist communities.
Gove dam, new hydropower station.
Source: Vogel 2010
( click to enlarge )
Water tank, Santa Clara, Angola.
Source: Vogel 2009
( click to enlarge )

Impact Mitigation

In order to mitigate social impacts (costs) that might otherwise outweigh social benefits, social mitigation programmes (SMPs) are commonly set up. They have to be prepared in a participatory manner, i.e. together with concerned populations and all social groups affected by any given project.

SMPs may include investment in local infrastructure (increased market access, improved health care and education facilities), capacity building measures (empowerment, education services), and other (general development) efforts.

In the Lower Kunene Hydropower Project, financial costs for advocated SMP were estimated to amount to about 1.0 % of construction costs. Core measures included improved infrastructure (not housing), a development programme and other mitigation measures (NAMANG 1998).




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