University of Florida doctoral student Gabriela Stocks, under the guidance of Dr. Anthony Oliver-Smith, will investigate the long-term outcomes of forced resettlement. The research will be carried out in the community of Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica, which was displaced in 1977 as a consequence of the construction of the Arenal Hydroelectric Project. The Arenal resettlement project, recognized internationally for its proactive and well-conceived approach to the relocation of communities displaced by the creation of Lake Arenal, remains one of the few in the world in which the standard of living had increased for a majority of the residents five years after relocation. However, since 1983, the year in which the last evaluation was completed for the Inter-American Development Bank, no further information has emerged from this important project.
This research will focus on second-generation resettlers and asks whether the resettlement project created sufficient long-term opportunities for the second generation to prosper in the new community. According to resettlement scholars, the assumption of leadership roles and productive activities by the second generation is an important measure of the long-term success of a resettlement project. The researcher will use a combination of personal and whole social network analysis, life history interviews, and surveys to address this question.
This research is important because development experts see the construction of large dams as a flawed but necessary development option given the growing need for power, irrigation, and flood control in developing countries. Furthermore, an increasing focus on climate change in recent years has created a demand for non-carbon based forms of electricity, including hydropower. With an average of four million people displaced by the construction of large dams each year, the majority of which have been impoverished by resettlement, it is essential that resettlement projects begin to achieve a greater level of success. In addition, the threat of global warming and its accompanying sea level rise could create tens of millions of environmental refugees in developing countries this century. Resettlement programs will play an important role in addressing the needs of these populations. Long-term follow up studies of resettled communities are critical if policy-makers and development agencies are to learn how to achieve positive outcomes after the implementation of these projects.