This paper presents findings from an empirical study of the current situation with geographical focus on two rivers in the north of Sweden, encompassing parts of the indigenous territory Sápmi. The major focus in Sweden with regards to “dam safety” is on the prevention of dam failure, and emergency preparedness. The issue of “public safety around dams” is left aside to the detriment of “human security”. While a major dam failure may cause the death of hundreds up to thousands of people, the current rate of human deaths caused by dam failure in the last 40 years is one person. The number of fatalities that may be referred to as having been caused by a lack of “public safety around dams” on the Lule River only amounts to 1-2 individuals per year. The risks and dangers involved also cause stress, anxiety, and difficulties on an everyday basis for residents along the regulated rivers and water courses. From a study of literature, available statistics, interviews and newspaper reports we discuss the accidents and incidents over the last decade (2002-12), how these may be defined as “public safety around dams”, the void of work to prevent such accidents and how the surrounding societal contexts play in, such as the lack of availability to fast and efficient emergency rescue services to be able to save lives in the event of a major disaster.
Finally, we discuss the current void of public participation and make recommendations to enhance public participation and thereby possibilities to an enhanced public safety around dams in Sweden. The research was funded by the Swedish research councils VR and FORMAS.
Keywords: Public Safety Around Dams, Dam Safety Sweden, Sápmi, Human Security