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Vajont Dam disaster, Italy

Technology and impunity; Vajont as the symbol of "failure of engineers and geologists to understand the nature of the problem they were trying to deal with"


In 1943, the Adriatic Society of Electricity, SADE, founded in 1905 by Giuseppe Volpi, received the state concessions to kick start the construction of a dam on the shore of the river Vajont. The Vajont dam was going to be among the biggest in the world at that time.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Vajont Dam disaster, Italy
State or province:border between Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto Regions
Location of conflict:Municipality of Erto and Casso (Province of Pordenone); Municipality of Castellavazzo and Longarone (Province of Belluno)
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The gorge of river Vajont, which arises from the Carnic Alps and flows into the river Piave, along the Mount Toc, seemed to be the most suitable place: the initial design provided a double-arch dam 202 meters high with a reservoir of 58.2 million cubic meters. Later, the project was modified: the dam would reach the height of 261.60 meters, with a profit of 152 million cubic meters. The reservoir of the dam was in effect greater than expected by all projects. The project received the full ministerial approval July 17th, 1957.

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Project area:170
Level of Investment:15,000,000,000.00 italian lire
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1917 deaths
Start of the conflict:1955
End of the conflict:1970
Company names or state enterprises:ENEL Group (Enel) from Italy
TORNO s.p.a. from Italy - Constructor
Società Adriatica di Elettricità (SADE) from Italy - Planner of the Dam
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Public Works, Veneto Region and Friuli Venezia Giulia Region, Municipality of Erto, Municipality of Longarone
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Committee for the defence against SADE,
Foundation Vajont (,
Citizens for the memory of Vajont (,
Survivors Association and Survivors Committee (
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Other Environmental impactsThe environmental impact of the construction of this infrastructure can be summarized in few points, which are also the causes that have prepared the collapse of the dam on the river Vajont:
- the deforestation.
- a progressive deterioration of the mechanical properties of the base of rocks subject to movement.
- secondly, the earthworks and the incisions caused by the construction of roads and canals in the area concerned.
- the presence of the artificial lake and in particular the reduction of water pressure in the coincidence of slopers.
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Land demarcation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Despite the invasive characteristics of this infrastructure project, the corrupt policies underlying the implementation and management of the system, and the disaster resulting from the collapse of the dam, the civil society obteined some victory after the disaster. In fact, the actions of civil society and the demonstrations of local population, the intervention of local institutional figures (eg. Mayor of Erto) and journalists (eg. Tina Merlin), have forced institutions to a concrete commitment in compensation ( by Enel, Montedison and Italian State) to civil society involved in the disaster, through indemnities, the sale of licenses and more attention in the debate about the safety of mega plants (Italy, after the mega projects of the sixties, has opted for micro-hydraulics, becoming one of the most important producers in the world).
Moreover Enel, today owner of the structures and of the land, opened to the public in the summer of 2002, the first part of the crown above the dam, entrusting some local associations (including the Association of Pro Loco Spar) the task of managing the guided tours.
Nowadays tourists can access the entire path to the crown, to see with their own eyes the impressive scenery of the landslide of Mount Toc and the valley below Longarone.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

LAW May 31st 1964, n. 357

Amendments and additions to the Law of November 4th 1963 n. 1457, introducing measures in favor of the areas devastated by the disaster Vajont of October 9th 1963 (GU 137 of 06.06.1964)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Vajont 9 ottobre 1963 - orazione civile (1997), directed by Marco Paolini and Gabriele Vacis

Vastano L., 2008, Vajont. L’onda lunga, Ponte alle Grazie ed.

Merlin T., 1997, Sulla pelle viva, Cierre Edizioni, Verona

Armiero M., 2013, Le montagne della patria. Natura e nazione nella storia d’Italia. Secoli XIX e XX, Einaudi storia

Article on the ecological disaster on the Vajont Dam:
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Cortometraggio H max 261,6 on construction of the dam
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SADE documentation on Vajont project
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Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Site of the 50th anniversary of the disaster:
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Official site disaster Vajont dam:
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Newspapers front pages in the day of the disaster:
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Vajont, 50 years after:
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Pictures of Vajont
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Rescue operations after the disaster:
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Vajont, the never seen pictures:
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Other documents

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Meta information
Contributor:Federica Giunta, (
Last update28/02/2015
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