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
NameVajont Dam disaster, Italy
Provinceborder between Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto Regions
SiteMunicipality 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)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe 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.

The level originally planned for the structure was 677 meters, in its state of maximum capacity, but according to the retouched project, it would reach 715 meters. In fact, already at an altitude of 680, slightly above the limit indicated as safe from the government authorizations, abnormal movements had occurred on the left side of Mount Toc, movements that would soon lead to the landslide, cause of the disaster of 1963.
Project Area (in hectares)170
Level of Investment (in USD)15,000,000,000.00 italian lire
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population1917 deaths
Start Date1955
End Date1970
Company Names or State EnterprisesENEL Group (Enel) from Italy
TORNO s.p.a. from Italy - Constructor
Società Adriatica di Elettricità (SADE) from Italy - Planner of the Dam
Relevant government actorsMinistry of Public Works, Veneto Region and Friuli Venezia Giulia Region, Municipality of Erto, Municipality of Longarone
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersCommittee for the defence against SADE,

Foundation Vajont (,

Citizens for the memory of Vajont (,

Survivors Association and Survivors Committee (
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
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
OtherThe 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-economic 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
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
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 as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials

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)


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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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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Media Links

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
ContributorFederica Giunta, (
Last update28/02/2015