Dam Threatens Bujagali Falls
August 29, 2006 | No Comments
by Brittney Holder, Greengrants Intern
(See also previous grantee profile: “Uganda: Grassroots Group Promotes Citizen Involvement in Dam Decision “)
This past December, the Ugandan government signed a deal to continue the development of the Bujagali Dam, despite many indications that it will be environmentally and socially damaging and that better alternatives exist. The new project will be the third dam to be developed on the Nile River near Lake Victoria. The project is now being headed up by Industrial Promotions Services (IPS), the East Africa affiliate of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED). The AKFED is a group of development agencies working in economic, social and cultural development primarily in Asia and Africa.
Greengrants has made grants to the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE)to facilitate their work on issues concerning rivers and dams. NAPE continues to speak out against the Bujagali Dam and to press for more transparency and public involvement in the planning of large energy projects. They cite a number of serious problems with Bujagali, including:
~ The new dam’s impact on the health of Lake Victoria, which has been shrinking due to excessively high water releases from two existing dams that now hold back the lake (the world’s second largest). Similarly, there are questions as to how the lake’s lower levels will affect the project’s ability to produce power economically and reliably.
~ Reliance on a 10-year-old Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) prepared for the first developers of Bujagali, and no EIA at all for the lengthy transmission lines system, which will cut through forest and farmlands.
~Lack of a plan to deal effectively with resettlement problems.
~Safety concerns: the dam will be built below the 50-year-old Owen Falls Dam, which has major cracks and whose safety needs a thorough assessment).
~The fact that the cascading rapids that the dam would engulf are spiritually significant to the Basoga people. The input of the Basoga has been disregarded along with that of other local leaders, tourism operators, and land owners.
Other questions involve the appropriateness and affordability of the project given that 95% of Uganda’s population is off the national power grid and Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income estimated at just $285. More decentralized energy projects, such as micro-hydro, solar, co-generation from crop wastes and geothermal energy, could better meet the needs of Uganda’s rural majority. Lori Pottinger of the [begin bold]International Rivers Network[end bold] says, “Bujagali could turn out to be a costly white elephant if climate change and a shrinking Lake Victoria reduce the river’s flows. Uganda has other options that could be developed more quickly and more cheaply which could better meet the needs of Uganda’s citizens.”
The Bujagali project is being revived as the lower levels of Lake Victoria are causing serious economic harm in the three countries that share it. NAPE raised the alarm about this issue a few years back, but was only able to get hard data on the problem late last year. In 2005, IRN worked with an independent hydrologist to analyze data on the lake’s level, which revealed that excessive releases from Owen Falls Extension Dam (also known as Kiira) are responsible for about 55% of the lake’s drop. The lake has dropped 1.2 meters since 2003 and was, at the end of 2005, at its lowest level since 1951. IRN was able to get significant international attention with the report’s release, and having such a bright spotlight on Lake Victoria’s shrinking shoreline has also helped NAPE take the debate about dams and their environmental impacts to a new level in East Africa.
A recent workshop conducted by NAPE brought together experts, academics and politicians to discuss the Lake Victoria crisis; another meeting in October will bring the public into the debate. This is just one element of NAPE’s work to press for social and economic responsibility and transparency in public development projects. NAPE also maintains that Uganda needs to pursue alternative forms of energy such as solar, microhydro, geothermal, biogas, and improved biomass to move away from ecologically harmful dams.
NAPE is also an active member of another GGF grantee, the African Rivers Network (ARN), a group of African NGOs working on the issues of rivers and dams. At the second African Rivers Network (ARN) meeting held in Nairobi in October 2005, Frank Muramuzi of NAPE outlined strategies for promoting alternative energy sources. He proposed civil society organizational support for renewable energy sources, and consideration of financiers other than the World Bank and African Development Bank for such projects.
NAPE and ARN continue to bring the issues surrounding proposed African dams to the public’s attention, and to encourage debate and serious discussion of their costs and benefits. Creating public awareness is a big step toward active citizen participation in solving environmental problems. NAPE believes that when members of civil society, rather than international interests, are in charge of their environment, they will shape sustainable uses of natural resources.