Sudanese Government Forcibly Displaces More Than 6000 Families Affected By Merowe Dam

Statement by the Leadership Office of Hamdab Affected People LOHAP (London)

October 1, 2008

Flooded home at Merowe Dam village.
Flooded home at Merowe Dam village.
The Sudanese Government has ordered the complete closure of the flood gates at the near-completed Merowe Dam on the river Nile, causing the dam’s reservoir to fill. The decision was taken despite the lack of an agreement with affected communities on terms for their resettlement.

In July-August 2008, more than 3000 families numbering an estimated 15,000 to 16,000 people were made homeless in Berti Island (roughly 20 km upstream from the dam site) and surrounding areas, when waters began to back up behind the dam as a result of the annual flood. On 30 September, the dam authority raised the water level still further by unilaterally closing the dam gates, displacing another 3000 families 100 km upstream from the dam site. The total number of forcibly displaced people now exceeds 30,000.

The rising waters now threaten Sherri Island, the second largest island on the River Nile in Sudan. According to reports from the Manasir area and from Sherri, more than 10,000 villagers from around the area rushed to the island on the morning of Eid - a day when people celebrate the end of Ramadam - to rescue families living there. The estimated 200 km2 island, which has a population of more than one thousand families, is an area of great historical significance and is rich in internationally important archaeological sites. It is also an area of outstanding natural beauty. The island is also a major regional centre it has several schools where local children from outlying villages board, in addition to a hospital and the offices of the local council representing the nearby villages.

Villagers say the dam authority is deliberately targeting Sherri Island because it has been the cradle of the movement against the authorities plan to move those affected by the Merowe dam to distant and poorly prepared desert resettlement camps. In 2006, an office on Sherri Island belonging to the dam authority was destroyed when the officials threatened to submerge local residents like rats and kick them out to the desert. Since then, Sherri Island has witnessed rising opposition to the resettlement projects.

Reports from Sherri Island say that villagers are working day and night to protect public buildings, including two primary schools, two high secondary schools, the hospital, and the local council buildings. Tens of thousands of jute sacks have been filled with sand to build flood defences around these buildings. Mohmed Hussain, a local leader says: “This expression of solidarity is just beyond anybody’s belief. We never thought that so many people could gather on our island. I want to send a clear message to the dam authority: no force on this earth will force us out of our land. We will not be moved.”

Earlier this year, in July, local people reacted to previous attempts to flood them out of their homes by moving to pre-prepared encampments, built in anticipation of the dam authorities exploiting the annual flood to force people to move. However, this latest incident has flooded a far wider area than villagers anticipated. Members of the Manasir Executive Committee in Khartoum have accused the Federal and Nile State governments of deliberately preventing relief aid, medicine, tents from being shipped to the area. Since July 2008, the area has been cordoned to outsiders and journalists have been deprived access to the area. Last June, the government refused to grant UN Human Rights Rapporteur Sima Samar permission to enter the area.

In July, the Manasir Committee issued statement addressed to international Community asking for relief aid requesting more pressure on the government to open the area for media and access of relief agencies.

According to Manasir Committee members the numbers of displaced could reach ten thousands families (50,000 people) by mid-October.

The conflict between the dam authority and the Manasir Community centres on resettlement. Whereas the Manasir want to be resettled around the dam’s reservoir, the government insists on moving them to desert locations. The government has failed to honour two agreements it has signed with the Manasir undertaking to resettle them around the reservoir.

Merowe dam (locally known as Hamdab dam) is a mega hydroelectric project expected to be completed by the end of 2008. The project is supported by China Exim Bank and a number of Arab development funds. Two European Companies are providing vital services to the project. Lahmeyer International (Germany) is the dam’s technical consultant, and Alstom (France) is supplying ten power turbines.

For further information, contact: Ali Askouri, +44 7946600238. Email: <>